Junior SysAdmin

Written on November 11, 2017

I’ve embarked on a new adventure I’ve anticipated for quite a while - the journey to becoming a System Administrator.

I try to expand my skillset whereever possible and never stop learning . In an ever-changing industry like web development, it’s invaluable to know the latest technology, frameworks, and languages. Many agencies now expect a Web Developer to wear many hats: Front-end Developer, Back-end Developer, Designer, Copywriter, and System Administrator. I strive to be beyond mediocre in all these areas because I’m passionate about building. The resume padding doesn’t hurt either 🤗.

The Reluctant SysAdmin

One of my newer clients had arranged free hosting with a friend operating an Apache server part-time. The client, wanting to keep costs low, opted for the free host. Initially I was okay with it, but we quickly ran into issues. While developing a PHP image cropping tool that used the ImageMagick, I ran into an issue - ImageMagick wasn’t enabled server-side in php.ini. I contacted the friend to see if we could get it enabled. Weeks went by without a response before finally saying that they could infact enable it, and that it had been done. I went to test my tool again:

Class 'Imagick' not found.

Sigh. So, I contact him again. Weeks go by with no response. I’m left talking to the client to discuss why this issue is happening, and why I can’t get the tool working – a tool that was in the original scope of the project and was due to be finished months ago. Eventually, I had my client agree to pay for proper hosting. But, having come fresh off the frustrations of needing to go through someone else to fix sever issues, I suggested that we go the route of DigitalOcean. I didn’t any xperience actually spinning up an Ubuntu sever from scratch and knew I had a bit of reading to do.

I’ve spent the last few days working through Servers For Hackers by Chris Fidao to help guide me on my adventure. Now that the client’s site is actually ported over and up-and-running, I’ll share a few of my learnings:

PM2 for process-handling

The server was working, my Node.js app was launched, and everything was great. Until the next morning. It shut down. After looking into it, I realized that issuing npm start from console would cause my server.js to shutdown as soon as I lost connection to SSH. Instead, I looked into PM2 which is a process-handling program for Ubuntu. With it, I could setup PM2 as a startup app for Ubuntu and then start my Node.js app through PM2 which runs it as a service. With this setup, the app restarts when it needs to, and if the server crashes and resets, my server.js is launched again by PM2.

Express Routes

I seriously needed to read the documentation here on serving static files. My file structure was as follows:

/app
->/server
-->/views
-->/routes
->/public
-->/css
-->/js

After launching my app through PM2, I had to learn how express.static actually works and how it finds my static files (hint: it’s relative to where you launch your Node.js process). After a few hours and a few fleeting desires to chuck my MacBook off the balcony, I found a solution that worked. I removed my /server/ folder and moved my server.js to the main app directory, along with my /routes/ and /views/ folders. I then set my express.static to: express.static(__dirname + '/public') and all my static assets were properly served. A happy ending to a frustrating day 👍.

Not The End

This is where I’m at only a few days in. It’s exciting being in command of your own VPS and not having to create support tickets to fix minor issues. I’ll continue to share my learnings as I go!