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What are One-click Installs?
One-click installation is not exactly what it sounds like. Sometimes it can take up to two clicks to get something completely installed. But even with that extra click, web hosting providers that offer one-click installs of popular applications make your job of setting up a new website a lot easier. What is involved with getting a web application installed and properly configured for use on a server? Quite a bit, actually.
This isn’t something most of us think about anymore, because most of the commercial software we use on our home computers either comes pre-loaded, installs automatically from the App Store, or has some kind of built-in installation wizard to help guide you through the process.
But it wasn’t always the case.
Installation is hard.
Any single software application usually relies on a number of other software applications. Think about your home or office computer: If you use a common program like Word, that program is relying on another program to run the printer, another program to manages fonts, and several dozen other programs to do several dozen other things.
Or have you ever thought about how the computer knows that when you click on a certain type of file, it should open the specific program you want? This sort of thing has to be specified and defined. It doesn’t just happen automatically.
And don’t forget specific language support. If a program was written in one version of a language, and your computer uses a different version of that language, there might be problems.
How complicated can installing new software be? Here’s what one expert had to say about it:
I dread installing stuff, and I have a Ph.D. in computer science.
– Paul Graham, Founders at Work
Fortunately, most of us don’t have to deal with that on a regular basis anymore. At least, that’s the case for our consumer products: desktops, laptops, and mobile phones.
Installation on the web is REALLY hard.
However, web development can often bring us back to the “bad old days” of installation problems. This is especially true because of the variety of web hosting technologies and the rapid pace of web development.
No developer wants to build the thousand individual pieces of technology required to do something basic, so they rely on other technologies, other programs, to get things done.
An example installation
Let’s think about a hypothetical content management system, something similar to WordPress or Drupal. What might be involved in installing this and getting it up and running.
Well, the code is probably written in PHP, so you have to make sure that the language is supported on the server. And not just any version of PHP, either. You have to have the one that the CMS requires.
Once you have the code files uploaded onto the server, they have to be accessible. This isn’t trivial. Servers set permission levels for each file, declaring who can read them, who can run them, and who can write to them. Modern CMS systems usually need to be able to write to their own files (to save configuration details), but you can’t let potentially malicious outsiders write to the files.
There has to be a database created, which means first of all the right database management software has to be present, in the right version. Then the database has to be created and the interaction credentials copied into the code for the CMS we’re setting up. Finally, the data model of the CMS has to be set up in the database, through the creation of tables, columns, and other database structures.
Various libraries and third-party applications that the CMS relies on have to be installed. For example, an edit-page image cropper might rely on the GD Graphics library. Video playback might require streaming software.
The number of things that need to happen on a web server in order to get a single, simple application up and running can be maddening. No wonder Paul Graham hates installing software.
One Click Installation to the rescue
One-click installation is essentially like those Install Wizards you see on your home computer.
Someone has taken the time to figure out all of the things that are needed for an application to be installed properly, and then built another application that makes sure those things are in place. The installer fetches and installs third-part apps and other dependencies, sets up databases, configures server settings, and adjusts file permissions so that everything works the way it is supposed to.
One Click Install Web Hosting
Many web hosts, especially those that cater to non-developers, provide some form of one-click install support. This is usually provided by a third-party install wizard like Softaculous or Fantastico. These companies keep track of changes to the applications they support to make sure their own install scripts are always up-to-date with the latest versions.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is a One-Click Install and why should I care?
Many web hosts offer the option to install a pre-built web application with the click of a button. This means that the software, database, and configuration files will all be automatically generated and you will be provided with an instantly created website. This saves you the hassle of needing to setup the application piece by piece.
What types of applications can I create with a one-click install?
The options available to you vary from host to host. Generally, most web hosting service providers will have a few different options which include several Content Management Systems (CMS), forum software, eCommerce applications, classified ad applications, client management software, webmail, or a Wiki.
What platforms support one-click installs?
In reference to a "platform" that generally means what technology "stack" is being used. The most common platform for one-click installs is sites which use PHP and MySQL. Any .NET host will have a variety of ASP.NET application templates, and other providers will offer NodeJS, Python or JAVA. Again though, the most widely available one-click sites are PHP based, with CMS platforms like Wordpress, Drupal, Joomla, being among the most popular applications.
Which CMS should I choose to install for a blog?
This does not have a single answer. Selecting a CMS requires advanced planning of what the point of your site will be in terms of what it needs to communicate, or what additional features you need. The two platforms in PHP with the highest user-base are Wordpress and Joomla. Wordpress has the most users, and the highest number of Plugins/extensions, while Joomla has a focus on security and user management. There are also other great options on platforms other than PHP, so take consideration before picking a platform. Sometimes performance is more important than functionality.
How does a One-Click Install work?
A one-click install is visited by you, the user. You click on a button and it sends a RESTful message to your webhost. In turn, your webhost has a script which has deep permissions to use the folder structure you have and the database, to create new sub-folders, databases, tables, etc. Every application has a pre-built install script that tells the database (usually MySQL) what tables to make and populates them with the starting data needed. The required PHP files are dropped into the specified directory and the domain/subdomain is automatically pointed there. Voila, you have a new site!
How will I know if I have the required disk space to install something?
Depending on you host, many modern hosts have very high amounts of storage that you are allotted to use before installing an application. With that said though, most applications are pretty light-weight in terms of actual disk space. The bulk of the information that could push you over the edge is the content which might be populated. So if you setup a Wiki or a Blog, don't dump a ton of video files in without checking your size limits. Also, during the install, if size is an issue, the install likely will not work and you will be alerted.
What types of applications can't I create with a one-click install?
Not speaking on behalf of all hosts, but based on the most common types of installs around, there are some limits to what can or cannot be installed. As PHP is the most common platform, other software stacks are often not available. Also, while mobile websites can be setup from a CMS or certain applications, there are not a lot of out-of-the-box dedicated mobile applications, or anything that would run native on someone's phone, so don't expect anything beyond a mobile website. Finally, any application you might dream of that requires reliable high bandwidth, such as a video sharing site, won't be found very often, because this requires a powerful content delivery network (CDN) which are expensive and often proprietary.
I want a site that integrates with Google or Facebook for user logins. Can I do this from a One-Click Install?
There aren't any super well-known applications that will automatically set this up for you during one-click installs. However, if you install a popular CMS, eCommerce or Social platform, there is a strong chance that "OAuth" plugins will be very easy to find. However, this will even require some manual setup too, as for any application that uses Google or Facebook login, you will need to create a developer account on those sites and generate API Keys to be used on your site. The good news is that there are lots of ways to set this up that don't require starting from scratch.
Can I choose the look and feel of my website during a one-click install?
Again, this totally depends on who your host is and what application you choose to install. Some services have proprietary applications that you can install, which allow you to pick the theme and customize the primary content before the application gets generated. Also, with popular CMS platforms, some hosts will provide integrated views to their Themes & Plugins marketplace during the install, and some will even let you pick the theme prior to install completion.
Should I use a one-click install or set up a site all on my own?
That depends, are you trying to put something up quickly, or are you more interested in learning about how websites work? A one-click install is very effective and will avoid a lot of basic human errors, but making those errors often will show you how the data connects to the code, and how that generates the HTML that gets displayed for site visitors to see. Moreover, setting up a site on your own allows for deeper customization, and if you become a good developer it means you can create whatever you desire. One-click installs are a great service, and a great way to get started on the web.