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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.

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