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What is AWStats?
AWStats is a utility written in the Perl programming language that parses the logs on your server and generates easy-to-read statistics from them. Compatible with any Web server, It gives you at-a-glance access to your file transfer stats, website traffic and visitor information, mail server activity, and more.
When it comes to ensuring your business has a successful online presence, the most important and accurate sources of information about your website are the log files generated by your Web, mail and file transfer servers.
But these logs can be time-consuming to review, and are often set up for comfortable reading by tech professionals rather than the average site owner. Consequently, many hosting providers offer some sort of statistics utility that combs through the activity on your server and generates easy-to-read charts and graphs that give you the info you need — unique visitors, file downloads, comments, possible spam and hacker activity, etc. — on the fly.
One of the most popular log statistics utilities is AWStats, a free and open-source solution built in the Perl programming language. AWStats is versatile, compact, and feature-rich, and because it can run either as a command-line Perl module or a Common Gateway Interface (CGI) script, it’s compatible with literally every hosting provider that supports these two languages.
Using AWStats, you can generate reports for whatever time period you specify: daily, weekly, monthly, yearly, or by a custom date range.
The Web reports generated show you details about who is visiting your site: their browser, operating system (OS), Internet Protocol (IP) address, time spent on your site, which files they viewed or downloaded, whether they favorited or bookmarked a page, and more. You can get data on the number and frequency of hits, helping you discover what’s popular on your site — and what isn’t.
The application also has reports for your mail server (message time and date, messages sent and received, possible spam, server errors, etc.) and File Transfer Protocol servers (files accessed, country of origin and IP address of visitors, time spent browsing specific files, etc.).
Also, unlike many other popular Web analytics applications, the data shown is real-time, so there’s no need to wait till the next day to find out how your website is doing right now.
Alternatives to AWStats
Having an objective and accurate analysis of your website’s performance is one of the most important tools any webmaster can have, so it’s not surprising that there are a number of competitors that offer similar features to AWStats.
With the rise of Software as a Service (SaaS), there are many offerings for web analytics that you can pay for on a subscription basis, such as Clicky Analytics. Clicky is popular for presenting your site’s data in a very easily understandable way, and giving you actionable data you can use without being an expert in data or analytics.
There’s also Google’s popular analytics service, Google Analytics, now one of the most popular analytics tools on the web.
On the other hand, one of the main appeals of software like AWStats is that it’s open source and free, and that you can install the software on your own server to use your own data logs instead of relying on a separate third-party service.
With that in mind, here are the top two popular server-side analytics solutions that are popular alternatives to AWStats:
- Webalizer is an application that’s available under a GNU General Public License, and is also free to use. After installing Webalizer on your server, it will be able to report statistics using your web logs including your website’s number of visitors, their country of origin, and the amount of data downloaded. Unlike AWStates, Webalizer is written in C.
- Sawmill Analytics offers similar features to AWStats, but it’s not open source; users have to pay a one-time fee for a software license.
How does Awstats compare to Webalizer?
Awstats and Webalizer have a lot of similarities. For example, both tools report on activity recorded by your server log files, meaning a lot of the information presented by both tools will be the same. However, there are some differences in how the tools interpret the data from your server log files, which can lead to some serious gaps in traffic volumes when you use one tool or the other.
When you are using Awstats, your visitors are defined based on IP address and user agent. So, for the sake of example, if someone visits your site on one IP with a user agent that identifies a web browser, then Awstats is very likely to log that visit as being done by a human. When a bot visits your website with a pre-defined IP and no browser associated with its visit, Awstats can also process that visit as a bot and not count it towards your human visits.
By comparison, Webalizer also interprets server logs, but it fails to tell the difference between bot visits and human visits. Awstats will at least try to tell the difference between a human and a bot by keeping its bot definitions up to date. Its not practical to expect Awstats will be able to track every bot on the web - but hopefully the majority of your bot traffic will be able to be scrubbed out.
Because Webalizer doesn’t try to tell the difference, many site owners who use it and then switch to another Analytics tool down the line are often very surprised to see a drop in traffic their site receives. Be advised that its not your fault - or the fault of the software, either. The two tools just read your log files a different way.
Another major difference between Awstats and Webalizer is the amount of time the softwares use to log a visit. Many times these settings will lead to Webalizer showing more visits Awstats - as much as twice as many visits.
Server-based Analytics vs Google Analytics
Google Analytics is a fairly robust tool for website analytics - there is very little that other open source analytics tools provide that you can’t access from Google Analytics. However, there are several reasons to be cautious about putting all of your website analytics eggs into Google’s basket. Let’s review a few of them.
Google Analytics is a remote-hosted tool for website analytics, meaning you don’t physically host its software on your server provided by your website host. Because the data is remote hosted - you don’t physically own it - Google does, giving them the ability to use that data however they wish.
As an alternative, when you use a server-based website analytics tool, your information is tracked in server logs or your MySQL database. Having your data stored on your server allows you to maintain control over what is done with the information.
When you use a self hosted tool for website analytics, you also know your data is not being used by or shared with advertising companies. Note that we are not saying Google Analytics is using your site stats for that purpose, but the simple fact is that you can’t be 100% sure what a remote hosted analytics tool is doing with your data.
AWStats Pros and Cons
If you aren’t sure whether AWStats is the right choice for your websites, consider the following:
- AWStats is 100% free and open source.
- Installation and setup is not complicated; it’s already included with most hosting plans.
- All your data is owned by you and stored on your server.
- AWStats may require more technical knowledge to understand how to use the reports.
- Other analytics services may provide more actionable data.
- A paid service will often include customer support.
Getting Started With AWStats
With its almost universal compatibility and customizable format, AWStats can be added to your server with minimal time and effort. The software itself is offered as a statistics utility by many hosting providers, and can often be found in your cPanel menu.
If AWStats isn’t already included in your hosting plan, you can download it from the AWStats site. In order to be able to install the software, you will also need access to your server logs, and support for Perl modules and CGI scripts. Most hosts enable this by default. If you’re unsure about whether AWStats is compatible with your server, check with your provider for details.