When I was up in Bentonville, AR speaking at the Northwest Arkansas Code Camp, I came across an issue of ASP.NET Pro magazine with the title “The LAMA Stack” (short for Linux, Apache, MySQL, and ASP.NET). The article inside turned out not to be that interesting, but the idea of using ASP.NET with an otherwise completely open-source stack certainly is.
One of the things that is said to deter many startups or other small shops from using the Microsoft platform is the licensing cost of its products, particularly SQL Server. But since Mono allows us to run .NET code on Linux, all of those costs can be eliminated. Also, since the ASP.NET MVC framework was released as MS-PL (Microsoft’s most permissive open-source license), the Mono team was able to quickly integrate that into their framework as well.
Since I want to start my own business one day, it ocurred to me that this could be a great way to leverage my existing skills, but use a modern web framework (MVC) and not have to put up a huge upfront investment. And yes, I know about BizSpark, the program that gives startups free Microsoft software, but that deal “expires” after 3 years. And if your business isn’t exactly booming at that point, then you may be stuck with an application that you can’t afford the licenses for.
So I decided to start experimenting with Mono to see if it was easy enough to work with that it would even be a viable option for me. I’m not the most Linux-savvy guy in the world (as you may already be aware from reading some of my previous posts), and there was a distinct possibility that it would simply be too much of a headache for it to be worth it.
I started out with the VMWare image that’s available on the Mono project site (www.mono-project.com), and tried some basic “Hello, World” stuff, and that worked just fine. Even getting an app running under Apache rather than the MonoDevelop IDE was really easy with the AutoConfiguration feature they’ve implemented. The problem started when I tried to run an MVC app under Apache. Because AutoConfiguration depends on the ASP.NET file extensions (“.aspx” et al.) to work, and MVC apps avoid those extensions, they can’t be used together, so I had to delve into defining an Apache virtual host for the MVC app. Thankfully, the Mono team has provided a great tool for generating most of the boilerplate configuration for a Mono ASP.NET app on the project site (http://go-mono.com/config-mod-mono/).
The next problem was that the version of Mono that supports MVC (v. 2.4) wasn’t available yet on the Linux distribution that I run, Ubuntu, which only has a package published for version 2.2. That meant that I would need to compile Mono and several other tools from source, which is a somewhat daunting proposition for someone not very experienced with compilation on a Linux system. I found a great resource for this, though, on the blog of a BlogEngine.NET team member named Russell (couldn’t find his last name) here: http://blog.ruski.co.za/page/Install-Mono-on-Ubuntu.aspx. This post gives step-by-step instructions on getting Mono 2.4 running on Ubuntu, and without it, I would probably still be banging my head against the wall.
After much trial and error, I finally achieved my desired result. I was able to run an ASP.NET application that was created and compiled in Visual Studio on Windows, copied over to a Linux machine and executed under Mono. It wasn’t the most frictionless experience in the world, by any means, but after having done it once, I think subsequent apps will be easy enough to set up. I’ll be doing the setup process at least one more time in the near future; I’d like to get Mono apps running on the servers we have set up for the new open-source shared interest group that I’ve recently joined with several other Praeses employees, which we’ve decided to call Samurai Delicatessen 😉 . If I can manage to do the setup remotely over SSH, I think I can safely say it’s a stack that I’ll be able to handle using in the future.