Say Hello to VirtualHostX

Monday, August 27, 2007

Programmers are selfish. As a general rule we build applications that we want to use - not that we necessarily think will sell. Snipplr came about because I wanted a place where my co-workers and I could share our code. Easyschmooze arrived because, well, I'll just say it fills a need. I'm willing to bet nearly every bit of open-source software was written because the programmer couldn't find a solution elsewhere.

Today I'm introducing a new Mac app that I've been meaning to build for almost two years now - VirtualHostX. It's a simple way to setup virtual hosts on your Mac. Pick a domain name, select the directory where your files are stored, and your done. VirtualHostX automatically configures Apache, modifies your hosts file, and gracefully restarts the web server. Adding and removing virtual hosts couldn't be easier.

That's great, but what's the point?

In real life I'm a web developer. If I had my way I'd only work on one client website at a time. Unfortunately, the world doesn't work like that. Projects overlap, clients change their mind, and there's a minimum of two emergencies each week. That means I need a way to test multiple websites at once. Some developers nest all of their projects inside their localhost directory. That's fine to do if you always use relative links in your code, but that's not practical. You can't really debug a site that way. Other developers build and test their code on the live server. That's just wrong on so many levels it makes my head spin.

Instead, the ideal solution is to setup a virtual host for each project. Say you're building a website for a client who wants to show off their collection of antique Mountain Dew bottles at Using VirtualHostX you can setup a virtual host called that only you can access on your machine. This lets you test your code as if it were running on a real web server online. Setup a virtual host for each project and suddenly life is good again.

Back to my original point, programmers are selfish. I built VirtualHostX because I wanted it. There's no black magic involved in setting up virtual hosts on your Mac. It's pretty simple and directions are available all over the net. The problem is that it's tedious and requires the user know their way around the command line. (That's ok for programmers, but designers tend to shy away from anything involving a terminal window.) I knew a dedicated Cocoa app was the way to go - something simple anyone could use. Three weeks and a lot of googling later, voila! VirtualHostX was born. Say hello.

More about VirtualHostX.