CoolTools - SphinxSearch

In the previous posts, we've set up a virtual machine, installed ubuntu, got the prerequisite server software ready and a basic install of MediaWiki running and reachable as your intranet wiki.
But we're not quite ready to go live. In this and the next post, we'll be installing Sphinx as your back-end search engine and doing some additional configuration work.

People will be continuously searching through your wiki for that exact bit of information they need, so it follows you'll be needing a good search functionality. The basic search included in your wiki installation is not a good search functionality.
SphinxSearch is a (stand-alone) lightning-fast indexing and searching engine. We'll install it, then give it access to the MediaWiki MySQL-database . Finally, we'll install the sphinxsearch-mediawiki-extension to feed search queries from wiki users to Sphinx and results from Sphinx to your wiki.

I realize this post is a bit extensive, but rest assured, it's worth it.

CoolTools - MediaWiki

The software we'll be using for that is MediaWiki:
MediaWiki is a free software open source wiki package written in PHP, originally for use on Wikipedia. It is now also used by several other projects of the non-profit Wikimedia Foundation and by many other wikis.

CoolTools - Setting up the web server

In the previous articles, we've installed our virtual machine player and set up a virtual machine with Ubuntu.
Now it's time to make our machine a real web server. The actual “web server” software is Apache HTTP server, but we’ll also be needing PHP for dynamic websites like the wiki, MySQL as the database of choice, and PHPMyAdmin as a GUI on MySQL. These are typical tools for web servers.

Start up your virtual machine, and start up a terminal window. You can do this via Dash, the uppermost button in the shortcut bar on the left of the screen of your virtual machine. In the search box, enter “terminal”. This will open a console within the GUI, like cmd would on a Windows machine. We’ll be using this terminal a lot.

CoolTools - Ubuntu Operating System

Open source tools and websites tend to get better support on free operating systems. For this series, I've chosen to go with Ubuntu. No particular reason.
There are specific editions of Ubuntu for desktop, server, mobile, tablet, TV... You'd think I'd go for the server edition, but I won't. I'm not enough of a guru to do without some GUI backup :-)

Head over to the Ubuntu website and download the Desktop version. I've gone with 12.04 because that is an LTS, or Long-Time-Support release. Remember where you stored it, we'll need it in a minute.

CoolTools - Virtual Machine

When you're experimenting with new software, you don't want to endanger your existing set-up. The ideal way to go is using a Virtual Machine: you create a virtual computer inside of your existing computer and install everything there.
The advantages are many:

  • Only 1 thing to install on your existing set-up: the Virtual Machine player.
  • If you mess something up: just throw away your Virutal Machine and start again.
  • If you end up with a smoothly running Virtual Machine, and you want to experiment some more without endangering what you've already done, you can easily clone your existing VM and experiment on the clone. If you're happy with it, start using the clone. If not, stick to the original.
  • If you work in a big company, you'll probably be trying this out in your team/department. If you & your management get convinced of the added value, you can turn over the Virtual Machine to your IT-guys: there's a good chance your company is already using virtualized servers, which means they can most likely just drop the VM in their cloud and be up and running in 5 minutes. 
  • You can use a different operating system than the one your computer is equipped with. I.e. if you have an MS Windows computer, you can install the Ubuntu operating system in the Virtual Machine inside of MS Windows. Why not use Windows? To use the built-in features of Windows as a web server, you'd need extra licences as soon as the number of connections gets to be too high (or just buy their server software: Windows Server). We want this to be free. Also: the software we'll be using tends to get better support on non-Windows operating systems. 
There's actually only one disadvantage I can think of, and that is that your computer needs to run 2 operating systems instead of one, which means a lower performance. However, this disadvantage is a rather theoretical one: you don't need much power for running the tools I'll be describing, and as long as your public is limited to no more than a few hundred users, you'll be fine. And if you find you're serving more than a few hundred users (at which time you can definitely call your experiment a success!), you can throw the VM in a cloud to give it more power.

To work!

Installing the VM-player

The Virtual Machine player of choice is called VirtualBox. It's an Oracle product (the company known for their Oracle database). Although Oracle is a commercial enterprise, VirtualBox is free. In a following article, we'll be installing MySQL, a free database system also available from these guys.

Ok, to get started. Head over to and download the appropriate software from their Downloads page. You only need the VirtualBox platform package, the extension pack is not free for commercial use. If you have a Windows computer, download the one described as VirtualBox ... for Windows hosts.
Once downloaded, install it. The installer makes this a pretty straight-forward process, you shouldn't have any issues here.


Now that we've got the VM player in place, it's time to install ourselves an operating system. I've chosen Ubuntu, and will describe the installation in the following article.

CoolTools series

In this series of articles, I will provide a walk-through on how to enrich your work environment with some shiny 21st century software. Whether you're a small or even a bigger enterprise, stuff like this will enable your employees/coworkers to perform better, smarter, more efficiently.

And, because CoolTools is aimed at companies, all the software mentioned is free for commercial use. That's right: it literally won't cost you a penny in licenses. All you need is a computer plugged into your network: an old spare one if you have it, or if you don't have one to spare, a computer in use will work as well (provided it's not too old).
Apprehensive? Not wanting to mess up settings and doing a lot of installation work on one of your existing, working computers? No worries. We'll install everything we need inside of a virtual machine, so there's only one thing you need to install on your existing computer: the virtual machine player. Everything else is inside of the virtual machine, and if something gets messed up, you just delete it and start over. Hassle free!

Ready to get started? Check the rest of the series!

Getting started with the Virtual Machine -->