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Mirroring free and open-source software matters

Post theme song: Mirror mirror by Blind Guardian

A mirror is a local copy of a website that's used to speed up access for the users residing in the area geographically close to it and reduce the load on the original website. Content distribution networks (CDNs), which are a newer concept and perhaps more familiar to younger readers, serve the same purpose, but do it in a way that's transparent to the user; when using a mirror, the user will see explicitly which mirror is being used because the domain will be different from the original website, while, in case of CDNs, the domain will remain the same, and the DNS resolution (which is invisible to the user) will select a different server.

Free and open-source software was distributed via (FTP) mirrors, usually residing in the universities, basically since its inception. The story of Linux mentions a directory on (FUNET is the Finnish University and Research Network) where Linus Torvalds uploaded the sources, which was soon after mirrored by Ted Ts'o on MIT's FTP server. The GNU Project's history contains an analogous process of making local copies of the software for faster downloading, which was especially important in the times of pre-broadband Internet, and it continues today.

Fly away, little bird

The last day of July happened to be the day that Domagoj Margan, a former student teaching assistant and a great friend of mine, set up his own DigitalOcean droplet running a web server and serving his professional website on his own domain For a few years, I was helping him by providing space on the server I owned and maintained, and I was always glad to do so. Let me explain why.

Why we use reStructuredText and Sphinx static site generator for maintaining teaching materials

Yesterday I was asked by Edvin Močibob, a friend and a former student teaching assistant of mine, the following question:

You seem to be using Sphinx for your teaching materials, right? As far as I can see, it doesn't have an online WYSIWYG editor. I would be interested in comparison of your solution with e.g. MediaWiki.

While the advantages and disadvantages of static site generators, when compared to content management systems, have been written about and discussed already, I will outline our reasons for the choice of Sphinx below. Many of the points have probably already been presented elsewhere.

Enabling HTTP/2, HTTPS, and going HTTPS-only on inf2

Inf2 is a web server at University of Rijeka Department of Informatics, hosting Sphinx-produced static HTML course materials (mirrored elsewhere), some big files, a Wordpress instance (archived elsewhere), and an internal instance of Moodle.

HTTPS was enabled on inf2 for a long time, albeit using a self-signed certificate. However, with Let's Encrpyt coming into public beta, we decided to join the movement to HTTPS.