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Take Control of OS X Server, Chapter 1: Introducing OS X Server

This article is a pre-release chapter in the upcoming “Take Control of OS X Server,” by Charles Edge, scheduled for public release later in 2014. Apart from Chapter 1: Introducing OS X Server, and Chapter 2: Choosing Server Hardware, these chapters are available only to TidBITS members; see “Take Control of OS X Server” Streaming in TidBITS for details.

Introducing OS X Server

Do you want to provide file, Web, networking, and other services to computers on your local area network (LAN)? Or, perhaps you want to distribute content to other computers on the Internet. Or manage iOS devices and OS X computers from a central location. Whether you are a Mac user or a server administrator, you can do all this with a standard installation of Apple’s OS X Server and a little elbow grease!

Long gone are the days when the 10.6 Snow Leopard version of OS X Server cost $499 and required a completely different operating system installation. Now OS X Server is just an app called Server. It is available on the Mac App Store for $19.99 and installs on top of a stock version of 10.9 Mavericks.

In 2005, when I wrote my first book about Mac servers, they were usually big, expensive beasts running on Apple’s Xserve hardware. Apple smartly retired the Xserve, and now the typical machine you find running OS X Server is a Mac mini. But there’s no requirement that you use a Mac mini or any other particular Mac model. I’ve installed the Server app on everything from an old MacBook Air to a shiny new Mac Pro. You can make any Mavericks Mac into a server, using the steps in this book.

Back in the Xserve days, Apple tried to make OS X Server do a lot. It had podcasting, streaming media, and other services that have since been retired. No one outside of Apple knows why Apple has removed these services. Perhaps a service wasn’t being used enough to justify development or perhaps it didn’t fit into Apple’s overall plans. OS X Server is still a great solution, provided you use it for what Apple intends (although some of my favorite work has been deploying OS X Server for customers doing crazy things Apple never imagined).

An advantage of Apple dropping some services is that OS X Server has become easier to use, and that, combined with the massive price reduction and the simplified app installation, makes OS X Server more accessible to the masses. Adoption is up, and a lot more people are taking advantage of what OS X Server can do.

That’s all good, but just because OS X Server is easier to use than ever before, that doesn’t mean it’s something that anyone can install and configure, at least not without help! No matter how easy Apple makes the Server app, Macs running it are still servers, so there are terms, concepts, and procedures that you should understand before you take on server installation and management tasks. Look at it this way—the Server app may provide a friendly interface to configuring various services, but unless you know what to enter and why, things won’t work.

This book is intended for new administrators of OS X Server, and for those who want to refresh their Server know-how. Perhaps you’re entirely new to OS X Server, but want a centralized file server for your ripped DVDs and so you can manage your kids’ iPads. Or perhaps you’ve managed OS X Server in the past, but are looking for a refresher on what’s possible in the current version.

Note: I don’t go into detail on imaging and Xsan in this book. Both services should have entire books of their own as their management is complicated and should not be taken on lightly.

After this Chapter 1, Introducing OS X Server, the book is divided into the following chapters:

  • Chapter 2, Choosing Server Hardware, helps you decide on what Mac to install OS X Server, with advice about CPU, RAM, disk space, and bandwidth.
  • Chapter 3, Preparation & Installation, discusses some key network-related steps that you should follow while installing OS X Server and walks you through the initial installation and configuration.
  • Chapter 4, Directory Services, describes how to configure Apple’s directory service, Open Directory, which provides a repository of shared usernames and passwords to many other services. The chapter then describes setting up the Open Directory Replica and configuring clients to use the shared repository.
  • Chapter 5, DNS and DHCP, discusses the various networking protocols that OS X Server provides, including how to assign addresses, manage the names of systems, and manage connections to the server.
  • Chapter 6, File Sharing, is all about providing a centralized repository for your files and controlling the permissions of who can access and edit those files.
  • Chapter 7, Collaboration Services, covers the Messages, Calendar, and Contacts services, showing you how to create and manage shared calendars, sync your personal contacts to the server, and set up a Messages server so your family or organization can interact with one another within a private Messages environment.
  • Chapter 8, Mail Services, tells you all you need to know about running a mail server. While it’s easy to configure the service in OS X Server, it’s not the easiest thing to prepare your network to host a mail server. Therefore, I’ll spend a bit more time covering this topic that than you might expect.
  • Chapter 9, Mobile Device Management, looks at Profile Manager, a Mobile Device Management (MDM) tool that allows you to control apps and settings, and set up restrictions on your iOS devices. Profile Manager also lets you lock and wipe those devices, in case you happen to leave one in a restaurant or have one stolen.
  • Chapter 10, Web and Wiki Services, explains how to set up a Web server and manage the wikis and blogs that you can host with such a server.
  • Chapter 11, Software Updates, talks about using your server to provide software updates (like OS X 10.9.4) to an entire network of Macs.
  • Chapter 12, Backup, is particularly important. In it, I cover how to use your server as a destination for client backups (which works much like backing up to a Time Capsule). But I also cover how to back up the server itself, which is key for ensuring that all the work in setting everything up isn’t lost if your drive goes south!

I’ve designed the book so you can read each chapter independently once you have configured the Server app. For example, if your goal in setting up OS X Server is just to run a file server for your small business, you need to read only the first three chapters and the chapters on File Sharing and Backup. Each service that a server runs corresponds to a chapter of this book.

Whether you’re an individual user at home or the administrator of dozens of computers in a busy office—and whether you’re a relative beginner or a professional system administrator—you’ve come to the right place to start using OS X Server!

Using Terminal with OS X Server

Although the vast majority of the work you’ll do in setting up and managing OS X Server happens in the Server app, it doesn’t account for everything you might want to do.

As a result, we will be using the Terminal app now and then in this book to work at the command line. However, I’ll guide you through the commands to use, all of which will be clearly formatted so you can follow along easily.

Over the many years I’ve been installing and managing OS X Server, I’ve learned that having a general comfort level with the command line is useful when using a server. No matter how simple Apple makes it, every now and then I end up needing to go into the command line.

But don’t worry. Just because you open Terminal doesn’t mean doing so has to be all that complicated.

Read More: About | Chapter 1 | Chapter 2 | Chapter 3 | Chapter 4 | Chapter 5 | Chapter 6 | Chapter 7 | Chapter 8 | Chapter 9 | Chapter 10 | Chapter 11 | Chapter 12 | Chapter 13 | Chapter 14


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Comments about Take Control of OS X Server, Chapter 1: Introducing OS X Server

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Ex2bot  2014-06-17 05:40
I plan to use OS X Server from a virtual machine, since I don't have a spare Mac to put server on.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2014-07-30 07:47
That should work in theory, but I can't see much advantage to doing so, and it will definitely complicate the entire setup significantly. You'll have a lot more networking setup to work through, since everything will be going through your Mac's network stack to the virtual machine's network stack, and back.

The main utility of doing this would be to experiment with the interface, but unless you're a networking whiz, I worry that you'll have a heck of a time communicating with the services from other machines.
Linda Claudine  2014-07-07 13:55
I have had severe hacking problems since I switched to Mac in 2010. I'm not one of you at the top 5% knowledge wise, but I have been involved with computers since programming on punch cards and using the Mag I through all the word processing updates culminating in personal computers. I worked on Windiws from the first - and we did beta testing for them. I also did help desk, network admin for my section, started our in-house graphics back in 80s. Now, retired & am on Mac & it has been nightmare. I believe I have server software on my macbook and just a mess. Can't even get a boot disk to create - and directory structure a mess. Please recommend the correct books & help I need to straighten out this mess.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2014-07-30 07:44
Linda, it sounds like you would be best served by making a good backup (or two!) and then erasing your MacBook's hard disk and reinstalling OS X from scratch before migrating apps and documents back. You really do NOT want to be running OS X Server unless you have a good reason for doing so, since it will slow your Mac down and potentially be a vector for attack.
Kevin Killion  2014-09-10 09:15
Thanks for the sample chapters! But I wish there was another chapter BEFORE Chapter 1 that covered:

* What if you have both Macs and PCs on your net

* Why a server?
-- what you get using Mac OS server
-- when you may wish to simply make better use of sharing between existing computers
-- wishlist of what you'd like to see in Mac OS server that isn't there now

* Using Mac OS server, vs. just a stock MacMini quietly running 24/7 with a big external storage: pros and cons, what would you be missing

* Servers vs. NAS: pros and cons of each, and how to choose

* Servers vs. Synology etc.: pros and cons of each, and how to choose. (Jeez, the Synology box sounds fantastic! Redundancy, media server, hot swappable drives, network storage, personal cloud, and a slew of apps [especially if an Intel-powered model])

* Mac or PC? If it's just a server, you don't need to worry much about user interface or Mac niceties. And a powerful desktop PC can be far less expensive than a MacMini
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2014-09-11 11:01
Thanks for the comments, Kevin! These are all good points, but somewhat out of scope for a book about OS X Server. That said, let me try to address them:

* With respect to serving both Macs and PCs on the network, the question becomes what services you're hosting. File sharing, for instance, is just a matter of using SMB as well as AFP. The Calendar service is just CalDAV, so that should work fine with PCs; the same is true of the CardDAV-based Contacts service. The Wiki service is all accessed via the Web, so no platform-specific issues there, and the same is true of the Web service.

I don't know if there's a PC story with Profile Manager, but there isn't - by definition - with the Caching, Software Update, and Time Machine services, since those are Apple-only technologies.

* We're don't really want to try to convince people why they should use a server - it should be pretty obvious that if you want to provide the services offered by OS X Server, you need it, or something like it (we do call out major competitors to specific services where appropriate).

* If all you want is file sharing, a Mac mini running personal file sharing would work, or some sort of NAS. Personal file sharing mainly falls down when dealing with multiple users and groups - everyone has to share a single login to the file server. A NAS might be a better solution if file sharing all that's in play, but it's not likely to give you all the services that OS X Server offers.

* The question of Mac or PC when it comes to the server is a huge one, and it's not really about the UI, but about the entire mindset and ecosystem. A more likely choice would be between OS X Server and a full Unix box, and there the question is how serious you are, since the Unix box will be far more capable, but will require a Unix-savvy sysadmin. OS X Server requires some networking knowledge, but you don't need to be a Unix guru.
Stephen Peilschmidt  2014-09-11 03:31
I would like some discussion on considerations and configuration of DNS and directory services when you have multiple Mac servers (on the same network) to allow for redundancy.

Also some discussion about how services could be split between multiple servers to balance load.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2014-09-11 10:48
There's some discussion of setting up an Open Directory replica in Chapter 4 at />

With DNS, we don't cover that because it's not a great use of OS X Server - you're better off letting a major DNS provider provide the necessary 24/7 uptime and deal with things like denial of service attacks.

And as far as splitting services between multiple servers, we'll see what Charles says, but my understanding is that's just a matter of spinning up another server and enabling a particular service on that box rather than on the initial one.
Stephen Peilschmidt  2014-09-13 02:07
You still require DNS for your internal network. You would forward DNS queries for the internet to your ISP and if you are hosting sites then you would register this with a commercial DNS provider.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2014-09-14 15:01
Yes, exactly, and that's the extent to which we cover DNS, but we don't get into redundancy issues with that internal DNS. I presume, though I haven't tested, that if you wanted redundancy, you could just enable DNS similarly on a second OS X Server box, and then configure clients to use that as the secondary DNS server.
Charles Edge  An apple icon for a Friend of TidBITS 2014-09-15 06:21
Yes, and you can configure secondary zones, which I think we cut out of the text but could re-add if there's enough interest. The secondaries are pretty easy to configure. If you show all records then get info on the zone name you'll see the options for the secondaries and where you enable zone transfers.
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