If there’s one thing Microsoft does well, it’s providing software options. It sometimes goes a little haywire — Vista’s 57 shutdown choices, for example — but it’s often to our benefit.
If you’re using Microsoft’s IIS web server, you currently have two choices:
1. The full IIS web server
IIS is provided with Windows XP, Vista, 7. It’s a full web server which is almost identical to the system deployed to on production Windows server environments. In some cases, you won’t be able to run more than one domain name or it’ll be limited to a few concurrent users, but those issues shouldn’t affect your day-to-day development requirements.
Unfortunately, each version of Windows offers a different version of IIS. Those running it in a corporate environment also require an administrator account and, according to Microsoft, some companies don’t permit web server installation on developer PCs.
2. ASP.NET development server
Visual Studio offers a built-in development server for testing ASP.NET applications. It’s installed with the IDE, is lightweight, launches instantly, automatically uses a safe local TCP/IP port, and works in non-administrator accounts.
Unfortunately, it’s not a full development server. You can’t change the configuration, alter security settings, or install modules such as URL rewrite.
The Third Man
If you’ve been frustrated by either server, you’ll be pleased to hear Microsoft is releasing a third option: IIS Express. Effectively, it’s a half-way solution which offers the best of the other versions without the issues:
- it’s a small 10MB download, is lightweight and easy to install
- it supports ASP.NET and classic ASP (Microsoft hasn’t confirmed PHP, but I suspect it’ll work)
- it doesn’t require administrator privileges
- it’s effectively IIS 7, but it works in Windows XP
- there are no concurrent connection limits
- it supports most IIS options and modules such as SSL and URL rewrites
- it can be installed on the same PC as the other two servers without conflicts
- it can be launched and configured from the command line
- it integrates with Visual Studio and you won’t need to change existing code
- it can be configured to enable remote requests
- you can distribute it with your applications.
The first beta version will be available shortly.
I like the idea, although it will undoubtedly cause some confusion. Interestingly, it’s a viable solution for XP developers who want IIS7 without upgrading their OS. It could even be a good alternative for PHP developers who don’t want the hassle of installing a full web server. We’ll look IIS Express in more detail when the beta version is released.
Would you use IIS Express? Will it help or hinder development?
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Craig is a freelance UK web consultant who built his first page for IE2.0 in 1995. Since that time he's been advocating standards, accessibility, and best-practice HTML5 techniques. He's created enterprise specifications, websites and online applications for companies and organisations including the UK Parliament, the European Parliament, the Department of Energy & Climate Change, Microsoft, and more. He's written more than 1,000 articles for SitePoint and you can find him @craigbuckler.