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The Cobalt RaQ CGI RAQ

Installing, running and debugging Perl CGI scripts on a Cobalt RaQ

Version 1.0 * 15-06-2000, last updated : 27-07-2000
Newest version at
© 2000 H.P. Stroebel

Permission is granted to copy, distribute and/or modify this document under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License, Version 1.1 or any later version published by the Free Software Foundation; with no Invariant Sections being LIST THEIR TITLES, with no Front-Cover Texts being LIST, and with no Back-Cover Texts being LIST. A copy of the license is included here.

Leave the copyright notices unchanged; if you modify and redistribute this document, you have to preserve the copyright notices and add - according to section 4 of the license - add your own copyright for your modifications and list the author responsible for the modifications.

This FAQ is intended as a practical CGI introduction for novice Webmasters using a Cobalt RaQ Server. It is intended for and approved on RaQ 3i, so it cannot give advice for RaQ, RaQ 2 or RaQ 4, but nearly all of the procedures should apply for them, too. As there is poor stuff specific to a Cobalt RaQ, it should be suitable as a normal, simple CGI Troubleshooting FAQ for Linux newbies. Some things are not described in the 100% correct matter (i beg the pardon of the Unix/Linux freaks), but it`s easier to understand, and the difference, at least for the novice, is trivial.

Any comments (not questions, see below), error reports or corrections of bad english are welcome. If you would like to provide further stuff, contact me.

Please note that changing the configuration of your server outside the GUI could void your warranty. I provide this FAQ "as is" and take no responsibility for damages, misconfigurations etc. Do all procedures and actions described in this text on your own risk !
What is a RAQ ?
A RAQ is a document answering Rarely Asked Questions; the word "rarely" is to be considered as ironic... More widely it is known as a cute Server Appliance by Cobalt Networks :-)
What is a CGI script ?
CGI is the 'common gateway interface'. It can exchange data with a program running on the server to provide mail forms, guestbooks, databases etc. The programs that run on the server are often scripts, plain text files that contain several commands to be executed. A CGI program can be written in most languages, like C, C++, Perl, Python, or even as shell scripts. One of the most common scripting languages to write CGI scripts is Perl ( As most of the CGI programs available on the web are written in Perl, this RAQ is Perl orientated, too.
What is cgiwrap ?
CGIWrap is a gateway program that allows general users to use CGI scripts and HTML forms without compromising the security of the http server. Scripts are run with the permissions of the user who owns the script. In addition, several security checks are performed on the script, which will not be executed if any checks fail. CGIWrap is used via a URL in an HTML document. As distributed, cgiwrap is configured to run user scripts which are located in the ~/public_html/cgi-bin/ directory.
(Taken from

The Cobalt RaQs seem to run a customized version of CGIWrap.
How do I run CGI/Perl scripts?
If necessary, edit some variables within the script, upload it to your web directory, give it the right permissions, and run it.
How to edit a Perl script ?
If you have to edit the script, it is important to choose the right editor (that concerns Windoze users), as some editors can cripple the script. Do NOT use Notepad.
You could use Wordpad (disable word wrap), but there are two of the best HTML and general purpose editors on the web available for free :
Perl Syntax
Be sure to avoid the most common syntax errors when editing the script :

You should not fool around in a script when you don`t know exactly what you`re doing. If the script complains about compilation or syntax errors, check first if you have not deleted one of the following characters :
What are the required paths ?
The following variables are the most common ones that you have to insert in a cgi script

Perl 5 Location (that is always the first line in every perl script):

Sendmail Location :

Script Url :
or, if you have created a /cgi-bin :

Full path to main web directory of a website :
(it isn`t really, but it`s a link to the real path)

You can insert the standard CGI environment variable instead (note the double quotes):

The full path to your cgi-bin directory - if you have one - is:

To find out more about your environment variables, try this little script :


 # test.cgi : prints out the CGI environment variables
 # H.P. Stroebel,, 15-06-2000

 print "Content-type: text/html\n\n";           # Tell the browser that
                                                # it`s text/html

 print "Hello World !\n\n";                     # Say hello

 foreach $item (keys %ENV)                      # a loop for every env. variable
 { print "$item = $ENV{$item} \n"; }            # print the variable

 $dir=`pwd`;                                    # get the working directory (shell command)
 print "Working Directory : $dir \n";           # print it

 print "\nSo long, and thanks for the fish !";  # Say goodbye

 exit 0;                                        # Done :-)

Normally, this script would be a single line (that`s Perl... :-). I commented it a bit, so you see how a (very basic) Perl CGI script works.
Save it as "test.cgi", upload it to your server and let it run, following the instructions on this site. It is a good idea to print out the information provided by the script for further reference.

Remember to remove it later, as everyone can run this script !
How to upload
Be sure to upload the script and any text files in ASCII mode. If the program contains graphics (*.gif, *.jpg, etc.) be sure to upload them in BINARY mode.

It is good server practice to use only lower case letters for script and related filenames, that may not matter on certain operation systems, on the better ones it DOES matter.

Normally you upload the script into the web directory of the site, or into the created /cgi-bin. Connecting to the RaQ by FTP your initial directory is your user directory, so move up to the web directory of the site. In most Windoze FTP clients you can set another starting path; insert /web as initial directory.

You should upload the file as a site admin or a site user, NOT as admin or even root (you can`t ftp in as root by default, and there are good reasons for that).
cgiwrap runs the script, as described above, as a site user. Under certain circumstances it cannot be run as admin anymore (as admin can belong to max. 32 groups, and each site has it`s own group). And, it`s a security issue : the admin password is transmitted in plain text via ftp; it can be easily sniffed...
What is a /cgi-bin directory ? Where is it ? Do i need one ?
On most servers, cgi scripts are allowed to be run only from a special directory beneath the web directory called /cgi-bin, or /cgi-local.

On the Cobalt RaQ`s cgi scripts can be run from everywhere in the web directory, so you don`t need one.

It has - even not changing the above mentioned behavior of the RaQ - some sense to create a directory /cgi-bin and run the scripts from there.
CGI File Permissions
Under Unix, permissions are set by a number. A higher number means more permissions. The first number defines the rights for the owner of the file, the second his group, and the third all others. To learn more about permissions, read the chmod manpage. Use Telnet or SSH to access your server and type man chmod; navigate with cursor keys and the space bar, exit the man page by typing q.
If you don`t already have it, you should consider to buy at least a basic book on Linux.

Instructions for CGI programs available on the net tell you often to set the permissions of the executable program to 755.
For security reasons, you should first try to give the file the most minimal permissions as possible, so set them first to 700 (RaQs not running CGIWrap may require 705 or 755).

The cgi-bin directory itself (and directories beneath it) should have 701 or, if that doesn`t work, 711.

Data or configuration files used by the CGI program may require 600, 604 or 644 (try it in that order).
How do I set permissions for my cgi script?
There are two (main) ways to change permissions of a file :

How do i run it ?
CGI programs are mostly called by a hyperlink from within a HTML page. Another way are Server Side Includes (SSI) , mostly used for non-interactive programs (e.g. hit counters).

Interactive programs may require some values (e.g. a form mail processor). The values may be created by a HTML form, containing hidden fields, input fields or both of them. There are two ways to pass values to a CGI program, the GET and the POST method.

Read the instructions provided with the cgi script. Good scripts mention the required method in the documentation or as a comment in the script itself. Better scripts accept both of them.
If your script is not a good one, ask the author, throw it away, or try to find it out by yourself :

If the script contains a line like

If it contains a line like

If it contains none of the above, most likely the script doesn`t expect values.

If you design a HTML form to call the script, you have to pass the method. A sample form header for the POST method looks like this :

Another way to pass values to a CGI program is to attach the values directly in the hyperlink without using a form :

Here '?' is the delimiter to define the start of the values, '&' is the delimiter for the value pairs, the value itself is passed by the string 'value name'='value'.
Nice to read, but my script doesn`t run. I am getting '500 Internal Server Error', 'File not found' or 'CGIWrap error' when running CGI scripts ?
First, consider the error messages for cgi scripts of the RaQ like a 'general protection fault' in another widely known os : the reason can be anything, but - in most cases - not the one that the error message tries to make you believe.

Double check all the following most common errors :

I checked all the items above even three times, and it still doesn`t work.
OK, we`ll do some more debugging (and in 90% of all cases you`ll note that it`s one of the above errors, so did you check them really ?)

First, we`ll use the debug function of CGIWrapd, which by default is enabled on the RaQ.
Type the following URL in your browser:

You should see some environment variables, and at the bottom of the displayed site, the output of the cgi script. Consult that for error messages. Read the output carefully, in most cases it indicates that a required file could not be found or accessed, or a syntax error in the script.

If you see something like
the script has been compiled and works. Most likely the URL calling it normally is incorrect. Check the URL, and call it directly in the browser.

If you see nothing, or a 'File not found' message, most likely the script name or the URL is not correct, the script has the wrong permissions set, you uploaded it to the wrong directory, or CGI execution is not allowed for that site.

If that doesn`t help, access the Raq using SSH or Telnet (if you use Telnet to connect over the Internet, run and install SSH)
Go to the /web directory or the /cgi-bin you have created beneath, and run the script on the shell by typing
and examine the output.

The '-w' parameter tells Perl to create additional warnings about errors or strange constructs. For interpreting the output, refer to the instructions mentioned above. The '| more' makes the screen stop after each page, if the output is greater than one page.

Another way to debug a perl script is to put the following command in the second line of the perl script after #!/usr/bin/perl

This line tells the browser to output error messages to the browser. After debugging, you should comment out this line by adding a '#' in front of it.

It seems that this function does not work on the (my) RaQ.
Where can i get CGI/Perl scripts ?
A very good starting point is, where you can find zillions of (user rated) CGI programs, documentation and more.
What about security ?
Only a few basic things :
DO :
Where do i learn more ?
- about CGI ? - about security ? - about Perl ? - about Cobalt ?

I have more questions.
If the instructions above don`t solve your problem, it`s rather specific. Post them to the Cobalt mailing list, to a CGI or a Perl newsgroup.

Please don`t mail me further questions. I wrote this FAQ in my VERY limited free time, and i want to use some of it for myself. I will not give any personal support, and i will not debug Perl scripts or server configurations (at least not for free). I frequent the Cobalt mailing lists, and if i have the time and some further advice for you, i`ll try to answer your question there.

H.P. Stroebel
Contact me