Install GeneWeb in CGI mode

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When daemon mode of GeneWeb is forbidden or cannot be activated, you must use CGI mode. It's mostly the case on a shared hosting account.

When running in CGI mode, GeneWeb sits behind a general purpose HTTP server such as Apache, and is launched by the server as a CGI command. As such, the first step in installing GeneWeb consists in verifying the operation of the HTTP server and of its CGI calling function.

The OS version is generally a stable version, but not the latest version. You must fit in the server environment : OS version, libraries, installed packages. Download the goode a GeneWeb package.

OVH Hosting

OVH offers two lines of hosting services:

  • Web Hosting (shared machines managed by OVH)(Webm)
  • Cloud (single virtual machine managed by the customer)(VPS)

Installing GeneWeb on a OVH server requires root access which is only available on the second service!

For detailed installation, see the section below

1&1 hosting, GeneWeb 5 and 6

The following applies to 1&1 hosting, and may differ on other hostings. On this web site, we can easily switch between two versions of GeneWeb: 5.00 and 6.00.

Directories and files

Files and directories on 1&1.
    • directory mybases: The bases directory, beside the CGI-root directory.
      • directory mybases.gwb
      • directory cnt
      • directory images
    • directory root: The CGI-root directory.
      • directory basesxg: An alternative bases directory.
      • directory css: A copy of the gw/css directory. This directory is used by the Apache server.
      • directory gw: The gw directory of the GeneWeb distribution.
      • directory gwenv: The gw directory of the Geneweb-5 distribution.
      • directory igw: The images directory for Geneweb-5.
      • directory images: A directory with copies of gw/images/gwback.jpg and gw/images/gwlogo_bas.png
      • directory pub: A directory where are readable copies of the CGI scripts (this website is a demo site).
      • file gw6.cgi: The CGI script which launches GenWeb-6.
      • file gw5.cgi: The CGI script which launches GenWeb-5.
      • file issue6.cgi: A test script which displays information about the environment of the server and checks size and md5sum for the gwd binary file.
      • file issue5.cgi: The same script, but for the GeneWeb-5 version

You need the “exec” permission on the files gw/gwd, gw/gwsetup, and files used by gwsetup (gw/gwc*, gw/gwu,gw/consang, gw/update_nldb). The gwd.arg file is empty.

The databases folder bases must be protected either by a .htaccess file, either by a location out of the HTTP server scope. It does not need to be accessible by the HTTP server.

Description of the CGI script

Main parameters:

The CGI working directory.
The language for the user interface.
The programs folder.
The documentation folder (obsolete).
The databases folder. 
The program gwd itself.
Gwd log file, it helps to solve problems.

Note that although called DAEMON, gwd does not run in -daemon mode but in -cgi mode.

Be carefull when using a log file, its size can increase quickly, don’t forget to delete it from time to time.

OPTIONS="-blang -robot_xcl 40,70 -max_clients 15 -conn_tmout 120 -min_disp_req 30 -images_url"
# -allowed_tags $GENEWEBDB/tags.txt

Misc. options:

  • robot_xcl: To protect your data from HTTrack or WebSite Extractor.
  • conn_tmout: For statistics on the bottom line.
  • images_url: Icons and images are not sent by GeneWeb, but by your HTTP server (not CGI).
  • allowed_tags: Usefull option if you use HTML tags not in default_good_tag_list.


Under Windows calling a CGI script using batch and cmd.exe can be tricky. An alternative is to directly call a copy of gwd.exe with its arguments file gwd.arg in Apache /cgi-bin/ directory file.

Gwd will work behind Apache calling http://localhost/cgi-bin/gwd.exe.

  • directory cgi-bin
    • file gwd.exe
    • file gwd.arg

Edit gwd.arg to point your local GeneWeb installation, for example if it is C:\Program Files (x86)\geneweb\:

C:\Program Files (x86)\geneweb\gw
C:\Program Files (x86)\geneweb\bases
C:\Program Files (x86)\geneweb\geneweb.log
C:\Program Files (x86)\geneweb\gw\images

Problems to solve: - Portrait (all images with m=IMH) are not shown or are corrupted (#103). - Minor problems in 7.00 with loading of new .css/.js files, specialy for templm (#356).

Images missing

-images_dir parameter create links to local image files like file:///c:\path\to\myimage.jpg that are not shown for security reason under some browser (like Chrome for ex.). An alternative to previous configuration is to switch to -images_url parameter so that gwd uses relatives paths for images and to create a virtual directory in your httpd server.

In gwd.arg, modify:


If you use Apache, edit httpd.conf to have those lines, then restart httpd.exe:

LoadModule access_compat_module modules/
LoadModule alias_module modules/

Alias /images " C:\Program Files (x86)\geneweb\gw\images"

<Directory " C:\Program Files (x86)\geneweb\gw\images">
  Options None
  AllowOverride All
  Order allow,deny
  Allow from all

An alternative installation on 1&1 (and OVH)

(OVH differences will be noted between parenthesis).

One important thing is to understand the difference between the root of your server (where you "land" when you connect) and the Web root (where the Apache server finds your files). These two roots may or may not be the same depending on your hosting service.

  • OVH
    • Root: /root
    • Web root: /var/www
  • 1&1
    • (to be clarified - I dont have an account anymore)!

Installing GeneWeb on a remote shared server is a little bit (but not that much) more complex than on a personal computer. GeneWeb is a totally self-contained package, therefore does not depend on additional libraires. On a server, GeneWeb cannot execute in daemon mode (Unix aficionados will understand), and must be launched in CGI mode. To that extent, a server based installation requires prior installation of a (standard) HTTP server (typically Apache), access to the CGI repository of this server and some control over the access rights to the various folders and files. Installing or verifying your HTTP server is not part of this discussion.

A second restriction of GeneWeb on a server is that gwsetup cannot be used (mainly for security reasons). It is therefore necessary to use command lines on the remote server through a ssh window or any other remote access tool of your choice. It is also necessary to have access to an upload mechanism from your personal machine to the server through classical Unix/Linux command lines, or through a ftp client such as Filezilla. A section below will describe in detail a shell script performing upload to the server of a complete fresh copy of a base sitting on your personal computer.

Folders and files

The first important file for your installation is the welcome page of your HTTP server, by default index.html sitting at the Web root of your server (OVH: /var/www). After personalization of this welcome page, you should verify that you can view it by typing the name (or IP address) of your server in the URL window of your browser.

The second important item is the CGI folder containing the executable files invoqued through URLs. This folder is typically called cgi-bin and also sits at the root of your HTTP server (OVH: /usr/lib/cgi-bin). Another possibility (it all depends on your hosting service) is that your CGI files must have extension .cgi, in which case, replace .sh by .cgi in the example below.

If cgi-bin contains an executable file named as shown below:

(uiserver):u723:~ > cd cgi-bin
(uiserver):u723:~/cgi-bin > cat
echo 'Content-type: text/html'
echo '<!DOCTYPE html">'
echo '<html xmlns="">'
echo '<body>'
echo 'This is a test for cgi commands'
echo '</body>'
echo '</html>'

Make sure this file is executable:

(uiserver):u723:~/cgi-bin > chmod 755

and test it from your terminal window:

(uiserver):u723:~/cgi-bin >./
Content-type: text/html

<!DOCTYPE html">  
This is a test for cgi commands
(uiserver):u723:~/cgi-bin >

then typing in the URL window of your browser the following text


should result in the text This is a test for cgi commands appearing in your browser window.

You must reach this level of functionality to proceed.

At the root of your server, create two additional folders GeneWeb and Documents.

  • The first folder will contain all GeneWeb related files (binaries, bases, images, ...) and need not or should not be accessible with the HTTP server,
  • The second folder will contain any other documents that you may want to share with the visitors of your site.

At this time, we have the following situation:

(uiserver):u723:~ > cd
(uiserver):u723:~ > ls -al
total 554088
drwx---r-t 23 u723 ftpusers      4096 Oct  7 06:58 .
drwxr-xr-t  7 root root          4096 Oct 23 00:21 ..
-rw-------  1 u723 ftpusers      8319 Oct 10 09:30 .bash_history
drwxr-xr-x  3 u723 ftpusers      4096 Sep 24 21:24 Documents
drwxr-xr-x 10 u723 ftpusers      4096 Sep 24 21:24 GeneWeb
drwxr-xr-x  3 u723 ftpusers      4096 Oct  7 06:58 cgi-bin
-rw-r--r--  1 u723 ftpusers      3535 May 22 14:30 index.html
-rw-r--r--  1 u723 ftpusers        27 Nov  6  2013 robots.txt
(uiserver):u723:~ > 

The GeneWeb folder

The GeneWeb folder contains one or more versions of GeneWeb (geneweb-6.08 and geneweb-7.00 in our example), and the bases folder.

Each geneweb-x.yy folder has the same structure, containing a copy of the distribution folder resulting from the compilation of GeneWeb. You can upload with ftp this folder, or you can compile yourself GeneWeb directly on your server, but this necessitates the installation of Ocaml and camlp5 (see Ocaml).

(uiserver):u723:~/GeneWeb > cd geneweb-6.08
(uiserver):u723:~/GeneWeb/geneweb-6.08 > ls -al
total 204
drwx---r-x  3 u723 ftpusers     82 Jan 12  2015 .
drwxr-xr-x 10 u723 ftpusers   4096 Sep 24 21:24 ..
-rw----r--  1 u723 ftpusers 160302 Jan 12  2015 CHANGES.txt
-rw----r--  1 u723 ftpusers  18007 Jan 12  2015 LICENSE.txt
-rw----r--  1 u723 ftpusers  10345 Jan 12  2015 START.htm
drwx---r-x  8 u723 ftpusers   4096 Dec 17  2014 gw
-rw---r-x   1 u723 ftpusers   108 Dec 17  2014 gwd.command
-rw---r-x   1 u723 ftpusers   1117 Dec 17  2014 gwsetup.command
(uiserver):u723:~/GeneWeb/geneweb-6.08 > 
(uiserver):u723:~/GeneWeb/geneweb-6.08 > cd gw
(uiserver):u723:~/GeneWeb/geneweb-6.08/gw > ls -al
total 13268
drwx---r-x  8 u723 ftpusers    4096 Dec 17  2014 .
drwx---r-x  3 u723 ftpusers      82 Jan 12  2015 ..
-rw----r--  1 u723 ftpusers   15280 Jan 12  2015 a.gwf
-rwx---r-x  1 u723 ftpusers  529764 Jan 12  2015 consang
drwx---r-x 12 u723 ftpusers    4096 Dec  2  2014 etc
-rwx---r-x  1 u723 ftpusers 1182404 Jan 12  2015 ged2gwb
-rwx---r-x  1 u723 ftpusers 1200900 Jan 12  2015 ged2gwb2
-rwx---r-x  1 u723 ftpusers  552100 Jan 12  2015 gwb2ged
-rwx---r-x  1 u723 ftpusers  631844 Jan 12  2015 gwc
-rwx---r-x  1 u723 ftpusers  861434 Jan 12  2015 gwc1
-rwx---r-x  1 u723 ftpusers  630084 Jan 12  2015 gwc2
-rwx---r-x  1 u723 ftpusers 2422372 Jan 12  2015 gwd
-rw----r--  1 u723 ftpusers      12 Jan 12  2015 gwd.arg
-rw----r--  1 u723 ftpusers       0 Jan 12  2015 gwd.log
-rw----r--  1 u723 ftpusers      42 Oct 10  2014 gwd.xcl
-rw----r--  1 u723 ftpusers 3851203 Jan 12  2015 gwdl.log
-rwx---r-x  1 u723 ftpusers  358308 Jan 12  2015 gwsetup
drwx---r-x  3 u723 ftpusers      68 Jan  3  2015 gwtp_tmp
-rwx---r-x  1 u723 ftpusers  589028 Jan 12  2015 gwu
drwx---r-x  3 u723 ftpusers    4096 Nov 20  2014 images
drwx---r-x  2 u723 ftpusers     140 Jan 12  2015 lang
drwx---r-x  2 u723 ftpusers       6 Sep 24  2014 old
-rw----r--  1 u723 ftpusers      10 Jan 12  2015 only.txt
drwx---r-x  3 u723 ftpusers      33 Sep 24  2014 setup
-rw----r--  1 u723 ftpusers     104 Dec 17  2014 tags.txt
-rwx---r-x  1 u723 ftpusers  497028 Jan 12  2015 update_nldb
(uiserver):u723:~/GeneWeb/geneweb-6.08/gw > 

The cgi folder

The cgi-bin folder contains the cgi commands launching the gwd server software for each request from a browser client.

(uiserver):u723:~ > cd cgi-bin/
(uiserver):u723:~/cgi-bin > ls -al
total 144
drwxr-xr-x  3 u723 ftpusers  4096 Oct  7 06:58 .
drwx---r-t 23 u723 ftpusers  4096 Oct  7 06:58 ..
lrwxrwxrwx  1 u723 ftpusers     8 Jan 12  2015 Gwd -> Gwd-7.00
-rwxr-xr-x  1 u723 ftpusers   183 Oct 10  2014 Gwd-6.08
-rwx---r-x  1 u723 ftpusers   183 Jan 12  2015 Gwd-7.00
-rwx---r-x  1 u723 ftpusers   183 Jan 15  2015
(uiserver):u723:~/cgi-bin > 

Gwd is a symbolic link to the current version of GeneWeb (7.00 in our example).

Each of the gwd-x.yy file is a shell script that launches gwd with the appropriate parameters:

OPTIONS="-robot_xcl 19,60 -allowed_tags ./tags.txt -hd ./"
cd $DIR
./gwd -cgi  $OPTIONS   -bd ../../bases   > ./gwd.log 2>&1

To change your server to another version of GeneWeb (7.00 for instance), you should do the following:

cd cgi-bin
rm -f Gwd
ln -s Gwd-7.00 Gwd

The bases folder

Folder structure for GeneWeb bases (Genealogy data).

The base folder should contain the same information structure as in the case of installation on a personal computer:

  • one or several base.gwb folders.
  • one or several base.gwf files.
  • cnt containing access count data.
  • etc containing template text files used in priority over the generic gw/etc files (see header).
  • images containing for each base photos associated with each person (first_name.occ.last_name.jpg).
  • lang containing some base specific language relates template text files (lexicon for instance).
  • src containing for each base text files and image files inserted in notes with the m=SRC command.
  • wiz.auth as many wizards and friends authorization files as specified for each base in their respective .gwf parameter file.

(Note that the picture on the right has been taken off a personnal computer where the bases are stored in a folder names GeneWeb-Bases, as opposed to bases in the remote server structure proposed here).

Some OVH specific issues

As the root and Web root are different in the OVH setup, you have to provide a mechanism for gwd to load through Apache the various style files. This mechanism is provided by creating a link between the Web root space and the root itself.

root@vps265730:/var/www# ls -al
total 660
drwxr-xr-x  7 root root   4096 Sep 25 18:40 .
drwxr-xr-x 12 root root   4096 Apr 16  2016 ..
drwxr-xr-x  4 root root   4096 Nov 23 15:41 css_link
-rw-r--r--  1 root root   3514 Jun 23 13:19 index.html
drwxr-xr-x  2 root root   4096 Apr 16  2016 private
drwxr-xr-x  2 root root   4096 Apr 16  2016 public
-rw-r--r--  1 root root     27 Apr 28  2016 robot.txt


root@vps265730:/var/www# ls -al css_link
total 20
drwxr-xr-x 4 root root 4096 Nov 23 15:41 .
drwxr-xr-x 7 root root 4096 Sep 25 18:40 ..
drwxr-xr-x 2 root root 4096 Nov 23 15:32 bases
lrwxrwxrwx 1 root root   39 Nov 23 15:41 gw -> /root/GW/GeneWeb-7.00/gw

In order to instruct gwd to use this path to the js and css files, you must add in your .gwf configuration file the following variable:


Script to upload a copy of a base

(Test and report for errors or improvements are welcome.)

The script (download it) takes a base_name as an argument, and optionally images or src. It uploads a fresh base on your server, or a fresh copy of the images/base or src/base folders. It performs the following steps:

  • creates a fresh file from the base on your personal computer.
  • extracts a listing of the content of bases/images/base bases/src/base and bases/src/base/images in three ls-xxx.txt files.
  • creates a file (see below).
  • creates a tar file containing $, history and the three ls-*.txt files above.
  • sends the tar file to the remote server.
  • triggers on the remote server unfolding of the tar file and execution of The result of this remote execution should be a mail containing the remote.log and three diff between images folders.

This procedure saves the previous folder of the base or its images and src folders with a "yyyy-mm-dd-hh:mm:ss" date tag. As time progresses, you may want to clean-up this accumulation of saves. for base update

The shell script below is executed on your remote server, and installs your base at the proper location (according to the overall set-up described here).

# BASE BASES_SERVER BIN_DIR_SERVER and ADDRESS will be replaced by the appropriate values by sed
DATE=$(date +"%Y-%m-%d-%T")

echo 'Error log of update for base: BASE' > ~/remote.log
echo $DATE >> ~/remote.log

# Save current version 
cd BASES_SERVER 2>> ~/remote.log
if [ -d ./BASE.gwb ]  # do it only if folder exists
  mv ./BASE.gwb  ./BASE-$DATE.gwb 2>> ~/remote.log

# Extract new base from .tar file
tar xf ~/BASE.tar 2>> ~/remote.log
# rebuild BASE from .gw file
BIN_DIR_SERVER/gwc1 -f -o BASE 2>> ~/remote.log
BIN_DIR_SERVER/updnldb BASE 2>> ~/remote.log

if [ -f ./BASE-$DATE.gwb/history ] # do it only if file exists
  cp -f ./BASE-$DATE.gwb/history ./BASE.gwb 2>> ~/remote.log
if [ -f ./BASE-$DATE.gwb/forum ]  # do it only if file exists
  cp -f ./BASE-$DATE.gwb/forum   ./BASE.gwb 2>> ~/remote.log 
# done
cd >> ~/remote.log

# Create a link to css.txt in the bases/src folder
ln -s -f ~/GeneWeb/geneweb-$VERS/gw/etc/css.txt BASES_SERVER/src/BASE/css.txt 2>> ~/remote.log

# compute diffs between server and personal computer for image folders
echo '' >> ~/remote.log
if [ -d BASES_SERVER/images/BASE ]     # do it only if folder exists
  ls BASES_SERVER/images/BASE          > ./ls-personnes-serveur.txt
  echo 'Personnes diff serveur vs local' >> ~/remote.log
  diff ./ls-personnes-serveur.txt ./ls-personnes.txt >> ~/remote.log
  echo "No folder BASES_SERVER/images/BASE" >> ~/remote.log
echo '' >> ~/remote.log
if [ -d BASES_SERVER/src/BASE/ ]       # do it only if folder exists
  ls BASES_SERVER/src/BASE             > ./ls-src-files-serveur.txt
  echo 'Src files diff serveur vs local' >> ~/remote.log
  diff ./ls-src-files-serveur.txt ./ls-src-files.txt >> ~/remote.log
  echo "No folder BASES_SERVER/src/BASE" >> ~/remote.log
echo '' >> ~/remote.log
if [ -d BASES_SERVER/src/BASE/images ] # do it only if folder exists
  ls BASES_SERVER/src/BASE/images      > ./ls-images-serveur.txt
  echo 'Images diff serveur vs local' >> ~/remote.log
  diff ./ls-images-serveur.txt ./ls-images.txt >> ~/remote.log
  echo "No folder BASES_SERVER/src/BASE/images" >> ~/remote.log

rm ./ls-*.txt

/usr/bin/mail -s 'Update error log' 'ADDRESS' < ~/remote.log
rm -f ~/remote.* for images or src update

The shell script below is executed on your remote server, and installs the images or src/images folders for your base at the proper location (according to the overall set-up described here).

Depending on the size of your images folders, and on the number of new images requiring upload, you may prefer to upload images individually with your preferred ftp client rather than doing the bulk upload proposed here. Remember that the base upload script performs a comparison between the images folders on your personal computer and your server.

# BASE BASES_SERVER and ADDRESS will be replaced by the appropriate values by sed

DATE=$(date +"%Y-%m-%d-%T")

if [ -e ./images.tmp ]
  rm -f ./images.tmp
if [ -e ./src.tmp ]
  rm -f ./src.tmp

echo "Error log of update for $FILES of base: BASE" > ~/remote.log
echo "`date`" >> ~/remote.log 

# Save current version then move new version
if [ -d BASES_SERVER/$FILES/BASE ]  # do it only if folder exists
mv ./BASE BASES_SERVER/$FILES 2>> ~/remote.log 

/usr/bin/mail -s 'Update error log' 'ADDRESS' < ~/remote.log
rm -f ~/remote.*

Debugging your remote server

Debugging your remote server may be tricky, but some systematic approach and several tools will help.

  • Verify first that your HTTP server works properly. This is achieved by typing your_server_name in the URL window of your browser which should return the content of index.html.
  • Verify that the cgi mechanism works. This is achieved by typing your_server_name/cgi-bin/ as seen above (see #Folders and files).
If your server returns a "Internal server error", several hypothesis should be examined:
  • Your script does not work properly. Run it directly on a terminal window by typing ./ (see #Folders and files).
  • Your server accepts only files with extension .cgi. Rename into test-cgi.cgi and try again.
  • The first two lines returned by your script are not exactly as shown (the second one should be a blank line, Note also that "Content-type text/html\n\n" did not work in my tests).
  • You also may want to verify that your "End-of-Lines" are correct for your server environment. Remember that there are three different such EOL encoding for Windows, Mac, and Linux!!
  • Examine the HTTP server log file on your server by typing:
tail ~/logs/access.logs.current
(your environment may store access logs somewhere else, but this is the most likely place)
Examination of the log file may give you a hint as to the nature of your problem.
  • Another typical issue is that of ownership of the various files associated with GeneWeb. In the case described here, ownership is user and group ownership is ftpusers. Depending on the specific method you have used to install GeneWeb, this may vary. Some discussions on the Yahoo! group forum about GeneWeb mentions geneweb for group ownership!
  • You may also want to look at the gwd log file if your GeneWeb server works only partially (welcome page is ok, but other pages do not work properly). This log file is specified in the gwd launch command. In our example, it sits at $DIR/gwd.log where $DIR depends on the specific version of GeneWeb you are currently running (see details in #The cgi folder section above).
  • You may end up in a situation where GeneWeb works only partially, in particular it may miss some css style sheet or JavaScript files. One way of debugging this kind of problem consists in exploring the HTML source file produced by GeneWeb (your browser offers this capability addressed to "developers"). Is such source files, you will find reference to css and JavaScript files whose source should appear in your browser if you click on the link. In case of bad configuration, you will obtain an error messages such as "File not found" or "You do not have permission"…
Remember that some of the files needed for proper display are fetched by the HTTP server rather than by GeneWeb.

Access rights and protections

In CGI mode, gwd runs behind a standard HTTP server, typically Apache. As such, the owner of the gwd process is the owner of the HTTP server. For instance, with Apache, this owner is defined in the http.conf file and its default value is set to user: _www and group: —www. When running within a hosting environment, such as 1&1, you typically do not have access to this parameter. You must therefore organise the protection level of the various folders involved with GeneWeb appropriately:

  • read access is usually allowed by default
  • for wizards, gwd needs write access to bases/cnt/actlog, bases/cnt/robot (if you have activated the -robot_xcl parameter)
  • and when modifications are performed, gwd needs write access to bases/basename.lck, bases/basename.gwd/notes_link and to bases/basename.gwd/patches

Creating those files, and doing a sudo chown _www filename seems to be sufficient.

Access problems are reported in the HTTP error log file, unfortunately not always available in the case of shared hosting services!!

Access to various files through your hosted HTTP server is also controlled by your hosting service and through .htaccess files spread across your folders. Managing a coherent set of .htaccess files is not trivial and error prone!! The examples below apply to Apache version 2.4 only (earlier versions have different directives!!).

Options +FollowSymLinks should allow following symbolic links

Require all denied prevents access to this folder to all users. Require all granted allows access to this folder to all users.

AllowOverride AuthConfig
AuthType Basic
AuthName "Username/Password required"
AuthUserFile /Users/Name/SomeFolder/htfriends.auth
Require valid-user

should restrict access to this folder to users supplying a valid password as defined by the htfriends.auth file.

htpasswd /Users/Name/SomeFolder/htfriends.auth UserName will trigger the process to add a new user to the list.

GeneWeb Manual

Rembrandt Old Man Reading a Book.jpg

Use and manage genealogical databases

Technical annex