MacFUSE Follow-Up

I recently wondered aloud about the benefits of MacFUSE-supplied ssh access in a web development environment. A reader asked for a follow-up in the comments to that post, so I thought I'd just do a quickie today.

After writing the article, I tried out MacFUSE and the sshfs extension to that bundle. This combo facilitates the mounting of ssh-enabled computers directly on the Mac OS Desktop via a bundled GUI app, foregoing the need for an FTP client application. It was our hope that this would provide a more intuitive and user-friendly experience for our web developers. Unfortunately, in my experience there were bugs: the ssh filesystems often hung or had trouble mounting, often requiring a logout or restart to get things back to normal. (Mind you, this was over a month ago, in Mac OS X 10.4.something-or-other and God-knows-what version of MacFUSE and sshfs.) Also, from a user-simplification standpoint I felt that adding yet another application to the mix (the sshfs GUI app for mounting shares) didn't really do all that much to simplify things. In fact, in some ways, it complicated matters as it is not standard practice anywhere as yet.

That said, I really like the idea of mounting any sort of network share in the Finder. It's what's done in every aspect of our filesharing lives except web development, for some reason (that reason mainly being that Apple, inexplicably, still has not implemented this capability into the Finder.) As I mentioned in the original article, there are styles of development that take place outside the lab that are inherently different from what can happen inside a lab. The use of MAMP, for instance, is not friendly to a shared, multi-user environment, but is perfectly suited to a lone user on a single computer. So, again, I wonder aloud, do we provide a different way of working inside the lab than outside? A completely different workflow?

Ultimately, my answer will mostly be yes, I think. We provide it. We provide it right alongside the sorts of workflows that are common in the industry today. We provide both. We show students. We show teachers. And hopefully, someday, down the line, this will become the standard way of developing for the web. Until then we leave the old ways in place; they are not mutually exclusive.

My concern with MacFUSE and sshfs right now is stability. Because the product requires kernel extensions, and because I saw bugs in my limited testing, I am reluctant to put this on our machines. I can, however, use NFS from within our lab to provide a testing ground for the same sort of behavior that MacFUSE provides (i.e. ssh servers on the Desktop). And this will actually fit in nicely with the way we mount other shares in the lab as well (more nicely than the sshfs GUI, in particular). I will most likely implement this over the summer, however, as there's not enough time in the semester for it to really have much impact. Also, things will probably change a bit with the arrival of Leopard to the lab, and I don't see much point in making folks learn it twice.

Again, external development can be handled differently. So I may recommend, for advanced users, the use of MacFUSE outside the lab if they really end up digging the Desktop web development experience.

That's my take at this point on MacFUSE and web development. Hope it's useful to someone.