Using Opera Unite in your Development Cycle

Using Opera with its Unite service can be invaluable to your development cycle. Most site developers are using their workstation as their development server while they get a site written and developed. During that cycle of development it is virtually impossible for anyone to view the progress without having physical access to that workstation where it is being worked on. I mean, what client or partner isn’t going to want to see “how things are going”?

With Opera Unite you can install different JavaScript server programs that run off of your system while Opera is running. One of those JavaScript server programs that are of particular interest to to web developers working on a development LAMP stack is the Web Proxy (http://unite.opera.com/application/272/) server program. Using Web Proxy it is possible to serve up a program running on your development server. Don’t misunderstand me, it is no perfect solution. The Opera forums are already filled with security complaints and concerns. At this point I wouldn’t feel comfortable using it as a full time solution. But it will enable you to show off the development progress of a site to a client or fellow developer anywhere.

I have has problems with it however. Sometimes you’ll need to refresh the browser to “catch” a renegade style sheet or JavaScript file. Using this server program counts as using a proxy from your development server (LAMP) to the Unite server (running inside Opera) running on your machine that is running through a proxy on Opera’s servers, so there’s bound to be small glitches in throughput. Anything you serve up that uses cookies for security is a security risk. There are other various complaints about the Web Proxy Unite service, but those mentioned are the ones I concern myself with the most.

It’s surprisingly simple to set up too. Download and install the Opera web browser from http://www.opera.com/ . Then go to the link for the Web Proxy Unite program mentioned previously and hit the install button. From there you’ll be asked to enable Unite services in your browser (you’ll need to create a free Opera account and configure the Unite server for your computer – its easy). After that you set a path for the proxy which should be the name of your running development server (on my Windows box its localhost – I believe it sets the running server as default). It also asks for a folder where the content should be served from. DON’T set this as the folder of your program on the development server. That folder will only be served up by Web Proxy if your LAMP development server is off (great for static content though). The path to your localhost will be shown in bold on the configuration dialog. That is the web address to the root of your development server installation. If the program you are working on is in a sub-folder simply add it to that web address to serve it.

One other Opera product I use during development is the Opera Mobile emulator (http://www.opera.com/developer/tools/#operamobile) which emulates a smart phone browser on your desktop. Opera’s mobile edition is getting more and more popular. Viewing how your pages look in an emulator is a blessing when your debugging your css. On a side note: I’ve come across some great web development articles on the Opera developer site (such as this one on mobile pages – http://dev.opera.com/articles/view/the-mobile-web-optimization-guide/).

Opera’s Unite Web Proxy and mobile emulator can be useful anyone developing web sites. Considering that Opera is a free product there’s no reason not to have it on your system.  Opera widgets (http://dev.opera.com/sdk/) are now first class objects on your system. They run as a standalone program does now (without the browser being open). You do, however, need to have the browser installed on your system for them to run. All in all Opera’s a great browser even if you don’t use it for everyday web surfing.

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