Product Reviews

What's Your Web Site Up To?

Here are two programs to help you analyze those log files that IIS uses to audit Web site activity.

If you’re using Internet Information Server to handle your company’s Web site, you’ve probably noticed that it saves log files. Perhaps you’ve even opened one of these log files up in a text editor and realized that it has complete information on who’s visited your Web server and what they looked at when they visited. But like any other mass of completely raw data, Web server log files are difficult to extract useful information from. Fortunately, there are applications designed to help you with this task. In this review, I’ll look at two programs: Analog and Statistics Server.

Before you start analyzing Web logs, you need to understand a little bit about them. Web logs capture the HTTP requests that come into your Web server. These requests include a lot of information, including time and date, name of the browser, requesting IP address, and requested page. There are several standard formats for Web logs, including one Microsoft developed that IIS defaults to using, and another from the W3C that uses an extended log format. I recommend the W3C’s extended format to capture the most information; you can make the change in the Root Web Properties dialog box within Internet Service Manager.

Once you’ve got a few days’ worth of logs, the easiest way to look for patterns is to use Analog, a freeware tool. Analog is available as source code or as an executable for a wide variety of platforms, including all versions of Windows that can run IIS. Analog’s operation is simple. First, create a text file that tells it what reports you want. Second, run the program. Third, open the output in any Web browser (see Figure 1).

Figure 1. Analog gives you a quick view of your IIS Web logs; this is a sample of one of its daily reports.

A few of the reports I find useful in Analog:

  • Number of hits by hour, day, week, or month

  • Which pages are the most-viewed, by number of views

  • Which pages contribute the most load to the server, by number of bytes downloaded

  • What search terms people are using to find the site

  • What other sites are sending business my way

  • Which countries visitors come from

  • What pages failed to download

Surveys have shown that Analog is the most popular log file analyzer around, and it’s easy to see why. The program is very fast, it produces sensible output, and it’s free. Another measure of its popularity is that people have written Analog add-ins to handle configuration chores or create pretty graphs from the output. If you’re running a Web site at all, you really ought to try this program.

Sometimes getting reports after the fact just isn’t enough, though. In that case, you’ll want to take a look at a program such as Statistics Server Live Stats 5.02, from MediaHouse Software. Statistics Server still relies on Web logs generated by your server, but it reads the log file continuously (you can set the interval; it defaults to once every two minutes). Statistics Server software then translates the log file entries into a series of Web pages that you can access from its own server port.

Configuration of Statistics Server is handled through the same browser interface that displays the reports. This includes choosing which server to analyze, setting security for the Statistics Server, and so on. Help pages in HTML format walk you through the process of setting up for the first time, and you can be looking at data within half an hour of downloading the program.

Statistics Server automatically creates a variety of useful pages, including:

  • A summary of who’s logged on right now, and what pages they’ve been looking at

  • Monitoring of particular pages or IP addresses

  • Summaries of traffic by day, week, or month

  • Bandwidth usage

  • Most popular pages
  • New referrers in the last week

That’s just a sample. The bottom line is that Statistics Server lets you keep an eye on your Web traffic as it’s happening. You can use this just to reassure yourself that everything is working correctly, to watch for failing links, or to track the progress of an online promotion. It’s a well-designed program with lots of functionality.

Figure 2. Statistics Server Live Stats produces real-time, configurable reports of your Web site's visitorship.

You can download a fully-functional 30-day trial from the Mediahouse Web site and see for yourself. Pricing for the registered version starts at $395 for a version capable of tracking the activity of up to 50 Web servers.

If you’re running a Web site without some sort of Web log analysis tool, you’re running blind. With Analog being freeware, there’s no excuse for this. If you’re doing any sort of e-commerce or other marketing activity with your Web site, you should consider how much up-to-the-minute information is worth to you and evaluate Statistics Server Live Stats as well.

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