WinCE wants to embed micro Web servers everywhere...

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From: Adam Rifkin (
Date: Sat Nov 25 2000 - 19:55:03 PST

I continue to be amazed at how well-positioned Microsoft is... and how
clueful: "All of these tasks could be accomplished through a [Web]
server application running on the gas pump that allows you to monitor or
manipulate aspects of the device. What better way to do this than with
a Web server, which uses one of the most popular client/server protocols
around -- HTTP." Bless you, BillG... wanna invest in a small dot net startup?


Windows CE Web Server: Using Web Tools to Monitor and Manage Embedded Devices
by Leonid Braginski and Matthew Powell, MSDN Online Magazine, May 2000
This article assumes you know ASP, IIS, and ASAPI.


SUMMARY When it ships, Windows CE 3.0 is expected to include Web
services via the Windows CE Web Server. This new component of the
Windows CE operating system will allow developers to share data or
monitor and manage devices that are running Windows CE -- whether they
are handheld PCs or embedded in devices such as gas pumps or

This article explains how the Windows CE Web Server component can be
included in the operating system for a given device. We'll also show
you how the Web server features you're familiar with from Microsoft
Internet Information Services are implemented in the Windows CE Web

When you think of Windows CE, you probably think of those handheld
and palm-size devices that some people use to organize their calendars
and contacts. Putting a server application such as a Web server on one
of these devices might seem a little crazy at first. But the Windows CE
Web Server lets you remotely monitor and manage any device running
Windows CE -- whether it's a handheld PC or a gas pump.

Windows CE is a 32-bit preemptive multitasking operating system designed
to run on various portable and embedded devices -- handheld organizers
are just the most common example. The entire operating system is
designed to fit in the device's ROM. Its small footprint and support for
programming features such as networking, COM, and rich GDI facilities
are not the only highlights of Windows CE. What makes Windows CE unique
is its flexibility in terms of operating system subcomponents and its
ability to run on a wide range of processors.

Although today you're more likely to see Windows CE running on a
handheld PC than on something like a refrigerator or a gas pump, that
isn't the only intended use for Windows CE. You may have a hard time
imagining a gas station with a keyboard attached to every pump, or a
refrigerator with a mouse, and you're unlikely to see an embedded data
acquisition device with a pretty monitor. To address these issues and
make the operating system available to a variety of devices, Windows CE
is composed of multiple building blocks. We'll get back to these
building blocks later. Let's first examine what this has to do with the
Windows CE Web Server.

Why a Web Server?

A handheld device running a Web server is not such a bad idea in
itself. For example, you could take notes in a meeting using your
handheld device and instantly make your notes available to others in the
room via the Web server in that device. Using only a Web browser, anyone
could easily view documents that are on your handheld device.

This scenario illustrates one compelling reason to run a Web server on a
Windows CE-based device. Remember that Windows CE is designed to run on
embedded devices, such as printers, cameras, telephones, and the
refrigerator and gas pump mentioned earlier. If you owned such a gas
pump, there are a number of pieces of information you might want to
monitor. For example, you may want to know how many gallons of gas had
been purchased from the pump today, or whether it is pumping, processing
a credit card transaction, or sitting idle. You might want to turn the
pump off, adjust the gasoline price, or change a message that is
displayed to customers. All of these tasks could be accomplished through
a server application running on the gas pump that allows you to monitor
or manipulate aspects of the device.

What better way to do this than with a Web server, which uses one of the
most popular client/server protocols around -- HTTP. There are other
specifications and protocols that can be used to manage a device, such
as the Simple Network Management Protocol (SNMP). But unlike SNMP, which
requires specific SNMP management software, any machine with a Web
browser installed can manage a device through a Web server. You can
create the entire management architecture without having to register
object IDs or create MIB files. A Web server is much easier to develop
applications for, and is much more flexible.

Building Blocks of Windows CE

Let's say you decide to build that gas pump. A gas pump does not have a
standard keyboard or monitor, and does little more than monitor the flow
of gasoline, calculate the total sales, and display messages to
customers. It certainly won't be running Microsoft Pocket Word. Assuming
that a Hardware Abstraction Layer (HAL) has already been written for
your target platform (the pump), you could simply choose the operating
system components that you want to run on the device. (Creating a HAL
for the device is beyond the scope of this article. If you're
interested, take a look at

for details.) The list of components might include modules supporting
network communications, a Web server, and custom modules for managing
the gas pump. Once the required components are selected, the Windows CE
operating system can be built. The build platform can later be burned
into the ROM for the device. Now we have a gas pump ready to run on the Web.

The tool used to build all of this is called Platform Builder, and it
can be used to build a version of the Windows CE operating system to run
on any CPU for which a HAL has been written. Information on Platform
Builder can be found at

The Windows CE Web Server is a framework that accepts various building
components such as ASP COM objects, ISAPI extension DLLs, and so
on. Without these building blocks, the server is only partly useful. The
real value of the Web server is its ability to easily invoke components
that take advantage of the unique features of the operating system. As a
part of the process of creating a custom Windows CE operating system for
your device, you would also build an SDK and make it available to
developers who will create software that runs on your device. Among
other things, this SDK would include a set of header files and libraries
that would allow programmers to take advantage of the specific features
of the Windows CE operating system on your device. For a refrigerator,
the SDK may export something like the following function, which returns
the temperature for a specific shelf:

   DWORD GetCurrentTemp (DWORD dwShelfId);

Now any programmer with a Refrigerator SDK can build an ASP object or
ISAPI extension that gets the current temperature.

If the device has network access, whether via a wireless network or some
other type of communications interface, the programmer or any consumer
can download an application that would run on the device. Because
Windows CE Web Server is part of the operating system embedded on the
refrigerator, there is nothing else that needs to be done. So now
whenever you have a Web browser open, you can connect to your fridge and
make sure that your steaks are fresh.

Before we move on to the actual implementation, we should point out that
this article was written based on a prerelease version of the Windows CE
Web Server

The Windows CE Web Server is scheduled to be shipped as part of the
Windows CE 3.0 Platform Builder release. Some details may change in the
final version of the Web server. We installed the server on a handheld
PC running Windows CE 2.11. For ISAPI programming we used Visual C++ 6.0.

Web Server Implementation

If you are familiar with Microsoft Internet Information Services (IIS),
you will find many similarities in Windows CE Web Server. The final
version of Windows CE Web Server is expected to support most of the same
components as IIS, including extensions, ISAPI filters, ASP scripts, and
of course static HTML files. To keep the Windows CE Web Server footprint
as small as possible, there is no support for CGI applications since
ISAPI and ASP applications are more efficient anyway. So let's take a
look at some of the differences between IIS and the Windows CE Web

The Windows CE Web Server is implemented as an installable device driver
called HTTPD.DLL, which is loaded by device.exe when the system
boots. (The D in HTTPD stands for daemon.) Because loading it as a
device driver means that Windows CE Web Server is running whenever the
device is running, debugging any code launched by the Web server is a
bit complex. ISAPI extensions, filters, and ASP COM objects are loaded
by the server in its own process space just as COM objects and ISAPI
extensions are on Windows 2000 for Web applications configured to run
with low application protection (in-process). Because Web server
applications are running as device drivers, it's possible for a
misbehaving application to destabilize the entire system. To debug any
code loaded as a device driver, you need to actually debug
device.exe. However, since this is a device driver, it's not possible to
use the Visual C++ debugging tools; you'll need a kernel
debugger. Setting up a kernel debugger for Windows CE is different from
setting one up on Windows 2000. Figure 1 shows the Windows CE Remote
Process Viewer. Notice that device.exe has two modules related to
Windows CE Web Server loaded within its process space: simpleisapi.dll
Figure 1 Windows CE Remote Process Viewer

To avoid using a kernel debugger for your Web applications, a special
wrapper process, httpdexe.exe, is provided with the Windows CE Web
Server distribution. Starting with Platform Builder 3.0, you'll be able
to choose httpdexe.exe as an optional operating system component, so you
can include it in the Windows CE installation for your device, if
necessary. If it's not already installed, you can manually copy
httpdexe.exe from the Web server distribution files to your Windows
CE-based device.

To debug your Web applications on Windows CE without using a kernel
debugger, follow these steps:

Disable the Web server by either running vishttpd.exe or using the
httpdsvc.exe command-line utility with the -stop option.

Make sure httpdexe.exe is in the root directory on the device.

Open Visual Studio, select File | Open, and open httpdexe.exe from your
PC. Make sure you currently have an ActiveSync connection with your
Windows CE-based device.

Now run httpdexe.exe from Visual Studio and debug the process. If your
code calls the DebugBreak API, you will be able to debug your ISAPI
application or ASP COM object with the debugger for Windows CE in Visual C++.

There are a few important notes to remember. First, httpdexe.exe does
not fully mimic the functionality of the Windows CE Web Server. Even
though it uses all of the same registry keys, it cannot be controlled by
vishttp.exe. Once httpdexe.exe is running, the only way to stop it is to
reboot the system. If you have ISAPI code or an ASP COM object that may
potentially crash, running your code with httpdexe.exe is a much more
benign option than running your code as a device driver. Since
device.exe is the heart of the operating system, it is much safer to
crash the httpdexe.exe process instead.

Windows CE Management

The management and HTTP protocol support in the Windows CE Web Server is
quite different than it is in IIS. Keep in mind that the Windows CE Web
Server is intended to run on embedded devices, so it doesn't make much
sense to put an elaborate (or any) management user interface on the
device. Therefore, you won't be using a Microsoft Management Console
snap-in on Windows CE to administer your server like you do with
IIS. Because Windows CE Web Server does not use the Metabase, the IIS
Admin Base Objects and IIS Admin Objects interfaces are not available on
Windows CE.

All of the server configuration information for the Windows CE Web
server is stored in the registry under HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\COMM\HTTPD.

The server can be fully configured and managed through the registry
settings on the device. Because Windows CE itself does not include a
registry editor, you'll see the Windows CE Remote Registry Editor shown
in Figure 2.

Figure 2 Changing Registry Settings

Since all settings are stored in the registry, you simply change
settings in the registry and restart the Web server to configure it. In
the prerelease version we used, once the Web server was installed, there
was a shortcut to vishttpd.exe on the desktop that conveniently let us
restart the Windows CE Web Server. You can also run the following
command to restart it:

   HTTPDSVC.EXE -restart

The end result is that the Windows CE Web Server will be restarted and
new registry values will take effect. Figure 3 lists the available
registry values for configuring your Windows CE Web Server. It is worth
mentioning that the released version of the Web server will not include
the vishttpd.exe utility. The command-line utility HTTPDSVC.EXE will be
the only tool to start or restart the Web service.

The released version of the Web server will have two more registry
values: Post Read Size and a DWORD called MaxConnections. PostReadSize
determines how much data to read in on the initial post (and also how
much to read in a read raw data filter that requests more data by
returning the SF_STATUS_REQ_READ_ NEXT). By default this is set
48KB. This registry value is similar to the UploadReadAheadSize Metabase
property in IIS 5.0. Max Connections is the maximum number of
simultaneous connections the Web server accepts. By default this is 10.

Also located in the registry is the list of virtual directories
configured for the Web server. Virtual directories have their own keys
under HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\COMM\HTTPD\VROOTS. Each virtual directory has
its own settings that allow you to specify the associated physical path
and other configuration options. Figure 4 shows the available registry
values for virtual roots.

The Windows CE Web Server also provides an administration tool called
Web Server Admin that simplifies server configuration. This tool is just
an ISAPI DLL, and can be accessed via http://CE_ Machine/Admin. This
ISAPI extension allows you to configure many of the Web server options,
like creating virtual directories.

The source code for the administration extension, httpdadm.dll, is part
of the Windows CE Web Server distribution files, and can be used as the
basis for your own tools. However, the administration ISAPI extension
directly obtains pointers to the functions exported by the server
executable, which controls starting and stopping the server. If you want
to write an app that accomplishes a similar task, it may be tempting to
use the same method, but there are no promises that this method will
continue to work in the future. A better solution would be to start
httpdsvc.exe programmatically using the CreateProcess API with -stop,
-start, and -refresh parameters in the lpCommandLine parameter.

One common feature of Web servers is the ability to log requests and the
Windows CE Web Server provides this functionality as well. The Windows
CE Web Server creates a file called current-httpd.log in the logging
directory. When the log file reaches its maximum, it will copy the
current log to previous-httpd.log and create a new current-httpd.log
file. If there is already a previous-httpd.log, it will be
overwritten. The Windows CE Web Server logs all the information using
the standard NCSA HTTP logging method, which includes a timestamp, the
client's IP address, the HTTP method, for the request, the requested
URL, the HTTP response code, and any appended data from ISAPI
extensions, filters, or ASP pages.

HTTP Support

The Windows CE Web server supports a limited set of the HTTP/1.0
specification outlined in RFC 1945

The Windows CE Web Server only supports the GET, HEAD, and POST methods
of the HTTP specification. Although you can specify other status codes
from your ASP page or ISAPI extensions or filters, the Windows CE Web
Server only returns the following HTTP status codes:

200, "OK"
301, "Moved Permanently"
304, "Not Modified"
400, "Bad Request"
401, "Unauthorized"
403, "Forbidden"
404, "Object Not Found"
500, "Internal Server Error"
501, "Not Implemented"
503, "Server Too Busy"

The Windows CE Web Server supports most of the common HTTP headers that
are used by HTTP/1.0-compliant browsers and other Web servers, including
Connection: Keep-Alive support to reuse TCP connections. Any headers
that the Web server doesn't support are parsed, but ignored.

ISAPI Support

The Windows CE Web Server supports most of the functionality provided
for ISAPI extensions and filters on IIS. As for IIS, to create an ISAPI
extension for the Windows CE Web Server you build a DLL that exports the
standard ISAPI entry points: GetExtensionVersion, HttpExtensionProc, and
TerminateExtension (the latter is optional). GetExtensionVersion is
called when the DLL is first loaded, HttpExtensionProc is called for
each request, and TerminateExtension is called when the DLL is being
unloaded. Interaction with the Web server is performed through the
standard ISAPI callback functions.

The following limitations apply to ISAPI extension support on the
Windows CE Web Server:

No asynchronous support You cannot return HSE_STATUS_ PENDING from your
HttpExtensionProc, and there is no support for the HSE_IO_ASYNC
WriteClient flag.

ServerSupportFunction limitations The ServerSupportFunction callback
function only supports the following options: HSE_REQ_
version of the Web server should also support HSE_SEND_

GetServerVariable support Most of the common server variables are
supported in Windows CE. But because there is no Secure Sockets Layer
(SSL) or metabase support, none of the server variables that correspond
to SSL or metabase information are provided. The ALL_HTTP server
variable is also not available.

As with ISAPI extensions, most of the ISAPI filter support available on
IIS is also available with Windows CE Web Server. ISAPI filters allow
you to get notifications of various events during the processing of
requests received by the server so that you can modify the way the
server works. As with extensions, you build a DLL that exports the ISAPI
filter functions GetFilterVersion, HttpFilterProc, and TerminateFilter

The following restrictions apply to ISAPI filter support in the Windows
CE Web Server:

No SSL support Because there is no SSL support provided by the Windows
flags to GetFilterVersion are ignored. The limitations to the available
server variables for SSL-oriented variables are obviously also not

No SF_STATUS_REQ_READ_NEXT support Raw data filters do not have the
option to wait for more data using the SF_STATUS_ REQ_READ_NEXT return
code. If you return this value, it is handled as if you returned
provided in the Beta version. The released version of the Web server
should support this return value.

ServerSupportFunction support The SF_REQ_SEND_RESPONSE_HEADER option for
ServerSupportFunction is pretty much the only ServerSupportFunction
supported for ISAPI filters.

GetServerVariable support The same limitations for ISAPI extensions
apply to support for the GetServerVariable callback function for ISAPI

Modifying request and response headers In the SF_NOTIFY_PREPROC_HEADERS
notification, you can only modify the method, URI, and HTTP version
fields. You cannot modify any existing HTTP headers. When sending
responses, you cannot delete or change any existing headers.

ASP Support

The Windows CE Web Server has some very functional support for ASP
scripting. You can use both VBScript and JScript as long as the
corresponding components are installed on the system. The normal <% %>
delimiters are still used, and the object model is similar to the one
provided by IIS.

The following restrictions apply to ASP support on Windows CE Web Server:

Intrinsic objects -- The Request, Response, and Server intrinsic objects
are available, but there is no support for Session or Application
objects on the Windows CE Web Server. This implies that state is not
maintained automatically for you by ASP. (You will need to set and read
your own cookies to maintain state.) There is also no support for
global.asa files. Because there is no support for Session and
Application objects, there is also no support for the OnStart and OnEnd
callback functions associated with ASP sessions and applications.

No transaction support -- Unlike IIS, the Windows CE Web Server does not
provide built-in support for transactions.

No RUNAT support -- There is no support for using the <SCRIPT> tag with
the RUNAT=SERVER option. Any information in the <SCRIPT> tag would
simply be sent to the client without the expected server processing.

Collection limitations -- The intrinsic ASP objects offer a number of
collections for the support of ServerVariables, Cookies, QueryStrings,
and Forms. However, the collection implementation in Windows CE Web
Server is not as full-featured as in IIS. Enumerating collections in a
For/Next loop is not supported. Elements of the collection can only be
accessed directly.

Also, the ServerVariables collection is implemented as a method -- not
as a collection. You can get the associated values of ServerVariables,
but you can't use the normal inherent collection properties and methods
like this:


The previously mentioned limitations of the GetServerVariable ISAPI
callback function apply to the Request.ServerVariables collection as well.

Request object limitations -- Along with the collection limitations
mentioned earlier, the Request object does not support the
ClientCertificate collection due to the lack of SSL support. The
Request.BinaryRead method needs to be used with caution since the
Windows CE environment runs in Unicode mode. The BinaryRead method makes
no attempt to convert ASCII strings to Unicode.

Response object limitations -- The Response object supports most of the
functionality available from the IIS ASP implementation. There is no
support for the CacheControl or PICS properties, but you can achieve the
same functionality by adding the appropriate HTTP header with the
AddHeader method. The AddHeader method only appends header values to the
HTTP response headers. Trying to overwrite a header value will result in
simply adding another HTTP header to the end of the existing
headers. The previous header is not removed.

Server object limitations -- The only supported server object methods are
MapPath and URLEncode. You can still launch objects from your ASP page,
but instead of using the Server.CreateObject method, you simply use the
scripting support for creating objects. For example, in VBScript you
would use the following code:

   <% Set MyObj = CreateObject("object.class") %>

Processing directives -- The only supported processing directives are
Language, Codepage, and LCID. As mentioned earlier, there is no
transaction support.

#include support -- You can include other files just like you can with
IIS. However, there are limitations on the number of include files
allowed per page, and there is no support for nested includes.

Build a Sample App

The ISAPI extension and filter implementations for the Windows CE Web
Server are not as rich as the IIS implementations. Nonetheless, you
still can easily write powerful Web server applications for Windows
CE. To demonstrate ISAPI on Windows CE, we took a simple ISAPI extension
called simpleisapi.dll that we had developed for IIS, and ported it to
Windows CE. Our sample simply dumps the various server variables and any
posted data back to the browser in the HTTP response.

The code for the ISAPI extension is shown in Figure 5. Granted this is a
pretty trivial sample, but we were able to take our existing code,
rebuild it for the Windows CE-based device, and come out with a working
Web application. You will notice that a number of the server variables
in the HTML response (see Figure 6) are missing because those server
variables are not supported by the Windows CE Web Server. The
application still works, however, without causing any failures on the
server or in the ISAPI extension.

You can think of the Windows CE Web Server as a framework where
developers can plug in their own custom ASP scripts, ASP COM objects,
and ISAPI extensions and filters. The real power of the Windows CE-based
device will become apparent as more devices running Windows CE 3.0 and
more SDKs that support the Web server components become available. If
you are creating devices that run Windows CE Web Server, you might want
to publish your own SDK. If you are a developer, get ready to use all
sorts of new SDKs so that you can make the remote management and
monitoring of a Windows CE-based device as easy as opening a Web browser.


Microsoft .NET extends the ideas of both the Internet and the operating system by making the Internet itself the basis of a new operating system. Ultimately, this will allow developers to create programs that transcend device boundaries and fully harness the connectivity of the Internet in their applications. Microsoft .NET is thus a significant evolution from current approaches to computing... .NET is important to end users because it makes computers easier to use and far more functional. Specifically, it frees them from the artificial constraints of hardware: User data lives on the Internet, not on the laptop -- it can be accessed from any desktop, laptop, cell phone, or PDA, and can be integrated across applications. --

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