Sunday, May 23, 2010

Gators and Nautilus and DAVs, Oh My!

If you're here to get WebDAV working with Nautilus for HostGator, then just jump to the end of this article. The solution is trivial.

If you wish to bask in my purple prose, read on:


I'm setting up a site on HostGator, which is a host provider of good repute. It's starting as place to put some of my little code snippets that don't warrant a full blown project. Who knows what it will turn in to.

So far it's been basically a positive experience, but it's not without its shortcomings. I'm trying to keep notes on dealing with HostGator so other people don't fall in to the same traps I've tripped.

One thing I ran into was getting WebDAV working with Linux. Specifically Ubunto's "Karmic Kaola" under Gnome, using the Nautilus file manager.

Of DAVs and Nautali

The first problem I ran into is that HostGator gives it's version of WebDAV the name "Web Disk".

I don't mind them trying to make web interfaces seem a bit easier to deal with, but somewhere on the page they really should tell us that "Web Disk" is really just another name for WebDAV.

Once you get that under your belt tracking down problems becomes a little easier.

The next problem I ran into is, well, I'm trying to use Nautilus.

Nautilus is the Gnome file manager. For many users it's the entire interface to the disk. It should, above all other things, be reasonably fast, accurate and reliable. All else follows from that.

Unfortunately Nautilus is notorious for running down rat holes while not getting the basics done right. It has improved a lot in the last 2 years, but it still plays amateur night a few times too often. This was one of those times.

I went to the HostGator site and navigated down to the "Web Disk" page. I selected Nautilus and followed its suggestions. They wanted me to connect to the location "".

I did and I got "Could not display ''."


I had no idea where to proceed from here. Is it the instructions, or is my account screwed up, or maybe Nautilus is broke?

Just to add to the confusion, HostGator has you create a user name when you create an account with them. No big deal, I chose "wiles". What they don't really make clear is that this user name isn't your domain user name. If you register the domain "" and want mail to come to "" then you need to set up another account called "". When I connect with Nautilus, should I use "wiles" or ""? The correct answer is neither, but that part's not HostGator's fault. More on that later.

So now I have and unknown protocol, with an untrusted browser connecting to a possibly mis-configured account using an unknown user name. You have to admit, it's kind of a challenge. Right?

I Prefer the Term "Challanged"

I'm not one to back down from a geek challenge, so into the fray I went. I ended up spending over an hour chopping around the Internet tubes trying to figure out what's going on. I got bits and pieces, but nothing I could really sink my teeth into.

I also wasn't sure of the format of the URL. For most services you can load in your user name into the URL and you don't have to type it in each time. For example, if you're using File Transfer Protocol (ftp), and the URL is, then you can include your user name with

Does that work with "Web Disk"? What if I'm supposed to be using Is it or

"%" is the HTML escape character and "40" is is ASCII code for "@" in hexadecimal. You knew that didn't you? I think it's a real sign of progress when connecting to a web site only requires knowledge of arcane character encoding and 2 number bases.

How about if I just create a bookmark in Nautilus, and then edit each variable separately and see if I can get anywhere? Nautilus will handle the details right? If you watch slasher moves there is always a part where some idiot says "lets split up!" The music they play at that point belongs here.

Scooby Do Takes and Ax to the Forehead

First, I'm not going to get anywhere until I figure out the real protocol being used. "Web Disk" criminy! Why not just call it "Disk Huggy Bunny" and be done with it.

I went back to the HostGator page. It listed a few other OSes and other browsers. The Mac options were mysterious. The Window options were baroque. It's not looking good. My last hope: Under Linux there was the option to use Nautilus's arch enemy "Konqueror". I selected it and it offered a download for my system. Anonymous downloads makes my toes itch, so instead I sent the file directly to a text editor to check it out.

There, large as life, is the line "URL=webdavs://".

I now knew the protocol. We were moving forward.

I created the bookmark in Nautilus, set my user name, picked "Secure WebDAV (HTTPS)", and set the port.

I'm not sure about the start folder. Is it "/" or "/home/wiles" or "/public_html/"? I held my nose and left it blank.

I clicked connect and I'll be darned! I got a password prompt! Kewl. I typed in my password and crossed my fingers.

The error I got is "Could not display 'davs://'. Error: Not a WebDAV enabled share. Please select another view and try again."

This is a truly beautiful error message. First, it did *not* connect using "davs://" (more on that later). Second, the share is, in fact, a WebDav enabled share. And third, "Please select another view and try again." gives me absolutely no useful information. It was a perfect storm of rotten interface.

At this point I was pretty frustrated, and lets not kid ourselves, at this point most people have already given up. Fortunately I'm not most people. I'm a hard core uber-geek and I eat bad interfaces for breakfast! Snort!

I start creating bookmarks like they're going out of style. I try every combination I can think of. It's slow, it's tedious, it's everything a computer shouldn't be, but alas, are, and in the end, it was futile. I could not get Nautilus to connect to my HostGator site.

Nautilus: A Weasel in Drag

Hmmmm. Do I trust Nautilus? Would I lend it $10 if it asked? No. No I would not. Then why would I believe that its rotten bookmarks are doing what they say their doing? It's time to go back to first principals and start over again.

I knew, with reasonable confidence, that I'm trying to make a WebDav connection. I also think that the "s" in WebDavs" stands for "secure", as in a Secure Socket Layer (SSL) connection. When you drop the SSL requirement at HostGator, the socket number changes from 2078 to 2077. That was enough for me to make another try.

I fired up Nautilus, and in the "Location" bar I typed "webdav://". I got back "Nautilus cannot handle 'webdav' locations." Wow. What a nice, simple and useful error message. Are we sure this is Nautilus talking?

"WebDAV" isn't going to work, but I've also heard it called just "dav". I tried that.

With "dav://" I got the password pop up! I also got the "select another view" error message. Arg!

Blinky the Wonder Idiot

Then the dawn came. Does anyone else see the huge blinking "Dale is an idiot!" sign in the previous paragraph? It took me a while to see it.

Even though it's the standard, and Nautilus is reacting to it, do I really know that the "wiles@" part of the URL is kosher? What happens if I don't use it?

Into the breach with "dav://". This time the pop up asked for user name and password. I used "wiles" again and typed in my password.

I connected like a 13 year old with an evangelist. Son of a ...

I had spent more than 4 hours trying to get this to work, and it all comes down to this one sentence. It really doesn't make HostGator or Gnome/Linux look good does it?

I wasn't where I want to be yet, so I kept pressing forward. I was going to get SSL working.

"davs://". Yup. I was in. Sort of anticlimactic isn't it.

One last thing. I really wanted to be able to connect to HostGator by clicking on a shortcut on my desktop.

The solution is trivial. Right click on the desktop and select "create launcher". Give it a name, and in the "Command" field type "nautilus davs://" or "nautilus dav://", depending on whether you want to use SSL or not. (You do, unless it you can't get it working.)

That's it.

I'm sending this URL to HostGator so they can fix their documentation, but until they do, enjoy updating your HostGator sight via Nautilus.