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setting up the backend for a site like friendster...hard or easy?
Depends on its scale I suppose- Its a basic link database on steroids.
shouldn't be incredibly hard, except managing efficiency. Most changes seem fairly instant which means those queries are run pretty often, which can do a good job of slowing the site down.
Otherwise, a good relational db design is the key to success.
Conceptually, it's pervasive but no one thing seems very hard to me. The difficulty I'm guessing would be the scaling issues.
There's an enormous amount of read action going on, and I think you'd need some very good DBA types to be managing the back end. You'd need to be very smart about what you could do with things like stored procedures to take load off the database.
I am still a bit confused and skeptical about them using Tomcat on Linux as the base platform. If I was going to use Tomcat for something like this (which I probably wouldn't do, but that's a different issue...) I'd almost certainly put the site on Sun machines running Solaris.
My understanding is that there's only seven people working on the site right now, which is about right for the size it's at. If it keeps growing the way it has been, I'll be very interested to see if they can keep up by simply adding more hardware or not.
is there any code out there open source or anything that sets this kind of thing up?
inner join, my nuts with your chin
i got nothing, sql jokes aren't easy
writing code to insert, update and delete this type of data would be fairly easy. where i see a problem is with the server load (assuming, of course, this would be a popular portal). as it has already been mentioned, i'd make sure i had a few good dba's on hand to ensure server stability at least during peak hours.