13 January 2009
This article assumes you are new to using Flash Media Server 3.5 and are interested in how to stream media files from Flash Media Server.
For many of us, Adobe Flash Media Server is rather mysterious. We can see its benefits—and there are many—but actually using it and creating Adobe Flash applications that "hook" into it can be baffling. If you are coming to this technology for the first time, you will discover that there is a whole new workflow involved in Flash Media Server 3.5 compared to previous versions. This workflow is a bit more complicated than simply compiling a SWF and uploading it and a bunch of FLV files to a web server.
This article is the first in a series of beginning-level tutorials. My plan is to walk you through the process of learning how to use Flash Media Server 3.5—without a lot of "techie talk." Hopefully, once you have absorbed these tutorials, you will be able to read some of the articles in the Adobe Developer Connection by my colleagues and understand what they are talking about.
Here are all the articles in the series:
This particular tutorial starts at the beginning of the process. You have downloaded Flash Media Server and you are prepared to launch the installer. Before reaching for the mouse, take a look at what you are getting into.
As the documentation supplied with the installer clearly explains, Flash Media Server (also referred to colloquially as FMS) is a hub on which media such as video and audio files are physically located. When you need to access them, the video player (SWF file) makes a call to the server using the Real Time Messaging Protocol (called an RTMP address), locates the media file, and loads it into your movie. The really great thing about this is that "play really does mean play." The video or audio files start to play as soon as they arrive in the browser running Adobe Flash Player. There is no waiting for some of the content to load and—best of all—nothing is downloaded o the browser's cache at all, so the file is secure.
RTMP is a proprietary protocol which uses TCP (transmission control protocol) for the transmission of data packets between Flash Player and Flash Media Server. The real advantage of this method to other delivery mechanisms is that the RTMP protocol is designed to deliver video (FLV, MP4, and MOV) and audio (MP3, AAC, and Nellymoser) files to a SWF embedded in a web page, on a cell phone, or even to an Adobe AIR application sitting on the user's desktop.
The thing is, the media being hauled into the SWF file does not sit on your web server. It sits in a folder on the server running Flash Media Server, which could be one that you or your company owns, or one that is managed by an ISP or a Flash Video Streaming Service (FVSS). For the purposes of this article, Flash Media Server is sitting on your own computer.
The development version you are about to install is not much different than the full installation of Flash Media Interactive Server. Although it has all the features of the commercial edition, think of it instead as a testing server. Just as you would test a Flash file locally before uploading it to a web server, you can use the installed version of FMS on your computer to test a movie that will eventually be streamed.
Having gotten these preliminaries out of the way, let's get started with installing the server. You can grab a copy of the installer in the Requirements section below.
If you have installed previous versions of Flash Media Server, you are about to discover that the installation process has undergone some changes. For example, some of the steps outlined in William Saunders' video tutorial for Flash Media Server 2 have been moved around. The other thing you should do before getting started is uninstall any previous versions of FMS on your computer:
It would be a really good idea to enter something you will remember because every time you start the server you are going to be prompted for this information. I used my first name—if I forget that, I am in serious trouble—and a password that I regularly use for other purposes.
One other thing I do, because this really isn't a "high risk" situation like a PayPal account, is to e-mail myself the username and password. This way, if I ever have a "senior moment," I can easily find a written record of the information.
The Administration Console helps you manage the server. Because there's a lot under the hood, I'm not going to dive into it. Instead, assume you have just bought a new car and the neighbors are visiting to check out your new purchase. What do you do? Open the hood (or bonnet, depending on where you live) and start pointing stuff out. Let's show the neighbors what you have.
The first thing that strikes most people new to Flash Media Server is that it isn't an application. Even though you installed the software into the same directory where you keep Flash CS3 Professional and other Adobe products, there is no product icon. The Administration Console is an HTML document. This makes sense because you are dealing with a server, not a stand-alone application.
To open the Administration Console, either locate it on the Start menu or click the All Programs button on your Start menu and navigate to Adobe > Flash Media Server 3.5 > Flash Media Administration Console (see Figure 11).
Alternatively, navigate to C:\Program Files\Adobe\Flash Media Server 3.5\tools\ and double-click the Flash Media Administration Console link (see Figure 12). Be sure to double-click the HTML file shown (fms_adminConsole.htm), not fms_adminConsole.swf, to launch the Administration Console.
When you open the Administration Console, you are prompted to enter your username and password. Once that is done, console's Log In interface appears (see Figure 13). You will notice that the server is given a name and address (
localhost) and that your password and username have already been entered. You can also tell the console to remember your password and automatically connect you to the server without logging in. These are personal decisions which, in many cases, will follow corporate policy. If you are unsure, check with those responsible. If everything is fine, click the Login button.
The next screen you see is the actual Administration Console (see Figure 14). There are a couple of things you need to pay attention to here. Over on the right side of the Task Bar is a green light. This is a visual indication that your server is humming along quite nicely. The Help button (question mark) gets you over to the FMS help files. Clicking the folder next to the question mark doesn't allow you to load stuff, as you might think. Instead, this button links directly to a number of FMS resources, ranging from this very article to FMS forums where you can ask questions of others in the FMS developer community.
At the top of the console you can choose how often the server refreshes the page. The choices range from one second to one minute; you can even pause the server's refresh rate. What you cannot do, however, is enter your own value. If you want to force a refresh, or if you're simply impatient, click the Refresh link in the upper right corner. Clicking the Logoff link shuts down the server completely.
Notice that there are three buttons across the top of the console. The one that is currently selected, View Applications, shows you the applications that are currently associated with FMS. These "applications" are actually called "instances" (I'll get to this in greater depth at a later date) but if you click the New Instance button in the lower left, a list of the applications/instances will appear, allowing you to load one simply by selecting it. Let's hold off on that for now. Instead, click the Manage Users button.
Clicking the Manage Users button reveals the screen shown in Figure 15. It allows you add users, remove users, and even change your password or their passwords. Why would you want to add users if this a local installation? You may be sharing this computer with others in your workgroup or this installation is actually located on a server. Just keep in mind that the development server allows only 10 simultaneous connections at any one time so this really is a testing server.
To change a password, simply click a username and click the Reset Password button to open the Resetting Password dialog box (see Figure 16). Enter the new password twice and click the Reset Password button to make the change. If you change your mind, click Cancel to close the dialog box.
Click the Manage Servers button to open the Manage Servers panel (see Figure 17). This area lets you see what is going on behind the scenes. The Details area graphically shows you the performance of any application that may be playing, as well as its bandwidth and CPU usage. The Connections button tells you how many servers are connected, and gives you a bit of information about the performance and status of the various servers. Applications tells you how many applications are currently running and their performance. Because you are using a development version, the License panel is irrelevant. Even so, there is a link at the bottom of the panel that permits you to upgrade to the interactive server. The last area, Server Log, gives you a log of what the server's been up to. Clear this out at any time by clicking the Clear Log button.
There is one thing in this panel that you might wish to do: make sure the server is actually "localhost." Here's how. The middle button at the top of the Manage Servers panel—the one with the "AB"—is the Edit Server Log Information button. Click it to configure the server (see Figure 18). In the Server field, enter localhost. If you want to change your username and password, this is the place to do it. The reason you enter "localhost" is because this will be the RTMP address you use to test your applications. Make whatever changes and click the Save button.
At this stage of the game, you are good to go, so quit the browser to close the Administration Console.
Those of you who are new to Flash Media Server will find this new feature an indispensible resource; grizzled veterans will greet it with a resounding, "It's about time!"
Adobe is the first to admit that learning FMS is a daunting task due to the product's sheer complexity. Just as well, learning to use the product and getting support commonly starts with a simple question, "Where is the information?" The start screen brilliantly addresses that question:
The Tools column contains links to a variety of tools, from the FLVCheck Tool to a Load Simulator which will help you do your job more effectively. The middle Sample Applications and White Papers column provides you with one-click access to a variety of examples and publications designed to grow your skill set.
The third column is broken into two areas. The top Getting Started section gives you immediate access to a variety of articles and samples from the Adobe Developer Connection that are designed to get you going with FMS in no time. Think of the second section, Getting Support, as a local Rolodex for Flash Media Server. Here you get instant access to everything, from finding a local expert for any Adobe product to training and consulting around your various needs.
There you have it: You installed Flash Media Server 3.5, opened the hood, and showed your neighbors what this new vehicle can do. As well, you found a tremendously helpful resource provided by the start screen. The next few articles in this series will help you slide into the driver's seat, fire the engine up, and take it for a spin around the block. The next tutorial gets you started using Flash Media Server 3.5 to stream a video into a Flash video player (SWF) using the new VOD service.
Tutorials & Samples