Introduction To Web Technologies

By: Richard Lowe

There are literally hundreds of difficult technologies available
to the webmaster. Making proper use of these technologies allows
the creation of maintainable, efficient and useful web sites. For
example, using SSI (server side includes) or CSS (cascading style
sheets) a webmaster can change every page on his web site by
editing one file.

A few of the more common technologies are listed below.

ASP - Active Server Pages are used to perform server-side
scripting. This is a way to get things done on the web server, as
opposed to, say, JavaScript, which lets you get things one on the
client (browser). Although there is a Unix and Linux version of
ASP, it is primarily intended for use on Microsoft web server
based systems.

ASP is useful for tasks such as maintaining a database, creating
dynamic pages and respond to user queries (and many other things
as well).

CGI - Common Gateway Interface is one of the older standards on
the internet for moving data between a web page and a web server.
CGI is by far and away the most commonly used method of handling
things like guestbooks, email forms, message boards and so on.
CGI is actually a standard for passing data back and forth and
not a scripting language at all. In fact, CGI routines are
commonly written in interpreted languages such as PERL or
compiled languages like C.

CSS - You use Cascading Style Sheets to format your web pages
anyway that you want. CSS is complicated, but the complication
pays off by being able to create web pages that look much better
than otherwise. One very nice feature is the ability to define
formatting commands in a single file, which is then included in
all of your web pages. This let's you make one change to modify
the look of your entire site.

HTACCESS - The .htaccess file allows you to set parameters for
your web site and folders (directories). The most common use is
to protect directories by defining usernames and passwords.
Htaccess can be used for many other things as well, including
denying access to specific addresses, keeping out hostile spiders
and redirecting traffic transparently to the user.

The downside
of htaccess is the language used is often extremely obscure,
difficult to understand and extraordinarily precise. A small
error in your htaccess file can disable your entire web site
until the error is fixed.

Java - Java is a client-side (meaning it's executed by the
browser not the server) language. It is efficient and very
powerful. The primary advantage of Java over ActiveX is Java has
a sane security model (called the Sandbox Model), while the
ActiveX model is so imbecilic as to defy imagination. Java is
also much less likely to crash systems. On the other hand, Java
is substantially slower than ActiveX, and there are many tasks
that simply cannot be performed in Java because it is denied
access to the operating system and disk itself.

JavaScript - This is a scripting language which is interpreted
and executed by the browser. It is very useful for getting tasks
done on the client, such as moving pictures around the screen,
creating very dynamic navigation systems and even games.
JavaScript is generally preferable on internet sites because it
is supported on more browsers than VBScript, which is the chief
competitor.

Office - The Microsoft Office suite includes a number of
tools, including Word, Excel, Access and Powerpoint. Each of
these tools has the ability to save in HTML format and has
special commands for the internet. This is especially useful,
for example, if you work in an office where people are trained
in Excel and you don't want to retrain them to create web pages.
On the other hand, if you are creating internet web sites (as
opposed to intranet sites) you probably would be better off
using web specific products to edit your web pages.

Perl - A great scripting language which makes use of the CGI
standard to allow work to be done on the web server. PERL is
very easy to learn (as programming languages go) and
straightforward to use. It is most useful for guestbooks, email
forms and other similar, simply tasks. PERL's primary
disadvantage is the overhead on the server is very high, as one
process is created each time a routine is called, and the
language is interpreted, which means the code is recompiled each
time it is run. For complex tasks, a server-side scripting
language such as PHP or ASP is much preferred.

PHP - This language is, like ASP, used to get work done on the
server. PHP is similar in concept to ASP and can be used in
similar circumstances. PHP is very efficient, allows access to
databases using products such as MySQL, and can be used to
create very dynamic web pages.

SSI - If your site is hosted on a typical Apache server, then
you probably can use something called Server Side Includes. This
is a way to get the web server to perform tasks before displaying
a web page. One of the most common uses us to, well, include
common text. This is great when you have, for example, a
navigation system which is common to all of your pages. You can
make one change in an SSI file and thus change your entire web
site.

SSI is very common but has really been superceded by languages
such as PHP. The overhead of SSI on the server is high as each
page is scanned for SSI directives before passing it to the
browser.

VBScript - Visual Basic Scripting was Microsoft's answer to
JavaScript. VBScript is a good tool for any site which is
intended to be only displayed by the Internet Explorer browser.
In my opinionFree Web Content, VBScript should never be used on a web site -
JavaScript is preferable due to a wider acceptance among browsers.

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