Introduction to Web Technologies
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 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.
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.
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