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Web Design Fundamentals is a survey of Web design and development techniques and technologies, fundamental concepts, terms, and best practices involved in professional web design. Instructor James Williamson examines popular web development tools, server-side software solutions, content management solutions, and cloud-based software, providing a high-level overview of the world of Web publishing.
Although this title focuses on web design, not web development, it is inevitable that as a web designer, you will eventually face a request for site functionality that will require server-side programming. HTML documents are static, meaning that other than linking to other web pages, they can't perform a lot of the tasks that you might want your website to do. They kind of just sit there looking the same to every user that views them. Now on the other hand, utilizing server-side software allows you to build pages that are dynamic. Dynamic pages allow you to provide a wider variety of page content and functionality than static pages.
You could present different content based on which users are accessing the page, create pages populated with content from a database, build shopping carts, process forms from your site and the list goes on and on. So, obviously, building dynamic web pages allow you to build more powerful and engaging sites. However, dynamic websites are driven by server-side software that can require complicated programming. It is not always an easy task for the budding web designer. As such, you will probably find yourself partnering with a web developer frequently, unless you decide to develop the skills yourself.
Truthfully, there's nothing wrong with that approach. I love designing sites. And I know enough server-side scripting to handle many of the basics of some of the dynamic sites. However, if I need to build a robust client login system or a secure ecommerce site, I'm calling in the professionals. There are people that dedicate their careers to being awesome at that, and I'm more than happy to let them. Still, if you're designing the website, you're the one calling the shots. As such, you should understand the differences between the most popular server-side solutions so that you can choose the one that's right for you or your site.
Often, your choice of platform is limited by the hosting company that you choose. Many hosting companies only offer support for one or two platforms and pricing plans for hosting your site can very dramatically based upon your choice of server applications. More than likely, you'll be choosing for one of the four most popular server-side solutions. PHP, JSP, .NET or ColdFusion. Let's take a moment and discuss each one individually. PHP, which is short for Hypertext Preprocessor. Well, PHP is an open-source server- side scripting language. Unlike many server-side languages, the PHP code is embedded within the page as HTML.
The code is then processed on the server and replaced by HTML. To the end-user, the PHP code is invisible. Since PHP is open-source and free, it's available on almost any hosting plan. Its popularity is further enhanced by supportive MySQL, a free database, and Apache, the most widely used web server today. Using PHP, it's easy to find hosting plan that can fit almost any budget, and there is a large pool of talented PHP developers to assist you with your projects. If you're interested in eventually scripting the dynamic portions of the site yourself, PHP is a good choice.
PHP Syntax is fairly easy to learn and extensive programming knowledge is not required to begin adding dynamic content to your sites. JSP stands for JavaServer Pages and is a powerful server-side application tool developed by Sun. As part of the larger Java frameworks, JSP can be an amazingly powerful development tool, and is the favorite of traditional Java programmers. JSP is similar to other server-side applications, in that the JSP code is embedded directly into the HTML and then processed on the server.
The scripts are a combination of XML and Java Scriptlets. So JSP might have a steeper learning curve to those new to programming. JSP also has a reputation of only being used for large-scale enterprise sites. Now, while certainly powerful enough to handle sites of any scale, JSP can be used for any sites, even small ones with modest server-side needs. JSP can be ported to almost any server environment, so finding a hosting company is relatively easy. However, there are many Java platforms and the cost of hosting may vary greatly by platform.
It's important to understand which platform your site requires for hosting, especially if you're working with a Java developer in developing your site. Next, I want to talk about .NET. Now .NET itself is not a server-side application. .NET is the name used by Microsoft to identify its entire application framework. What most people think of as .NET is actually a Visual Basic .NET, just one of the many languages that can be used in the .NET framework. If you're working with a developer to build web-based applications, make sure that you discuss the pros and cons of which language you'll be using within the framework.
Much like Java, .NET allows developers to build large-scale applications, both for the web and for the desktop. As such, .NET is typically more complicated than PHP and ColdFusion and is unlikely to be the choice of web developers that focus only on developing dynamic websites. Sites built using the .NET framework must be hosted on a Windows server. So, hosting companies can be limited and the pricing structure is typically a little higher for those sites. ColdFusion was originally developed by Allaire, and it's since been acquired by both Macromedia and then Adobe, both of which have continued development.
ColdFusion differs from other server- side applications in that it is added to HTML by using its own markup language, CFML. Many web designers find that the similarities between writing CFML and HTML makes learning ColdFusion relatively easy, especially for simple web applications. The ColdFusion Administrator also handles common tasks such as connecting to databases, and setting up mail objects that usually require additional programming and other server-side applications. This and the simplicity of the tag- based approach, means that ColdFusion Applications typically require less code than other approaches.
ColdFusion integration with other Adobe products allow ColdFusion developers to easily generate PDFs dynamically and integrate with Flash and Flex-based applications. The ColdFusion server is not free however, so ColdFusion hosted accounts are typically more expensive than PHP. Be that as it may, the pricing structure for ColdFusion sites has dropped dramatically over the years as ColdFusion's popularity has increased. Now obviously, this is a very general overview of server-side technology and some of the capabilities regarding your choice of platforms. For most web designers, choosing a platform comes down to three main factors: cost and hosting availability, partnering with qualified developers, and ease-of-use.
My advice for any new web designer without a programming background would be to take it slowly. Find a talented Web developer or firm that you can build a relationship with and have them help you make decisions regarding server technology that's right for your client, and their budget. Most of all, educate yourself. Learn as much as you can about the various platforms so that when the time comes to make a choice, you're making an informed one.
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