Sep 30, 2009

Web Language

It can be a bit confusing trying to figure out what language people are using to communicate on the web with.  “I’ve got one of those HTML pages” or “My site is dot net!” – but what does that really mean?  How can we distill something more than “My site is better than yours.” Hopefully the following information will help to clear the fog.

First we must start with the base element.

HTML (Hyper Text Markup Language): This is the language that a web browser can read.  It is the format that every other web language has to come back to for it to be useful on the web.  HTML uses tags such as <title>, <p>, <div>, <font>, <b>, etc… to describe the text on a page.  A browser can then take a tag and display it to the screen in some fashion – for instance the text inside a <title> tag will appear in the title bar of the browser; text inside a <b> tag will appear bold.

The term “static pages” refers to plain HTML pages.  Much like a word processing document, what you type is what will be displayed.  To take a step past this, “dynamic pages” come into play.  Dynamic pages use some form of a programming language to deliver content to a page to be displayed in the browser using HTML.  There are 2 families of these languages: client-side and server-side.  Client-side languages allow interaction with the web page after the page has rendered to the client’s (or website visitor’s) screen.  Server-side languages are run directly on the web server before being sent to the website visitor’s computer for display.

The main client-side language is JavaScript. JavaScript was first introduced in 1996 and has become a foundational language that many of the new technologies are built off of.  JavaScript is useful for tasks such as simple form validation to facilitating AJAX requests and modal windows. You have probably encountered JavaScript when visiting an image gallery, submitting a complex form, or navigating a menu with fancy drop-down menus.

Server-side programming is typically done before the page is displayed in the browser, typically accessing and returning information stored in a database.  All server-side programming is really a means to an end.  We need to accomplish some task and present the information to the user.  This is where a website is typically identified.  Let’s take a quick glance through some of the more common server-side languages on the web.

ASP (Active Server Pages): Also known as Classic ASP, it was developed by Microsoft and first released in 1997.  Websites that use ASP pages will generally have pages that end in .asp.  ASP pages can only be run on Microsoft-based servers using it’s IIS (Internet Information Services) engine.  Classic ASP is a simple platform to work with, but it is still powerful and much used although many developers are switching to ASP.NET.

ASP.NET: Released by Microsoft in 2002 in an effort to shore up the shortcomings of classic ASP.  Pages will typically end in .aspx.  As with classic ASP, these types of websites can only be run on Microsoft-based servers.  The code is compiled so that in theory it should run faster and perform better.  There is a steeper learning curve to using ASP.NET than with classic ASP, but there is also greater flexibility and potential.

Coldfusion: Developed originally in 1995 by Allaire, it was subsequently bought by Macromedia and is now owned by Adobe.  Pages are recognizable by their .cfm extensions.   As opposed to Classic ASP, Coldfusion has quite a bit of built-in functions that make for quick setup.  Like Classic ASP and ASP.NET, Coldfusion pages must be served by a proprietary web server.

PHP (PHP: Hypertext Preprocessor): PHP is an open source platform originally begun in 1994.  It has since blossomed into a one of the most widely used web development platforms.  Being open source, it is widely available for anyone wanting to develop dynamic web content.  The PHP engine also runs on non-Microsoft servers.

Is one platform better than the others, no.  What makes one right for you is that it meets your needs in communicating your information to the masses.

3 thoughts on “Web Language”

  1. Mike

    Good stuff, Lee. One question I have is about the term “dot net” which I’m not quite clear on. Does it refer to ASP.NET or something else?

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