|November 21, 2004
Driven Websites: What Are They, and How are They Built?
This article will attempt to demystify database driven web pages,
which are also called 'dynamic web pages' or websites. Don't worry, I am
not going to go into sometimes painful mega-geek details about how to create dynamic web
pages, instead I will give a brief overview and some ideas of why you would need to build
dynamic web pages or dynamic web sites and what tools you would need to build them.
What are dynamic web pages?
To understand dynamic web pages you have to understand normal web pages. Typical non-dynamic
web pages do not change every time the page is loaded into the browser, nor do
they change if a user clicks on a button. The only change that you will see in static
pages is to see them load and unload, like what happens when you click on a hyper link.
In a nutshell: static web pages (normal pages you build) always look the same and the
content never changes unless you load a new page or you change the page yourself and
upload the new version of the pages unto the server.
Dynamic pages do the opposite, they can change every time they are
loaded (without you having to make those changes) and they can change their content based
on what user does, like clicking on some text or an image. (I am not talking about loading
a new page!)
One of the most common types of dynamic web pages is the database driven
type. This means that you have a web page that grabs information from a database (the web
page is connected to the database by programming) and inserts that information into the
web page each time it is loaded. If the information stored in the database changes, the
web page connected to the database will also change accordingly and automatically without
This is commonly seen on online banking sites where you can log in (by entering your
user name and password) and check out your bank account balance. Your bank account
information is stored in a database and has been connected to the web page with
programming thus enabling you to see your banking information. Imagine if the web page
holding your banking information had to be built traditionally (that is by hand.) every
time your bank balance changed! Even a thousand monkeys working 24/7 drinking 5 cups of
coffee a day, would not be able to keep up!
Hopefully you are starting to see why you would want a database driven site; you would
want it if your information changes very often, just like in a banking site.
Database driven sites can be built using several competing technologies, each with it's
own advantages. Some of those technologies/tools include: PHP, JSP, ASP, PERL, Cold
Database driven web site programming can also be called (or characterized as): 'server
side programming'. The reason it is so called is because the 'action' or magic
that allows the web pages to connect to the database is actually taking place on the
server. What happens is that each time a dynamic web page is about to be sent to the
browser, the server automatically builds the page and sends a standard
HTML page to the browser.
The server knows how to build the page by following the instructions provided by the
that runs strictly in the web browser.
At this point many people are getting very confused, the confusion lies in the
difference between server side programming (database driven web pages)
The other type of dynamic web page: Client side (that is to say: in
the browser) or what is commonly called DHTML: dynamic HTML. DHTML is
it's own content (as far as the viewer is concerned) without having to reload or load a
new page. Examples of DHTML would include drop down menu's (check out the
black menu bars at the top right hand corner of http://www.microsoft.com
) or a 'floating' text and image for example: http://www.studioweb.com
. Look for the 'floating' image on the left hand side of the page. As you scroll the image
floats along side staying in view. The above are just very simple examples of what you can
do with DHTML and if you look around you will find plenty on the web.
Just a final note on DHTML; it can be very useful (dynamic menus for example.) but it
can also be a lot of trouble. Sometimes you are much better off using Flash or just
designing your pages so that you don't need to use dynamic elements.
Hopefully now you have basic conceptual understanding of dynamic web sites, DHTML and
database driven web sites. I tried to present the information in a non-geek way so as to
not confuse. The down side of this simple approach is that I am not being 100% precise.
Some geeks out there may point out one or two items that are not dead on, but don't worry,
my points are not in any way wrong. Suffice it to say that this was an introduction to the
Thanks for reading.
If you liked the article and you want to see more let me know!
- by Stefan Mischook, editor of KillerSites.com
Stefan Mischook has been developing web sites and web applications
since 1994. Along with contract work, Stefan now runs the popular web sites www.killersites.com , www.how-to-build-websites.com and www.secretsites.com writing concise to the
point articles with the aim of teaching people 'real-world' web design skills.
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