A simple web page containing product information for a small company could be created in plain XHTML, however, whenever product information changes or company details change the web page will need editing to reflect the changes. When a client requests the page they always get the same page, unless it has been manually edited/updated by the web page designer.

Server side scripting provides a mechanism to avoid having to constantly modify web pages. A combination of html and script is used. The html provides basic page structure information and fixed elements such as section headings and explanatory text. The script will cause the server to access up to date information from a corporate database, insert the current values into the web page and return the completed page to the client. If the data in the database changes then the next time the page is retrieved it is returned with the latest information.

Basic concepts

A simple website only requires a basic web server (HTTP daemon) and from the developers point of view a mechanism to upload pages onto the server (e.g. an FTP daemon or a WebDAV based web folder). The client requests the web page from the server using its URL; the server retrieves the web page from its location on the system and returns it across the internet to the client.

A scripted web page in addition requires a script processor on the server. The pages are stored with a different extension (e.g. .pl for Perl scripts and .aspx for ASP.NET scripts). When a page is requested, the server knows from the extension that it need to ask the script processor to interpret the script. The server sends the script processor the requested page. The script processor executes the script, resulting in a web page which can be returned to the server and then on to the client.

A script can make use of all the resources available to the server, e.g. the corporate database; mail server; local files etc. In this way a scripted website can provide remote clients with access to a complete application environment, such as sales order processing and dispatch (e.g.

A web application is simply a combination of linked scripted web pages each providing part of the functionality of a business system. The only difference between a web application and a traditional application is that the web application provides a web page based user interface to a system on a remote server, rather than a user interface integrated into a single .exe file on a local computer (with network access).

In order to develop a web application you need some sort of development environment which allows you to:

  • Create and edit basic web page layouts
  • Create and edit scripts and scripted user interface elements (e.g. text boxes)
  • Test the operation of the scripts (without using the production website)
  • Link to external resources
  • Create databases and links to them
  • Publish the website to its destination location on the production website

Visual Web Developer

Visual Web Developer (VWD) is available as a component within Visual Studio 2008 and as a separate 'Express' product. VWD Express 2008 includes a cut down version of the MSDN Documentation as well as SQL Server 2005 Express. Visual Studio 2008 also comes with SQL Server 2005 Express but has the complete MSDN Documentation.

In order to work through this tutorial you should have VWD installed on your local computer, complete with SQL Server 2005 Express.

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