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Database-Driven Websites

by Ron Kurtus (revised 12 May 2008)

A database-driven website allows some of its content to be accessed from a database and displayed dynamically. Updating web pages is then done through updating the database.

It also allows users to perform such operations as sorting on the page. Dynamic pages are useful in e-commerce for displaying product catalogs and in e-learning to show class material.

MySQL and Microsoft SQL server are common databases used. PHP, ASP and ColdFusion are common languages used to access the database information and display it on the web pages.

Questions you may have include:

This lesson will answer those questions.



Database-driven website

The typical website consists of a set of individual web pages, connected to each other or to a table of contents page through the use of hyperlinks. Updating data must be done on the individual pages.

When the site consists of a large number of web pages—especially if they change often—updating individual pages can become overwhelming. This can be seen for an e-commerce site, displaying a catalog of products.

The solution to this problem is to put the information in database tables and then access and display that information into select areas of a web page template. This has the advantage in that the owner of the data only needs to update the database and not worry about updating individual web pages.

Applications

Database-driven web sites have numerous applications and possibilities.

e-Commerce

Commercial websites can display information on a large catalog of products, including pictures and documentation by locating the material in a database have accessing it dynamically on the web pages.

A company doing e-commerce can have all their goods for sale in a database on their web server. When a customer accesses the web site and asks for information on a specific type of product, a web page will display the information desired.

This is how many search engines work, but the capabilities in this case are greater, because the information can be formatted in other ways that a simple list.

When new products are introduced or information on them changes, only the database needs to be updated.

e-Learning

When a student accesses an online course, he or she may be able to selected the level or the type of information needed. Since the course material is in a database, only what is requested will be displayed.

Also, updating the education or training material can be done without having to worry about HTML coding issues. The information is simply put in the database.

Database and software

There are a number of database and software solutions to having data-driven web sites.

Database

Typical databases used in dynamic websites are:

Individuals who want to have database-driven material in their websites can use their own copy of the Microsoft Access database. Unfortunately, Access is limited and does not work well if several people want to access the database information at the same time.

Most large companies use the Microsoft SQL Server database.

MySQL is the most popular database, because it almost has the power of Microsoft SQL Server but has the advantage of being free or costing very little. PHP and ColdFusion are typically used with MySQL databases.

Programming languages

Common web programming languages used to access database information are:

PHP is the most popular, especially since it is free. It is often paired with the MySQL database.

Most larger businesses use ASP paired with the MS SQL Server database.

ColdFusion is the easiest to program and maintain, but your Internet host must have a ColdFusion server and usually charges extra for the service. It can be used with Access, MySQL or SQL Server databases.

(See ColdFusion Development for more information.)

JSP and Perl are also used in some dynamic websites.

Summary

A database-driven website allows content to be accessed from a database and displayed dynamically. Pages are then updated through the database. Dynamic pages are useful in e-commerce and in e-learning. MySQL and Microsoft SQL server are common databases used. PHP, ASP and ColdFusion are common languages used to access the database information and display it on the web pages.


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