Building Websites III – Background to Dynamic Websites

In previous posts I discussed creating static websites. That is fine for a simple website that doesn’t change, but normally you will want something more powerful. For example, you might want to store data in a database, or run specific code for specific users. For these things, you’ll need a dynamic web host. This means the host doesn’t just store and send static web pages, but can run code, edit databases and do various computer tasks. A static web server is basically like a hard drive that can be read by the whole world, while a dynamic server has access to a CPU and RAM also, so it’s like a full computer.

On a dynamic web host one can write their own code from scratch to run on the server, but its much easier to install a ready-made script on it. A script is basically a program that runs on your server and can power your website. There are tens of thousands of such scripts available online, and many are free. Some of the most popular scripts are the blogging platform WordPress and the ecommerce platform Magento. These scripts are available for free and let you easily and quickly set up a blog or ecommerce website. Any script that’s available online can be downloaded and then manually installed on your web host, but there’s often an easier way. Most web hosts come with a “one-click” installer, such as SimpleScripts, for installing the most popular scripts. You can use such a tool to easily install any script that it includes. (See the SimpleScripts script list.)

What if the one-click installer doesn’t have the script you need? You will then need to search online for other scripts. A large resource for finding them is HotScripts.com, which includes both free and commercial scripts in many different categories and written in many different programming languages. When you find the script you want, you will need to download it and then follow the instructions for installing it on your server. This will normally involve uploading the script to the location you want, creating a database for it, configuring a file in the script to connect it to the database, and then running the installation file.

Not all web hosts can run any script or programming language. For example, some web hosts cannot run Ruby code. Almost all hosts can run PHP. PHP was once the most popular language for creating dynamic websites, so it has the largest number of available scripts, from WordPress to MediaWiki. So using a PHP script is a good choice if the script is able to handle your needs and you won’t need a large amount created from scratch. However, if you plan on creating an entirely new type of site, you might want to pick a language that is more “in” nowadays, such as Ruby. This way, when you (or someone else) begin doing actual coding, you’ll be able to take advantage of a well-designed language.

In future posts, I’ll compare different web hosts and discuss choosing them. Then I’ll posts on some basics about administrating and running your own website.