Website Coding

Posted Sunday, May 25, 2008, 3:30 PM

When I started out in website designing, back in 1997, it was so early in the evolution of browsing that a lot of the tips and tricks that were suggested to me to learn were useless, due to poor adherence to the Standards by the various browsers available. This meant the only way you could do a compatible site for all to see consistently was to use very basic HTML and some clunky formatting methods.

This was frowned upon by the advanced programmers who wanted to use all the tricks of Javascript and Stylesheets to create dazzling results, but the number of hacks and compromises and alternatives they had to employ to achieve their results was so mindnumbingly enormous, it put me off even bothering to look at these more advanced languages, let alone use them.

As time has gone on, and browser compatibility has improved, I have made some more effort to learn a little bit of this mysterious branch of website design. CSS is very simple compared to most other languages, but it does have many different kinds of implementations, so as I was picking it up, the variations in methodology confused me for a long time. As I began to see the possibilities, and was given the occasional opportunity to design from the ground up, I began to see the benefits that had thus far eluded me, and now I can design a pretty good site using CSS almost exclusively, and correctly, creating something quite clean and sharp.

However, there are other languages, that allow more control over a website and its back-end. PHP, Javascript, XML, CGI and Perl, Java, AJAX, and Flash, all make a website more dynamic, more exciting, more interactive, and more entertaining, than HTML alone can provide. But they aren't simple languages to learn; they have more complex structuring, with a whole library of terms, tags, and expressions, requiring new layers of comprehension from me - but unfortunately it's something that I do not easily grasp.

Some of the time I can look at another person's existing code and see what's going on, allowing me to adapt it to do what I need from it. But actually creating my own code from scratch, learning how it operates and what's possible, is beyond me. I am unable to get into that kind of zone; it all just looks like incomprehensible gibberish to me.

I have been finishing up a website for my friends, and one of the features they wanted requires (simple) dynamic interactivity; a way to update the News page without my having to do it myself the long way. But the problem was I couldn't find any existing code online that I could snaffle to do this task, because the method I have chosen to set up doesn't quite fit alongside what others are already making available. They have their own needs, and none that I could find strictly matched my own.

However, I did know all of the features that I wanted to have on my News updating page. They included: A pre-filled 'date' field; a 'news' textarea; submitting it all to a text file, that needed to be appended at the top (not at the end) each time; including some pre-formatted code between the text strings; stripping out incompatible characters and replacing them with compatible ones; checking the fields were filled in before sending; a way to edit the text file directly, in case of errors; and a few other things like that. Quite a daunting amount of operability required, but on their own quite simple features.

So I looked online for each of these code snippets individually, and eventually found them all. Some of them were PHP, some were Javascript, some were CSS, some were HTML. I found some in CGI, but I avoided that as it's a bit clunkier than I really needed - I knew I could utilise more direct coding. The end result, after a lot of testing and experimenting, messing about to make them all mesh with each other, and getting them to work in partnership, eventually all worked, and I must say I am pleasantly surprised at my achievement. I know for a fact I could never have done it from scratch on my own - I needed what other people had already discovered and figured out, and just jammed them all together into one place.

So thanks to everyone out there who provided free code snippets online, allowing me to create a pretty practical News page updater.

Yay me!

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