• The advantages of a database driven website
  • The advantages of a database driven website
    Written by battye
    Tue Jan 22, 2008 5:09 am

    The term "Web 2.0" has been floated around a lot in the past year or two, and refers to a supposed second generation of the internet. It wasn't until the mid 1990's, and the dot com boom which began in 1996 and 1997, that the internet began to make an impact throughout the world, and since then, new technology has paved the way for a more user friendly experience.

    In 2005, websites like MySpace and Facebook, commonly referred to as social networking websites, started to gain immense popularity among web users. As such, most websites now have some form of user interaction, whether that be MySpace style "friendship" systems, comment systems, or common blogs and forums. The core of nearly all websites, now revolves around a computer database system.

    In computing terms, a database is a structured collection of records from which data can be retrieved from through a series of specially structured queries. While databases are commonly used in the business environment, such as for storing client account details for instance, this article will concentrate on the use of database in the web development environment.

    The two most common types of database are the flat-file database system and the relational database system. In the strict sense of the term, a flat-file database is simply one file containing data, separated by a specific delimiter, such as a comma or a single space. In this sense, a flat-file database could be a structured set of data within a text file, or even a structured set of data which has been hand written. However, in a broader sense, a flat-file database system can refer to a database where there is a single table of data that has no relation to anything outside of its own table structure.

    A relational database system is far more complex, and involves a series of links between various tables of data. A good example of this would be in an online store, where the store is storing information about a user in one database table, such as a user identification (user id), first and last name, and date of birth, and then matching the persons user id in a separate table to purchases they have made.

    While that was a relatively simple example, the links will more often than not be more complicated, sometimes crossing many different database tables.

    In the early part of this decade, a lot of websites were just simple HTML pages, with the content hard coded, or fixed, in to the actual webpage. As we near the end of the 2000's, and with the advent of the Web 2.0 concept, we are seeing more and more websites progress to something that reflects a more socially oriented society, and this is achieved by allowing interaction between users, as mentioned earlier.

    The database driven website allows for this form of interaction. As users upload content to their favourite websites, the content and information about the content must be stored somewhere - a database.

    By scripting in programming languages such as PHP and ASP, two which "communicate" with databases very well, administrators can create a backend for their website and then leave it be. All changes can be made through a web interface and the script will automatically update the database to reflect the changes made. Gone are the days when administrators must constantly make manual changes. There is still a place for it, but between the increasing use of databases, and the increasing use of CSS, a methodology which "separates design from content", it is making the need to make changes manually more and more redundant.

    An added advantage of using databases to store content on your website is that if the web moves forward, you can keep up with it. While your design may be outdated, the majority of content (such as forum posts) will not go stale. This means that you can update your designs and layouts, without ever losing your content, as the two are completely separated.

    The advantages don't stop at the administrator. Under a decade ago, if you wanted to write a page about yourself and put it on the internet, you would open an HTML page editor and manually type up a webpage. You might even need to find a free webhost, such as Angelfire or Lycos to host your webpages. They were not good times for the typical web user. Fast forward to the present, and through database driven websites such as MySpace and Facebook, you can type your blurb into a box, paste a photo of yourself, hit submit, and make changes when you see fit. Databases have made using the internet for the average Joe Six-pack easy and fun.

    The good news is, they are here to stay. Social networking sites have not yet reached their peak, and until that happens, more and more websites will move to the database driven model. Already, it is becoming harder and harder to find the "mom and pop" (sic) sites that require constant manual updating and attention. Wait a few years and they will be all but obsolete.
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