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what is ASP? ASP, ASP.NET

Introduction

The need for ASP

Why bother with ASP at all, when HTML can serve your needs? If you want to display information, all you have to do is fire up your favorite text editor, type in a few HTML tags, and save it as an HTML file. Bingo, you're done!
But wait - what if you want to display information that changes? Supposing you're writing a page that provides constantly changing information to your visitors, for example, weather reports, stock quotes, a list of your girlfriends, etc, HTML can no longer keep up with the pace. What you need is a system that can present dynamic information. And ASP fits the bill perfectly.

So what is ASP?

In the language of Microsoft,
Active Server Pages is an open, compile-free application environment in which you can combine HTML, scripts, and reusable ActiveX server components to create dynamic and powerful Web-based business solutions. Active Server Pages enables server side scripting for IIS with native support for both VBScript and JScript.
Translated into plain English, that reads —
Active Server Pages (ASPs) are Web pages that contain server-side scripts in addition to the usual mixture of text and HTML tags. Server-side scripts are special commands you put in Web pages that are processed before the pages are sent from the server to the web-browser of someone who's visiting your website. When you type a URL in the Address box or click a link on a webpage, you're asking a web-server on a computer somewhere to send a file to the web-browser (also called a "client") on your computer. If that file is a normal HTML file, it looks the same when your web-browser receives it as it did before the server sent it. After receiving the file, your web-browser displays its contents as a combination of text, images, and sounds.
In the case of an Active Server Page, the process is similar, except there's an extra processing step that takes place just before the server sends the file. Before the server sends the Active Server Page to the browser, it runs all server-side scripts contained in the page. Some of these scripts display the current date, time, and other information. Others process information the user has just typed into a form, such as a page in the website's guestbook. And you can write your own code to put in whatever dynamic information you want.
To distinguish Active Server Pages from normal HTML pages, Active Server Pages are given the ".asp" extension.

What Can You Do with Active Server Pages?

There are many things you can do with Active Server Pages.
  • You can display date, time, and other information in different ways.
  • You can make a survey form and ask people who visit your site to fill it out, send emails, save the information to a file, etc.
  • You can have a database which people can access via the web. People can get information from the database as well as update or insert information into it.
  • You can password-protect certain sections of your site, and make sure that only authorized users can see that information.
  • The possibilities are virtually endless. Most widgetry that you see on webpages nowadays can be easily done using ASP.

What Do Server-Side Scripts Look Like?

Server-side scripts typically start with <% and end with %>. The <% is called an opening tag, and the %> is called a closing tag. In between these tags are the server-side scripts. You can insert server-side scripts anywhere in your webpage - even inside HTML tags.

What you need to run ASP

Since the server must do additional processing on the ASP scripts, it must have the ability to do so. The only servers which support this facility are Microsoft Internet Information Services & Microsoft Personal Web Server. Let us look at both in detail, so that you can decide which one is most suitable for you.

Internet Information Services

This is Microsoft's web server designed for the Windows NT platform. It can only run on Microsoft Windows NT 4.0, Windows 2000 Professional, & Windows 2000 Server. The current version is 5.0, and it ships as a part of the Windows 2000 operating system.

Personal Web Server

This is a stripped-down version of IIS and supports most of the features of ASP. It can run on all Windows platforms, including Windows 95, Windows 98 & Windows Me. Typically, ASP developers use PWS to develop their sites on their own machines and later upload their files to a server running IIS. If you are running Windows 9x or Me, your only option is to use Personal Web Server 4.0.

Before you begin...

Here a few quick tips before you begin your ASP session!
Unlike normal HTML pages, you cannot view Active Server Pages without running a web-server. To test your own pages, you should save your pages in a directory mapped as a virtual directory, and then use your web-browser to view the page.

Steps for Installation

  • From the CD, run the SETUP.EXE program for starting the web-server installation.
  • After the installation is complete, go to:
    Start > Programs > Microsoft PWS > Personal Web Manager.
    and click the "Start" button under Publishing.
  • Now your web-server is up & running.

Creating Virtual Directories

After you have installed the web-server, you can create virtual directories as follows:
  • Right-Click on the folder that you wish to add as a virtual directory.
  • Select "Properties" from the context-menu.
  • In the second tab titled "Web Sharing," click "Share this folder," then "Add Alias".

(If you do not see these options enabled, your web-server is not properly running. Please see the steps above under "Installation.")

Accessing your webpage

Now that your server is completely configured and ready to use, why not give it a try?
Start your web-browser, and enter the following address into the address-bar.
http://localhost/
You should see a page come up that tells you more about Microsoft IIS (or PWS, as the case may be)

What is localhost?

Let us first see, what we mean by a hostname. Whenever you connect to a remote computer using it's URL, you are in effect calling it by its hostname. For example, when you type in
http://www.google.com/
you are really asking the network to connect to a computer named www.google.com. It is called the "hostname" of that computer.
localhost is a special hostname. It always references your own machine. So what you just did, was to try to access a webpage on your own machine (which is what you wanted to do anyway.) For testing all your pages, you will need to use localhost as the hostname. By the way, there is also a special IP address associated with localhost, that is
127.0.0.1
So you could as well have typed:
http://127.0.0.1/
and would have received the same page.
To access pages in a virtual directory called myscripts for example, you should type in:
http://localhost/myscripts/
in the address bar. I hope the concept is now clear!
Home
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Chapter 2

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