April 7, 2010

The Languages Every Developer Should Know


Hostway Team

By Gail Seymour

Whether you want to become a professional Web developer or you just want to use Web-authoring software like Dreamweaver or Microsoft Expression to create your own Web sites, at some point it's going to help to understand the code the program generates when you export your pages.

In a larger company, graphic designers might create the page layout, writers create the copy, and Web developers integrate the two, also creating the scripts that personalize the user experience for site visitors. In a smaller company, all elements of Web design are typically managed by a single individual. If that's you, there are a few languages you will need to have a rudimentary understanding of:

Hypertext Markup Language

Ideally, as a Web developer you should be able to create pages from scratch using a plain-text editor such as Notepad. The chances are you'll use Web-authoring software to build your sites, but if you don't have a solid grasp of the basics of HTML, you won't be able to spot and correct any invalid code. You also won't know where to insert scripts and how to salvage a page that seems to have broken out of your design, leaving you with gaping white gaps between page elements.

Extensible Hypertext Markup Language (XHTML) and Cascading Style Sheets (CSS)

With HTML, it's possible to include both design and page-content information within the same document. It used to be standard practice to create Web-page layouts based on tables. While some designers still do this, the trend now is to include design and layout information in a separate style sheet. This makes it possible to generate cleaner code in the XHTML file, which is then easier to export to other formats, such as to RSS feed readers, and for conversion into mobile protocol pages as XHTML-MP.


JavaScript is a client-side scripting language, meaning the script is downloaded with the other code onto your site visitor's computer and processed there. That generally makes for quicker download times and processing. Because the processing is client-side, however, scripts generally rely on cookies (snippets of data stored on the browser's computer) to remember information from one session to another. That means most sites will recognize only a single user per computer, and the user would have to be on the same computer every visit to retrieve his information. It also means the visitor can view the script by opening the source code of the page.

Server-Side Scripting Languages

If you want to build more robust interaction into your Web sites or prevent the viewer from seeing how the page has been customized, you will have to learn a server-side scripting language. That could be:

  • Hypertext Pre Processor (PHP)
  • Active Server Pages (ASP)
  • Common Gateway Interface (CGI) using Perl or Python

Your choice of server-side scripting language may be determined by the server your Web site is hosted on or by the types of programs you want to run on it.

Structured Query Language (SQL)

Once you start programming with server-side scripting languages, it probably won't be long before you need to integrate with databases and retrieve information from them, and at that point you're going to need to understand how to structure a SQL query and what to do with the results.

About the Author

Gail Seymour has been a Web site designer for more than 10 years. During that time she has won three design awards and has provided the content and copy for dozens of Web sites and more than 50,000 Web pages.

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