For new webmasters, adding third-party software and scripting to a website can be a really scary proposition. I remember when I put my first scripts on my own website. Even with my basic dos programming experience in high school, I was still intimidated by the whole process. I was so sure that I was going to screw something up.
The very first script I ever installed on my website was a Graphical Counter from BigNoseBird.com (http://www.bignosebird.com/carchive/counter.shtml). I ended up spending five days playing with the script to get it to display just the way I wanted it displayed.
The second script I ever installed was a Recommend This Page To A Friend script, also from BigNoseBird.com (http://www.bignosebird.com/carchive/birdcast.shtml).
How Scripts Differ From Ordinary HTML
Basic web building uses HTML. HTML is simply a markup language that helps you display text and images within a web page.
Most of us know the basics of how to build a webpage in HTML. Others use website design software that interprets the requests of the user to build a webpage in HTML.
In its most basic understanding, “scripting” is the process of programming webpages to perform certain calculations, which will affect how information is displayed on the webpage.
If you fill out a form on a website and hit send, chances are that you are engaging a script of some sort to interpret the information that you have sent to the website. If you return to a website and it knows your username and password, then a script has been involved in the process to make your return visit much simpler. If you see a list of the most recent posts on a website, then a script was used to make that information appear for your consumption.
PHP and Perl are more appropriately designated as languages. Both are file types, and both allow you to design an entire website or parts of a website to perform specific actions or functions.
A function is defined as, “Functions (also known as subroutines and procedures) are chunks of code – parts of programs – which can be called from another part of the program. Generally, functions greatly enhance the space-efficiency and maintainability of computer programs.”
PHP and Perl Usage
Most servers have PHP and Perl functionality built into the web hosting accounts. However, not all web hosting companies are comfortable offering Perl (CGI-Bin) access to their users.
The reason why many web hosts shudder at the thought of making the Perl libraries available to their users is because Perl is a very powerful scripting language. In the hands of the wrong person(s), Perl access in a server can be used to bring great harm upon the server.
In order to operate Perl scripts, you must have the ability to change and set file permissions on any file that resides on your web hosting account. If you have just a basic Yahoo hosting account, you will not be able to use any Perl applications on your website. Some web hosts prohibit Perl usage at any level.
PHP is a new language that came about over the last few years. It has been designed to allow people who do not have Perl access to still have the ability to do scripting on their domain.
PHP generally does not require that you have access to file permissions. In Perl, executable files must carry permissions of 755. In PHP, most files will only be required to carry permissions of 644, which are the same permissions a standard webpage carries.
Fortunately for Perl programmers like me, PHP operates in many of the same manners that Perl programs operate. The learning curve from Perl to PHP is not very big at all.
Perl and PHP Bring With Them Powerful Libraries of Functions
What makes Perl and PHP as powerful as they are is the fact that both utilize functions very well. Basically, a function will carry out one specific task, and it will be able to be called from anywhere in your software.
Generally, one of the very first actions to be taken in a script is to INCLUDE all other files that are needed to operate the software. The additional files generally carry many of the functions that will be used in the software.
Then the software proceeds to carry out all of the necessary functions in order to build a webpage in a specific, pre-defined manner.
Programmers decide that there is a task that they perform often, and then they build it into a function. In time, the programmer will usually make his function available to the programming community. And eventually, if the function is exceptionally useful, then the function will be bundled in new releases of the basic Perl or PHP build. All of these additional functions are made available as the functions library.
How To Find Perl and PHP Scripts to Use On Your Website
There are actually many places you can go to find scripts to use for your websites. Some websites offer directories of free and paid scripts. Some websites will let you have their scripts if they can have your email address.
Additionally, there are literally thousands of websites and hundreds of books that will teach you how to write your own scripts in any of these languages.
When I am in the mood to improve my coding abilities, I like going to: http://www.planetsourcecode.com/ Planet Source Code offers full scripts and pieces of scripts, with feedback, that will teach me to be a better programmer.
My favorite place for locating scripts to download for free or to buy is: http://www.resourceindex.com/
The Resource Index has one part of their site dedicated to Perl scripts: http://cgi.resourceindex.com/
They also have one part of their site dedicated to PHP scripts: http://php.resourceindex.com/
Another decent site for locating scripts is at: http://www.hotscripts.com/
Many individual programmers also offer a lot of good software for purchase or for free. A few of the good ones will be:
If you have ever told yourself, “it would be cool (or useful) if I could do this for my website’s visitors,” then you are in the market to learn how to use scripts on your website.
If you have imagined it, chances are someone has programmed it. If they have programmed it, then you will either be able to download it for free, or to buy it at a very reasonable cost.
Before you plunk down your money to buy a program or script, be sure that the programmer is willing to show you the script in action. If it doesn’t do what you want it to do, don’t buy it. If it does do what you want to do, then by all means, do consider purchasing the software for use on your own site.
When programmers offer their software for sale, their documentation is usually pretty good. They will tell you what steps you need to take to install it on your server, and they will tell you how to operate the software.
It is very realistic to believe that if you like what the software does, you can have it live and operational on your website in less than 30 minutes in most cases.
Good luck. I will be around later to see what cool stuff you have added to your website. 😉