Your First Web Database Application
To keep motivated, you should choose a small project that will actually be useful. A great candidate is the opt-in page: a web page that lets visitors provide their name and email address to be saved to the website database. Presumably the website owner will use this data to send out newsletters and email marketing, but we won’t worry about that! This is the perfect training application: a simple but useful one-page database application.
Choosing Your Tools – the Microsoft option
Once you’ve decided what you’re going to develop, you need to decide which tools to develop with. If you’re on a budget (and who isn’t), then Microsoft has released a development environment available for free. You can download and install Visual Web Developer Express from the Microsoft website, which also comes with a free version of the popular database engine Microsoft SQL Server. The free database is branded as SQL Server Express.
There are other free alternatives open to you – MySQL and PHP has traditionally been a popular choice. If you come from a Linux or Unix background, you’ll probably want to go that route, but if you are used to working on Windows machines, then the Microsoft option is appealing.
Creating the Table
For the simple opt-in application, you need a database table that will store names and their email addresses – this is about as simple as it gets. Visual Web Developer Express provides a GUI to let you create tables. For this project, you’ll be creating a three-column table. Of course, you need one column to store the visitor’s name, and another to store the email address. So why the third?
For proper database design, you should also have a unique ID column within the table that is defined as a primary key and set as an identity field. If this terminology is alien to you, you’ll need to read some tutorials on SQL and creating tables. You will find lots of online articles, including step-by-step walk-throughs on the process. The work you put into learning basic table creation at this stage will be invaluable for future web projects!
Creating the Web Page
The opt-in web page needs to provide two input boxes to allow the visitor to enter a name and email address. If you’ve already done a bit of HTML coding, that’s no problem to you. The tricky bit is connecting the page to the database and ensuring that the details are written to the table.
This is where Visual Web Developer Express comes into its own. With alternative programming languages, this would take lines of code to put together (and hours of debugging when it doesn’t work!). With VWD Express, you use the GUI interface and wizards to drag-and-drop ASP.Net controls to access the database – the tool creates the code you need behind the scenes.
Finding a Hosting Provider
In order to go live, your hosting provider must support ASP.Net and SQL Server. Shop around – there are a number of competing providers out there. If you’re working on a budget, then you’ll find Go Daddy hard to beat.
Getting things working on your laptop or PC is a great achievement! But putting your database application live is real success.
If what’s been described up to now sounds too easy – well, the development process is relatively simple with the Microsoft ASP.Net development environment. The Microsoft tools hide much of the complexity of database development.
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