hooking databases up to the web

Flat file HTML is remarkable stuff but it has its limitations. If you have a lot of information it can really get in a tangle. It's much better to structure it, and make it searchable. Moreover, a database makes automated interaction between the site and the user possible, which has many interesting applications.

So being literate on the web means knowing how to hook a database up to it. This could get really geeky very quickly, but fortunately there are some geeks out there who know that not everyone wants to be a geek fulltime.

There may be other ways to do it, but I started with a database application called Filemaker Pro (which runs on a Mac or a PC) and its companion Homepage. Both were designed by Claris before they became Filemaker Inc.

The beauty of combining the two applications is in an assistant called Filemaker Connection Assistant, which is to be found on the File... New... Assistant menu of HomePage.

Once you've designed the information structure for your database (a fancy way of saying decided what information is going to be put where and what it is going to be called) you run Filemaker Connection Assistant checking options as you go, and the software generates all the HTML for you.

And for this people get paid £800/day?

Well, not quite: firstly, it's quite a trick to know how to structure information; secondly, it's quite a trick to script a Filemaker database, and thirdly, there's many a slip between cup and lip in the automated code which the Filemaker Connection Assistant generates, which needs more than a tweak for it to meet basic standards of information design. All of this means experience is to be highly valued, but even the utter novice can make a start.

Further reading: Langer M. Database publishing with Filemaker Pro on the Web. Berkeley, CA: Peachpit Press, 1998. [?buy]

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