Monday, October 27, 2008

Web Hosting and Databases

Most web hosting packages include one or more databases. What can you use them for? How will they help your website? Read on for the answers to these questions. A database stores data, but more importantly, allows that data can easily be accessed. Data can be product information, customer names and addresses, sales records, or even the information that appears on web pages. Using a database to retrieve that information can allow you to better serve your visitors and provide them with a more interactive experience.

The most common use of databases in an Internet environment is to serve information dynamically as it is requested. In a large eCommerce site, for example, the actual product information is maintained in a database so that updating the site is a simple matter of changing the data. Without this system, website managers would have to create static pages for each product. When dealing with hundreds or thousands of products, this task would be almost impossible to manage in an efficient manner.

Dynamic pages use a template for the static content of the site such as headers, menus and footers. The contents of the database are inserted into the template by the server software before the page is sent to be viewed in a browser. Any content from the database can be placed anywhere on a dynamic page. This allows you to set up visually appealing pages which include text and pictures and also add shopping suggestions like: ‘Customers who bought this also bought…’

Databases can also be used for storing and accessing customer records. This allows you to tailor your pages according to your customer’s previous purchases. Each page could have a personalized greeting (Welcome back Peter) and when they make another purchase all their personal data including address and credit card number could be pulled from the database so they don’t have to fill in the same form again.

Another use of a database is mailinglists. Many websites send out information to their visitors to remind them about the site and encourage them to visit again. Email addresses can be stored in a database for the purpose of sending out announcements and newsletters. Also the newsletters can be archived in a database so that visitors can browse or search through previous mailings.

Each database can be divided into tables which are a complete set of data, so one database could be used for most of your website information by setting up a number of tables.The number of databases that your site needs depends on how many applications you are going to run.

It’s one thing to have a database, it’s another to access that data. There are several ways to retrieve information from a database so that it can be usefully applied to your website. One of the most popular combinations is PHP along with MySQL. PHP can be used to create dynamic web pages that pull data from a MySQL database. The programming language is quite straightforward and can be used to set up complex interactive forms. Other database applications include MySQL with ASP, MSSQL with ASP, and PostgreSQL with PHP.

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