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ASP.NET Basics (part 1): Nothing But .Net
Get started with ASP.NET and the .NET Framework

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Server-side scripting is not new. It's been around for quite a while on the Web, and almost every major Web site uses some amount of server-side scripting. Amazon.com uses it to find the book you're looking for, Yahoo! uses it to store your personal preferences, and GeoCities uses it to generate page statistics. Despite this, you're probably wondering why server-side scripting is such a big deal - after all, you've probably seen what a few simple JavaScripts can do. The reason for its popularity is very simple - JavaScript runs within a client application, usually the browser, and as such can only access resources, such as the current date and time, on the client machine. Since server-side scripts run on the Web server, they can be used to access server resources such as databases, system variables and other useful thingamajigs.

Just as there are different flavors of client-side scripting, there are different languages that can be used on the server as well. Here's a quick list of some of the more popular ones:

* In the early days of the WWW, Perl (http://www.perl.com) was the most popular language for scripting activities on the server. For the uninformed, Perl (an acronym for Practical Extraction and Report Language) is an interpreted language optimized for scanning arbitrary text files, extracting information from these files, and printing reports based on that information. While not many languages can compare with the pattern-matching capabilities of a well-written Perl script, newbies will find this language a touch intimidating when they are starting out!

* Next up, ColdFusion, currently maintained by Macromedia (http://www.macromedia.com). ColdFusion syntax bears a remarkable resemblance to HTML, making it very easy for a budding web programmer to migrate to it. At the moment, it's available for both Windows NT and Linux. The only drawback: it ain't free!

* Python (http://www.python.org) is an interpreted, object-oriented high-level scripting language for UNIX, often compared to Tcl, Perl or Java. It has modules, classes and interfaces to system calls, and is also extensible. It has been ported to Windows, DOS, OS/2 and the Macintosh, and has a devout following in the UNIX community.

* One of today's most popular open-source languages for Web scripting is PHP (http://www.php.net). Very easy to use, it's free, widely available for UNIX and Windows systems, and particularly strong in the areas of database access, XML parsing and file management, and comes with large code repository of free, open-source classes in the form of the PEAR repository.

* Active Server Pages, now aptly referred to as so-called "classic" ASP. Microsoft first introduced ASP in its IIS Web server, for the purpose of Web application programming and development. While ASP currently runs only on the Windows server platform, there have been successful attempts to port it to the UNIX platform using third party tools (such as Chilisoft ASP).

Sadly, the days of "classic" ASP are numbered. And with good reason - with ASP.NET and the much touted .NET framework, Microsoft aims to develop a "unified Web development platform that provides the services necessary for developers to build enterprise-class Web applications" (http://msdn.microsoft.com/library/default.asp?url=/library/en-us/cpguide/html/cpconintroductiontoasp.asp).

In case you didn't quite understand that definition, don't worry about it - you're not the only one.

Put in plainer English, ASP.NET is a .NET-based development environment, which you can use to create distributed Web-based applications. These applications can be written in any .NET compatible language (including C#, Visual Basic.NET, and JScript.NET). While you can also use regular ASP code in your ASP.NET applications, it is far better to start from scratch (as it were) and leverage off the new .NET programming model, since that model includes a number of other benefits.

Let's take a closer look.

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