a jaundiced eye: saner heads
for saturday, march 15, 1997.

WWW != Gopher != FTP

One of the problems with any new technology is that most people fight the new war using the tactics of the last one. Web servers have come a long way since the days of simple text file transfer. So why don't more applications developers integrate more tightly with the powerful servers on the market?

Often, it has to do with misunderstanding the power of a given implementation but more often it is simply a failure to recognize the way that the web has driven certain aspects of document and information management to new levels - compared to the previous standards.

During my early days as the Technical Lead for what was to become a top-notch internal Web Services department, I fought a lot of battles with people who could only understand the Web in terms of existing, entrenched, technologies such as NNTP, FTP, and Gopher. Statements such as "it's just like news" or "it's just another Gopher" abounded. It took me a long time to convince these otherwise intelligent people that it wasn't the individual files which mattered to the webmaster, but the manner in which they related or differed as groups of files, organized under a given topic. The node was becoming less important, just as in Object Oriented design the number of files used to implement a given object is moot - what is more important is the manner in which these objects interrelate, and how they may be flexibly updated, moved, or even removed.

Modern servers can perform a great many functions, related to defining sets of documents (Aliasing), security and authentication, handling of an infinite variety of file types, intelligent document construction and management (Server Side Includes), and configurable logging. Yet when I use most of the IDEs or "web page development utilities", there is no integration with the server's functionality whatsoever, aside from CGI. The fact that many of these tools refer to themselves as "page design" utilities reveals the fact that they treat the web server as basically a dumb file server. No mention is made of document chunking (the definition of sets of related documents), server side includes (the decomposition of common page elements into includeable headers, footers, and so forth), or how to implement security aside from simply requiring the user to go through a specified gateway in order to get to the "hidden" but unprotected documents. This is not security, it's obscurity.

This is a call to arms. Web "page design" applications programmers everywhere - heed my call. Integrate your systems with the servers. Make use of the existing technology rather than re-inventing the wheel using already deprecated interfaces such as CGI.

Steven Champeon

r e c i p r o c a t e

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© 1997-2001 Steven Champeon. All rights reserved.
All slights reversed.