The Hostway Blog

Windows Web Hosting Part 2: Scripting

In this series, we’re looking at the Windows operating system (OS) as a Web hosting platform. We looked at how Windows was developed and at its popularity. Later we will look at SQL Server and MSADO database software, and discuss Microsoft's current position in the server OS market and its plans for the future. In this article, we’re focusing on the scripting languages used on the Windows OS platform for serving Web pages.

FrontPage Extensions

FrontPage was Microsoft’s Web authoring software before Expression Web replaced it in 2006. It was popular with amateur and hobbyist Web designers because it made creating interactive Web sites easier, managed updates and made uploading changed files to the server easier. However, a lot of its functionality relied on a series of “bots” that were supported by FrontPage Server Extensions. This meant the sites created would only work properly on a server with the extensions installed, and many of them would only render as expected in Internet Explorer.

Although the bots have been deprecated by Microsoft and removed from Expression Web as something “not appropriate for a high-end, standards compliant web design tool,” many servers still support FrontPage extensions, and they can even be found on Linux servers. While you may need FrontPage extensions if you have an existing FrontPage site, it’s not a good idea to create a new site that uses them. Instead, users have the choice of using Expression Web for professional Web design, or switching to SharePoint and using SharePoint Designer if they prefer to use pre-prepared “Web Parts” to build a point and click site easily.

ASP, the Microsoft .NET Framework and ASP.NET

Active Server Pages (ASP) is often described as a programming language, but this is a misconception. In fact, ASP is a Microsoft technology that enables the Internet Information Services (IIS) Web server to handle scripting languages. The ASP engine is a program that runs inside IIS. Files containing scripts as well as HTML are given the .asp extension, and when these are called, instead of being passed to the browser, they are passed to the ASP engine. The ASP engine then interprets the scripts and translates the results into HTML code before passing it back to the browser. Scripts are typically written in VBScript or Jscript.

The .NET Framework is a development framework designed by Microsoft to run on Windows OS platforms that includes comprehensive libraries of code for low level programming tasks and a Common Language Runtime (CLR) compiler that creates an abstraction layer over the operating system (much as Windows originally provided an “Operating Environment” over the top of MS-DOS). This enables developers to work in languages they are already familiar with to build applications quicker and increases interoperability between the supported languages.

Using the .NET Framework and Visual Studio, developers are able to use ASP.NET to use Object Oriented Programming (OOP) methods to develop Web applications in their preferred language.

JScript

Jscript is probably best explained as Microsoft’s answer to JavaScript, since both are based on the ECMA 262 language specification. It’s a limited object-based scripting language that has to be interpreted by a “host” such as ASP. Jscript can’t be used to build standalone applications, or to read or write files but it is useful for basic scripting such as string manipulation.

VBScript

VBScript is the scripting edition of Visual Basic. Visual Basic is Microsoft’s programming system designed to make it easier for developers to create programs that would run on the Windows OS. Thus, VBScript is designed to make it easier for developers to create Web applications that integrate with Internet Explorer using Web client scripting and IIS using Web server scripting.

C#

C# was developed by Microsoft for the .NET framework as an improvement on C++ and Java. It was designed to be a general-purpose, object-oriented programming language that is both simple and easy to use. As a result, it’s a fully featured language capable of creating everything from powerful programs through Web applications to simple scripts. C# was created with both source code and programmer portability in mind, enabling those with C or C++ experience to make an easy transition to C#, and ensuring that the code created would be compatible with the maximum of other programming languages.

Although Visual Basic was often described as a “beginners language” by developers proficient in more advanced languages such as C and Java, the applications developed using VBScript within the .NET framework will produce the same output as those developed using C# since both will be compiled using Microsoft Intermediate Language (MSIL). In fact, the .NET framework supports a wide range of languages including Perl and Python, and the use of MSIL ensures that all of these can be used interchangeably, leaving the choice of programming language very much a matter of personal preference.