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The AutoMagic Web Site

When I first started writing web pages, they were always static pages: straight HTML. If there was any CGI at all, it was only to handle forms. No doubt every beginning web master starts out that way, and if your web site never grows beyond a handful of pages, that's probably fine. However, as your site grows in complexity, static pages become burdensome and quite annoying to maintain.

One aside before we dive in completely: there is a technical difference between dynamic pages and generated pages that the rest of this article is going to generally ignore. A dynamic page has imbedded code (Javascript, Server Side Includes, or whatever) or may be generated completely from a CGI script. A generated page can be just static HTML as it sits on the server, but that HTML very well could have been created by a script or other program (and of course nothing prevents such a page from also including dynamic content). What sort of scheme you use to produce pages varies with your needs and preference; I use all methods myself and you probably will too.

For example, let's look at the various things that need to happen when I add a page to my site:

  • First, it needs to appear in at least two index pages. This article belongs in the general Unix Articles index, the Sitemap index, and in the Unix Programs index (because it contains code).
  • Within the main Unix Articles index, any article may need to appear in more than one place. This article will appear under Programming, Code, Web/HTML and Perl.
  • Every article has links to every "related" article, book review or link. If those had to be updated manually every time a new page is added, that alone would be long, tedious and error-prone (there are more than 200 separate articles at my site as I write this, and of course more are added every month).
  • Every new article has to be added to the proper place in What's New?.
  • The search engine uses index files that need to have information about this new article added in.
  • Each article displays site index navigation links at the top. Of course, I change that from time to time, and again I don't want to have to update every article.
  • Similarly, each article contains a copyright notice that I may want to adjust, and each article contains style sheet information that determines font sizes, etc. I wouldn't want to have to go through every single article because I decided that the color of my <H2> tags should change!

All of this is handled by Perl scripts. The generation of the style sheet classes and the copyright notice is just simple SSI (Server Side Includes): a line in each file has this, for example:

<!--#include virtual="/cgi-bin/copyright.pl" -->

As you may already know, such a line (on a server that supports SSI) will cause the displayed web page to have the text generated by the script that it calls. The "copyright.pl" generates the boilerplate copyright, and a similar line generates the style sheets.

The rest of it all happens because one line that describes the article is added to a data file that a number of other programs read. That data file looks like this:

ARTICLES:/Unixart/linppp.html:Red Hat Linux as a PPP Server:January 1999:Tony Lawrence:Linux|Networking
ARTICLES:/Opinion/java.html:Java? :January 1999:Tony Lawrence:Opinion
ARTICLES:/Reviews/wt5.1.html:Winterm 5000 Terminal:January 1999:Tony Lawrence:Reviews|Modems/Terminals|Networking
ARTICLES:/Reviews/proxyserv.html:Review of Netscape Proxy Server:February 1999:Tony Lawrence:Reviews|Security|Networking


ARTICLES:/Unixart/linkfail.html:Kernel Link Failures:September 2000:Tony Lawrence:Installation|Kernel/Internals
ARTICLES:/Reviews/logmon.html:Logmon Inactivity Reporter:September 2000:Tony Lawrence:Reviews
ARTICLES:/Opinion/technofable.html:Technofable- James Richardson:September 2000:James Richardson:Opinion
ARTICLES:/Linux/linrh70.html:Red Hat 7:October 2000:Tony Lawrence:Linux|Reviews
ARTICLES:/Unixart/vdom_eng.html:Mail in a Virtual Domain:October 2000:Roberto Zini:Mail|Installation

Every index page gets information from this file by way of a Perl script. Additionally, every page shows pages related to itself by another script that also reads this file.

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Thu Jul 6 14:18:25 2006: 2218   TonyLawrence

A lot of this has changed. Nowadays, almost all pages here call a script that reads the real content from a database. This lets me have one script that I can modify to add or delete features and change presentation.

Wed Jul 7 20:25:07 2010: 8798   TonyLawrence


And even more recently, it has all been converted back to static. Perl scripts read all the databases to generate the pages, but I had to go to static because of increased traffic.

Wed Jul 7 20:26:46 2010: 8799   TonyLawrence


See (link) for why I use Perl rather than more structured languages.

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