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CGI, PERL, and Server Side Includes
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Perl, CGI, SSI
Dynamic Web Page Content

Whether you need features like a blog, a contact form, banner ad rotation, or a way to manage your site content because your site's grown too large to manage the static pages, you can probably find a relatively easy way to take care of things with Perl or Server-Side-Includes. The availability of free scripts combined with a massive support community and simplicity of code makes Perl an especially appealing option for adding some dynamic features to your site without becoming a programmer.

Server Side Includes (SSI)

We're touching on these first, because they're so thoroughly overlooked. SSI's allow you (if your server is configured to do so) to do an amazing variety of things very simply. You can rotate content, show the time, control actions based on time and date, detect browsers, all sorts of useful stuff. There's amazingly little out there about SSI's, however, so you'll have to take what you can find and be inventive.

SSI's make it possible to do things like display the information below:

Your Browser:

The Page You Came From:

Your IP Address:

The Date And Time You Came Here:

But the real power lies in choosing what to do with that information. You can also use an "include" statement to include files based on different variables like time/date, browser, etc. Check out the links to BigNoseBird's SSI pages. They remain the user-friendliest intro to this we've come across.

What is CGI?

The NCSA puts it very well: "The Common Gateway Interface (CGI) is a standard for interfacing external applications with information servers, such as HTTP or Web servers. A plain HTML document that the Web daemon retrieves is static, which means it exists in a constant state: a text file that doesn't change. A CGI program, on the other hand, is executed in real-time, so that it can output dynamic information."

In simpler terms, it lets you take that attractive but static page you've created, and give it some life.

And Perl?

It's a high-level programming language, according to perl.org. Some codeheads deny it this status, insisting that it's a "glue language" or "scripting language". The fact is, you can use Perl for just about anything you want, but all we're concerned with is how we can use it for web applications. Most commonly you'll see it used for things like e-mail management, database interaction, bulletin boards, and counters. The possibilities are endless. Check out the recommended links to learn more.

Recommended Reading:
An excellent primer if you're completely new to Perl:

Perl and CGI for the World Wide Web: Visual QuickStart Guide, Second Edition

If you're a programmer, learn Perl from the man who created it (this book is definitely not for novices):
Programming Perl
Programming Perl
(3rd Edition)

Recommended Links:

A great primer for getting started with CGI and Perl

CGI Resource Index
Thousands of Perl scripts for your site, many of them free.

The CGI Site
Complete documentation of CGI with examples and archives.

The Perl Directory
The central directory of all things Perl

Apache SSI Tutorial
Apache's introduction to Server Side Includes

BigNoseBird's Server Side Include Page
Still one of the friendliest introductions to SSI on the web

Web Design Group's CGI FAQ Page
An excellent set of Q's, all A'd very well.
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