Magazine article Online

Delivering the Goods: Intranet Databases for Small and Large Projects

Magazine article Online

Delivering the Goods: Intranet Databases for Small and Large Projects

Article excerpt

Some of the most beautiful, flexible, and exciting intranets have databases hidden behind them.

To some people, databases and the Web are about as far apart as can be. Web pages are just simple documents formatted for display on a computer screen. You can put anything you like on a Web page, make it pretty, and publish it on your intranet. In contrast, a database is a place to store structured tabular data such as citations, contact lists, inventory lists, indexes of Internet resources, company telephone directories, and so on. You might say that the Web is beautiful, flexible, and exciting, while databases are ugly, rigid, and boring.

In reality, some of the most beautiful, flexible, and exciting intranets have databases hidden behind them. Many librarians have discovered the advantages of using databases to deliver Web-site content. Rather than relying on hand-coded, static pages that are created once and stored on the server, librarians are creating dynamically generated content by using databases. Small and large databases can help simplify your life as an intranet Webmaster, and help you to deliver useful and up-to-date content to users.

HOW DO THEY WORK?

Unlike a static Web page that was created by hand and stored on the Web server, a dynamic Web page is created on-the-fly. An example of this is a page showing search results. Some parts of the page--the header and the footer--may always be the same, but the main body of the page changes for each new query.

Whether it is a static or dynamic Web page, the first step is the same--the Web browser sends a request to the Web server. For a static page, the Web server finds the page and sends it back to the browser. Things are a bit more complicated with databases. First, the Web server passes the request on to a program (middleware), which converts it into a database query. The results of the query are converted to HTML and sent back to the browser. The database may be Microsoft Access, SQL Server, MySQL, Oracle, a flat-file Perl database, Filemaker, Inmagic DB/TextWorks, or a whole host of other database programs.

SAMPLE WEB-ACCESSIBLE DATABASE PROJECTS

Often, the first in-house database that librarians want to add to their intranet is a Web-accessible catalogue. Yet, databases can be used in a multitude of ways on library and main intranet sites. The following examples illustrate just a few of the possibilities.

Directory of Web Sites

A common starter database project for a library is a directory of Web sites. The information about sites is easy to break into fields. Typical fields are: the title of the Web site, its URL, description of the site, subjects, and a record-modification date. Anyone who has maintained a list of more than 200 links subdivided into multiple categories and subcategories will immediately find payoffs in time and functionality by moving their list into a database. You can use a general-purpose database like Microsoft Access or Filemaker Pro, or free and shareware tools such as:

* Gossamer Threads Links, (http://www.gossamerthreads.com/scripts/links/): free to non-profits, $150 otherwise

* PerlHoo, (http://webreference.com/perl/xhoo/): free

* Link Engine, (http://www.freesitestuff.com/linkinfo.html): free, hosted remotely and administered using Web forms

Once the links are in a database, a What's New page can be dynamically created based on the record-modification date. Some of the free and shareware tools for creating databases of links will automatically create a "yahoo-like" interface, provide daily reports of broken links, lists of the most popular sites, etc.

The Publishers' Catalogues Home Page (http://www.lights.com/publisher/) started off as a series of static pages organized geographically. With over 3,000 sites in the directory, the daily maintenance workload was daunting. By converting the static site to a flat-file Perl database, not only was site maintenance brought under control, but new search capabilities were added. …

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