Basic Web Page Generation

16.2.1 Problem

You want to produce a web page from a script rather than by writing it manually.

16.2.2 Solution

Write a program that generates the page when it executes. This gives you more control over what gets sent to the client than when you write a static page, although it may also require that you provide more parts of the response. For example, it may be necessary to write the headers that precede the page body.

16.2.3 Discussion

HTML is a markup language (that's what the "ML" stands for) that consists of a mix of plain text to be displayed and special markup indicators or constructs that control how the plain text is displayed. Here is a very simple HTML page that specifies a title in the page header, and a body with white background containing a single paragraph:


Web Page Title

Web page body.

It's possible to write a script that produces the same page, but doing so differs in some ways from writing a static page. For one thing, you're writing in two languages at once. (The script is written in your programming language, and the script itself writes HTML.) Another difference is that you may have to produce more of the response that is sent to the client. When a web server sends a static page to a client, it actually sends a set of one or more header lines first that provide additional information about the page. For example, an HTML document would be preceded by a Content-Type: header that lets the client know what kind of information to expect, and a blank line that separates any headers from the page body:

Content-Type: text/html

Web Page Title

Web page body.

The web server produces header information automatically for static HTML pages. When you write a web script, you may need to provide the header information yourself. Some APIs (such as PHP) may send a content-type header automatically, but allow you to override the default type. For example, if your script sends a JPEG image to the client instead of an HTML page, you would want to have the script change the content type from text/html to image/jpeg.

Writing web scripts also differs from writing command-line scripts, both for input and for output. On the input side, the information given to a web script is provided by the web server rather than by command-line arguments or by input that you type in. This means your scripts do not obtain input using read statements. Instead, the web server puts information into the execution environment of the script, which then extracts that information from its environment and acts on it.

On the output side, command-line scripts typically produce plain text output, whereas web scripts produce HTML, images, or whatever other type of content you need to send to the client. Output produced in a web environment usually must be highly structured, to ensure that it can be understood by the receiving client program.

Any API allows you to generate output by means of print statements, but some also offer special assistance for producing web pages. This support can be either built into the API itself or provided by means of special modules:

  • For Perl scripts, a popular module is It provides features for generating HTML markup, form processing, and more.
  • PHP scripts are written as a mix of HTML and embedded PHP code. That is, you write HTML literally into the script, then drop into "program mode" whenever you need to generate output by executing code. The code is replaced by its output in the resulting page that is sent to the client.
  • Python includes cgi and urllib modules that help perform web programming tasks.
  • For Java, we'll write scripts according to the JSP specification, which allows scripting directives and code to be embedded into web pages. This is similar to the way PHP works.

Other page-generating packages are available besides those used in this booksome of which can have a marked effect on the way you use a language. For example, Mason, embPerl, ePerl, and AxKit allow you to treat Perl as an embedded language, somewhat like the way that PHP works. Similarly, the mod_snake Apache module allows Python code to be embedded into HTML templates.

Before you can run any scripts in a web environment, your web server must be set up properly. Information about doing this for Apache and Tomcat is provided in Recipe 16.3 and Recipe 16.4, but conceptually, a web server typically runs a script in one of two ways. First, the web server can use an external program to execute the script. For example, it can invoke an instance of the Python interpreter to run a Python script. Second, if the server has been enabled with the appropriate language processing ability, it can execute the script itself. Using an external program to run scripts requires no special capability on the part of the web server, but is slower because it involves starting up a separate process, as well as some additional overhead for writing request information to the script and reading the results from it. If you embed a language processor into the web server, it can execute scripts directly, resulting in much better performance.

Like most web servers, Apache can run external scripts. It also supports the concept of extensions (modules) that become part of the Apache process itself (either by being compiled in or dynamically loaded at runtime). One common use of this feature is to embed language processors into the server to accelerate script execution. Perl, PHP, and Python scripts can be executed either way. Like command-line scripts, externally executed web scripts are written as executable files that begin with a #! line specifying the pathname of the appropriate language interpreter. Apache uses the pathname to determine which interpreter runs the script. Alternatively, you can extend Apache using modules such as mod_perl for Perl, mod_php for PHP, and mod_python or mod_snake for Python. This gives Apache the ability to directly execute scripts written in those languages.

For Java JSP scripts, the scripts are compiled into Java servlets and run inside a process known as a servlet container. This is similar to the embedded-interpreter approach in the sense that the scripts are run by a server process that manages them, rather than by starting up an external process for each script. The first time a JSP page is requested by a client, the container compiles it into a servlet in the form of executable Java byte code, then loads it and runs it. The container caches the byte code, so subsequent requests for the script run directly with no compilation phase. If you modify the script, the container notices this when the next request arrives, recompiles the script into a new servlet, and reloads it. The JSP approach provides a significant advantage over writing servlets directly, because you don't have to compile code yourself or handle servlet loading and unloading. Tomcat can handle the responsibilities of both the servlet container and of the web server that communicates with the container.

If you run multiple servers on the same host, they must listen for requests on different port numbers. In a typical configuration, Apache listens on the default HTTP port (80) and Tomcat listens on another port such as 8080. The examples here use server hostnames of and to represent URLs for scripts processed using Apache and Tomcat. These may or may not map to the same physical machine, depending on your DNS settings, so the examples use a different port (8080) for Tomcat. Typical forms for URLs that you'll see in this book are as follows:

You'll need to change the hostname and port number appropriately for pages served by your own servers.

Using the mysql Client Program

Writing MySQL-Based Programs

Record Selection Techniques

Working with Strings

Working with Dates and Times

Sorting Query Results

Generating Summaries

Modifying Tables with ALTER TABLE

Obtaining and Using Metadata

Importing and Exporting Data

Generating and Using Sequences

Using Multiple Tables

Statistical Techniques

Handling Duplicates

Performing Transactions

Introduction to MySQL on the Web

Incorporating Query Resultsinto Web Pages

Processing Web Input with MySQL

Using MySQL-Based Web Session Management

Appendix A. Obtaining MySQL Software

Appendix B. JSP and Tomcat Primer

Appendix C. References

MySQL Cookbook
MySQL Cookbook
ISBN: 059652708X
EAN: 2147483647
Year: 2005
Pages: 412
Authors: Paul DuBois © 2008-2020.
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