The answer to this problem is that every web-related technology can be classified in a certain category. All technologies in that category are essentially equivalent, and deciding which one to use is no more than an administrative decision (though, as usual, some technologies are better suited than others for specific problems or scenarios).
Once we know which category a technology belongs to, we already understand 60% of all there is to know about it. The remainder can be completed with a good reference for the API and syntax.
General structure of a web application
Every web app does essentially the same, no matter which technologies it uses:
- Provide a query/data input interface (frontend): This allows the user to enter data. Said data is usually called a "query" because they are used to dynamically consume a service provided by the computer (or computers) where the web server is hosted.
- Transmit the query to the web server, typically using the HTTP protocol.
- Process the query inside the server (backend): The web server processes the query data. This is where server-side scripting kicks in (more about this later).
- Create the response for the query: The format is defined by the query. Usually, it's XML, SOAP or JSON (with JSON being the current defacto standard).
- Send the response to the client, typically over the HTTP protocol.
- Process the response in the client side: This might be as simple as rendering HTML, but it involve calculations and extra logic which can be defined using client-side scripting (more on this later).
Let's see some examples of how web applications fit into this structure. The possible ways to combine technologies are virtually endless. Among them:
- The client 1)requests the web browser to 2) contact a web server using the HTTP protocol and 3) asks for a 4) specific HTML document which the server 5)returns as is so that 6) the browser can render it.
- There is a 1) Java client (a JVM running on the client computer) that 2) sends an ecrypted request, using HTTPS, to a Java Web Server that 3) processes the request using a Java Servlet which in turns uses a CORBA object to programatically generate 4) business data in XML format with an associated XSL style sheet which is in turn 5) sent to the client to 6) be rendered by the web browser as a tabe.
Types of web technologies
A while ago, we said that every web tech belongs to a category. There are various such classifications, but one of the simplest is the following:
- Presentation: Defines how to display data on the client side. Examples: HTML, CSS. Some people set apart those technologies used to send the data: JSON, SOAP, RESTful services.
- Server-side scripting (backend): When static HTML pages are not enough, they can be dynamically generated by the server before being sent to the client. This is possible using server-side scripting languages. Examples: PHP, ASP.NET, Perl, Python,,Ruby.
- Data Access: Database engines. These are the same as in Desktop programming. Examples: MySQL, SQL Server, Oracle.
Client-side scripting Libraries