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What Exactly Are Active Server Pages?

Active Server Pages, commonly referred to as ASP, is Microsoft's solution to server-side scripting. With simple HTML pages, the client (a web surfer) requests a web page from a server (some www.blah.com). The server just sends the file to the client, and the page is shown on the client's browser.

With Active Server Pages, the server gets a chance to alter the file before sending it to the user. So, for every request for a file with a .ASP extension, the server runs the file through a DLL called ASP.DLL, which parses the ASP commands.

To use Active Server Pages you must be running a Microsoft webserver; Microsoft makes a number of Web servers that are freely available. If you have Windows NT 4.0 Server installed, you can download IIS 3.0 or IIS 4.0, both of which support ASP development. If you have Windows 2000, you can use IIS 5.0. If you have Windows 9X or Windows NT Workstation, you can use Personal Web Server (PWS). All of these products can be downloaded for free from Microsoft's Web site: http://www.microsoft.com/iis/

If your web site is run on a UNIX box, you can still use Active Server Pages, but you need to use a third party tool to translate the ASP before it is sent to the client. Such companies like Chilisoft make products of this nature.

If you are running a Microsoft Web server, to run an ASP file, all you need to do is create a file on the webserver with a .ASP extension. When the browser requests the file, the webserver is smart enough to preprocess the file before sending it off to the client.

You can have your ASP code connect to a database (SQL, Access, Oracle, Informix, or any ODBC-compliant database) and dynamically insert the data into your HTML pages. This leads to some very powerful possibilities including ECommerce, customizable sites, data entering / retrieving systems run over the Internet, and a slew of other possibilities. You can view some web sites that use ASP by visiting most any Microsoft sponsored site such as MSNBC.com or The Zone.

To learn more about getting started with ASP, be sure to read Akshay Luther's great article: Getting Started with ASP!

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