Choosing an ISP: PHP vs CGI vs PERL etc

  Limariami 11:22 31 Dec 2004

Hi all (This message previously posted on a different forum)

I am trying to choose a new ISP and am having difficulty trying to decide which ones are suitable.

I want to develop a site that has interactivity, and to learn new technologies to improve my CV. I have knowledge of HTML and Javascript. I have been told that PHP is the best if databases will feature heavily.

I have found a very good offer. However the ISP's server does not support PERL, CGI, Java servlets, ASP, JSP, .

I want to know whether the lack of support for these technologies represents a major drawback. Basically, is there anything that they can do that PHP won't?

Apart from integrating with a database, I want to develop sites with the following features:
- commercial transactions (ie security)
- pass-word protected sections (again a security issue. is there any difference to using .htmacess?)
- have a forum
- a self-contained reservation system, specifically to co-ordinate invites/confirmations for a weekly meet-up
- upload facilities including attachments

Thanks in advance.


  AragornUK 11:58 31 Dec 2004

Following on from your thread in the Helproom (for anyone who hasn't seen it click here ) I have to say I agree that the Open source stuff does give the better deals.

Re my PS in the other thread - you mention ISP, which was what was confusing me. Since you have now clarified stand alone web hosting, it makes it a little easier. Most people tend to go for the Open Source (PHP with a mySQL database) approach. This could be due to a few reasons like price, speed, ease of support etc.

I personally use a PHP / mySQL hoster, but these also support Frontpage extensions if you want to use these instead.

Like exerything else in PC land, it's all a case of personal preference. Generally speaking however, you can do everything in a PHP / mySQL site that you can with an ASP / JSP with an Access or SQL database one. And I think the general opinion is that if you want things like forums etc, then go for one with a mySQL backend. I think it's a little faster, and takes less server resources.

Javascript and Java applets will work just as well on a PHP hosted site. Most hosters provide some ready built CGI scripts taht can be installed via the hosting control panel, saving you the trouble of writing them.

Hope this helps a little. If you could give an idea of webspace / bandwidth needed, maybe someone can come up with a few suggestions for you - even comaprisons between a Windows (ASP) hoster and a Linux (PHP) hoster.

  Taran 13:49 31 Dec 2004

Your ISP provides your internet and email service, and usually does not provide web hosting apart from the 'free' or included space that your account may have. This space does not normally feature anything like the shopping list of supported languages you have mentioned, and I've yet to see an ISP offer decent PHP and MySQL support.

A web host, on the other hand, has the sole job of hosting your website and will normally offer all the bells and whistles any budding designer might want or need.

Now, PHP is not necessarily 'better' where databases feature in a site. There is no 'better' really - it all falls down to current requirements, likely future needs and your ability to leverage the technology to your advantage.

Access is a fine database for a small, low traffic site and has obvious advantages, including a nice user interface, the likelihood that you already have it installed on your computer, the ability to upsize to MS SQL if/when things get too big for Access to handle etc. You can also use the full power of ASP (VBScript or JScript - I prefer VBScipt by miles) and, perhaps more important, .NET - I know of some very, very nice sites that still run on an Access back end or that started out on one.

The downside to this is that ASP and Access require Windows hosting which is more expensive, often by quite some margin.

PHP and MySQL hosting can be found for comparatively low prices and MySQL can handle vast database sizes (host permitting) without the need to upsize along the way. PHP is a bit easier to learn than ASP (in my opinion) and almost all of the tools you might need to help you along are free to use.

If you want a long term future in commercial development, working for somene else, it would pay to settle on one technolgy and specialise in it, while gaining a grounding in the others.

Now, in terms of security, .htacces files should never be relied upon for any sort of transactional process. It is fine for directory protection and for overriding server restrictions and settings on a local basis, but that's about all. You need to start looking at SSL (getting your own certficate) at the least - check out the Verisign site, which has loads of information for you on this topic click here

Finding a host that will support PHP as well as ASP, JSP and Java servlets will be all but impossible without paying silly money.

ASP on Apache, for example, is Chilisoft ASP or, in plain English, ASP 2.0. This means your ASP 3.0 VBScript files won't run on it unless the web host has the very latest version of Chilisoft installed (most don't).

  Taran 13:49 31 Dec 2004

On the flip side of this, PHP on Windows IIS servers sometimes reacts in an unexpected manner to some of the more advanced scripting features of the language. This is a peculiarity of PHP on IIS and while 99.9% of your programming will work regardless of platform, there are issues to be aware of.

You can use any ISP you like as your gateway to the internet, but a web host is a different kettle of fish entirely.

My advice is to settle on one technology for now and stick with it until you know enough about it to warrant moving onto the other languages. For around £100 per year you can get a very well specified hosting account, or less if you don't mind compromising on a few things.

I'd forget, for now at least, about getting a host that will give you PHP, ASP, JSP and Java Servlets - you'll never use them all in your first year or so, and by the time you are in a position to use them properly you can migrate to a more specialised (and costly) hosting account.

Any good web host will offer Perl/CGI support by default, and will offer you either PHP and MySQL database(s) OR ASP (possibly .NET as well) and one Access or MS SQL database.

Since this will be a learning aid, I suggest you give yourself thebest chance of success and stick with one platform. I've yet to meet anyone who managed to learn Perl, ASP, .NET, PHP, MS SQL and MySQL all at once and do it well.

Bascially, any of the dynamic web languages will do what you want, assuming you learn how to implement them.

One final point - you can install IIS click here as an optional component of Windows 2000 or XP Professional, which gives you a local testing server on your own PC. If you want, you can also install PHP and MySQL into IIS, or you can install the Apache web server as well as IIS (make sure they run on different ports) on Win2K and XP Pro, or Apache will run on any other cersion of Windows, Apple Mac OS and Linux. Once installed your local testing server allows you to write your programs and run them as though they were on a real web server.

The site click here has a wonderful pre-configured Apache web server that you can download and install on your own PC to test your PHP programs. It has Perl support, so you can also work on CGI scripts.

If you have any other questions just ask, but I hope the above helps.


  Taran 13:50 31 Dec 2004

Sorry it's in two parts - I had exceeded the word limitations for a single reply.

  Limariami 21:25 05 Jan 2005

Sorry for the delay in getting back. I appreciate your feedback tremendously. Now that I have the technical details more or les ssussed, my list of potential hosts has dwindled to three.

I feel that I'm on a foot of a very steep learning curve ! FYI I have decided to go down the PHP/MySQL route and to upgrade later if I need to.

Thanks again


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