Monday, July 31, 2006

Create cool web sites with ColdFusion...

ColdFusion Studio: Hottest tool to create state-of-the-art Web sites

Everything is moving fast in IT world. No soon you started learning and using certain application or programming language, someone else come up with better idea or new great programming interface and you have to get attracted with that new programming interface simply because no one else except you desperately needed its new powerful features. At early days of WEB, HTML became instant hit because it was powerful enough for demand of those days. But as soon as the mankind understood the capability of WEB as business entity, static HTML pages of WEB became dead pages. The need for dynamic, active and interactive web pages arises that can collect, process and deliver data that too with full security. So, the WEB developers started getting help from scripting languages like VBScript, JavaScript and languages like Perl, Java and Python etc. HTML was further extended and made dynamic through its new avatar like DHTML. Now the days of new XML are ahead. In between, a new scripting language called CFML (ColdFusion Mark up Language) started getting popular and it is consistently rising to the top of the rankings among WEB building Environments because of its load of powerful features, easy of use and fast learning curve. One cannot be certain about tomorrow’s fast changing face of WEB, but as of now, ColdFusion is being accepted as coolest tool among WEB developers.

An introduction

ColdFusion is not a simple WEB building language or an application. It is also a rapid application development environment (RAD) along with the above two. In addition, it is a kind of web server that generates dynamic WEB pages after interacting the need of the visitor. Fig. 1 shows how ColdFusion works. When you visit a web site that is written in ColdFusion’s CFML, the Web server software passes the data to ColdFusion Server. Coldfusion queries the database, gets the data for the page and generates WEB pages in HTML and send these pages back to the Web server software. The Web server then finally sends the HTML pages to your computer through your browser, which converts the HTML in to what fancy things you get and see. All these process require a fraction of a second to complete simply because unlike JAVA, the entire processing are performed at server level. As had indicated in Fig. 1, when a user interacts with Web server, and if any ColdFusion template is requested, then Web server send its request to ColdFusion server. ColdFusion server intercepts the requested template and processes it in to HTML pages and delivers back to the Web server, which in turn is delivered back to the user. Here, the best part is, processing can consists of any or all in any combination of database queries, file and directory manipulations, interactions with COM or CORBA objects, and internet protocol functions. ColdFusion is considered a new breed of software called MIDDLEWARE that sits in the middle of different technologies and connect them together for better performance and cross platform connectivity. ColdFusion can access and integrate almost all new technologies like COM, CORBA, FTP, HTTP, LDAP, POP and SMTP etc. and also includes software for load balancing, failover and clustering which increase uptime and improve performance of large-scale applications.

Rich, powerful features

Coldfusion Studio is a powerful and flexible tool for building, testing and deploying Web content. It is also an easy to use editor with support for HTML, DHTML, VTML, XML, HDML, SMIL, and other scripting languages. It is also a powerful file manager with built-in file viewer. You can develop and create professional quality dynamic, creative and interactive Web sites with the help of ColdFusion in no time. All you have to make use its rapid application development environment filled with variety of ready-made tags. There is provision for wizards to create web content, which guides you to what and how to create. ColdFusion provides fastest and efficient ways to integrate browser, server and database technologies into powerful Web applications. You can build any thing form online stores to mail provider to elegant business system very quickly.

While in a traditional programming language, you have to do complex and tedious coding, but in ColdFusion Studio, you can build applications by combining standard HTML and CFML (ColdFusion Mark-up Language). ColdFusion supports Windows NT, Unix and Linux servers. It extends full JAVA supports and integration with easy of use. CFML consists of sets of tags (more than 750 customized standard and third party as of now!) that you can use in ColdFusion pages to interact with data sources, manipulate data and display output. CFML tags are very simple like HTML element syntax, but are extremely useful and easy in use. For example, tag CFAPPLET embeds JAVA applets in a CFFORM. CFCOOKIE defines and sets cookie variables. Custom made tags makes your life further easier. For example, a tag CF_IMG can automatically calculate and include the height and width dimensions of the image in an application, which is quite complex otherwise if done manually. This auto calculation greatly speeds up Web page rendering in the browser. You can also write your customized ColdFusion tags in ColdFusion Studio. A vide variety of custom tags were available as freeware, shareware and as commercial product, ready to use. If you need some specific task to be handled by your Web page, then you can look in to tag database and in all probability, there, you may find one for your use.

Working with ColdFusion Studio

Installing ColdFusion Studio is simple. It has standard installer that asks you some basic question about directory location etc. and wants you to accept their licensing agreement before you proceed. It requires a reboot to complete the installation. The program’s interface is advanced and it looks a bit cluttered initially. But as you learn to use the program, you find extremely useful toolbars displaying at your service. The main window normally has three pans and sometime more or less if an operation requires. There are five main useful toolbars that you can put anywhere within the window. The standard toolbar for basic file operation, the edit toolbar for helping you to edit a file easily with mouse clicks, view toolbar to enable you to turn on or off different panes on the screen, CFML flow toolbar for quick insertion of common tags and conditions etc. and debug toolbar to quickly test the work. ColdFusion has a built in html validator, so that your program does not produce error on different browsers. When you open a new document to edit, the editor pan shows a pre formed basic HTML page, to which you had to format, add content through drag and drop, define operation through tags and so on. And within no time, your Web page will be ready. However, for complex Web application to develop with ColdFusion, extra effort and learning is required.

Security issues and ColdFusion

In ColdFusion, you can do lot of neat things in addition to build astonishing Web applications. But your Web application or Web site may be useless if security issues are not taking in to account thus making your site vulnerable to attacks and unauthorised use. Security issues are handled very nicely in ColdFusion. Security is tightly integrated into the ColdFusion at every level and maintaining security state throughout the whole process is watched and kept intact. Even your Web pages are quite secure because ColdFusion process CFML and generate HTML, which a user only can see. Thus they can’t see page’s original CFML source code. In Internet business environment, cookies are used to track user’s identity, which were a major security threat. ColdFusion however, supports cookies, but gives you a more secure technology called state tracking and session state. Here, unlike cookies that store information in user’s computer, state tracking of ColdFusion assigns a pair of values that uniquely and securely identify user to the server. The first value, called CFID is a numerical identifier for the particular user and the second value, CFTOKEN is associated with a particular CFID, and the combination of both will only allow a user to access a secured site. CFTOKEN is generated by ColdFusion’s complex algorithm calculations that incorporate information about the application, CFID value, and user’s network/ IP address. This process makes very difficult if not impossible to create a valid pair of CFID and CFTOKEN values for hacking. ColdFusion also supports SSL (secure socket level) protocols, which protects against snooping, eavesdropping, or any sort of message tempering when information is passing between client and server.

Many more things…but…

ColdFusion may be the best way to build a Web-based application presently, and the claim for its stable and robust technology may be true, but it has a long way to go. Every server is not supporting ColdFusion as of now, however, the number is increasing. An application developed with ColdFusion studio can only run on servers running on ColdFusion server in addition to traditional Web server. So, if you write a Web application very easily with ColdFusion then you may face difficulty in finding your host supporting ColdFusion. Still, the technology is a promising one, has values that can make it as killer application and if you believe with what Allaire, the company behind ColdFusion says that more than 200000 developers are working in ColdFusion then there is no reason why you should not join them!

Box item

Want to know more about ColdFusion ? Try following Web sites:

  • http://www.allaire.com
  • http://www.coldfusionjournal.com
  • http://www.cfadvisor.com
  • http://www.cfscripts.com
  • http://www.cfprogrammers.com
  • http://www.cfmcentral.com
  • http://www.cftutorials.com
  • http://www.cfspot.com
  • http://www.cfdev.com
  • http://www.defusion.com
  • http://www.houseoffusion.com
  • http://www.sys-con.com/coldfusion

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