What is it?
Microsoft's Active Server Pages (ASP) is a server-side scripting technology used to create dynamic, interactive Web applications linking to Access and SQL Server databases. It is used to create HTML pages containing scripts which are executed by the server, before being sent back in HTML form to the user's browser. The scripts can, for example, process forms and collect the user input in a database as well as responding. They can be written in VBScript or JScript, and Com components and XML can be used to extend them.
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ASP is now being superseded by ASP+, not an upgrade but a full revision of the technology. Among its advantages is performance: ASP+ is compiled, whereas ASP is interpreted.
Where did it originate?
Microsoft introduced ASP with Internet Information Server (IIS) version 3. It supersedes the Internet Database Connector technology, which Microsoft no longer officially supports.
What is it for?
When a browser requests an .asp file from the Web server, the server calls ASP, processes the requested file and executes any script commands, formats a standard Web page and sends it to the browser.
What makes it special?
ASP+ makes it easier to write clean, elegant code - even ASP enthusiasts concede that the older technology is full of spaghetti code. The introduction of Web Forms makes development more intuitive. Extended use of objects, and of the features of Microsoft .net, make the code easier to debug, re-use, distribute and share. It also supports development and deployment of multi-tier applications, a headache with ASP.
ASP+ applications are said to be much more scalable, and therefore suitable for larger corporate sites.
How hard is it to master?
For ASP, you'll need a working knowledge of HTML, VBScript or JScript, and ODBC or ADO.
ASP+ has support for fully compiled languages like Visual Basic, C++ and C# (C Sharp - a streamlined and simplified version of C++). With ASP+, VBScript and JScript are also compiled before execution.
Where is it used?
On e-commerce Web sites, where you can use features like the Ad Rotator component, which displays a fresh advertisement each time the user refreshes or loads the Web page, and the Page Counter component.
The Association of Shareware Professionals (www.asp-shareware.org), set up to promote user-supported code as an alternative to conventional commercial software, of which Microsoft doesn't appear to be a member. Sap.
What does it run on?
Windows 95 and 98, NT4, Windows 2000.
Few people know
One ASP developer's site is called www.ASPhole.com - something Microsoft would certainly like to see wiped.
What's coming up?
Better browser support, including Wap phones.
As was ASP, ASP+ will be offered free with IIS 5.0 in Windows2000, IIS 4.0 in NT 4.0, and in personal versions for Windows95/98.
Rates of pay
ASP is at the top end of Microsoft skills, in terms of both the number of posts on offer and the salaries. With 12 months ASP experience you could be looking at around £30,000. With good VB and SQL Server, you could also find an employer to train you in ASP.
Microsoft's certified technical education centres (CTECs) offer ASP as part of their courses on Web site development using Microsoft technologies. There are also dozens of training, advice and resource sites, including: