Microsoft opens up ASP to match most operating systems.
What is it?
Active Server Pages (ASP) is a hosting environment or programming framework within which scripting languages such as Visual Basic, C# and J# can be used to build interactive server-based web applications.
Classic ASP was confined to Microsoft's own platforms and languages, but it has now been opened out by Microsoft and third parties so it can be used in conjunction with most operating systems, web servers and scripting languages. However, it is still closely integrated with Visual Studio .net and the rest of the .net technologies.
Microsoft has encouraged an open source-style community to develop ASP. But rather than the truly devolved model followed by Linux and Apache, this is pretty much centralised on Microsoft's www.asp.net site.
Where did it originate?
With Internet Information Server (IIS) version 3.
What is it for?
Building and deploying server-side applications and pages with minimum coding. Applications can be written and deployed in the same way as HTML pages.
ASP.net is compiled, whereas classic ASP and other scripting languages are interpreted. Compiling is automatic - ASP.net will automatically detect any changes and dynamically recompile the files.
What makes it special?
You can use any text editor, including Notepad, but the real advantages come from integration with Visual Studio .net, enabling you to design ASP.net web forms visually using drag and drop and fall back on Visual Studio .net's coding support, debugging and deployment. The enterprise versions of Visual Studio .net provide support for larger scale ASP.net developments, including lifecycle management and team co-ordination.
ASP.net also has access to the .net Framework, which has thousands of classes providing functionality which can be added to applications with a couple of lines of code.
How difficult is it to master?
You can build simple applications with no more than a working knowledge of HTML, or with other Microsoft languages and .net technologies and no programming experience.
For beginners, Microsoft also offers ASP.net Web Matrix, a free, community-supported integrated development environment which can be used without IIS. Although superficially like Visual Studio .net, it is very much a lightweight product aimed at creating single ASP.net pages in conjunction with Visual Basic .net, C# and J#.
Where is it used?
Just as PHP is being used by Microsoft sites, ASP is crossing over to Linux and Apache, with offerings such as Sun's Java System ASP.
Like other scripting languages, ASP is favoured where sites need to be built and maintained without professional IT staff. It is also used in larger scale developments by Egg, Capgemini and Accenture among others.
What systems does it run on?
ASP.net supports more than 25 languages including PHP, JSP and Cobol .net. ASP .net pages work in most browsers, including Netscape, Opera, AOL and Internet Explorer.
What is coming up?
Visual Web Developer Express is downloadable in beta at www.asp.net
Rates of pay
Salaries range from £20,000 to £35,000, depending on the other skills you can offer. ASP with C# is particularly hot.
Training courses are available from Microsoft and its certified training partners. The ASP site offers links to community sites where you can find tutorials, FAQs and free code.