Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Copyright © 1999, MCB UP Limited
Choosing a Database for Your Web Site
Choosing a Database for Your Web Site
Ashenfelter, J.P.Wiley Computer PublishingNew York, NY1999443 pp.ISBN 0-471-29690-2, $34.99Available: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 605 Third Avenue, New York, NY, 10158-0012. Companion Website: www.wiley.com/compbooks/ashenfelter
If your Web site is growing and/or is attracting an increasing number of users, you should be prepared to spend countless hours manually processing queries and transactions and updating your pages and your lists of e-mail addresses, links, catalog items, etc. Or you could get this book and find out how to take advantage of a wide variety of tools that can help you run a more efficient site by improving your data management. Choosing a Database for Your Web Site fulfills its stated objective of describing and comparing specific products. It also can teach you how Web-databases work, and most importantly, what issues you should consider when the time comes to add database capabilities to your Web site.
For readers with no previous experience in database systems, the first question that needs to be answered is "What is a database?" Fortunately chapter 2, "Designing a database", presents a good description of databases and database design. This is a topic that already occupies hundreds of textbooks, but Mr Ashenfelter succeeds in condensing the essence of database design down to 55 pages. This general introduction to databases is complemented by a clear and easy to follow chapter on Web database technology. If OODB, ODBC, SQL, CGI and API don't mean much to you, read both chapters carefully!
The main section of the book offers detailed descriptions and comparisons of several Web-oriented database tools, with an emphasis on the most popular commercial products for medium-size applications. In the area of Web-oriented database tools the author presents Everyware Tango, Microsoft Active Server Pages, and Allaire's Cold Fusion. Also included are two databases with Web capabilities (FileMaker Pro and Microsoft Access) and three HTML editors with database capabilities (Allaire HomeSite, NetObjects Fusion, and Microsoft FrontPage). The programming of specific solutions is covered in a separate chapter on CGI (the Common Gateway Interface) and the Java language.
Each tool is analyzed in terms of its purpose (what it is designed to do), technology (ease of use, robustness, scalability, security, performance, etc.), support (portability, cost, ISP support), and how well it works in the real world. Interestingly, Mr Ashenfelter concludes that choosing a free tool can actually result in "months of development time and thousands of dollars in wages". His rule of thumb is "good, fast, cheap: choose two". Thus, mSQL, the most popular and freely available SQL-compliant database for unix systems, is only mentioned briefly. In fact, the book does not cover any other unix-based databases. Most notably the analysis fails to include the "big" database systems, such as Oracle, Informix, and Sybase.
As in any field related to the Internet, the management of Web databases is constantly changing, and it is a challenge to stay current. The book wraps up with a brief discussion of future technologies (we can look forward to XML or Extensible Markup Language data standards, persistent Web client connections, and a faster Internet infrastructure) and with a promise to keep an updated Web site with the latest references in database development. In fact, the companion Web site is easy to access and offers a useful list of references and links to product specific sites. However, at the time of this review (mid-June, 1999) we found that the site had not been updated since July, 1998.
Mr Ashenfelter has included just the right mix of background information, technical details and practical advice to make his work accessible to all, but still worth its price. In combination with the companion Web site, this should also be a good reference source for acronyms, technologies, and current product information. Definitely a recommended book for Webmasters of small to medium-size Web sites.
Grete Pasch Graduate School of Library and InformationScience, University of Texas at Austin