Introduction to Web Development; Microsoft Web Technologies

So you want to develop a Web site? Well you’re in luck; Microsoft offers end to end Web technology solutions giving you everything you need from hosting through to client side rich Internet applications. In this article I will provide an overview of Microsoft’s Web technologies and give you plenty of links that will help you to get started.

1. Hosting

image IIS (Internet Information Services) is Microsoft’s Web server technology and comes with both the consumer and server OSs (operating systems). With Windows XP and Vista IIS is an optional add-on which can easily be added once the OS is installed. You can find out how to add IIS7 to Vista here. There is however a limitation with the consumer operating systems which means you are only allowed ten concurrent connections to the server at any one time. This is perfect for test server or a low traffic Web server. Another alternative Web Server is Cassini, this is very lightweight and designed for testing ASP.NET pages. If you have a server OS (for example Server 2008) you get the fully fledged version of IIS suitable for production Web sites included out of the box.

image The second key technology that must be considered when thinking about Web hosting is a database server. Microsoft's database technology is know as SQL. Microsoft offers a free version of SQL called the Express Edition which is perfect for testing and low traffic sites. There are a whole bunch of video tutorials to help you get started with SQL here.

If you don't want to host your site on your own server then you can take advantage of Microsoft and Webfusion's offer of free Web hosting for UK students. You can find out more here.

2. Tools

Once you have your Web hosting set up the next thing you need to think about is the tools you will use to build your site. Microsoft offers a complete range of tools for Web Development:

  • Visual Studio - For developing .NET based solutions with full support for HTML and CSS. There are free Express editions of Visual Studio but the full versions are also available to students for free through MSDNAA.
  • Expression Web - For developing predominantly HTML/CSS pages with some support for ASP.NET. A 60 day trial is available for free from the Expression Web site but full versions are available free for students through MSDNAA.
  • Expression Blend - For developing Silverlight based Web applications. A 60 day trial is available for free from the Expression Web site but full versions are available free for students through MSDNAA.



imageNow you've got your hosting sorted out and your tools installed it's time to start building some code. Microsoft's primary Web development platform is ASP.NET. ASP.NET is a server side object orientated technology which can be used to build interactive Web pages and services. Many major commercial Web sites such as Myspace and Dell are built on this technology but it's very easy to get started so is ideal for building your personal pages and projects. Below are some resources to help you find out more about ASP.NET and get started building some code:


Traditionally server side Web technologies used page refreshes to update content and facilitate user interaction. For example a user submits some form data, in response a database is queried and retrieved data is integrated into a new HTML page. Through the use of several existing technologies it is now possible to create this type of reaction without the page refreshing creating a far more dynamic user experience. The technique used to do this is AJAX (Asynchronous JavaScript and XML). AJAX works by sending and receiving data as XML and dynamically updating the page by using JavaScript to manipulate the DOM (Document Object Model). Because AJAX is essentially a technique rather than a specific technology it can be implemented with a variety of server side platforms. ASP.NET 3.5 supports AJAX out of the box but the AJAX framework can also be added on to ASP.NET 2.0 installs. A great example of the use of ASP.NET AJAX is the Showcase section on the official Web site; when you mouse over each example you see more information provided using CSS (Custom Style Sheet) overlays with the content being pulled from the database on the fly.

4. Silverlight

If you want to take user experience to the next level then Silverlight is the technology for you. Silverlight allows you to build client side RIAs (Rich Internet Applications) which are scalable because they are based on vector graphics defined in an XML format known as XAML. Media streaming is also supported as are full screen applications. Expression Blend is the primary tool for creating the graphical side of applications with Visual Studio used to develop the interactive functionality in code. Below are some examples of current Web sites built using Silverlight technology and tutorials to help you get started. I have also built a very simple Silverlight animation (which you can see below), you can see the XAML behind this application by right clicking and selecting 'Save as' here.


So there you have it, a quick and dirty look at Microsoft Web tech. Over the next couple of months I'll look at the technologies introduced here in more detail so check back soon.

Technorati Tags: IIS,SQL,Visual Studio,Expression,ASP.NET,AJAX,Silverlight,Students,Microsoft,Studentzine