Over the past 20 years, the web has changed in many ways. It has changed significantly in just the past five! But some things remain the same. For starters, there’s HTML (HyperText Markup Language). Whatever else has changed - whatever image types, video options, and server-side technologies you use - the end user first interacts with HTML. This book does not, and cannot, teach HTML. If you need more information about HTML, pick up a book on that subject, such as the de facto standard, Elizabeth Castro and Bruce Hyslop’s HTML and CSS: Visual QuickStart Guide, 8th Edition (Peachpit Press, 2013).
With modern web browsers, most of a site’s layout and design comes from CSS (Cascading Style Sheets). I’ll be using CSS in my project, too, and just like with HTML, I don’t explain it in much detail. Still, I won’t be using CSS in any super-fancy way, so you shouldn’t have a problem following along.
On the server side of the equation, unlike in the client, you have a vast range of web technology to consider. My blog uses PHP as the programming language of choice and MySQL as the database application. These are among my personal favorite server-side technologies, and if you’re reading this blog, I assume you think so as well. But if you aren’t already well versed in PHP and MySQL, you will have difficulty with some of this blog’s code. Consider reading my PHP and MySQL for Dynamic Web Sites: Visual QuickPro Guide, Fourth Edition (Peachpit Press, 2011) to learn more about these technologies.
Easy E-Commerce Alternatives
If you just want to get an e-commerce site online quickly, or if you don’t know any of the listed technologies, you can use “turnkey” e-commerce sites that Yahoo, Google, and others provide. By answering some questions and using the chosen company’s interface, you can create a basic e-commerce site in a day. It’ll even be tied automatically into a payment system. But make no mistake: Although you’ll get up and running in no time, the end result will be rather amateurish and very limited.
A middle-ground solution between using an entire third-party system and creating your own is to use an off-the-shelf e-commerce package, such as ZenCart, FoxyCart, or osCommerce. They provide all the functionality, from creating a catalog or a shopping cart to administration, which can then be tied to one of several payment systems. These tools have been around for years; they’re quite solid and well supported, but they’ll still have some limitations compared to writing your own e-commerce site, especially when it’s time to add features that will be uniquely yours. At the same time, these packages will also be bogged down with lots of features that you might not ever use.