Taming the Update Monster
Posted on August 1, 2000
by Steve Wood
Have you ever spent two hours changing just one word that recurs
on each page of your website? Anyone who has maintained a web
site with many pages for an extended period of time knows the
nightmare of having to edit a word or date that recurs on each
page, such as copyright information. Having to edit every single
page can be very time-consuming and tedious and often gets
avoided for as long as possible (usually too long).
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But it doesn't have to be that way. There are good programs now that
allow us to perform "search & replace" on multiple files, but
there is an even better way to accomplish this task, and you won'
t have to worry about inadvertently "replacing" something by
mistake. By using simple Server Side Includes (SSI), you can
streamline and simplify the maintenance of your site.
SSI can be used to accomplish a variety of things on your web
site including running CGI scripts and posting the results on the
web page (as in polls), posting the current time and date on the
page, posting the date of the last update, etc. However, in this
article, we'll just talk about the simplest use of SSI, the
"Include" command. Before you can implement this SSI strategy,
make sure you know whether your web site host allows the use of
SSI. If it doesn't, find a host that does.
The "Include" command allows you to create a text file with your
common information, and then place a directive (tag) in your HTML
file that "points" to the text file. When you view the web page,
the server places the contents of the text file where the tag is
in the HTML file. You can use this trick for anything that
recurs on each page of your website. For instance, you can put a
header and footer on each page. The header and footer would be
contained in text files called "header.txt" and "footer.txt".
These files would contain the html that recurs on each page, such
as text links, contact information, copyright information, etc.
In place of this html on each page, you would place these tags:
<!--#include file="header.txt" -->
<!--#include file="footer.txt" -->
Now, whenever anyone views the pages containing those tags, the
server will place the contents of the text files in the
appropriate place and the viewer will see the header and footer.
Whenever a change is needed within the header or footer, only ONE
file needs to be edited -- the text file. All of the pages using
that file will be "automatically" updated. Changing the copyright
date or address or phone number on every page of your web site
will now take only 30 seconds because only one file has to be
The easiest way to do this is to create a web page with
everything you'd like to have on it. Those parts that will recur
on every other page are where you will use SSI. All you have to
do is "cut & paste" all of the html that will be used on each
page, pasting it into a text file. Where you "cut" the html,
replace it with the tag, such as:
<!--#include file="header.txt" -->
Do the same thing for the footer, if needed. Save the HTML files
using SSI with the extension ".shtml". Also, depending on how
your server is set up with your host, you may have to make sure
the text file is in the same directory as the .shtml file.
This also makes the initial design and development of web sites
go much smoother. You can now have a "template" for each page
using the header and footer directives, and then simply add the
content in between for each page.
I guarantee that this little trick will save you hours and hours
of tedious work. As I stated at the beginning, if you've been
through these "simple" edits before, you will need very little
convincing! Don't let that ugly monster ever rear its head again!
The author, Steve Wood, designs & hosts small business websites.
He owns & runs Wood Interactive http://woodinteractive.com and
RedHotHosting.com http://redhothosting.com. RedHotHosting.com
provides the best hosting services and most generous Reseller
Program around. Check it out today for a free trial!
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You can contact Steve at email@example.com