Writing for the Web: A Primer for Librarians

by Eric H. Schnell

CGI and Perl

Most Web servers support one variation or another of a standard for adding your own programs to the web server. The standard is called the Common Gateway Interface (CGI). A plain HTML document is a static text file that doesn't change. A CGI program, on the other hand, is executed in real-time, so that it can output dynamic information.

For example, if you wanted to make your online catalog available on the the World Wide Web, a CGI program would need to be created that would be executed to transmit information to the database engine, receive the results back again, and then display them on screen. There are also numerous sites which create their content dynamically using CGI rather than a commercial database solution.

Perl is an interpreted language optimized for scanning arbitrary text files, extracting information from those text files, and printing reports based on that information. It's also a good language for many system management tasks. Perl is intended to be a practical, easy to use, and efficient. Perl's process, file, and text manipulation facilities make it well-suited for tasks involving database access, graphical programming, and Web programming.

Perl author Larry Wall advocated a free and open distribution policy for Perl. The core of the language, the standard Perl library, the optional modules, and the documentation is written and maintained by volunteers.

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Page Updated: Tuesday, 24-Nov-98