If you speak to a casual user—one of those who we say lacks tech. savvy—they often confuse the World Wide Web with the Internet, in its entirety. For instance you might hear them say “all that you find on the Internet is a bunch of porno sites and advertizing.” They usually miss the fact that sites that can be browsed on the Web, are only a small part of what makes up the Internet. Databases full of information, e-mail and voice-over-Internet (VOIP) phone calling, newsgroups and public forums, plus live standard and video chat—all of these technologies utilize the world-wide high speed super-network that we call the Internet. Jeff Tyson has written a great explanation on the Internet Infrastructure at the How Stuff Works website http://computer.howstuffworks.com/internet/basics/internet-infrastructure.htm. This article explains in more detail how the Internet functions as a whole. You could even think of the World Wide Web as an interface to other components of the Internet—providing user-friendly access to the data storage and manipulative power of the millions of servers and other electronic devices that make up the Net.

To illustrate this point, if a user would like to access and retrieve a certain file from a server on the Internet, he could run an application that utilizes File Transfer Protocol (FTP) to connect to this server and download the file. FTP programs are considered utilities and are frequently sparse and not all that user-friendly. In order to correct this, and to eliminate the need for a separate program for each task—including downloading files, or opening and reading email—Developers started to take more advantage of the Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP) used by common Web browsers and servers. Users only had to learn how to use one browser program now and visit sites to gain access to their e-mail, file downloads, chatting, etc. With the constant development of newer user-friendly sites, it became much easier for the typical web-surfer to take advantage of all the same features that only advanced users—who had mastered several different applications—had been able to up to this time.

As a quick review—in a typical Internet transaction, the user’s computer connects with the Web Server computer using TCP/IP across the Internet. The user runs their Web browser application which uses HTTP to follow a structure of links between web pages residing on the server. Each time the browser links to a page it downloads a copy and displays it. The most basic pages are written in Hypertext Markup Language (HTML) that helps the browser know how to display the components on the page including text, images, video, etc. It also provides ways for the pages to link to each other at the user’s behest. Another thing that a basic web page is capable of doing is collecting information from the user, manipulating it a bit and sending it to a server application for storage, mailing, or other uses. The page does this through the use of Web Forms.

The collecting of the information from a user is frequently called the front-end or client-side processing, and the manipulation of that submitted data on the server is called the back-end or server-side processing. Information collection on the web can now be done on pages by a variety of means and proprietary applications, but the HTML form is the standard. After the information is collected it can be processed many ways, also by applications written with Perl and other languages. PHP, JavaScript, VBScript, and other languages are also used to create dynamic pages. These are the most popular because they run on the server-side, and create pages that can constantly change on the fly. These application/pages can also be used to store collected information in databases or text files, or to e-mail or process inputted data in other ways. For introductory purposes, we will discuss the most common, basic way of collecting and processing user data by web forms written with HTML, and JavaScript then processed with a server application. For some pre-study, W3 Schools has an extremely detailed explanation of HTML forms at http://www.w3schools.com/html/html_forms.asp. It comes in very handy as a reference when creating forms on your own. The eventual mastery of PHP or similar language, would be a final recommendation, but in order to grasp the concepts and syntax it is often helpful to start a bit simpler. Beginning with HTML and JavaScript is perfect for this task.

In the next three sections of the Functional Forms Series, we will cover in more depth, client-side collection of data using HTML forms, with some JavaScript assistance, and we will leave the server-side processing and other advanced techniques for another time. The next chapter cover basic form planning and structure.

John Adams Jr,

John is a free-lance author and journalist born and raised in upstate New York. He is currently living and writing in Saint Augustine, Florida where the temperature is a bit warmer and the lifestyle more relaxed. The move has allowed John to broaden his range as a writer and he now lends his unique voice to everything from news and review articles in print and on the Web, to a broad range of eBooks and creative pieces. His expertise in Web Development and Design comes from a Masters Degree in Production Design from NYU and almost 10 years designing and programming sites and applications for various organizations. John’s writing work is beginning to attract attention from a wide variety of readers, in many countries, and he is exited to reach more people. See John’s Google+ Profile