Simple SQL: Pt. 3

Friday Sep 15th 2000 by Ted Brockwood

In the previous two parts of this series, we looked at the underlying concepts of SQL and many of the basic SQL query components. In this, the third and final installment of the series, we'll look at why you'd want to use SQL, and an example of it in action, via the Microsoft Visual InterDev 6.0 programming environment.

SQL in Action

SQL is a very utilitarian database environment. Normally, with every database management system comes a new language for construction, querying, reporting, and design. After a while, it becomes rather tiresome, especially with the multiple upgrades to each system, to keep working with different databases. With SQL, however, the language is standardized, thus any SQL-compliant database will adhere to at least some base language structures, affording the development staff greater flexibility in their designs as they can build with relative ease and confidence.

To further expound upon this aspect of SQL, imagine you're the development department of a large firm. You have three other departments: marketing, finance, and technical services. Marketing has an Access 2.0 database, finance is running an older FoxPro database, and technical services is running a Paradox database, which in sum makes life a nightmare for your development team should they ever wish to exchange data between systems. The best plan for a workplace like this would be to upsize everyone to SQL server databases, and work from there, decreasing development time and increasing the amount of data interchange between departments. As an alternative, you may not have to move everyone to SQL servers, but ensure that whatever they are using is SQL-compliant, which would also make the developers' lives easier.

Building an InterDev Database

Odds are that if you're reading this publication, you're a Web developer/designer and you're probably scratching your head wondering, "well, SQL is great for other programmers, but how does it fit into Web development?" The answer is obvious - it makes your life easier when your customers want you to integrate their databases with their Web sites. Instead of having to learn every aspect of every database management system out there, you learn SQL and hope that any customer's database is SQL-compliant, allowing you to quickly hook their pages into the database for dynamic content. What would you prefer as a developer/designer, learning every database management language (or having to contract out to someone who does) or learning one language to do most of the work?

There are plenty of Web development tools and languages that support SQL, which makes your Web app development all the easier. These tools include Visual InterDev 6.0, PHP, Cold Fusion, and Drumbeat 2000. Whatever server platform you use, there is more than likely a toolkit for it.

As an example of SQL-to-Web integration, I'll give you a walk-through of a recent demonstration project I worked on. This Web application uses Visual InterDev 6.0 to connect a Web site to a small (about 10 megabyte) Microsoft Access97 file.

The object in this example was to create a simple query that would display records with a listed price of under $80,000. The database file was in Microsoft Access97 format, and contained 13,000 records. The database records range in price from $10,000 to $4,000,000, and the price field is identified as LPRICEA.

The first step with any database in InterDev is to ensure it is registered as an ODBC data source in Windows (95/98/NT). This is a fairly simple procedure which I will cover somewhat quickly. First, open the Control Panel from Windows and select ODBC (or 32-bit ODBC if you have the option). Then, while on the User DSN tab, hit the Add button. The next steps are to choose the type of database driver (mine is a Microsoft Access97 driver) you need, give it a name and description, and choose the actual database file. When you close out of the configuration, you should see the name of the connection in the list connections in User DSN. Should you neglect to register the database, don't fret, you'll get another opportunity when you're building the data connection in InterDev.

Now the actual work with InterDev begins. After opening the application, you can use the wizard to quickly build a base Web site. Once the Web site is built, you need to hook into your database. From the project view window, select your current site (referred to as "the project" in InterDev). Right-click on the project title and choose Add Data Connection. The ODBC data connection manager will appear, allowing you to choose any DSNs you've already built, or, if you need to create a new one, you can do it here just as you would in Control Panel.

The next step is to create an ".asp" page. An asp page is a specially scripted document that contains both HTML and database code, generally in the form of SQL statements. To create an asp page, select your project again in the project viewer, then right click and insert a new asp file (Active Server Page). The page editor will now display in the center of the screen. This is where you'll add your dataset controls to display dynamic database content on the page. When the page appears, it looks more like a code window than a standard HTML WYSIWYG window due to the application development style of InterDev, which takes precedence over the HTML layout style of page design tools.

Creating and embedding your SQL statement(s)

Creating and embedding your SQL statement(s) into the asp page is very simple, and very visual, barring that you might have any complex functions you'd need to use. Right-click on the project name and select Add Data Command. Enter the name you wish to give the command (I've used "Basequery"), choose SQL Statement and SQL Builder. After a brief wait, the SQL builder window appears. You need to drag the data table you're going to use (mine is HOMEADV) into the central design pane. InterDev will display all the fields available to you in the table. From this, you may click on those you wish to include in your query. I've included MLNUM, STATUS, CITY, and LPRICEA. As you select your fields, the SQL window (two panes below the main) will display the SQL statement as it's being built. To customize the statement (I set the LPRICEA to less than 80000) you'll hand edit it in this viewer. When you're done designing the query, remember to save it. Then return to your asp page in the project viewer.

From the toolbar menu on the left, select Design-Time Controls, and Recordset. Drag the recordset control into the area marked by the "Add your content above" tag. The recordset control appears, which you'll need to modify to insert your query. If the Connection pulldown within the control doesn't show the name of the data connection you've added to the project, click on it and select the correct connection. The database object needs to be set to DE Commands and the Object Name must be set to that of your query. Save the file, and then choose View in Browser. You should now see a page displaying the data from your query. That's it! That's really all there is to creating database-connected Web pages with Visual InterDev.

If you don't see a nicely formatted data-connected page, there may be a problem with your configuration. Some things to check include:

  • Did you install Internet Information Server or Personal Web Server when installing InterDev?
  • Did you install FrontPage extensions and Active Server Pages support?
  • Do you have any security permissions set on the database? If so, you need to set those permissions when creating the data connection in InterDev.

As a closing note regarding InterDev, you should really run it under NT 4.0, as IIS and Active Server Pages can be problematic under Windows 95/98, even when you're just using it to develop sites and not deploy them. On another note, Active Server Pages are no longer Windows-specific - there have been ports for Unix and Linux developed, and a module for Apache has also been in place for some time now.

That's all there is for this series on SQL. Hopefully by now you have a basic understanding of SQL statements, structures, and its overall utility. With so many Web application development tools integrating SQL, I'm sure you'll find it quite useful when designing truly dynamic, database-driven Web sites.


Microsoft SQL Server and Visual InterDev 6.0
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Ted Brockwood is the Information Services Manager for a real estate listing service in Oregon. His experience covers Java, Linux, UNIX, NT, Win95/98, Win3.x, and DOS.

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