Tuesday, June 24, 2008

Visiting the Dark Side

I've been inactive (as a blogger) for quite a time now.

Due to some technical problems MyJavaServer.com didn't accept any new files. That made me search for alternative hosting site for my experiments.
I couldn't find anything similar to mjs but I googled http://www.vndv.com/ out. They give you free hosting for your PHP pages, MySQL databases, subdomains, ftp access, no advertisements, very decent user interface, tutorials. But no Java... Well, nobody's perfect :-)
I spent time on toying a little bit with PHP and client side technologies.

I'll show you my firs PHP page (http://fatboldcyclop.vndv.com/index.php):

<!DOCTYPE HTML PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.01 Transitional//EN">
  <title>PHP Test</title>
  <?php phpinfo(); ?>

I am very proud of it :-). But seriously, I did some reading on PHP and I found it interesting. I decided to check it out later and take a closer look at client side web development with JavaScript and CSS first.
My first attempt was to write JavaScript Shogi Board Viewer. I'll describe the program on this blog later. Now I'll share with you my impressions on JavaScript (JS)-- it was basically my first real contact with the language.

First of all, I greatly underestimated the language. Now I think that it is a flexible, dynamic and powerful language. You can do many thing using small clever JS "tricks", but...

But developing in JS is for me a road trip through hell. I managed to get used to auto complete feature of Java IDEs. In Java, which is very strict, the tool can "easily" predict what the programmer can type (object properties and methods, etc.). With JavaScript it's not so easy -- it is dynamic, method and properties can be added on the fly, etc. But IDE is only small part of the problem.
The biggest pain was for me browser compatibility. I had a piece of code ruining smoothly on few browsers (i.e. FireFox 2 and 3, Opera, Safari) but IE somehow didn't like a line or two. Figuring out which line was the real challenge.

Debugging JS is so difficult. Thank God for FireBug. It saved me a lot of time and nerves, but it comes only with FireFox. Fortunately, Opera (9.5) and IE 8.0beta also have a "cheaper" version of the tool.

Another annoying thing about client side web development is CSS compliance. I tried to do simple things like having 2 text boxes next to each other. O what fun it is to make it work exactly the same in all the browsers. This one gives you an extra margin between two boxes, other resizes one box, etc. etc.
By the way, I fought with IE7.0 for correct placement of pieces on the board in my SFEN converter. I won the battle but I lost the war. After I finally forced IE7 to show it right, IE8 was released. And of course, the newer version of the browser has it's own way of positioning page elements.

Anyway, I'm glad I gave it a try. I learnt few things:
  • I lack the imagination to think how people did it before the FireFox came to life.
  • browsershots.org is a great tool to test your web design in different browsers.
  • Trying/learning different languages opens your eyes to new possibilities.
  • JavaScript is an interesting and powerful language but using it is not such fun at all.
  • If you want to show HTML code on your blog, you could use this tool to make it possible.
All in all it was a very educational experiment for me -- short walk on the dark side of the web development.

1 comment:

  1. Update note.
    MyJavaServer is down for good, so I moved the examples to Google AppEngine (links in this post were updated also).