Today, there are many options for processing forms on the server, such as ASP, PHP, and Java servlets. The traditional method is to use CGI scripts.
A CGI program (or script) can be written in a number of programming languages. It doesn't matter to the server which you use, as long as it can retrieve data and send data back. On Unix, the most popular language is Perl, but C, C++, Tcl, and Python are also used. On Windows, programmers write scripts in Visual Basic, Perl, and C/C++. On the Mac, AppleScript and C/C++ are common.
Often designers assume that the cgi-bin directory contains things beyond our comprehension. It's time to look behind the curtain! Although it is true that creating Perl and C scripts from scratch requires programming experience, you can still take advantage of the power of scripts by using one that is already made.
Many web-hosting services offer a library of standard CGI scripts that are already installed on their servers. In that case, all you may need to do is point to the script from your page. Some hosting providers also allow you to upload scripts of your own.
There are a number of great resources for CGI scripts on the Web, including scripts that process forms and send their contents in formatted email messages. Many of them are available for free and include exhaustive documentation that leads even a novice through the process of customizing and installing the script on the server. Some of the more popular CGI archives include:
Matt's Script Archive
A collection of free and useful scripts written by Matt Wright (including FormMail discussed later in this chapter) with excellent documentation for configuring.
The CGI Resource Index
A complete index of over 1200 CGI-related resources. This site is compiled by Matt Wright of Matt's Script Archive.
Selena Sol's Public Domain CGI Script Archive
"A public service website developed out of the late-night scripting expeditions of Selena Sol and Gunther Birznieks."
Like the name says, this is another site providing useful and free customizable CGI scripts.
Ask Your Server Administrator
Because adding scripts and programs to your web site relies heavily on your server and its configuration, you'll need to work with your server administrator to get things set up.Before you start, you should ask your administrator the following questions:
In addition, there will usually be a few questions specific to your chosen script that will need to be answered by your administrator. For instance, in order to run a Perl script, the basic Perl interpreter needs to be installed on the server. Or if you want a script that automatically takes the contents of a form and sends it in an email message, you may need to know the exact pathname of the sendmail program on the server. You will need to find out what names to use for the form elements, since the CGI program will be expecting forms to use certain names for specific data. You should also ask whether to use the post or get method for transmitting form information.
Using Available Scripts
Let's take a look at the process for customizing a free script found on one of the CGI script archives. The purpose of this tutorial is to give you an idea of what to expect and to show that you don't need specific programming skills to do it. In the following example, we use the FormMail script (written by Matt Wright), which takes the contents of a form and sends it to a specified user in a formatted email message.
Although the script in its entirety (about nine book pages worth) is not shown here, you can easily download it from Matt's Script Archive.
These variables are clearly explained in the ReadMe file and are presented with labels in the beginning of the script for ease of customization.
The subject field allows you to specify the subject you wish to appear in the email sent to you after this form has been filled out. If you do not have this option turned on, the script will default to a message subject.
If you wish to choose what the subject is:
To allow the user to choose a subject:<INPUT TYPE=text NAME="subject">
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