Server Side Includes: The Most Important Single Thing to Know

Includes, includes, includes. You can learn everything else later.

  1. ColdFusion: <cfinclude template = “includes/header.htm”>
  2. PHP: <? include(“includes/header.php”) ?>
  3. ASP: <!––#include file =”includes/”––>

Of course, each of these should be used within files that have the appropriate extension. The appropriate extensions are .cfm, .php or .asp respectively. Another assumption on my part is that you already have one of the appropriate server applications running to make sense of either of these.

What the hell is an ‘include’? I’ve spent some good amounts of time trying to find just these very simple include ‘tags’. The first hurdle is understanding the concept of an ‘include’. An include can insert the content of a specified text file in place of itself much like an ‘img’ tag replaces itself with an actual image or photo on screen. However, the include tag is part of a script, not part of the xhtml markup. If you look at the source of a ColdFusion, PHP or ASP web page, you won’t find any ‘include’ tags. When the file is received by a browser application it appears to be a normal html file. The advantage of this belongs in the realm of what most Dreamweaver or FrontPage web designers know as ‘Templates’. Only these are much better, because the server handles all of the updating if you make changes to parts of the template (and none of that stopping-you-from-editing parts-of-the-page crap). It’s simple: Your site’s top navigation is one file that is included into the top of every other page of your site dynamically. Updating your navigation no longer means copy/pasting your navigation markup into several or hundreds of separate html pages. Just update the one, single file. All of this is accomplished without buying a fancy Content Management System. Beautiful.

After you get comfortable with these you can always move on to the more complicated applications of these server side script languages. This one single element is huge though. To me, it brings the original meaning of PHP to mind: Personal Home Page. You don’t have to be an html guru to comprehend the impact these tags have on website management.

Please let me know of any other simple but powerful uses for any of these server-side script languages.

2 thoughts on “Server Side Includes: The Most Important Single Thing to Know”

  1. Thanks Kadavy! I’ve been looking for just such a simple presentation. I saved a copy of the page onto my iPod. You never know when that might come in handy. I’m going to update my post. So, if anybody is wondering about Kadavy’s comment, it’s in reference to my ‘greater-than’ and ‘less-than’ marks. I initially substituted left and right angle quotes since I didn’t know the html codes for the correct symbols.

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