CGI: What the Heck Is That?

Dec 7 22:00 2001 Richard Lowe Print This Article

Let's unlock a little bit of the mystery about ... called CGI. If ithelps any, CGI means Common Gateway ... This is a method which isused to exchange data between the server (the hardware

Let's unlock a little bit of the mystery about something called CGI. If it
helps any,Guest Posting CGI means Common Gateway Interface. This is a method which is
used to exchange data between the server (the hardware and software that
actually allows you to get to your web site) and a web client (your
browser). CGI is actually a set of standards where a program or script (a
series of commands) can send data back to the web server where it can be

Typically, you use standard HTML tags to get data from a person, then pass
that data to a CGI routine. The CGI routine then performs some action with
the data.

Some of the more common uses of CGI include:

- Guestbooks - The CGI routine is responsible for accepting the data,
ensuring it is valid, sending an email acknowledgement back to the writer,
perhaps sending an email to the webmaster, and creating the guestbook entry

- Email Forms - A simple CGI forms routine just formats the data into an
email and sends it back to the webmaster. More complicated routines can
maintain a database, send an acknowledgement and validate data.

- Mailing List Maintenance - These routines allow visitors to subscribe and
unsubscribe from a mailing list. In this case, the CGI routine maintains a
database of email addresses, and the better ones send acknowledgements back
to the visitor and webmaster.

A CGI routine can be anything which understands the CGI standard. A popular
CGI language is called PERL, which is simple to understand and use (well,
compared to other languages). PERL is a scripting language, which means each
time a PERL routine is executed the web server must examine the PERL
commands to determine what to do. In contrast, a compiled language such as
C++ or Visual Basic can be directly executed, which is faster and more

Okay, in a nutshell (and greatly simplified), here's how it works:

1) You (the webmaster) specify a form tag which includes the name of the CGI

2) You create HTML tags which retrieves data from your visitors.

3) Each of the input tags includes a variable name. The data which is
retrieved from the visitor (or directly set if the tag includes the "hidden"
qualifier) is placed in the variable name.

4) When the visitor presses the "submit" button, the CGI routine which was
specified in the form tag is executed. At this time, the CGI routine "takes
control", meaning the browser essentially is waiting for it to complete.

5) This CGI routine can get data from variable names. It retrieves the data
and does whatever action is required.

6) When the CGI routine finishes, it returns control back to the web client
(the browser).

Some important things to remember about CGI routines:

- You can install CGI routines on your own site if your host allows it -
Addr.Com is an example of a web host which allows for CGI routines. Some web
hosts do not allow you to install your own routines but do provide some
pre-written ones to you. If these are not sufficient for your needs, you can
find a remote hosting service to provide the necessary functions.

- Generally, if you install your own routines they must be installed in the
cgi-bin directory of your site. This is a special location which allows
scripts and programs to be executed.

- CGI routines work best on Apache-style servers. Windows NT and Windows
2000 does support CGI, but it tends to be slow and problematic.

- If you use a remote hosting service, you must remember that although they
appear to be giving you this for free, you are actually paying a price.
Usually they want to display advertisements, although some of them actually
take visitors away from your site.

- When you write a CGI routine, you have the choice of a scripting language
like PERL or a compiled language such as C++ or Visual Basic. Anything which
can execute on the web server is acceptable.

I hope this short introduction to CGI has cleared up some of the mystery.

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Richard Lowe
Richard Lowe

Richard Lowe Jr. is the webmaster of Internet Tips And Secrets. This
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