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Web Development Tools - HomeSite

HomeSite is a Web development product from Allaire, developers of ColdFusion (which we will get to shortly). This is a full-featured product that might actually be overwhelming to the uninitiated. Despite its easy-to-use interface, businesses that do little Web development and just publish simple, noninteractive pages might be better served with a less-powerful product. However, for the professional Web designer or larger companies that are actually building Web-based applications, HomeSite can be a very useful tool.

A key aspect of HomeSite is that it is not just intended for single developers. Instead, it fully group aware application. This includes the ability to create projects, on which several different people are working at any time. In addition to grouping the files together as a unit, a project is useful to make global changes, such as formatting or even terminology used on the page. In addition, entire projects and not just the individual pages can be exported to the Web server as a unit.

One important aspect of working in groups is ensuring that people don’t step on each other’s toes. That is, two people do not work on the same page at the same time and possibly undo each other’s changes. This is one of the basic principles of source code control (SCC) or revision control. SCC is nothing new. It has been around for many years, used most commonly in programming environments. However, because of the need to maintain the same kind of control over other kinds of documents, SCC systems are in place in other areas. These are more likely referred to as RCSs. However, since HomeSite is used to work with HTML source code, the term SSC is used.

HomeSite is not provided with its own SCC system. Instead, it relies on the functionality of something like Microsoft’s Visual Source Safe. HomeSite uses standard SCC commands to check out the files for editing, check in the files so others can use them, as well as view version information (e.g., date of the most recent version).

Figure 13-3 shows you the workspace of HomeSite. Like PageMill, this is a single application where you can see both the structure of the site and the pages in the same interface. At the top are the menus and toolbars common for each module of the program, along with the QuickBar,which contains buttons for both formatting and configuration. On the left side is the resources area with the site viewer, file list, and resources tab. On the right side is the editor, with tabs for all of the open documents at the bottom of the editor window.

Figure 13-3. HomeSite workspace.

Resources in the context of HomeSite require a little explanation. At the bottom left-hand sideof the workspace are several tabs, which give you access to different resources. For example, your site is composed of directories and files, with a particular structure. These are resources and are viewed in the resources area of the HomeSite window. Projects are resources, and you can view project information here as well.

One annoying thing is that you are required to have a copy of MS Explorer 4.0 to view the files in design mode. Even if the pages do not contain anything special that IE4.0 provides, you are still required to have a copy. Without it, you are forced to edit the HTML code by hand.

Color-coded editing is provided by the editor in the same fashion as otherIDEs, such as Borland’s Delphi. Different elements have different colors, which help them stand out and are more easily identified. For example, context text is black and tags are blue.

After developing with a number of other products, I find that HomeSite is loaded with many tools and toys that make development much easier. One of the aspects that I found nifty was how HomeSite generates new pages. In may HTML editors, a new page is empty, that is, there are no tags in there are all. When HomeSite creates a new page, it provides the basics tags for you (<HTML>, <HEAD>, <TITLE>, and <BODY>). This helps ensure all of the elements are there and in the proper location.

Taking from other IDEs, HomeSite allows you to find the matching tag in tag pairs. This comes in handy in many different cases. For example, if you have a lot of objects within objects (tables within forms, tables within tables, etc.), being able to find the matching tag saves you the time of hunting back and forth through the page.

Another nifty thing is what HomeSite does with the on-line help. Instead of it being a separate application or having to start WinHelp, the HomeSite help pages are loaded directly into the application as if they were HTML documents stored as part of a project. In fact, that is exactly what they are. The help files are stored as a collection of HTML pages, with images, cascading style sheets, and everything else that is part of a Web site. It is also possible to display the help content in a separate frame of the HomeSite window. You can finally see the application and the help file at the same time!

Search and Replace has taken on a whole new feel with HomeSite. With most other Web development products you have the ability to search for specific strings. With HomeSite you can create fairly complex search and replacement patterns. This is because HomeSite uses the regular expression used in many UNIX tools.

HomeSite can save small code segments, called snippets. The basic premise is that there are portions of pages, scripts, and so forth that repeat from page to page (e.g., navigation bars). If enough code is repeated, it might be easier to copy the page and remove what you don’t need. In other cases, you go looking for the page with the code you want and then cut and paste what you need. Instead, HomeSite saves these code segments and gives you immediate access to them from any page. Snippets can then be shared among all of the developers.

People rarely work in the exact same fashion as others. However, computer programs have traditionally been designed to work in a single manner. There are often slight differences in how people work that makes the behavior of certain programs a "problem" and not a "feature." To address this issue, more and more application programs are configurable. The most common way this shows itself is the ability to configure menus or toolbars.

Like many applications, such as WordPerfect, HomeSite allows you to configure the appearance and behavior of the application. For example, you can add buttons to existing toolbars or even create new ones. In addition, you can change the behavior of the keyboard, so different key combinations insert code or snippets, change formatting, and all of the other functionality available from menus and toolbars.

HomeSite has taken the configuration almost to the same level as the more-powerful word processing applications, such as WordPerfect. Using the Visual Tool Markup Language (VTML), which is also available in Alliare’s ColdFusion Studio, you have the equivalent of a macro language.

The Tag Property inspector (?) provides two useful functions. First, you can view the page in terms of the HTML structure, that is, you see where each of the different sections are (head, body) as well as all of the tags. Clicking on the tag moves the cursor to that location in the editor window and displays all the attributes that tag can use.

Take a look in Figure 13-4. Here, the cursor is sitting within the table data tag (<TD>). In the window at the lower left is a list of the attributes that you can use within the <TD> tag. Any attribute that already has a value (e.g., WIDTH and VALIGN) is already loaded with these values. If you insert a value into one of these attributes, the tag is changed accordingly in the editor window. Note also that the attributes are sorted by functionality and that there is a minus sign in front of each group. Clicking on the minus sign closes that section, just as it does in Windows Explorer. This is very useful if there are more attributes than will fit in the window and you only need access to a few of them.


Figure 13-4. HomeSite Tag Inspector.

One advantage of HomeSite over other products like Microsoft FrontPage is that the program does not do things for you unless you tell it. For example, as I mentioned before, FrontPage will change the entire structure of your page if you make a mistake (e.g., leaving off a quote). This often results in the page becoming useless, and you either restore it from backups or start over. Instead, HomeSite will validate the page, displaying the mistakes it finds without making your page unusable.

Many products on the market have "wizards" that ask a series of questions and then perform some task (e.g., creating a new page) based on the input to the Wizard. HomeSite takes this one step further by allowing you to create templates for the Wizards. As the Wizard runs, it identifies places in the template that requires input. Pages are then generated based on the template and your input.

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Published on: 0000-00-00 (3191 reads)

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