Dreamweaver UltraDev 4

Unless you’re creating a simple home page for your holiday snaps, database connectivity is vital for commercial Web sites these days. An application such as Macromedia’s UltraDev positions itself between the designer and the code, much like any WYSIWYG Web-page editor – except that the code isn’t HTML, but CFML, JSP or ASP tags.

Macromedia has skipped version 2 and 3 and proclaimed this first upgrade of UltraDev as a version 4. The numerical justification for this is that UltraDev has all the functionality of Dreamweaver 4 (see page 48) plus all the extra bells and whistles added to make Web database-application construction simpler and quicker.

You can now actually build sites in CFML, ASP and JSP using a Macintosh without jumping through tricky, costly hoops in order to obtain the right drivers to be able to connect to the database.

A good example of what UltraDev can enable you to develop is an estate-agent’s Web site. A form is used to enter your search criteria – for example, an area of the country or a maximum price. Once submitted, the database is queried by the code and returns any matching results. Other uses for a database-driven site could be online shopping or an employee directory.

The first version of UltraDev required a Macintosh user to trudge through a complicated process of installing ODBC or JDBC drivers and all sorts of fiddly bits in order to connect to a Windows database. In this latest version, not needing ODBC drivers is therefore a major plus point for Mac-based developers. In UltraDev, this feature is cleverly implemented through the use of uploaded scripts that access data sources located on the server itself. This connection information is then relayed to UltraDev, although developers would be well-advised to use obscure names and passwords for data sources to prevent possible security problems.

UltraDev 4 now allows you to view your database information at the same time as developing your site – something that no other Web tool does yet. This helps designers see exactly what the content will look like when it’s live on the Web. GoLive 5, Dreamweaver’s closest competitor, includes an extension for developing in ASP within GoLive, but UltraDev offers much more functionality as well as three choices of application server language.

UltraDev now allows a developer to connect to a remote database, cache the data, and continue developing while he or she is disconnected from the server.

The supplied “server behaviours” cover the main essentials you may want to add to your site, including searching and displaying database content, adding and updating records, and creating standard navigational controls such as Previous and Next links. You can also easily create “secure” Web sites via behaviours that provide code to support user login/logout and “secured pages”.

You can also very quickly create dynamic form-content from information held in a database – for example, a pop-up menu listing categories where the category names are held in records in the database.

The downside is that, great and flexible though they are, the supplied behaviours run out of steam at that point, and anyone wanting a site that goes beyond simple searching and addition/ deletion of data will quickly hit a wall and have to resort to hand-coding. However, UltraDev 4 also includes a Server behaviour builder that lets you create your own behaviours.

OUR VERDICT

Although WYSIWYG tools can, in most circumstances, offer greater speed and streamlined workflow, in order to really get down to the nitty-gritty it’s always better to learn at least the basic code for debugging. And, although UltraDev has various built-in options, it doesn’t offer everything you might need. UltraDev may be daunting for beginners to database-driven Web sites, but it’s ideal for those with relatively straightforward needs. However, seasoned programmers and code junkies may find themselves heading back to their text editors relatively quickly.

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