Macromedia ColdFusion 5

The demand for dynamic database-driven Web sites is growing relentlessly, especially at the user-friendly end of the market. ColdFusion 5.0 responds well to this need: while it's hardly a cheap point-and-click method of creating shopping sites or interactive forums, it does allow dynamic pages to be deployed with the minimum of fuss.

The secret of ColdFusion's success is that it makes it very easy to Web-enable existing databases - you simply register a data source through the program's browser-based Administrator module.

A versatile approach

ColdFusion 5.0 supports a number of database types, from Microsoft Access to any data source that supports ODBC (open database connectivity) or OLE DB (object linked and embedded databases). ColdFusion's other advantage is that it uses a tag-based server-side scripting language, or CFML (ColdFusion mark-up language), to interact with the database. CFML behaves in a similar manner to HTML (hypertext mark-up language) or XML (extensible mark-up language). Like these languages, CFML's tags (the markers that designate which part of the page each piece of coding refers to) can be edited in any text editor, and coexist peacefully with other tag-based codes. In addition, CFML is directly supported by Macromedia's well-respected design tool, Dreamweaver UltraDev.

Macromedia has introduced some new CFML tags. In addition to tags that provide better SQL (structured query language) database integration, ColdFusion lets you create dynamic charts in Flash or JPEG format directly from database data. This is due to the addition of Macromedia's graphics display tool, Generator. Even better, ColdFusion 5.0 is impressively extensible, supporting both custom tags and user-defined functions.

ColdFusion comes in two main versions, Professional and Enterprise, which are both available for Windows and Linux operating systems. The Enterprise version also supports Solaris and HP/UX, and is designed for high-volume applications. It includes features such as dynamic load balancing and automatic failover for clustered servers.

Administration tools have been beefed up in the Enterprise edition. Improved monitoring controls - including SNMP (simple network management protocol) support - enables ColdFusion statistics to be monitored from an enterprise management system. Of broader appeal is the new log file analyser, which allows you to diagnose server errors quickly.

Serious and speedy

Macromedia concentrates on tweaking performance in this version of ColdFusion. It claims performance is several times better than that offered by version 4.5, although this boost isn't witnessed across the board and is most marked on Windows-based servers. Perceived performance is also increased by the ability to deliver page output as it is being created, rather than having to wait for the whole page to be completed first.

As well as adding a special version of the Verity Search server, ColdFusion has improved its reputation for scalability. Not only can servers be hosted on a variety of platforms, but the product also comes with improved load balancing. This ensures that server requests are shared between available resources.

However impressive ColdFusion is, it isn't a development tool for the casual user. The financial barrier to using the program is huge, and although Macromedia does offer a free trial version, it's a hefty 80MB download.

The developments introduced by ColdFusion Server 5.0 are aimed at improving administration and performance issues rather than actually adding new features, but webmasters intent on squeezing more speed from their site should consider upgrading.

Macromedia ColdFusion 5

4 stars; Price: Professional $3300, Enterprise $18,000; Distributor: FirmwareDesign; Phone: 1300 369 951; URL: www.macromedia.com

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