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Choosing the Best Programming Language for Your Website

In the very early stages of planning, you and your web developer will need to decide which primary programming language(s) your site will use. 

There are a number of equally important considerations when making this fundamental decision. Sometimes a show-stopper of a consideration comes along, and you must immediately shift the weight of the entire decision to deal with that one especially important circumstance.

When making a decision on the programming language(s), some of the most important considerations include (1) what you want your site to do, (2) what legacy code you are working with, (3) what databases you are working with, and (4) what server restrictions exist.

Just FYI, if any of the terminology in this article is unfamiliar, please stop and read our article entitled The Three Essentials For Creating a Website so that you understand some foundational elements.

1. What Do You Want Your Site To Do?

All websites use some version of HTML markup. Most websites also use some type of "Server Side Programming Language." Basically a "Server Side Programming Language" is a program that physically runs on the web host’s computer.

Let’s say, for example, that Active Server Pages is the Server Side Programming Language on your site, and you want for today’s date to display in the upper left corner of your webpage. To accomplish that, you would include the following programming code on that portion of the page: 

Since Active Server Pages is a "Server Side Programming Language," it actually runs the command called Date() on the web host’s server, then hands the newly created page containing today’s actual date to the website visitor.

The alternative is something called a "Client Side Programming Language." JavaScript is the most frequently used "Client Side Programming Language." Unlike a "Server Side Programming Language," the "Client Side Programming Language" physically runs on the website visitor’s own computer.

Client Side Programming Languages are very useful for making a variety of quick changes. For example, you can use JavaScript to display alternative bits of text... such as displaying text boxes with room for 16 digits if somebody is paying by Visa or Mastercard, versus a text box with room for 15 digits if they’re paying by American Express. As soon as they click the radio button to indicate what type of credit card they’re using, the "mask" (either a 15-digit or 16-digit box) appears, according to the type of credit card they’ve chosen.

A Client Side Programming Language is extremely fast and interactive... and you don’t have to wait until the website visitor has clicked an Update button to change what they’re seeing on the screen. The downside, however, is that some people don’t have or don’t permit JavaScript to run on their computer. For those website visitors, you may need to provide alternative access mechanisms. (For additional information on planning for differently-abled visitors, please see our article entitled ADA Standards for Accessible Design.)

Server Side Programming Languages are always what is required to make your website work with a database. The Server Side Programming Languages that are most frequently used to develop websites include: 

Cold Fusion
Active Server Pages
Java Server Pages (JSP)

Deciding which of these languages to use is often the result of a process of elimination. For example, if I want to build a website that offers books for sale, then I can conceivably use any of these programming languages. However, if I want to use a prefabricated shopping cart as the foundation for my website, then the programming language already associated with my cart of choice becomes the overriding consideration.

2. What Legacy Code Are You Working With?

If you are working with old programming code and folding it into a new site, then the old code may dictate, in part, which programming languages you can consider for any additional work on the site. There are many instances where two or more different programming languages may coexist within a site, but at times the need to keep numerous small processes working more tightly together may dictate that you migrate to a single-language site.

3. What Databases Are You Working With?

You may be restricted to working with a particular database as the result of either legacy data that needs to be integrated into the new site, or as the result of a server restriction. Plus, just as the decision to use a particular prefabricated technology (like a shopping cart) may dictate what programming language you use, so it may also in large part determine the type of database.

(For additional information on understanding and selecting a database for your website, please see our article entitled Choosing the Type of Database for Your Website.)

4. What Server Restrictions Exist?

On occasion, a website must be designed so that it is compatible with a particular server. If, for example, you are rebuilding a website for your college, then it may be critical that all of the elements of your entire infrastructure work together, and that they physically occupy the same space on your dedicated on-campus server.

Even if you are permitted to house the website wherever it is best served, then you need to be certain that the server itself provides the necessary capabilities to properly support what is required of the website. For example, if you are building a website with thousands of videos, then you’ll need ample space and the ability to upload and potentially safety-check each video. The server itself must support/allow each of the functions that your website requires.


As each of these considerations gets folded into the decision-making process, the programming language of choice usually becomes fairly obvious. As long as your web developer is knowledgeable, and properly informed regarding your existing site and the direction in which the new development effort needs to go, then determining the appropriate programming language(s) is usually a fairly straightforward process.

This material is Copyrighted. All rights reserved. Linda C. Uranga-Norton, President and Founder, Urangatang Web Design. To obtain reprint permission or engage the author for speaking engagements, please contact the author at . All reprints must include a link to the author's website at www.urangatang.com.

If you have an idea for an educational or informative article that you believe would be of interest to others as well, please email us at or call us at 1-888-872-6428 ext. 707 to discuss your idea.


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