Improving Your School's Website With PHP/MySQL

from Educators' eZine

In our school, as in many other schools, there has been an increasing demand for the distribution of information through the school's Website. There has also been an increasing demand to have parents and students submit information directly from the school's Website. Teachers don't have the time to create elaborate Websites for their classes, but they need current information posted someplace, such as on the school's Website. One of the best ways to address these issues is to integrate that Website with a database using PHP and MySQL.

Integrating a Website with a database is nothing new, but it has never been easier to accomplish than with PHP/MySQL. PHP is a server-side scripting language similar to ASP, Perl, etc. MySQL is an open source relationship database that uses SQL. Both PHP and MySQL can be used separately, but work best when used together. Here are some examples of some Web-based applications our school has developed or is in the process of developing using PHP/MySQL:

Alumni Database
The Alumni Database allows visitors to browse alumni by class or search alumni by name. The office is able to keep alumni up to date by importing data about recent graduates from an Excel spreadsheet each year instead of having to worry about creating and uploading a Web page.

Online Voting System
The Online Voting System allows students to login and vote on activities such as homecoming/prom royalty and class officers. Electronic voting has saved countless hours of tallying paper ballots.

Podcast Library
The Podcast Library gives teachers a Web interface to upload audio/video and quickly update their podcasts. The Podcast Library also allows visitors to search and subscribe to class podcasts.

Online Job Application
The Online Job Application allows secretaries to easily post new job openings. It also allows applicants to submit their application and resumé electronically and be reviewed by administrators.

Website RSS
This project was a simple way to create an RSS feed for the Website and allows student editors to update the RSS feed without having to edit any XML code.

Online Orders
There were several situations where it was convenient to have visitors place orders directly through the Website. For example, the Website allows visitors to order printed photos from the Website or order cookies from the student-maintained business.

Registration/Sign-up Forms
There is also a need for forms where a student can register or sign-up for activities. For example, an electronic registration form was created so students could sign-up for summer laptop rental.

There are many commercial products that could have been used for all of those projects. However, PHP/mySQL comes free, a cost that educators likes the most. In addition, PHP/MySQL is multi-platform and easy to configure with a variety of Web servers. For this reason, there are a ton of open source PHP/MySQL projects that are already available for you to use. However, this shouldn't stop you from developing your own creative solutions.

As with learning any new language, there is always a learning curve, but there are plenty of books and free online resources to help you get started. Also, keep in mind that PHP/MySQL might not be the best solution for every project. I still use FileMaker for projects that need to be done in a hurry, require changing between multiple layouts quickly, or only need to be shared between a few people. However, PHP/MySQL can be perfect because it allows a large number of people to update information simultaneously just using a Web browser.

When creating a PHP/mySQL project that will be available on the Internet, there are always some security concerns that should be taken into consideration. When dealing with confidential data, a secure connection to the server using at least a self-signed SSL certificate is recommended. Also, consider using built-in PHP encryption functions to protect passwords and other information stored in the database. If the site requires a login, use sessions to validate login. Web developer's code should also be written so that it is safe from "SQL interjections." Those are just a couple of the ways to secure the data on the Web; there are plenty of online resources that provide more in-depth information on PHP/mySQL security.

The possibilities are endless for what you could do with your school's Website. Get started today by thinking about ways you could improve your own school's Website. Start with a simple project and work toward those bigger projects. You'll be amazed how much you can improve your school's Website while saving time and energy.

Email:Todd Bryant