Light Up the Web with Flash and a LAMP
by Trevor Zion Bauknight
When it comes to creating a robust server environment for delivering dynamic content securely and reliably across the Internet, it's practically impossible to beat the LAMP setup. LAMP is an acronym which represents the combination of Linux+Apache+MySQL+PHP which is probably the most common and best-loved collection of server-side technologies on planet Earth.
And while it's possible to create a perfectly functional web interface to a web application built with PHP using only HTML and stylesheets, it would be nice to create something a little more compelling with interactivity, slick graphics, sound and maybe even a video tutorial to guide the new user. And what's better than Macromedia's Flash for creating just such an interface? Nothing, that's what.
Not at the moment, anyway. The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) adopted something called SVG (Scalable Vector Graphics) to carry in XML the kinds of content that Macromedia's de facto standard SWF file format already encodes in its own proprietary, yet open way. SVG has some technical advantages over SWF as well as some drawbacks of its own; but, in any event, SVG is slow to catch on in the browser world while Flash is on fire.
SWF has the upper hand in more ways than simply in the near omnipresence of the Flash Player, which displays SWF in the browser window. The first it enjoys is the fact that Flash technology is stable and mature, a big deal when your web application is the life of your company. It's also platform-neutral -- Flash looks the same in any browser where the Flash Player runs, whether you're using Windows, a Mac or Linux. That's good for designers.
Speaking of designers, most SWF is the product of creative people using a killer interactive development environment called Flash MX Pro. While SVG is easier than SWF to edit with a text editor, nobody in their right mind wants to create graphic interfaces that way, and neither Adobe nor anyone else has seen fit to create anything comparable to Flash for creating SVG.
Finally, the embrace of the open SWF format by third parties, most notably for our purposes the open-source community, has resulted in the creation of a growing number of tools for generating and manipulating SWF files, even on-the-fly by, for example, PHP. Tools like Ming (yes, Flash and Ming are now friends!) and FreeMovie make it possible for open-source web application developers to add some interest to their browser-bound interfaces.
Add to this the responsiveness Macromedia has shown in extending Flash with some things the development community needed, and you can start to see what makes Flash compelling way to develop your web application's front-end. ActionScript was added to allow programmers to communicate with Flash "movies" and recently ActionScript was extended with so-called "remoting" components which allow Flash movies to interact directly with various web application servers. Another Open-Source project, AMFPHP, extends Flash remoting to PHP. For a nice example of what this can accomplish visually and functionally, check out panodiscount.com/panomaker/index3.php.
About three years ago, the company for which I work, CafeID.com, started building an online website builder written in Flash that can create and edit Flash websites right in the browser window. Our account administration backend, which handles domain-name registration, e-mail administration, etc. is a PHP application running on Linux, served by Apache. We've only begun to explore the possibilities this combination offers, but we've been impressed with our results and our customers love the flexibility the Flash-based Site Editor offers them in comparison with template-based solutions.
The LAMP server environment is wildly popular for very good reasons both technical and economic. It's stable, high-performance technology that doesn't carry a pricetag. Online support is readily available and your choice of hardware platforms runs the gamut from screwdriver-shop PCs to IBM mainframes.
At the same time, Flash is also wildly popular for some of the same reasons and creative professionals can create stunning user interfaces using it. Using Flash to build your web application's front-end while taking advantage of superior open-source backend technology is getting easier and makes perfect sense.
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About the Author
Trevor Zion Bauknight is a web designer and
writer with over 15 years of experience on the Internet. He works with Cafe ID and specializes in the creation and maintenance of business and personal
Online Identity and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.