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CSC 112 - Lesson 5


E-commerce is one of the main driving forces behind the web. Let's face it, everybody is saying, "Show me the MONEY!" No doubt, if you haven't already done it, chances are you will either buy or sell something over the Internet at least once during your lifetime. E-commerce is important. Although succeeding at E-commerce isn't easy, setting up a shopping cart and secure online buying for your product is.

Getting your products on the Web

Maybe someday you will actually be creating E-commerce software, but you for now, don't have to be a programmer to sell your products and/or services over the Internet.

Many companies offer "E-commerce Solutions" packages that can make setting up an online store as easy as filling out a few forms. Many Internet Providers (IPs) offer these packages as part of their hosting packages. Usually you "subscribe" to their service for somewhere from $30.00 to $200.00 a month or more.

Some companies like "Yahoo Stores" charge a monthly fee plus a commission on sales. Before you sigh up for an "E-commerce Package" be sure to read the fine print. Although services vary, the prices for these services vary even more.

The E-commerce services offered by each provider will be different but there will be some similarities in many of these offerings.


Most if not all of the software that you will use to set up your online store will use databases to manage your data in some way. Even the most basic programs, will keep information like your business name and email address for order notification in a database. Don't be scared of the word "Database." It's not a programming language or anything that you need to go to school to understand. It's just a collection of data that is organized into rows and columns for easy data retrieval.

A simple database might look like:

Rob | Higgins | Urbana | Illinois | 217-337-0965
Fred | Flintstone | Bedrock | Arkansas | 501-555-1212
Mike | Monroe | Rantoul | Illinois | 217-892-2424

or it might look like:

Rob , Higgins , Urbana , Illinois , 217-337-0965
Fred , Flintstone , Bedrock , Arkansas , 501-555-1212
Mike , Monroe , Rantoul , Illinois , 217-892-2424

or even like:

Rob    Higgins    Urbana    Illinois    217-337-0965
Fred    Flintstone    Bedrock    Arkansas    501-555-1212
Mike    Monroe    Rantoul    Illinois    217-892-2424

What's the difference in these simple databases? It's not the information. The information is the same in each of the examples. The difference is the way each is delineated. In other words, it's the way that each piece of information (data) is separated. In the first example, the database is said to be "Pipe Delineated" because each piece of information is separated. by a "pipe" ( | ). In the second example, each item is separated. by a comma so this style is called "comma delineated." and likewise, the final example is separated. by a tab which is executed by pushing the "tab" key on the keyboard. Thus the final example is called "tab delineated.". These are just three common examples of ways that databases are delineated. There are many more but basically the concept is always the same. Each item is delineated. by a character or keystroke of some type.

Changing one format to another

Even though the database you acquire many not be in the exact format that you need, it's easy to change one type of database into another. Since the only difference between one database and another is its delineation, all you have to do is replace the character or characters you don't want with the one(s) that you do.

Global Replace

Here we see our old friend "Global Replace" or maybe"Find and Replace" coming again to our rescue. Remember from our previous lessons, that the beauty is repetition is the ability of any of these repeated items to be replaced quickly through the software feature called "Replace."

Just about every program offers a replace type feature. It's usually on the tool bar under "Edit". You know the drill, just fill in the boxes. Where it says "search for", type in the character or characters you want to replace and where it says "Replace with" type in the correct character for the way you want you database delineated. Push the button that says replace and that's it. You might have a few check boxes or other options to review but basically this is all you need to do to change one type of database to another.

Even though this is very easy to change the delineation, there are other ways to do it that might even be easier. Programs like Microsoft Excel and Access offer wizards that will reformat your databases in whatever format you wish. The idea here is not to show you haw to change the delineation of a database, it's just to show you what flat file databases are and what makes them different. That said, there really not much difference besides the data in databases. In the most basic sense, they are simply information that is sorted in such a way that information retrieval is possible.

What Next?

Now that we have alleviated our fear of databases, we can use this information or create this information and use software or programming to put it to use in our E-Commerce Application.

Forms Revisited

There are many ways to pass information to a program but commonly information is inputted through a form. This concept is similar to the way that parameters are defined in an object tag like JAVA or Flash. You simply pass the information through a hidden form element. In the previous lesson about FormMail, we used "hidden input tags" to pass information to the FormMail program about the fields that we wanted printed, the email address to forward the form to and other information.

We used:

<form method="POST" action="/cgi-bin/FormMail.pl">
<input type="hidden" NAME="recipient" value="me@mydomain.com">
<input type="hidden" NAME="redirect" value="http://students.modemswitch.com/thankyou.html">

The concept is the same:

<input type="hidden" name="name here" value="value here">

Instead of passing on this information to the FormMail program, now we will be using the same method to pass information to our online store.

This method is very common and the concept should be understood. Work through the examples and set up your own store to see for yourself.