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Home : Articles : Updatable Navigation

Updatable Navigation

Introduciton

Most people who run website will agree that one of the most time consuming tasks is not adding content, replying to e-mail or checking for broken links. It is making a small update to your whole design, and most often the navigation on your page. The problem is that most websites have a lot of pages, and some can have several hundred pages. This makes it totally impractical to go to each page and add a new link to your navigation bar. So how can you overcome this problem? There are a number of solutions, which will be covered in this article.

Search & Replace

This is actually the easiest option to implement on a website which is already running, and cannot use complicated scripts. The idea behind it is that, if you have created all the pages from a single template, or if you have copied and pasted code, the HTML code for your navigation will be the same on each and every page of your site. This means that to add a new link, you just need to replace the code for the bottom of the navigation bar, with some code to add an extra link.

An excellent program for doing this is Search & Replace HTML 98 which offers advanced search and replace options throughout directories and subdirectories, and is remarkably fast. All you need to do is enter the code for the bottom of your navigation bar into the Find Text box. Then enter the same code, but with the code for an extra link inserted above it in the Replace box (you need to include the navigation end code or else your design will be destroyed). Then select a directory, choose some options, and click the button.

Although this can be done on any website with very little knowledge and no special features, it does have disadvantages in that a small mistake in the search or replace text will result in your design not working correctly, and it requires all pages to be uploaded again.

Frames

Frames are an HTML feature which were very popular several years ago but have now become very unpopular, due to them having several problems. The idea behind them is that the browser window is split up into several different 'frames' each of which can contain a separate HTML page. With this, you can put the page content in a main frame, and have a separate frame for navigation. The benefit behind this is that if you want to update your navigation, all you need to do is to update the HTML page for the navigation frame, and upload this to your server. Immediately your whole site will be updated accordingly.

There are disadvantages to using frames, though. One of the main ones is with search engines. Search engines have been notoriously bad at indexing frames pages, for two main reasons. The first is that they find it very difficult to recognise what each part of the page is for, and secondly they often link to specific frames, not the frames page. This means that you may find a link to a page on your site without navigation, so users cannot visit any other pages, or you may even find that your navigation frame is indexed as a page! The other problem, which is not as serious as it used to be, is that some browsers cannot cope with frames, so users will not be able to access your site.

SSI

Server Side Includes (SSI) are a system used on some servers, which allows you to include files into your code when executed on the server. This means that you could, for example, store your navigation as a text file on the server, then place a special pointer into the file which tells the server to include the contents of the text file.

<!--#include virtual="/myfile.txt" -->

This has the benefit that, like frames, the navigation is stored as a single file, so you only have to update one file to change the whole site. Also, as it is server generated, you don't need to worry about problems with search engine or browser compatability.

The only disadvantage with doing this is that your server must
support SSI in order for this to work. A lot of servers don't support this, but it is becomming more common.

Other Scripting

There are a variety of other methods you can use to acheive the same effect as you can from SSI. These include PHP and ASP. What you can do, if you are redeveloping your site, though, is to create a complete database controlled website. This will allow you to dynamically create everything, including navigation, meaning that you don't even have to update the navigation. This is likely to be the subject of a future article.

Conclusion

As you can see, updating your navigation or other design elements needn't be chore. With a little bit of forward planning and some clever software, you can make updates much easier and quicker, leaving you more time to do the important work.



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