Using a flat-file database in Perl

A Poor Man’s Database

Huh? What’s that?

You’ve all heard of a Poor Man’s Copyright: when you come up with a
great idea and you send it to yourself in the mail to prove it was your
idea. Getting a real copyright can be a pain, and sometimes isn’t worth
the effort. A poor man’s copyright doesn’t have all of the benefits of
a “real” one, but for the small stuff – it usually gets the job done.

When designing a website, the same sort of problem can arise, you have
a project that needs a database
setup, but you either don’t have the money
for a database package, or it’s such a small database, that using a
commercial package isn’t worth the trouble.

Here’s one such scenario: I was designing a site for two movie theaters in Georgia. They wanted their movie showtimes
on their site, with a link to the movie’s website, a picture, a rating,
etc. I tried doing it the old fashioned
HTML way, but I found that I was typing
in the same information over and over, (after all, Kate Winslet is
always a star of Titanic). They change the showtimes 2 or 3 times a
week, so I found myself typing in that information too many times. The
approximately 10 movies a week certainly didn’t merit a
Microsoft SQL
or Oracle. So I decided
to use a series of small text files as a database instead.

Why Perl?

is an interpreted language that’s available on most web server
packages. It’s not platform or operating system dependent, and it’s easy
to learn and use.

OK-This is a great idea. What do I need?

The recipe calls for 2 cups of sugar, 2 ounces of chocolate and…

  • 1 web server with FTP access: It must have CGI and Perl capabilities (most
    modern web servers do). A “small business” account from an
    ISP will generally
    work, Geocities, Tripod or Angelfire accounts will not; they don’t have CGI access.
    A note about Windows NT IIS servers — your server’s administrator may
    need to add the Perl language to the server. A free copy can be downloaded
    ActiveState Tool Corp
  • 1 copy of WS-FTP, or another FTP
    program that supports
    All scripts will need to be set to “7-5-5”
    which means you should check all boxes in the owner column, and the read
    and execute box in the group and other columns.
  • 1 copy of
    CGI-LIB.PL. This is a Perl library that will make your HTML forms useable in a Perl Script.
  • Knowledge of a programming language: You don’t need to know Perl, but
    this article assumes that you know variables and loops and other common
    programming concepts.
  • Know where the Perl program is located on your web server. Also know the
    path to your documents. A quick email to your system operator should
    get you these pieces of information. Still not sure? There’s more
    information about this later on in this article. A note about Windows NT IIS servers — on a properly configured NT
    server, knowing where Perl is located is not necessary

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