Web Development Tools and Services You Can't Live Without

By Scott Clark

In this article we'll look at some web development tools and technologies that you can't live without. They will either make your life easier as a developer, or they will add functionality to your website, simplify the development process or make you more productive!

CAPTCHA Makes Life Easier

CAPTCHA stands for "Completely Automated Public Turing to tell Computers and Humans Apart" and was designed to make sure that an automated bot or computer program isn't accessing your web application or process. The use of a CAPTCHA script in your feedback form, for instance, helps to filter out spammers, pornographers, online pharmacies and hackers who would otherwise use your form for rather nefarious purposes.

There are many CAPTCHA programs available, but two of them, reCAPTCHA and Secureimage, have proven to be the most popular. While there are others available, if you have been online for long, you have likely been required to use a CAPTCHA script when submitting a form, and have probably been frustrated when you didn't input the proper characters. Both of these solutions provide a mechanism for visually impaired users which enables them to listen to the text, rather than requiring them to view it. reCAPTCHA is a service that is provided, while Secureimage is an open source script that you use on your own web server. Each are viable options.

Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) for Every Occasion

At this point, there are literally APIs for every occasion. Okay, perhaps not every occasion, but so many services, sites and social networks that you may have a hard time figuring out which APIs are worth using. Here are a few worth looking into:
  • Google App Engine: Google's App Engine enables developers to build--and host--web apps on Google own servers, which allow for faster development and deployment processes, an easier administration process, without the need to keep up with hardware upgrades, patches or backups. The TV commercial where a web development team's client does so well in the first few minutes that their server is overwhelmed, is no longer a concern using cloud computing. Google App Engine scales along with your app, whether your app is being served to 10 users, or a million users. Getting started with App Engine is free for developers--just sign up, upload your app, and begin using it. Obviously Google offers a commercial package, but even as a free cloud service, they provide you with 500 MB of storage and 5 million pageviews a month, at no cost.

  • Amazon Web Services: Amazon Web Services (AWS) provides many cloud services for developers, including Amazon CloudFront for content delivery, Amazon Fulfillment Service for ecommerce, Amazon CloudWatch for monitoring, Amazon Simple Storage Service (S3) for storage, and Amazon Virtual Private Cloud (VPC) for networking. Like Google, getting started with AWS is free--just sign up and start developing. Once you sign up for AWS, you will be able to obtain an Access Identifier, which is used to make web service requests from AWS.

  • eBay API: The eBay API enables developers to communicate directly with the eBay database using an XML format. Applications that use the eBay API can provide users with a custom interface, additional functionality and specialized operations that aren't available with the standard eBay interface. Using the eBay API, developers can:
    • Submit items for listing on eBay
    • Get the current list of categories on eBay
    • View information about items that are listed on eBay
    • Get high bidder information for items you are selling
    • Retrieve lists of items a particular user is currently selling through eBay
    • Retrieve lists of items a particular user has bid on
    • Display eBay listings on other sites
    • Leave feedback about other users at the conclusion of an eBay transaction

  • Facebook API: The Facebook API enables developers to create social networking experiences which are designed to drive growth and encourage user engagement on their websites. Developers can enable their applications to keep track of Facebook user's latest happenings, see what their friends are doing, interact with Facebook users and more.

What About Discussion Forums?

There was a time when discussion forums were considered a frivolous expense for a website. After all, who wants to sit around discussing a topic with other people who happen to also be interested in the same topic? The answer is, most of us. Today, a site without a discussion forum, or at least the ability to join a group discussion, is yesterday's news. It doesn't cost much, if anything, to install and setup a discussion forum on your site. If you are using a Content Management System such as WordPress, Drupal or Joomla, the functionality is already there. If not, and you can't afford the cost of forum software like vBulletin, you can still install open source discussion forum software like Simple Machines Forum (SMF). We have our own tutorial on how to set up and use the software, and it's really a no brainer--download the software, create a new database, configure it, and you're up and running!

That's Not All Folks

Although the items we have discussed can enhance your website and increase your site's pageviews, there are plenty of other services, scripts, tools and resources that can make your life easier. If you know of a resource that we should discuss, leave a message below so we can share it with everybody else!

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