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Building a Forum with Macromedia Dreamweaver From Adobe

A forum can really help you build up a community around your website

Forums (message boards) are a great way to share ideas, debate on current issues, or offer technical assistance to your clients. A forum can really help you build up a community around your website, increase traffic, and improve communication with your clients. Although you can find a wealth of free forum applications out there, which you can install and customize for your needs, this article teaches you how to build your own forum from scratch to make it fit your specific requirements. (You can view this article in its original www.macromedia.com/devnet.)

We will walk you from designing and setting up your database to building a basic front end, adding user authentication, allowing subscription to message threads, and sending topic reply notifications by e-mail. You can have a fully functional forum in no time, with minimum effort and coding.

Planning the Forum
In this tutorial, you will use Dreamweaver 8 and ImpAKT to build a forum application which will allow users to:

  • View a list of discussion topics
  • Read the messages associated to each topic
  • Register an account with the forum, and upload a profile photo
  • Login and logout
  • Post a new message in any topic
  • Reply to other messages
  • Subscribe to a discussion thread (a chain of messages that are replies to an initial message)
  • Receive e-mail notifications when a new message is posted in a thread they have subscribed to
Before you start building the forum, please make sure that:
  • You have a running database server and web server with PHP language support
  • You have installed the required software: Dreamweaver and ImpAKT
  • You have correctly defined a Dreamweaver site with a PHP_MySQL testing server
  • You have set up the database provided with this tutorial and have created a connection to it
Setting Up the Development Framework
First you have to set up your application server environment and install Dreamweaver 8 and ImpAKT.

This article assumes that you have already installed and configured a web server with PHP and MySQL support. If this is not the case, take a look at the following articles from the Developer Center:

  • Setting Up Your PHP Server Environment Using Linux, Apache, MySQL and PHP (by David Sklar) if you use the LAMP platform
  • Setting Up the PHP, MySQL, and Apache Server Platform on Macintosh OS X for Dreamweaver MX (by Minh Huynh) if you're working in Mac OS
  • Setting up PHP for Microsoft IIS (by Andrew Stopford) if you're a fan of IIS
If you're using Windows, also take a look at WAMP Server, a free tool that automatically installs Apache, PHP 5, MySQL server, phpMyAdmin, and SQLiteManager. For detailed instructions on installing WAMP Server, see this technical note on the InterAKT site.

Before you install ImpAKT, you need to have installed Dreamweaver 8. You can install and manage the extensions using Extension Manager, an accessory to Dreamweaver.

What Is ImpAKT?
ImpAKT is a Dreamweaver extension that offers a collection of wizards and server behaviors that will help you set up a dynamic website from scratch, with no coding at all. ImpAKT automates most common programming tasks and patterns, and even helps inexperienced HTML designers perform complex tasks. For example, ImpAKT will help you set up your site for user authentication, validate your visitors' input, send e-mails after forms have been submitted, and upload files and images.

Extensions are software tools that enhance the standard functionality of Dreamweaver, much like plug-ins or add-ons. They can vary from simple code snippets to complex applications. Their purpose also varies: they can reduce manual coding, minimize repetitive tasks, fix certain bugs or errors, increase productivity, or build a specific object.

Extensions are usually delivered as executable MXP files. When you run them, the Extension Manager initiates the installation.

Start the installation by downloading the extension using the links at the beginning of this article. Then double-click the MXP file. After the ImpAKT installation is initiated, you'll see a disclaimer. If you agree to the terms, click Accept to continue the installation. When the Extension Manager finishes installing (usually just a few seconds), you'll see a dialog box notifying you that the installation is complete.

You'll notice that ImpAKT is listed in the Extension Manager window.

If Dreamweaver is open, close it and then relaunch it so the changes caused by ImpAKT can take effect. Each installed extension modifies the Dreamweaver standard workspace by adding its own commands, buttons, or menus. The ImpAKT elements are added to the Insert bar and to the Server Behaviors menu (in the Application panel).

Notice that a new tab called MX Kollection appears in the Insert bar.

ImpAKT is part of a bundle of Dreamweaver extensions, which is why the tab is called MX Kollection. For more information, visit the MX Kollection home page.

From the MX Kollection tab, you can access some of the most common wizards and commands in ImpAKT that help you build database-driven web forms for inserting, updating, and deleting information, and set up professional user authentication for your website.

The second area where you can access ImpAKT commands is the Server Behaviors tab of the Application panel.

In the next section, you will define your site in Dreamweaver.

Before you build the forum, you need to set up your site in Dreamweaver. For a quick site setup, take a look at this TechNote: How to Define a Site in Dreamweaver. A minimal setup requires you to configure at least these sections:

  • Local Info, which identifies the site files in Dreamweaver and enables the site management features
  • Remote Info, which defines the settings to access the remote web server where your site will be uploaded
  • Testing Sever, which defines a private place to act like a public server to test the application and connections to the database
Follow the instructions in this TechNote and make sure you set the server model to PHP MySQL in the Testing Server section.

Download the tutorial sample files and unzip them to your site's root folder.

In the next section, you will set up and connect to your database.

Setting Up Your Database
The forum is completely dynamic. It stores and extracts all information from a database. A typical forum is basically a collection of messages posted by users and organized by topics. Therefore you need at least these three tables for your forum database:

  • one for user information: user_usr
  • one for messages: message_msp
  • one for topics: topic_top
The SQL code that creates the topic_top table is pretty straightforward. Notice that the topic title is defined as a unique key, meaning there shouldn't be any topics with the same title:

CREATE TABLE topic_top (
    id_top int(11) NOT NULL auto_increment,
    title_top varchar(100) NOT NULL default '',
    description_top varchar(200) default NULL,
    PRIMARY KEY (id_top),
    UNIQUE KEY title_top (title_top)

Here is the code that creates the message_msg table:

CREATE TABLE message_msg (
    id_msg int(11) NOT NULL auto_increment,
    idtop_msg int(11) NOT NULL default '0',
    idmsg_msg int(11) default NULL,
    id_init_msg int(11) NOT NULL default '0',
    idusr_msg int(11) NOT NULL default '0',
    date_msg datetime NOT NULL default '0000-00-00 00:00:00',
    subject_msg varchar(100) default NULL,
    content_msg text NOT NULL,
    subscribe_msg tinyint(4) NOT NULL default '0',
    PRIMARY KEY (id_msg)

The following snippet shows the SQL code for setting up the table:

CREATE TABLE user_usr (
    id_usr int(11) NOT NULL auto_increment,
    name_usr varchar(100) NOT NULL default '',
    email_usr varchar(150) NOT NULL default '',
    password_usr varchar(100) NOT NULL default '',
    active_usr tinyint(2) NOT NULL default '0',
    randomkey_usr varchar(100) NOT NULL default '',
    PRIMARY KEY (id_usr),
    UNIQUE KEY name_usr (name_usr)

Notice that because the user name must be unique, it was defined as a unique key.

If you are unfamiliar with database terminology (primary keys, foreign keys, self foreign keys, and the like) and database architecture techniques, check out the Database Concepts article on the InterAKT site.

Now that you have an idea of how your database will look, fire up the sample SQL script in your MySQL console or in your favorite database management software (such as phpMyAdmin) and create the forum database. Include the following line at the beginning if you want to create a separate database:
create database mm_forum;

More Stories By Marius Zaharia

Marius Zaharia is the documentation manager at InterAKT Online, a developer of professional tools for dynamic web development. When he's not writing articles and tutorials to guide web developers, he enjoys learning new things and exploring new technologies. His interests range from web development to politics and avantgarde electronic music.

More Stories By Cristian Ivascu

Cristian Ivascu is a technical writer with InterAKT Online. He is a strong supporter of open-source software and a fan of Japanese culture and rock music.

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