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HTML Forms, Part 1

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My first experience with the World Wide Web about 13 years ago was in school using NCSA Mosaic running on Sun SPARCstation hosts. Mosaic was the original graphical Web browser from which all modern Web browsers today can claim their common ancestry. It was a giant leap from text-based applications such as Usenet readers that were much more common back in those days.

Soon after Tim Berners-Lee invented HTTP, a bunch of developers from the National Center for Supercomputing Applications (NCSA) at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign got together and Mosaic was developed. The resulting work was eventually licensed to Netscape and Microsoft. The Netscape and Internet Explorer browsers were born out of that licensing and the rest is history.

While today's browsers are much more versatile and dynamic, they are essentially the same utilities at their core as the original Mosaic was. The user initiates a request to a Web server, and a response is returned and displayed on the browser. Initially the interaction with the Web servers were one-sided and static in nature. A page was requested and data consisting of text, images, and hyperlinks were returned to the browser. Tags were used to position and style the elements on the browser area. But soon all that changed when web pages were armed with forms from which users would be able to send data back to the servers.

Of course browsers can’t just sent any arbitrary data to the server. The type and format of that data is dictated by the browser. Data not conforming to what the server expects will be, at best, ignored. But what is the mechanism by which data is sent to a server? For that we need to study the two most common request types (a.k.a. verbs) browsers send to servers; GET and POST. We'll look at these two request types in part 2.

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