Interfacing Relational Databases to the Web

This document explains how to build a database-backed web site using Apache, the PHP3 module and the PostgreSQL relational database.
Views and Operations

The remaining design step is deciding what sort of capabilities we wish to grant users to access and update the data. This is perhaps not as much of a problem in our database, but what if we were designing a database of employees? It might cause great discord in the office if everyone knew the salary of the guy who spends every day surfing the Web and taking two-hour lunch breaks; however, they should be able to access his name, department and extension. Likewise, they shouldn't be able to change that information unless they are the department secretary or manager.

We do want some protection on our address book, so that you can type in your grandmother's e-mail address with the peace of mind that a spammer can't get it just by accessing your web server. We also don't want to bother the user with implementation details like unique ID numbers on each record—this should be a user-friendly address book. Therefore, we will allow the following:

  • A user can retrieve records from her own address book.

  • A user can insert and delete records in her own address book.

  • The user will be shown only what she needs to see.

To this end, we create views. A view can be just a few columns of a table or a few columns of a join. In SQL, a view is defined with the CREATE VIEW statement, which creates a view from a SELECT statement. A view can be accessed just like a table, except you can't perform inserts, updates or deletes on it. Some of the views in our example application also use PostgreSQL functions to make the final application programming easier, i.e., “make a mailto URL from this e-mail address”.

We also make note of the constraints which we cannot enforce with views: for example, the consideration that one may view only her own address book. We must implement these constraints in the application program.

Implementation

Implementation in PHP3 is quite straightforward; many things in the example code speak for themselves, and others are well-commented.

The source code for the example application is intended to be more of a teaching tool than a finished product. It works well, but you would certainly want to add features before making a large-scale service from it. I have released it under the GNU GPL, so feel free to modify my code and share your modifications with others. This code is also on the FTP site shown above.

Resources

Will Benton can be reached at wcb@ccil.org

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