I've noticed that quite a few people come to Ozzu asking about the best way to create dynamic, content-driven websites. After being told to use a server-side scripting language, their next question is almost always about which one to use.
Hopefully, this will help clear up a few things and help people to make a choice.
PHP is one of the most widely-used scripting languages because it is free, and it is easy to learn. PHP has extensive API documentation and built-in functionality for many common tasks.
A simple Hello World script in PHP might look like this:
<html> <head> <title>PHP Hello World Demo</title> </head> <body> <?php $greeting = "Hello World!"; echo $greeting; ?> </body> </html>
Most Linux-based hosting packages provide PHP support as a basic part of any plan. To set up PHP on your own computer for development purposes, you can either install PHP itself, available here, or use an all-in-one package that sets up a complete Apache, PHP, and MySQL environment, such as WAMP.
To begin learning PHP, check out the following:
PHP Resources for Tutorials, Books, Script Archives, etc.
ASP.NET is also relatively easy to learn and costs nothing to run on a server.
A simple Hello World script in ASP.NET might look like this:
<html> <head> <title>ASP.NET Hello World Demo</title> </head> <body> <% Response.Write("Hello World!") %> </body> </html>
ASP.NET is used widely on Windows-based hosting packages.
ASP.NET uses (and thus requires) the .NET framework. To set up ASP.NET on your own computer for development purposes, you can install the .NET framework and ASP.NET, available here.
ColdFusion is used in many enterprise-level web applications. It integrates tightly with other Adobe technologies and platforms such as Flex and AIR. To install and run ColdFusion on your own server, you'll need to purchase a ColdFusion license from Adobe. A good number of hosting providers, however, provide ColdFusion support, often for only a few dollars extra on any hosting plan. Some even offer it free of charge.
Although a full-fledged ColdFusion license can be pricey, you'll likely only need the Developer Edition, which is free and allows you to develop ColdFusion applications locally.
Cost: $9,499 USD (developer's edition is free)
API: CFML Reference
A simple Hello World script in ColdFusion might look like this:
<html> <head> <title>ColdFusion Hello World Demo</title> </head> <body> <cfset var greeting = "Hello World"> <cfoutput>#greeting#</cfoutput> </body> </html>
To set up Coldfusion on your own computer for development purposes, you can install the ColdFusion Developer Edition, available here. (Adobe account required, free to signup)
Python is a general-purpose scripting language often used to develop web applications. Python is arguably a more powerful object-oriented language than PHP, but the two languages are very similar and learning one makes learning the other easy.
A simple Hello World script in Python might look like this:
greeting = "Hello World!" print greeting
Note that on shared hosting, Python scripts are usually run as CGI programs. To set up Python on your own computer for development purposes, you can install the Python libraries, available here.
Ruby is a newer scripting language that aims to focus on simplicity and rapid development. Ruby is often seen paired with the Rails framework, an MVC framework built on Ruby for rapid application development.
A simple Hello World script in Ruby might look like this:
<html> <head> <title>Ruby Hello World Demo</title> </head> <body> <% greeting = "Hello World!" puts greeting %> </body> </html>
Ruby is not always available on hosting packages, so be sure to check with your hosting provider and ask for Ruby support if necessary. To set up Ruby on your own computer for development purposes, you can install the Ruby libraries, available here.
There are many other scripting languages that can be used to create dynamic websites. I've only listed some of the most common ones here. In addition to the languages themselves, many people often use a framework to aid in the development process. Popular MVC frameworks include Rails (for Ruby) and Cake (for PHP), Laravel (for PHP), and Symfony (for PHP).