Home How I learned programming - Part 4

How I learned programming - Part 4

Welcome to part 4 of how I learned programming. In my last post, I wrote about how I learned Java and C++ in Canada and how the teacher there impressed me. You can find this post here.

In this post, I will talk about how I got into web development and what problems I encountered while learning.

HTML, CSS and Javascript… Ugh

Back in 2013 web development wasn’t fun at all. Especially when you are a beginner. HTML5 wasn’t standardized yet and there was a big problem with the browser compatibility. Especially with IE6. You could design a website, test it with every browser and it looks the same. Then you try Internet Explorer and it looked like something completely different and totally broken.

Anyways, I started learning HTML, CSS and Javascript first in theory in class and then with an assignment.

Creating a company homepage

The first assignment was to create a homepage for a company. The following requirements needed to be implemented:

  • Use a 3 column grid layout with Bootstrap
  • Use the HTML5 semantic tags (aside, nav, header, footer,…)
  • Header: Logo + Headline with Web fonts  (https://www.google.com/fonts)
  • Nav: navigation elements with CSS transition (highlighting)
  • Aside: Welcome box
  • Section: 2x article incl. Bootstrap icons and placeholder text
  • Footer
  • Implement a register form (doesn’t have to send any data to the server)
  • Show the geolocation in the welcome box
  • Use rounded corners, shadows and other CSS attributes
  • Use Bootstrap, jQuery and jQueryUI

Doing this assignment wasn’t too hard. When learning HTML the w3school homepage is your best friend. Your first couple projects will look like websites from the 90’s. Here you can find my 90’s company website.

Next step: PHP

Next, I learned PHP. PHP is a scripting language and contrary to Javascript, the code is executed on the server. For the assignment, I had to implement an URL shortener, like bitly.com. The following tasks had to be implemented:

  • Non logged in users
    • can open the start page and can call shortened URLs
    • can log in or register
    • shortened URL is valid for 24 hours
  • A logged in user can
    • show / edit own URLs
    • show / edit user profile
    • logout
    • shortened URL is valid indefinitely
  • The starting page offers the following functions
    • Displays information about the service
    • Offers to shorten entered URLs
    • Shortened URLs consists of the server address and an 8 character long alpha numeric unique sequence
  • Shortening URLs
    • redirect with .htacess / web.config
    • the page contains the key for the shortened URL as a query string
    • redirect with correct HTTP response code
  • Signup / Login
    • user signs up with Email, username and password
    • optionally user can enter the first and last name, address and birthday
    • login works with username or email and password
  • Show / edit own URLS
    • List contains creation date and number of redirects
    • URLs can be activated / deactivated or deleted (with an AJAX request, which I have not implemented though)
  • Show / edit user profile
    • all field from the sing up are displayed and can be edited
    • for critical changes, the user has to re-enter his password (changing email, username or password)
  • Misc
    • user Separation of Concern
    • use useful HTML tags
    • use different architectural layers (UI, business logic, database,…)
    • implement OWASP best practices
    • use jQuery and Bootstrap

My implementation

This assignment was fun to do but it also showed that PHP can be a pain if it’s mixed too much with HTML. Also setting up the database took my some time because we had to use PHP_pdo to connect the database. I can’t remember the details but for whatever reason, I couldn’t get it working with PHP 5.5 and so had to use 5.4. I had to use Visual Studio and installing the PHP tools didn’t work at the first time either.

For the assignment, I implemented most of the features. I didn’t implement the deletion of the URLs with Ajax and also didn’t apply all security guidelines. You can find my solution here.

Learning ASP.NET MVC

The last part of learning web development was ASP.NET MVC. In theory, it’s pretty simple. You have Separation of Concern and the Controller takes the user input, modifies the Model and then sends the View to the user’s browser. ASP.NET is great because you have the full Visual Studio support and intelli sense and it also has already most of the security features built in. I understood all theoretical parts but I just didn’t get how it works in code. I sat in front of my Visual Studio and had no idea what was going on. Therefore I didn’t do the assignment. Around a year later I tried again to understand it. I made some progress but gave up again. A bit later I convinced myself that it can’t be that hard and tried again. This time I understood everything.

Now I can’t even explain why I didn’t understand it back then. But it shows that even if you don’t understand something the first or second time, don’t give up. After I started understanding it, I really liked it.

If you are wondering about the assignment. Here are the tasks of the assignment:

Create a portal for blogging using ASP.NET MVC

  • anonymous users:
    • see an overview of the blogs
    • go through the archive (/archive/month/year)
    • read blogs
    • filter tags
    • search for tags or blogs
  • registered / logged in users
    • create a blog
    • edit a blog
    • display / edit user profile
  • Blog entry
    • title
    • friendly URL
    • content
    • author
    • tag(s)
    • timestamp
  • Misc
    • user Separation of Concern
    • use useful HTML tags
    • use different architectural layers (UI, business logic, database,…)
    • implement OWASP best practices
    • use WYSIWYG-Editor, jQuery and Bootstrap


This is the story how I got into web development. In the last part of this series, I will tell you how I teach myself new stuff at home.

Next: Part 5

Previous: Part 3

This post is licensed under CC BY 4.0 by the author.

How I learned programming - Part 3

How I learned programming - Part 5

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