You should already have a reference frame for thinking about Dreamweaver and have some idea about how you’d like to structure your site. If not, spend a few minutes sketching out your site’s major areas and a typical web page from each area. This exercise will give you something to work towards and a skeleton to hang your knowledge upon as you read this book.
You may know how you want your site to look but not know the best tools to achieve the desired effect. We’ll jump right in by facing some of the first decisions that confront a web site developer. Later, we’ll cover techniques for creating individual pages and managing your entire site.
Whether to use layers, tables, and frames when designing your pages is a controversial topic. Issues include ease of use, compatibility with different browsers (especially older ones), performance, and the ability for search engines to index your pages.
A recent survey shows that approximately 28 percent of sites use frames (http://www.securityspace.com/s_survey/data/man.200107/techpen.html).
Dreamweaver’s Templates, Library, and HTML Styles features generate HTML supported by older browsers. Layers and Cascading Style Sheets generally require 4.0+ browsers but can be converted to tables and HTML markup using File → Convert → 3.0 Browser Compatible. Most users have 4.0+ browsers.
The best choice for your site depends on its functionality, your client’s requirements, the browsers you’ll be supporting, and the connection speed of your users. I’ll outline the issues surrounding frames, tables, and layers briefly. Later, I’ll guide you through all Dreamweaver tools so you can use your chosen weapons with optimal efficiency.
Some developers are vehemently against the use of frames, even if the site could benefit from them. The controversy surrounding frames makes it imperative to educate your clients and may force you to offer a no-frames alternative. You can use frames to add a menu or table of contents for your entire site; this technique prevents the same information from reloading on every page, yet keeps that information readily available. Frames also allow you to combine documents from multiple sources into a single cohesive page.
Frames are supported by Version 2.0 and later of the major browsers,
so almost all current users can view frames. Frames also have a
built-in fallback system; the
allows browsers without frames support, or browsers with disabled
frames support, to access an alternative version of a web page.
Although frames can simplify some aspects of site maintenance, such as updating a toolbar frame used on every page, they can also complicate site management. Because frames use multiple documents to construct each page, you must keep track of multiple documents for each page and contend with more complicated screen layout issues. For some users, especially those using a keyboard for navigation, frames complicate site navigation. It is also relatively difficult for users to bookmark individual pages in a framed document, although newer browsers allow you to bookmark pages by using the command menu associated with each frame. Finally, to ensure that your pages are indexed by search engines, avoid using frames, as they make your pages more difficult to index. You can ameliorate the problem by avoiding frames on your home page and on other entry points but still using frames on the other pages. See Chapter 4 for details on using frames in Dreamweaver.
As with frames, the use of tables has its advocates and detractors. Some developers argue that tables add bulky tags to your document, make it harder for search engines to index your pages, and restrict pages to a grid-based design. Other developers feel that tables are the best way to create a highly structured web site that can be viewed by any browser.
Tables add download time to web pages due to the large number of tags used to create a table, and slow machines may take a long time to render large tables. But tables are the most reliable way to design complex page layouts, display data, align text, create a page template, or incorporate a multipart image. See Chapter 3 for details on using tables in Dreamweaver, including the new Layout view. Although they can accomplish similar things as tables, layers have their own benefits and drawbacks.
Like tables, layers allow precise alignment, but they also offer capabilities that tables do not. Tables are “flat” (only one piece of content can occupy a given area), whereas layers can display images and text stacked on top of one another. This feature can add depth to your pages and incorporate more information into the same page space.
However, layers should be used only if visitors have a 4.0+ version of one of the major web browsers. Older browsers don’t recognize layers—they simply display the information the layer contains in the order it appears in the document, or not at all. Over 95 percent of users have 4.0+ browsers, so using layers is usually a safe choice. See Chapter 4 for details on using layers in Dreamweaver.