A Guide to FrontPage Server Extensions

Puzzle Pieces

Even if you have only a passing familiarity with Web design, you’ve probably heard of Microsoft FrontPage®. This once-popular Web design application was first released by the Vermeer corporation in 1995, and was acquired by Microsoft the following year. The software giant added FrontPage to its Microsoft Office suite of applications, and it quickly became one of the leading what-you-see-is-what-you-get (WYSIWYG) Web design tools used by Internet novices (and professionals) to create sites of all kinds.

Despite being discontinued in 2003 (replaced by two new applications: Microsoft’s Web Expressions and SharePoint Site Designer), FrontPage continues to enjoy a popular following among individuals looking to build Microsoft-friendly websites without needing to learn how to code. In fact, Microsoft still offers a tutorial on the Office website that helps users learn to create a site using FrontPage 2003. As a result, a set of specific components in FrontPage—FrontPage Server Extensions, also known simply as FrontPage Extensions—also continues to be supported by a wide range of both Linux and Windows-based hosting providers.

How FrontPage Extensions Work

When sites are hand-coded, the creator often has to create and manage their site manually, using a File Transfer Protocol (FTP) client to communicate with the server. One of the things that makes FrontPage so attractive to novice Web designers is the fact that you don’t have to worry about uploading your website (or keeping it updated if you make changes) via a third-party application.

Much like popular Web-based Content Management Systems (CMS) such as WordPress or Joomla, FrontPage has its own built-in interface for creating, editing, and uploading site content to your hosted Web server. And although the FrontPage application is Windows-only, FrontPage Extensions are supported by both Windows and Linux servers. In order for your FrontPage application to connect with your Web server, however, your server—regardless of operating system—must have FrontPage Extensions installed.

At their most basic, FrontPage Extensions are a small set of applications with three primary functions:

  • Authoring: The extensions are designed to interface with the FrontPage desktop application and coordinate basic file creation and management. For example, if you edit, move, or create a Web page and add it to your site, the extensions are responsible for ensuring all the embedded content (including links, media files, etc.) are properly oriented so they work when they go live on the Web.
  • Administration:The extensions also track all client-to-server communication, help you manage permissions (i.e., who can make certain changes to Web content on your site), and log all changes. This makes it easy to keep tabs on who’s done what, and minimizes problems if you need to track down and reverse an unwanted change.
  • WebBots: No, the extensions are not actually tiny cybernetic friends swimming through the electronic ether. WebBots are scripts, similar to Common Graphics Interface (CGI) scripts, that automate certain functions or add functionality. In many ways, they’re the precursor to the plug-ins that are so ubiquitous in modern site builders.

FrontPage Extensions are also used to interface with certain Microsoft applications, such as Microsoft Visual Studio and applications created with it. If you’re relying on any custom Microsoft content and applications when designing your site (or managing your data), then you’ll most likely need to install FrontPage Extensions on your Web server at some point.

Why FrontPage Extensions Aren’t for Everyone

If you’re coding your own site, your site doesn’t rely on Microsoft applications, or you’re using another site building app, you may never even need to think about FrontPage Extensions. Despite their continued widespread use, many Web hosting providers are discontinuing support for these components, citing security concerns (as well as the fact that Microsoft itself discontinued all support for FrontPage and FrontPage Extensions with the death of the FrontPage application in 2003).

FrontPage Extensions can leave your site exposed to security risks, including unauthorized access from others with the application installed, as well as garden-variety hackers. If you’re using FrontPage with another application such as WordPress, it can also destroy your “.htaccess” files, which means that you’ll have to reset your password and login information for protected areas of your site whenever you make changes with FrontPage.

All of the functions supported by FrontPage extensions can be replicated using either Microsoft’s Internet Information Server (IIS), FTP, and the Web Expressions application, or by migrating to another site building application altogether. Many contemporary site builders offer far more features and customization options, as well as even greater ease of use, than the now-defunct FrontPage.

Life After FrontPage Extensions

If your site currently relies on FrontPage Extensions, there’s no need to panic. You have a few options when it comes to dealing with this legacy software:

  • Tighten up security. If you’re not using extra databases, media files, or directories, delete them. Set your permissions to the highest levels that still allow your site to function normally for visitors, and delete any unused or unnecessary user accounts.
  • Migrate to Web Expressions or SharePoint. If you’re not comfortable seeking out a new method for creating and managing your Web content, consider making the switch to one of FrontPage’s successors. They’ve got a wide range of easy-to-use, code-free design tools that will be familiar to FrontPage veterans. And best of all, if you run into trouble, you can get support from Microsoft.
  • Make the move to another application. The most popular site building applications on the market today—including WordPress, Joomla, Weebly, etc.—are all free, and are not only easy to use, but far more customizable and powerful than FrontPage was even at its peak. If you’d like to make the switch from FrontPage to another application, many hosting providers will be happy to assist you.

FrontPage Extensions remain a necessary part of life on the modern Web, but it pays to remember that both FrontPage and its Extensions are growing long in the tooth, and their functionality has been superseded by newer technologies. If you’re still relying on them for site management, you may want to take a serious look at an upgrade. Making a contingency plan now can save you headaches down the road.

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