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Building Better Websites with Dreamweaver Site Definitions

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To set up a new website with Dreamweaver, you have to begin by creating a site definition. Though Dreamweaver makes setup easy, it has some pitfalls that can trip up the unwary. Tom Negrino, coauthor of Dreamweaver CS6: Visual QuickStart Guide, guides us step by step through the process of site definition.

If you're new to Dreamweaver, you're probably raring to go—ready to start building pages and slapping them up onto the Web. But the designers of Dreamweaver don't want you to work that way, and for good reason—without a site definition, Dreamweaver can't help you keep your site organized.

Dreamweaver's many built-in tools can help you to avoid a lot of the messy detail work involved in managing a site, and to use those tools you'll need to start by creating a site definition. It takes only a few minutes, and it's time very well spent. In this article, I'll explain what site definitions are and why you should care, and I'll walk you through the processes of creating and managing them.

The World According to Dreamweaver

The basic building block in Dreamweaver is the site, not the page. Once you define a site in Dreamweaver, that site is the container for all the files and folders that make up your eventual website. As part of creating the site definition, you'll set up a local site, which is a folder on your machine where you create and test the site, and a remote site, which is a directory on the web server where people will be able to view and use your work.

Websites can have dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of files that work together to present a whole site. Of course, many of these files are linked to each other, and one of the nice things that Dreamweaver does is keep track of all those links and make sure that links don't get broken accidentally as you work on a site. For example, while building your site, you might want to move some pages from one folder to another. When you do that, Dreamweaver detects any links on those pages and rewrites those links for you automatically. Site management isn't exactly an exciting job, but it's essential, and Dreamweaver's automatic systems can save you a ton of time and frustration.

As you work on your site, Dreamweaver constantly notes your changes and adds them to an internal database that describes the site structure; it tracks which pages have links and where those links point. In addition, if more than one person is working on the site, Dreamweaver can track who works on what part of the site, preventing two people from interfering with each other's work. Finally, Dreamweaver scans your local and remote sites, tracking which files have changed locally and need to be uploaded to the remote site, or vice versa. You'll quickly come to rely on the program's ability to synchronize the local and remote site folders.

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