What is Common Gateway Interface

CGI, or Common Gateway Interface, is a protocol for exchanging data between a client and a server. CGI scripts may be created in almost any programming language. A CGI script is a programme written in any language that makes use of this standard to transmit data between a Web server and the client’s browser. In other terms, a CGI script is software that acts as an external gateway between information servers such as HTTP or Web servers and client browsers. CGI scripts are especially helpful for doing basic tasks that do not need client interaction. For instance, when a website is visited, the current time or a random banner is shown.

CGI scripts are significant in that they allow the web servers to be dynamic and interactive with the client browser as the server receives and accepts user inputs and responds to them in a measured and relevant way to satisfy the user. Without CGI, the information the users would get from an information server would not be packaged based on the request but based on how it is stored on the server.

common gateway interface

CGI applications are classified into two types: those written in programming languages such as C/C++ or Fortran that can be compiled to create an executable module that may be saved on the server, and those written in scripting languages such as PERL, Java, or the Unix shell. No accompanying source code is required to be kept by the information server for these CGI scripts, as is the case with CGI programmes.

CGI scripts written in scripting languages have not complied like those in non-scripting languages. Instead, they are text code that is interpreted by the interpreter on the information server or in the browser and run right away. The advantage to this is you can copy your script with little or no changes to any machine with the same interpreter, and it will run. Also, the scripts are easier to debug, modify, and maintain than a typical compiled program.

Both CGI programs or scripts, when executed at the information server, help organise information for both the server and the client. For example, the server may want to retrieve information entered by the visitors and use it to package a suitable output for the clients. In addition, GCI may be used to dynamically set field descriptions on a form and in real-time inform the user on what data has been entered and yet to be entered.

In the end, the form may even be returned to the user for proofreading before it is submitted. CGI scripts go beyond dynamic form filling to automating a broad range of services in search engines and directories and taking on mundane jobs such as making the download available, granting access rights to users, and order confirmation.

Explanation of CGI

As shown in the image below, what happens during the request and execution of a CGI request. A CGI request is recognised by the web server by the location of the thing requested or by the file name extension. For example, if you load the URL www.example.com/cgi-bin/a.cgi into the browser, the webserver contacted www.example.com receives a request such as the following:

GET /cgi-bin/a.cgi HTTP/1.0

The server notices that the directory that contains the thing requested is cgi-bin. It is configured to take the object requested, which is here a.cgi that is a program located on the server and execute it as a standalone program.

cgi explanation

The program generates standard output (in Perl, we would use print ( )). This output is in an important format, a header, a blank line and the body.

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