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WebDNA[1] is a server-side scripting, interpreted language containing an optional embedded, ram-resident, searchable data structure. Its primary use is in creating dynamic web page applications. Released in 1995, the name was registered as a trademark in 1998.[2] WebDNA is currently owned by WebDNA Software Corporation.


Notable Features

WebDNA contains a proprietary ram-resident table system that has searching and editing capabilities. Though WebDNA contains commands that allow connection with traditional relational databases, such as through a direct MySQL API, it is not required in order to create database driven websites with WebDNA. Join-like operations can be accomplished with WebDNA's embedded plain text table system to create a set of tables that relate to each other using key fields.

WebDNA is made up of a syntax that uses square brackets ("[" "]") and the English language. For example, to display today's date on a web page, simply insert "[date]" within the HTML or CSS code where you want the live date to appear; likewise with "[time]". To show some text only to a specific client I.P. address request, the 'showif' context can be used: [showif [ipaddress]=xxx.xxx.xxx.xxx]Some Text[/showif]. Most WebDNA tags, contexts and commands follow similar conventions.[3]


The WebDNA syntax is based on 2 formats:

  • Classic
key names surrounded by square brackets, such as: [showif [tvar]=yes]Yes[/showif].
XML like syntax, such as: <DNA_showif expr="<DNA_tvar>=yes">Yes</DNA_showif>. (better formatting when using WYSIWYG website editors)

WebDNA instructions are based on 3 types:

  • Tag
single key surrounded by square brackets, such as [ipaddress] (the I.P. Address of a Client (computing) request)
  • Context
opening tag and closing tag that surrounds what is to be parsed. ie. [Format thousands .3d]7[/Format] (parses to '007')
  • Command
commands are passed in the URL field of a browser.

Parameters can be included in many of the Tags, Contexts or Commands.[4]


According to Grant Hulbert,[5] one of the Pacific Coast Software founders and principle architects of WebDNA, WebCatalog (now WebDNA) began as a set of C macros to help accomplish website graphical tasks.[6]

" Before WebDNA evolved into a general-purpose server-side language, it was a special-purpose server-side language designed to help create web pages that sold stock photography. It had shopping cart features, and a searchable fixed-field database with specialized fields for storing stock photo information. After that, Pacific Coast Software quickly saw the value in creating a web programming language. "

WebCatalog began its mid-90's public debut on the Macintosh platform. As its name implies, it had an early development focus that allowed a web master or store administrator to migrate a traditional product catalog to an online catalog.[7] This was most evident in 1997 and 1998 with its StoreBuilder and WebMerchant products that allowed for a user to quickly build a store front online. The term "WebCatalog" referred to the entire product, where the term "WebDNA" referred to the scripting syntax only.

Around the year 2000, WebCatalog and Pacific Coast Software were purchased by Smith Micro Software, Inc. Smith Micro Software, Inc. then changed the name of WebCatalog to WebDNA, which at that point became a name that referenced all aspects of the product. Starting with the release of WebDNA version 4.0 and ending with version 6.0a, the years 1999 to 2004 were very active years for WebDNA and the scripting language was adopted by many national and international names, including Ben and Jerry's, the Pillsbury Dough Boy Shop, the NCAA Final Four and the Museum of Television and Radio.[8] Also during this time, development of the language gained contemporary tools, such as [function] and [scope], that lend themselves to Modular programming and Structured programming.[9]

From 2005 to 2008, for perhaps various reasons including the success of Smith Micro Software with other products[10], WebDNA users began to lose support from the owners and the language went into decline. WebDNA lost many of its users who then opted for more actively supported solutions. The fate of WebDNA was unknown during these years and it was ultimately the developers of WebDNA who revived the language.

In June 2008, a few WebDNA developers formed together and organized to establish the company, WebDNA Software Corporation (WSC). WSC purchased the intellectual property that is WebDNA, and in 2009, WSC released WebDNA version 6.2 (Cicada).


  1. WebDNA Software Corporation website
  2. Trademark registration details
  3. WebDNA Programming Reference
  4. WebDNA White Papers
  5. About Grant Hulbert
  6. Pre-WebDNA Release Details
  7. "Smith Micro Software Ships WebCatalog(TM) 4.0, Featuring Expanded Wizard Capabilities for Building Online Stores", PR Newswire. PR Newswire Association LLC., June 7, 2000, http://www.highbeam.com/doc/1G1-62542807.html 
  8. "Smith Micro Acquires Pacific Coast Software", PR Newswire. PR Newswire Association LLC., 3 Nov. 1999, http://www.highbeam.com/doc/1G1-55719354.html 
  9. WebDNA Technical Change History
  10. Smith Micro Success 2006 to 2007

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