Active Server Pages (ASP)

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ASP stands for Active Server Pages, an open, compile-free application environment for developing Web applications for Microsoft Internet Information Server (IIS) version 3.0 and later.

Active Server Pages or simply ASP
Active Server Pages

What is ASP?

Active Server Pages (ASP), later known as Classic ASP or ASP Classic, is Microsoft’s first server-side script engine for dynamically generated web pages for Microsoft Internet Information Server (IIS) version 3.0 and later.

It was first released on December 1996, before being superseded in January 2002 by ASP.NET.

Microsoft Active Server Pages (ASP) can be used to build powerful, distributed Web-based applications that combine Hypertext Markup Language (HTML), script, and Microsoft ActiveX technologies to provide dynamic Web sites.

ASP combines the ease of HTML with familiar programming tools such as Microsoft Visual Basic Scripting Edition (VBScript) and Microsoft JScript, along with reusable Component Object Model (COM) components.

These components can be used to build powerful, dynamic Web sites. ASP executes on the Web server, and the output returned to the Web browser is a plain HTML file.

How do Active Server Pages work?

A page created using ASP typically contains a mixture of HTML, scripts, and other components written in any programming language. When a client requests an ASP file, the scripts in the file are processed on the server.

The scripts can reference components running on either the local server or any other accessible server, and can perform actions such as accessing a database, sending e-mail, or processing information in another fashion. The result is then returned by the server to the client as a standard HTML file and displayed in the usual way.

For example, when requested, the following ASP file will return the current time and browser type to the requesting client:

For example, when requested, the following ASP file will return the current time and browser type to the requesting client:

<TITLE>Sample Web Page</TITLE>
The time right now is <% = now %>
Your browser type is 
<% =Request.ServerVariables("http_user_agent")%>

You can use ASP to develop Web content that is customized for user preferences and demographics and that uses Microsoft ActiveX Data Objects (ADO) and open database connectivity (ODBC) to provide access to multiple data sources. ASP provides a browser-neutral approach to the design of Web applications where all of the application logic resides on the server.

ASP on IIS version 4.0 integrates with Microsoft Transaction Server (MTS), allowing ASP-based Web applications to take advantage of Transaction Server’s process isolation, scalability, and transaction programming model.


Unlike the stateless Hypertext Transfer Protocol (HTTP), ASP is a session-based technology. When a user connects to an ASP file on a Web server, a session object is created. After the session expires, the session object is destroyed. The default time-out for ASP applications is 20 minutes, although Outlook Web Access uses a time-out of 60 minutes.

External References:

History of Active Server Pages

Initially released as an add-on to Internet Information Services (IIS) via the Windows NT 4.0 Option Pack (ca. 1996), it is included as a component of Windows Server (since the initial release of Windows 2000 Server). There have been three versions of ASP, each introduced with different versions of IIS:

  • ASP 1.0 was released on December 1996 as part of IIS 3.0
  • ASP 2.0 was released on September 1997 as part of IIS 4.0
  • ASP 3.0 was released on November 2000 as part of IIS 5.0

ASP 2.0 provides six built-in objects: Application, ASPError, Request, Response, Server, and Session.Session object, for example, represents a session that maintains the state of variables from page to page. The Active Scripting engine’s support of the Component Object Model (COM) enables ASP websites to access functionality in compiled libraries such as DLLs.

ASP 3.0 does not differ greatly from ASP 2.0 but it does offer some additional enhancements such as Server.Transfer method, Server.Execute method, and an enhanced ASPError object. ASP 3.0 also enables buffering by default and optimized the engine for better performance.

ASP remains supported until 14 January 2020 on Windows 7. The use of ASP pages will be supported on Windows 8 for a minimum of 10 years from the Windows 8 release date.

Active Server Pages technology is still in use by millions of websites all over the world but the truth is that is now obsolete. The new technology is ASP.NET. Though, ASP.NET is not strictly an enhanced version of ASP; the two technologies have completely different underlying implementations. ASP.NET is a compiled language and relies on the .NET Framework, while ASP is strictly an interpreted language. As with any older technology, you can certainly find ASP in production, but you’d be hard-pressed to make the case to use it for a new project.