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Building a Flash Website from Scratch

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The process of building a Flash website from scratch has gotten easier over the years as this protocol has become more and more common. At the same time, the learning curve for Flash is getting steeper as the format gains more and more features.

Step One: Get Flash

The easiest part of learning this program is acquiring it. Adobe makes the program freely available for a trial download from their website. The "try-before-you-buy" version comes in both Windows and Mac versions and will be fully functional for thirty days, at which point you will have to buy the program in order to continue to use it. However, any actual Flash applications you create during that first month will remain fully functional, so you could conceivably get all of your Flash components on your website for free.

That assumes you can tackle the learning curve quickly enough, but Adobe helps with that as well. They feature many free tutorials, videos, and sample project files on their website. These range from "Introduction to Flash" all the way through "Publishing with Adobe AIR", which is a distribution method used by many current apps such as the popular Twitter portal "TweetDeck." Working your way through these tutorials can bring you up to speed remarkably fast.

Choose Your Metaphor

One of the best parts of the Flash interface is that it speaks to different styles. If you are primarily interested in animation, for example, you can work mainly in the Timeline, using keyframes and changing shapes "by hand" to make them move. If, on the other hand, you are interested in higher-level web protocols and interaction, you can go "under the hood" into the world of ActionScript, a programming language similar to JavaScript that provides more complex commands and processes for you and your user. You can also work with both of these together, using the timeline to create your interface "library," and then ActionScript to determine what all of the "symbols" will do when acted upon. This flexibility enables non-programmers and experienced hackers alike to create powerful websites.

Learn by Doing

When you first launch Flash, the welcome screen includes links to all of the Adobe tutorials, but there are also templates to create some common Flash applications to include in a standard website. These include categories such as the following.

  • Advertising: A variety of standard sizes for online advertising are included.
  • Animation: A series of templates including samples of Brownian and organic movement as well as ambient effects like rain and snow to include in your Flash app.
  • Banners: There are standard size banners with interactive elements such as buttons, or media such as tiny movies.
  • Media Playback: Photo albums and a variety of video playback samples are included.
  • Presentations: Tired of Powerpoint? There are two templates, one simple and timeline-based, the other more robust with features such as media playback.
  • Sample Files: Advanced Flash methods like lip sync animation, preloaders, and countdown timers are included, though you'll have to go looking on the web for directions to go with these samples.

Using these demo templates you can actually create an entire Flash-based website, since the program itself is modular. One way of building a Flash website from scratch would be to simply drag-and-drop these elements onto your Timeline, configure them, and click "Publish."

Issues with Building a Flash Website from Scratch

Almost all servers can host Flash-based websites, but if yours is rich in media you may want to explore some of the customized "Flex" server configurations that support video conferencing, high-definition playback, and other more complex server-client interactions. Make sure when you are designing your website that you are aware of these necessities, or you will be in for a rude surprise when you launch.

Also, Flash content is permeated throughout over 90% of all browsers, but 0% of any iOS support it as of 2010. This means that iPhones, iPod Touches, and iPads will not be able to see any Flash content. There is a template within the Flash developing environment that can create ".ipa" iPhone applications, but that requires parallel development. You can't just export the Flash app to a different screen size as you can with Android applications.

Flash has proven itself to be a valuable tool to deliver both content and interaction to millions of web users, and taking the time to learn it from scratch will give you a powerful skillset for your own website development.

Building a Flash Website from Scratch