Setting Up a Web Site - Part 1
Have you thought of setting up your own Web site and wondered what it would take? You need little more than an idea to publish yourself on the World Wide Web. It doesn't have to be expensive, and you have a lot of flexibility as well as a potentially huge audience.
First a quick word about what the Internet actually is. Computer networks are two or more computers that can "talk" to each other. They can share files and information. Local Area Networks (LANs) are just what the name implies. If you have two computers in your house that are connected you have a LAN. Wide Area Networks (WANs) are a larger group of computers in several locations that can talk to each other. The Internet is an enormous WAN.
Minimally, you need three things to publish on the Web: a domain name, a hosting account and content. Have I lost you? Here's what all that means:
To get to the Tucows Web site you type a Universal Resorce Locator (URL): http://www.tucows.com. HyperText Transfer Protocol (http://) says you are going to a Web page. The "www" (which is optional on many sites) stands for World Wide Web, the part of the Internet that Web pages live on. Tucows.com is our domain name. It is the address on the Web where you will find us. That's the simple answer. If you don't want the complicated answer skip the next paragraph!
Every location on the Internet has an address, a four part number called an Internet Protocol (IP) address. The IP address for the Lansing Star, for example, is 126.96.36.199. Go ahead, try it: type "http://188.8.131.52" into your browser and see where you end up. IP addresses are hard to remember and too easy to mistype. Domain names are easy to remember if you pick a good one. So there are devices on the Internet called Name Servers that translate domain names into IP addresses. When you type "http://www.lansingstar.com" into your Web browser it queries a name server, which looks up the actual (IP) address of our Web site and then takes you to it. Clever, huh?
That address has to go somewhere, and where it goes is to a folder on a Web server. A Web server is a computer somewhere in the world that is configured to serve Web pages to the Internet. It is set up a special way, but you would be surprised -- the actual computers used are nothing special. You can set up your own Web server if you have a connection to the Internet that is usable for that purpose. Generally what you need is a dedicated IP address (one that always stays the same).
Most people don't do that, because if you expect actual traffic at your site you need a really fast, reliable Internet connection. And I do mean faster and more reliable than the cable or DSL connection you may have at home. So most people use Web hosts - companies that run Web servers for a living. Essentially you rent space on a computer and you place your Web site materials on it. You can access it from work or home, and many hosts give you quite a bit of flexibility in creating and managing your site.
Content is what people see when they go to your Web site. When you visit the Lansing Star you see our logo on the masthead, the blue button menu on the left, articles, advertisements, weather... all this is content. The simplest form of content is in Hypertext Markup Language (HTML) files, little scripts that tell your browser what to show when someone views your site. It can get quite complicated, but it doesn't have to.
How It All Works:
Typing the URL or clicking a link and seeing what you want is like turning on a light switch. You may not know why, but the light goes on! Here's what is actually going on under the hood:
- You type a URL into your browser and click the "go" button.
- The browser queries a Name Server to find the actual location of the files it is looking for
- It is redirected to the folder somewhere in the world that contains the files
- It downloads the HTML file from that folder and saves a copy on your computer
- It reads that file to see if it should download anything else, like pictures
- It uses the script to decide how to display everything -- text, pictures or music
- You see the content in your browser window
I'll bet you didn't know so much was happening. And now you know how Web pages work.
Next week I'll talk about what it takes to make a Web site, putting together the three elements.
Dan Veaner has been a developer and online publisher since 1989. He wrote award winning consumer and developer software, has developed several Web sites including humor sites http://mysockdrawer.com and http://Vvids.com, and worked for America Online. Currently he is working on online publishing projects and is on the board of directors of the Shareware Industry Awards Foundation.