Searching the Internet is second nature to most of us. Every day we check countless websites to find information, but have we ever stopped to ask what a website is and how it really works?
In order to answer these questions (and more), we started a new video series: network basics in 60 seconds. We will release a new video every Wednesday of this month. Today, we are breaking down what makes the site tick. Watch the video below for a one-minute summary, or continue reading for a more in-depth explanation.
Before we delve into technical terms, please consider this: humans are a bit like websites. Humans have eyes, ears, legs, and arms, while websites have text, images, videos, and buttons. On the surface, it is very simple, but if you look closely, both humans and websites are under code management. For humans, this is our DNA. For websites, it is HTML, which stands for Hypertext Markup Language.
This code uses tags — the directions contained in the command prompt, for example — to tell your web browser how to display the web page. In other words, HTML is a language that web browsers can understand, interpret, and convert in order to display information that both you and me can understand. The HTML files can then be uploaded to a web server, so they can be found on any networked computer with a web browser.
Let's talk about the style of the website. Most websites use Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) to ensure that the entire website is styled correctly and comprehensively. CSS is an intuitive shortcut that allows developers to make changes to a page and then automatically update the rest of the website.
Suppose your company wants to change the color of the website. CSS allows developers to change the color palette on one page (your style sheet), and the rest of the pages will follow suit. Moreover, the fun doesn't stop there. CSS can also make multiple versions of different websites. This helps developers make additional style sheets for mobile devices, other operating systems, etc. CSS is a tool used by developers to simplify and unify changes to a website.
What if you want to make announcements on your website, schedule meetings or events, or allow multiple users to edit at the same time?
You will not use HTML or CSS to implement these functions. Instead, you will use a Web Content Management System (CMS). The software can organize and provide multiple types of information, and maintain a uniform design. This includes many common features of the website, such as blogs, forums, wikis, calendars, etc.
The best news about using a CMS is that you usually don’t need to know the HTML code to make changes to your website. Since it is a pre-packaged software, everything is designed with the WYSIWYG (for "what you see is what you get") editor. This allows those who are not proficient in code to make major updates.
In order to understand how the website works, there is one more item that needs to be discussed. To do this, let's go back to the metaphor of a website and a human being. Both humans and websites need a physical place to live. People live in houses and apartments; the website is on the server.
You may pay rent or mortgage in your own place every month. Unless you have your own server, you also need to rent space for your website. For a monthly fee, web hosting providers rent out the space on their servers to host your website.
Next time you enter the domain name, please take a moment to think about how your web browser extracts information from the web host’s server, interprets the HTML, and finally displays those clear images on the screen. It’s amazing, isn’t it?