Three key components of a website

Three basic functions

are all you need to get a website up and running on the World Wide Web.

First, you’ll need an actual ‘Website’..

most commonly this would include any communication media that can be read and/or interacted with via a Web Browser. A simple example could be a series ‘hyper-linked’ web pages with text and images.

Second, you’ll need a ‘Domain Name’..

A domain name is a unique ‘web address’ that gives any Web enabled device, the information on where to find your website.

The ‘Domain Name’ is the address everybody types in their web browser to go to a particular website. Examples would be; ‘www.ebay.com’ or ‘www.google.com’. Domain Names can easily be purchased via the web.

Domain Names Explained

A Domain Name is a unique ‘web address name’ that you register, this Domain Name can then be used to direct people to your website.

Like postal addresses, Domain Names need to be unique so that people (computers) using the web can find you. If there wasn’t a unique name for every website on the web, it simply would not work.

A Domain Name has three parts:

www – Meaning ‘World Wide Web’, standard for all Domain Names.
mydomainname – Which is the part you choose to register and which, when combined with it’s extension, must be unique.
com .org .info .gov– The Domain Name Extension, which can be a geographical reference or a site definition type.

Each part is separated by a dot or full-stop (period). Examples:

  • www.google.com
  • www.ebay.com
  • www.craigslist.org
  • www.irs.gov

A Domain Name Extension forms part of the name’s uniqueness. ‘www.mydomainname.com’ is unique from ‘www.mydomainname.org’. They are two separate Domain Names.

Registering A Domain Name

The easiest way to register a domain is via the web. There are thousands of companies offering to register a domain name on your behalf. It is worth shopping around as pricing does vary. There are also options to purchase your domain name at the same time as your hosting package, which is often cheaper. We recommend www.godaddy.com

Putting the search term ‘domain names’ in a search engine will return many results of companies offering to register Domain Names on your behalf. Have a good hunt around the Web to find the best deal. Make sure you read the small print. Also, read some of the specialist Internet magazines, these often have recommendations and reviews, that may point you in the right direction.

The official organisation that oversees the Domain Name register records will vary from country to country. You may get a certificate as proof of ownership sent to you after registering.

Most companies that offer registration via the web will first run a search to make sure the domain name you wish to register is not already taken.

You don’t need a website to register a Domain Name. Because each Domain Name has to be unique, some people prefer to register their name straight away to avoid the risk that someone else might register it before them.

Domain Name Rules?

Domain Names are not case sensitive but convention suggests that names should be all lowercase. No white space is allowed, some people use a hyphen to separate words. The ‘all one word’ is the most common approach though – www.mydomainname.org

Good Domain Names?

Most people will just use their organisation’s name as their domain name, and that’s fine. But some things should be considered when choosing, especially if you have the freedom to choose anything you wish.

A website address (domain name) is obviously better if it’s easily remembered. That’s why the ‘hyphen’ is sometimes troublesome. Also, if possible, you want the spelling to be obvious (real words) or at least easily guessed at (company and made-up words).

Avoid ambiguity in spelling variations and meaning too.

Lastly, some people report that the words in your domain name can influence Search Engines. Their advice would be that if you are a Hotel you should include that word as part of your domain: www.theritzhotel.com

In Google, domain name words do get ‘highlighted’ if they match a ‘search phrase’.

Common Domain Name Extensions:

.com – Strictly speaking this is short for ‘commercial’, and was originally used to define U.S. based commercial websites. Many people today though, register a .com domain name as a kind of ‘world’ based site. It doesn’t seem to have any geographical significance these days. Not usually used by charities or non-profit organisations
.org – Short for Organisation. The most common extension used by charities. It can be used in conjunction with a country reference – .org.uk. Generally used to signify a noncommercial website.
.net – Short for Internet. used by both commercial and noncommercial websites. No geographical reference.
.gov, .gov.us – Short for Government Department, State Institution, usually combined with geographical reference.
.ru, .it, .fr, .de – Geographical references. Usually the first two letters of the associated country, (Russia, Italy, France, Germany).

New domain name extensions are always being added, .info and .tv are recent additions.

Lastly, you need a ‘Host’..

A ‘host’ is essentially just a computer configured to ‘serve’ web pages?

All your email, letter and digital photograph files are stored on your own computer’s hard drive (JPG, BMP, TXT, DOC). Web page files are no different (HTML, PHP, CSS, JS), they can also reside on your hard drive along with everything else. All the files that are stored on your computer could be said to be ‘hosted’ by your computer.

You could, if you really wanted, ‘host’ your website from your own computer. This would mean though, having your computer turned on 24 hours a day.. every day. In most cases this is not practical, unless you’re a very large organisation.

Most people choose instead to ‘rent’ some space on someone else’s computer. This is what is meant by someone ‘hosting’ your website. Terms like ‘your host’, ‘hosting package’, ‘webspace’ are all references to the idea of your website files being stored on someone else’s computer.

It is this ‘remote’ computer that sends your webpage’s to those who wish to see them. The technical term is that the remote computer ‘serves’ the webpages to the user. Computers that store and send webpages are therefore often referred to as ‘servers’.

The most common way to purchase a hosting package is via the web. There are hundreds of companies offering this service, so it is worth shopping around to find the right deal for you.

A couple of things that are worth considering straight away. First, it might be wise to choose a hosting company that has offices in your own country. Secondly, use the web or read web related magazines to see what companies are being recommended, how often they advertise, and how long they’ve been trading, etc.

Hosting companies usually offer a range packages and payment plans. Be aware that some hosts charge an initial set-up fee in addition to yearly hosting charges.

Hosting Packages – What You Get

Most website hosting companies will offer you a list of different hosting packages/plans/options, for you to choose from. Each package will then contain another list of all the wonderful things that you are getting for your money. Unfortunately, experience suggests, most people have no idea what any of his nonsense means!

Well help is at hand, and believe it or not, some of these things are actually quite useful to know. A list of common hosting terminology is listed and explained below.

 

Server Type

Just a quick word on server types. Generally there are only two server types offered by Hosting companies, and these are the ‘Linux Server (Apache)’ and the ‘Windows Server (IIS)’. 95% of all websites are run using Linux Servers, and unless you have any special requirements, just go with this.

In fact Hosting companies often don’t even mention the server type for ‘standard’ hosting packages – you can assume these will be Linux/Apache based.

Don’t make the mistake in believing that, because you’re using ‘Windows’ on your computer, you need to use a Windows Server. They’re not related.

Web Space

This is how much storage space you have been given to store your data files. This space is used to store all your HTML files, image files, Flash files, database file for CMS, etc. This web space is usually a shared hard disk identical to those found in desktop computers. If your website is really big and you want the ultimate in speed and reliability, you can rent your own dedicated server (your own separate hard disk).

Generally, the more you pay, the more space you get. This can range from about 50Mbs of space to 5Gbs or more.

Remember that unless your website is huge, you really don’t need that much web space. You should be trying to make your web page files as small as possible anyway, in order that they download quickly. Unless you have audio or video files on your site, web pages never need be more a 150Kb in size (including images). So, taking a rough average, 10 web pages equates to 1.5Mb of web space. If you are using any kind of server-side database, for a CMS say, you need to consider its size too.

Data Traffic/Transfer Per Week/Month

This refers to how much data is served (transferred/downloaded) to all your website visitor’s computer’s every month. The figure (i.e. 2,000Mb) indicates the upper limit you are allowed each week/month.

Every time someone visits your website, your host has to transfer all the pages, image files, etc, to that persons computer for them to view. Effectively each visitor to your site eats up a little more of your data transfer allowance.

Web hosts are usually quite generous with these limits though. For example, say your complete website amounted to 1Mb of data, and on average each visitor looks at half your available pages. For you to reach a limit of 4,000Mb’s of traffic per month, you would had to have had 8,000 visitors.

Be warned though, most hosting companies will charge per Mb, on you exceeding your limit.

Unlimited Email Addresses

Not as great as it sounds. This basically means you can put any name in front of the @ part of your email address. These email addresses remember, will be based on your chosen domain name:

  • yourname@mydomainname.com
  • info@mydomainname.com
  • donations@mydomainname.com
  • enquiries@mydomainname.com
  • admin@mydomainname.com

Importantly though, these names will all be forwarded to the same single email ‘account’. What this means is that you only have the one default email account to which all the messages, from all the different email addresses, are sent to. This has some serious limitations. If for example, you have one person that deals specifically with general enquiries, and another who deals with donation enquiries, you can’t have them set-up separate email accounts on different computers. The organisations email all comes down the same chute (a single email account) and will in some way need to be distributed internally.

The distinction here is that ‘Email Addresses’ are not the same as ‘Email Accounts’, (See: POP3 Email Accounts below).

POP3 Email Accounts

Unlike plain old email addresses, email ‘accounts’ differ in that they are self-contained and separate from each other. Email accounts, and the email addresses you associate with it, can be set-up on different computers, in different offices. They are also password protected, so only those that have permission, can retrieve messages coming to that account.

POP3 itself is a protocol for sending messages via the Internet (not the Web), which are then read by ’email client’ software. Outlook, by Microsoft, is the most well known email client, and there are many others. This is only mentioned to distinguish a POP3 email account from a Web Based email account (See below).

All hosting packages give you at least one POP3 account. Depending on your organisation’s structure, you might want to consider a hosting package that offers more than a single account. Many now do, as part of a standard package.

Web Based/WebMail Accounts

WebMail accounts should be seen as a kind of extension to your POP3 accounts. Basically what this allows you to do is read messages from a POP3 account on the Web. Like a ‘Hotmail’ or ‘Gmail’ account, you can log-in/sign-in to your account and read your messages from any computer, not just your own.

This option can be pretty handy if you don’t have immediate access to your own computer – you can find a Internet Cafe and quickly review your ‘urgent’ email messages from there.

CGI/SSI

The CGI bin is a facility that allows you to run ‘Serve-Side’ scripts on your website. An example of a ‘Serve-Side’ script is the Guestbook facility you often see on websites, that allows people to post comments on a site.

Some hosts offer a set of pre-written scripts that can be adapted to your needs. Alternatively you can write your own.

The scripting languages used can vary, so you need to be aware of what scripting languages your host allows. Common languages include Perl and Javascript.

Because scripting can be used maliciously, there are some limitations in what your host can allow under CGI. Check first with your web developer and host before going ahead and creating complex ‘Serve-Side’ scripts.

SSL

Secure Socket Layer is a facility that allows you to have web pages where visitor’s can safely enter sensitive information on-line. An obvious example would be credit card details.

Control Panel

This is just the name given to a set of web pages that are used to configure your website settings. This is where you’d set-up your email addresses for example.

The control panel is accessed via the web in the normal way. Usually you’ll go to your hosts own website and log-in (username & password) from there. If available, you will also be able to access your website visitor statistics from here.

Full FTP Access

File Transfer Protocol (FTP) is what is used to transfer your web pages from your computer to your hosts computer. Full FTP access means that transfers can be made at any time with no limit. These days you should expect this as standard.

Virus & Spam Filters

This means your host will filter your email messages for viruses and spam before you receive them. This can be helpful, but make sure you don’t neglect your own security systems.

PHP, .Net, JSP, MySQL, etc

These all refer to database/middleware technologies. Having these included as part of your hosting package means that you can reliably use these technologies on your website. For an introduction to what these technologies can do for you, go to: Web Technologies

FrontPage Extensions

FrontPage is a web authoring application made by Microsoft. Professional web designers/developers tend to avoid FrontPage because it automatically uses propriety scripting/mark-up. Very few people use FrontPage these days.

So there are the basic technical necessities for having a website, but there are still many things that need to be considered in preparing your website. The next section is designed to help you make the right preparation and avoid the many common pitfalls. So next to: Website Planning

 

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