Since the day I started in the web industry, I have come across loads of customers who really don’t understand the first thing about how a website works. And why should you? That’s my job.
Questions like “what is hosting?” “what does a domain name do?” and “how does my website appear on the web?” are all commonplace amongst people who run their own business and want to build a website.
So, what I wanted to do was try to explain it all, in a nutshell, without using technical jargon, in the hope that it helps people in some way to understand the mechanics of a website.
What is a website?
A website is basically a set of folders (like the type you would create on your own computer) which contain all your content that appears online. All of the images, text, videos and any other type of content from your website are all stored in a set of folders and sub-folders, and those are the bones of your site.
In addition to the folders, there is one other main element to every website – a database. A database works alongside your website folders to contain all the information that is sent and received by your website. For example, if your website allows people to ‘sign up or register,’ for something, the information entered by the person who signs up is all stored in your websites database. As are things such as product information, prices, all that kind of stuff.
How does my website get online?
No matter how your site is built, whether it be on WordPress, Magento, custom built or even one of the cheap online “build it yourself” companies such as Vistaprint or Wix, in the background it is still just a set of folders, files and a database.
To make the website display on the internet, your files and database need to be ‘hosted’ on a server somewhere. A server is basically a big, powerful computer which stores all of your information for other people to be able to see online. To get your web files and database onto a server, you would normally buy “hosting” from a company such as 123-Reg.co.uk, GoDaddy, that kind of thing. You CAN host the website yourself on your own computer, but for 99% of people it is more trouble than it is worth.
Hosting can be as cheap as 99p per month, or as expensive as £1000+. It all depends on the type of website you have. If your site contains thousands of products, images, pages etc and is visited by thousands of people every day, you need a decent hosting package. If it’s a small site you built as a hobby, the 99p variety would probably be fine. With hosting, you’re basically paying for space on a server, so the more space you need, the more it costs.
What is a domain name and how do they work?
A domain name is really just the address of your website. You can buy a .co.uk domain from as cheap as a fiver (per year) and that’s really all you need.
What a domain name does is guide the viewer of the website to your hosted web files, a bit like a sat nav. You type in the address i.e. www.gowiththetimes.co.uk, and the world wide web directs you to the server where that website is stored.
Ok, so I did my best to do it in a nutshell, and there is obviously a lot more to it than that, but those are the basics of how a website works! You create some website files and folders, you store them on a server and then you register a domain which points users to those files on the server, which display as a website in your internet browser.
That’s all for today!
Dan @ gowiththetimes.co.uk