Searching the internet is second nature to most of us. Every day we consult countless websites to find information, but do we ever stop to ask what is a website and how does it really work?
To answer those questions (and many more), we’ve started a new video series: Web Basics in Under 60 Seconds. We’ll be releasing a new video each Wednesday this month. Today we’re breaking down what makes a website tick. Watch the video below for the one-minute summary, or read on for a more in-depth explanation.
Your Website’s DNA
Before we dive into technological terms, consider this: humans are kind of like websites. Humans have eyes, ears, legs, and arms while websites have text, images, videos, and buttons. On the surface, it’s pretty straightforward, but if you look deeper, humans and websites are both governed by a code. For humans, it’s our DNA. For websites, it’s HTML, which stands for Hypertext Markup Language.
This code uses tags — directions encased in command prompts, like <html> — to tell your web browser how to display the web page. In other words, HTML is a language that web browsers understand, interpret, and convert in order to display information that is understandable to you and me.
HTML files can then be uploaded to a web server, so any internet-connected computer with a web browser can find them.
Let’s talk about the style of a website. Most websites use cascading style sheets (CSS) to ensure proper and comprehensive style throughout your website. CSS is an intuitive shortcut that allows developers to make a change to one page and then have the rest of the website update automatically.
Let’s say your company wants to change the colors of the website. CSS makes it so developers can change the color palette on one page (your style sheet), and the rest of the of the pages will follow suit. And, the fun doesn’t stop there. CSS can also make multiple versions of a different website. This helps when developers are looking to make extra style sheets for mobile, other operating systems, and more. CSS is the tool developers use to make simplified and uniform changes to a website.
Web Content Management Systems
What if you want to make an announcement on your website, schedule a meeting or an event, or allow multiple users to make edits at the same time?
You won’t be using HTML or CSS to allow for these capabilities. Instead, you will use a web content management system (CMS). This software organizes and delivers many types of information and keeps it all uniform in design. This includes many common features of a website like blogs, forums, wikis, calendars, and more.
The best news about using a CMS is you typically don’t have to know HTML code to make changes to your site. Since it’s a prepackaged software, everything is designed with a WYSIWYG (which stands for “what you see is what you get”) editor. This makes it possible for those not well versed in code to make significant updates.
Home Sweet Server
There’s just one more item to discuss in order to understand how websites work. To do that, let’s return to our metaphor of websites being like humans. Humans and websites both require a physical place to live. People live in houses and apartments; websites live on servers.
You probably pay rent or a mortgage on your place each month. And unless you’ve got your own server, you’ll need to rent a space for your website too. For a monthly fee, web hosting providers rent out space on their servers to host your website.
Next time you type in a domain name, take a second to think about how your web browser is pulling information from a web host’s server, interpreting the HTML, and, finally, displaying those crisp clean images on your screen. Amazing, isn’t it?
Tune in next week for our next web basics video: “How Do Domains Work?”