Welcome to our lesson on how websites work. We’ll run down the basics — without getting too technical, promise! — on web servers and domain names, what they do for you and how to find what you need to get started. A website is your business’s home on the Internet. It’s where potential customers can come and learn about your business and what it has to offer them. Let’s say you decide to open a bakery in the real world. First you’d have to rent a space to house it, right? A website is no different. Only you’re not renting space on a high street, you’re renting space on a server.
There are loads of services out there that take care of this automatically… but here’s a quick overview so that you have an idea about what’s happening behind the scenes. OK, hang with us, here comes a bit of technical information.
A server is a computer connected to the Internet, with software that allows it to store or ‘host’ the pieces of your website: the code, the images, the video clips and anything else that makes up your site. It’s called a server because it ‘serves’ up the right content when requested — that is, when someone wants to view a page on your website.
There are many companies and services that will rent you space on a server and host your website. Just like a brick-and-mortar shop, you pay an ongoing hosting fee, which is a bit like paying rent, leaving them to take care the technical aspects of running a server so you don’t have to.
Every single server in the world has its own address. This is called an IP address, which is short for internet protocol. All you need to know is, it’s a long string of numbers that means any device connected to the internet can talk to the server and find it. Luckily, you don’t need to understand what they’re saying to each other; all you need to do is choose a nicer name to reference that numeric IP address. Which brings us nicely to the second part of this session: the web address, or ‘domain name.’ Your domain name is how potential customers will find you, the same way people would find our real-world bakery: by the sign above its door. It’s the thing you type into the browser window to get to any website. Like www.google.co.uk or www.yourbusinessnamegoeshere.com. Let’s take a minute to break it down. Everything after the ‘WWW dot’ is actually what’s known as the domain name. It’s the part that lets people find your website, so it’s pretty important. Any device that searches for this address — a tablet, a smartphone, a laptop — is communicating with the server. The server then sends that device all the correct pieces it needs to display the website — things like images and code — so that whoever is on the other end of the device can view your pages. When someone types your web address into their browser, here’s what basically happens. First, their browser figures out which server holds the content, and heads over to that server. The browser then says, “Hey, would you mind giving me all the elements I need to show a person this web page?” The Server replies, “Sure, I’m sending along 5 images, 2 scripts, and a few additional files.” The browser puts all the pieces together, and the person sees your nicely formatted web page. And that’s pretty much it, except they’d actually be talking in really confusing bits and bytes, not English. But that wouldn’t make any sense to us, so…
To sum up: Deciding to build a website for your business starts with understanding how it all works together: a server ‘hosts’ your site, and a domain name helps people find it.