15 June 2009

Building Web Sites

What's the diff between the Internet and the Web? The Internet refers to the public global network of computers. These computers can exchange any kind of data in one of many different ways. The Web refers to that subset of the Internet which may be accessed using a Web browser, mostly consisting of pages of text and graphics written in HTML. E-mail, newsgroups, and online gaming are examples of Internet applications that aren't necessarily part of the Web (although they can be). In this series, we'll learn how to use the Internet to provide all kinds of services, but the centerpiece of our Internet strategy will be a Web site.

The mother of this particular Web site - What is a Web site? A Web site is nothing more or less than a bunch of files sitting on the hard drive of a Web server. A Web server is simply a computer that's permanently connected to the Internet, and has an application running that allows anyone else connected to the Internet to transfer files from the Web server to their own machine. By the way, the term "Web server" means both the machine itself and the software running on it.

When you visit a Web site, what you are doing is sending a message to a Web server (which could be physically located anywhere from New Jersey to New Delhi), asking it to send you (or serve) a certain set of files, usually text and pictures. These files are displayed by your browser program, but not permanently saved to your computer's hard drive (unless you choose to save them). It would also be correct to say that you are downloading files from the Web server, but that word is usually used to refer to files that you're saving on your hard drive for future use, like a program update or a picture.

So to have a Web site, I gotta have my own Web server? Forget it! A Web server is basically just a computer, but it needs to be a pretty beefy box, with a super-fast (and super-expensive) permanent connection to the Internet. It also needs to be protected against system crashes, power outages, hackers, and land knows what-all. The more visitors your Web site gets, the more powerful Web server(s) you'll need to handle the load. The big sites live on "server farms," huge clusters of computers with all kinds of gadgetry hooked up to them, and a bunch of geeks to keep them fed and watered 24 hours a day.

It should be obvious that running a Web server is a task worth taking on only for sizable companies with a large Web presence, or for nerds who love the scene. The rest of us will "out-source our Web hosting needs," to put it in suit language. In other words, you can simply rent space on a Web server at a "hosting service" or "Internet service provider." You supply the material, and they make it available on the Web, for a monthly fee.

Of course, a lot of consumer-oriented Web outfits, like AOL, Geocities and others, allow you to put up Web sites on their servers at low cost, or even free. However, the services they offer are very basic, designed for people with personal Web pages. They accept your material only subject to their procedures and rules, and the amount of space and bandwidth they offer is limited. If you want a Web site for your small business, you need to go with a proper hosting service.

Hosting services, also called service providers or ISPs, come in all sizes, prices and levels of competence. The ISP that hosts your Web site could be the same ISP that you use to dail in to the Internet, but it need not be. The service you use for dialing in needs to be local, but you can have your Web site hosted at any ISP you choose, anywhere in the world. Of course, if your local ISP offers hosting services that meet your needs, there's little reason to look further. If you want to shop around for a hosting service, check out ISPcheck (http://www.ispcheck.com), or The List (http://www.thelist.com).

Hosting a basic Web site should cost you around 50 bucks a month, and probably a setup fee. A medium-size business that needs some more sophisticated services can expect to pay a couple of hundred a month. How much you pay is determined by how much disk space you need and how much traffic your site gets.

Like many businesses, a lot of ISPs try to capitalize on your ignorance by charging fees for ongoing maintenance that you could learn to do yourself. If you're at all serious about having a Web site, you need to have full, unrestricted access to the files that constitute your site. When you need to make changes to your Web files, you do so by connecting to the Web server via FTP (explained later) and transferring files from your hard drive to the server's hard drive. Don't go for deals that let you make only a certain number of changes per month, or that charge fees for making changes to your site. You're about to learn how to make changes to your files directly, any time you like, so insist that you have full FTP and Telnet access to your server. Sometimes this is called a "virtual server" account, because it appears to you as if you have your very own Web server (although in fact there may be several sites hosted on one physical machine).

To be exact, this often means that you have access only to the directory on the Web server that contains your actual Web documents (HTML files, image files, etc.), usually called the "htdocs" directory. There are lots of other directories on the server, containing files that control the configuration of the server, programs that run on the server, and so on. You won't need access to those directories unless you plan to add more sophisticated programs to your site, such as special CGI programs (more later - some ISPs can be sticky about this).

With the Internet, as you can see, there are always a thousand tangents you can go off on, so let's get back to the matter at hand. You've chosen a service provider to host your site, and you've used an HTML editor to create a few preliminary pages. How do you make them live on the Web?

First we'll connect to the Internet, using our dial-up connection. Next we'll use a software utility called an FTP client to connect to our Web server and transfer files. An FTP client is a simple piece of software that allows you to use File Transfer Protocol (FTP). WS_FTP is a very good one, and it's cheap shareware. Some "all-in-one" design packages like FrontPage or Dreamweaver have FTP clients built in. You can download an FTP client from our Web Tools Download Page.

Open the FTP client, and type in the name of your Web server (myisp.com, or whatever), your login name and your password (the hosting service gave you these when you set up your account). The FTP client will connect to the remote Web server, and you should now see two windowpanes, one showing the files on your local computer, and one showing the files on the remote computer (the Web server). Now it should be obvious what to do. Any files you want to change you simply replace with the new versions by dragging and dropping, or whatever file transfer commands your FTP client uses.

You'll need to keep a complete copy of your Web site on your local hard drive. When you want to make changes to a page (or graphic or whatever), you make changes to your local copy, then log in to the Web server and replace the old files with the new. In case you screw up, it's not a bad idea to keep a second copy of the site on your hard drive too. Be very careful not to get different versions mixed up, especially if more than one person is authorized to make changes.

Remember that you'll be charged for the amount of disk space you use, and avoid cluttering up the Web server with experimental or alternate pages. In fact, since anything on the Web server may be visited by search engine spiders, and added to search engine databases, it's a bad idea to keep anything that you wouldn't want the public to see in the htdocs directory of your Web server. Do your editing on your local system, and upload only finished products to your Web server. If you need to store non-public files on your server for some reason, you'll have to write a robots.txt file to tell spiders to stay out (more on this later).

So, your pages are up on a Web server, for all the world to see. How does the world find them? Well, at the moment, they'll be found at http://www.myisp.net/clients/my_company, or some such, because we haven't yet established our own domain name. If you're at all serious about doing business on the Web, you'll want to register a domain name, which will be the Web address for your site. We'll learn how to do that in the next installment, so y'all come back!

Building Web Sites by, Abhishek SEO - This beginner's tutorial will take the clueless newby through the entire process of building a Web site.

* Chapter 1 - Hosting Your Site
* Chapter 2 - What the Heck is HTML?
* Chapter 3 - The Domain Name Game
* Chapter 4 - Web Graphics Basics
* Chapter 5 - Promoting Your Web Site

No comments:

Post a Comment