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Web site basics

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It can be quite tricky to understand the concept of a web site. This paper is aimed at people who have little understanding of the subject. Much of the difficulty is because two different computers are used. Technically these are called the client and the server. When you go on the Internet, your PC, laptop or phone is the client. The server is another computer that sends the web pages to your device. If you want to have a web site, it has to live on a server somewhere. These computers pass information between each other. Let's look at the two computers.


On your device, you access the internet through an app called a browser. Common browsers are Firefox, Safari, Internet Explorer and Chrome. Browsers all work the same way:

Web servers

A web server is the computer where the web site is stored. Any computer can be used as a server so long as web server software is installed on the computer. The commonest web server software programs are the open source Apache, and IIS from Microsoft. The web server handles the requests from clients, builds the requested pages and sends them to the visitors' computers or phones. If you want to create a web site, you need to find a server where you can store the files that make up the site.

What makes up a web site?

A web site is made up of a number of pages. You will have a home page, perhaps a news page and a page about your company. You may have pages that describe your products or services. The body of each page is stored in a disc file on the server. These are normal text files. However, it's not quite that simple. A page will often contain pictures and images and these are held in separate JPEG, GIF or PNG files. MP3 and video files can also be included in web pages. The files that make up the web site will reside in a folder on the server. (The folder is usually called public_html on Apache servers). Sub folders can be created below this.

Files and domains

The address of a web site, usually starting with www refers to a domain. My domain is for example. Domain names have to be registered, usually for 2 years with a registrar like The registrar will point your domain to your server or provide you with a control panel which allows you to do that. Every web page has an address, technically an URL - short for Uniform Resource Locator. The URL is what you see in your browser. For example The first example causes a special page, usually the home page, to be loaded. The second example loads a file called Using-sw.html from the sub folder publish.


A web site has to live somewhere, the main files that make up the pages of the site will be stored on a server somewhere. The server will be provided by a company called a host. There are many companies that provide web hosting. Any site that needs to be available 24/7 needs to be run on a well supported host, and this isn't cheap. However, some organisation do provide hosting for free. WordPress is an example.


Home page

The home page is the "main" page of the site and can be accessed by just typing the site's URL into the browser, for example, The home page usually contains information about the company.

Landing page

A landing page is the page that a visitor will see first, and may not be the same as the home page. Landing pages make it easy to find the site through search engines. As such, they contain content that users will type into search engines. Many web sites use different landing pages to promote different search terms.

Creating pages

As I said, web pages are normal text files. Experts can create them from text editors and special software. WYSIWIG generators are available. Many web designers produce basic web sites using content managed systems (CMS) like Joomla and Drupal. Some people use Wordpress to build web sites. This is easy to set up and there are lots of templates available. But there are big downsides to Wordpress. It is only designed for blogs and is very difficult to adapt to exactly what you want. It is also highly vulnerable to attackers. The different ways to create web sites are described in my article  


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John McMillan

John McMillan

John has developed software for large and small organisations for three decades.

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