Basic Concepts: Part 1
An introduction to domain names, web servers, and website hosting
I assume that you know nothing about the inner workings of the Internet; maybe you’re not even sure how people actually get to web sites, where the web sites are actually sitting, what the web is in the first place….
In this article I am going to give you the minimum you need to get your ‘feet wet’ so that we can quickly get into building web sites. I won’t go into painful micro-details that would put all but true nerds to sleep, again there is just enough so that you have a basic understanding of what’s going on.
What is the web?
In a nutshell, the web is a whole bunch of interconnected computers talking to one another. The computers (on the web) are typically connected by phone lines, digital satellite signals, cables, and other types of data-transfer mechanisms. A ‘data-transfer mechanism’ is a nerd’s way of saying: a way to move information from point A to point B to point C and so on.
The computers that make up the web can be connected all the time (24/7), or they can be connected only periodically. The computers that are connected all the time are typically called a ‘server’. Servers are computers just like the one you’re using now to read this article, with one major difference, they have a special software installed called ‘server’ software.
What is the function of server software / programs?
Server software is created to ‘serve’ web pages and web sites. Basically, the server computer has a bunch of web sites loaded on it and it just waits for people (via web browsers) to request or ask for a particular page. When the browser requests a page the server sends it out.
How does the web surfer find a web site?
The short answer is: by typing in the URL, or in other words, the web site address. So for example, if you wanted to find the web site www.killersites.com, you would type in the address into your web browser’s address bar or maybe use your ‘favorites’ or ‘bookmarks’ link to Killersites.
There are other ways to find web sites (like search engines,) but behind the scenes web sites are all being found by going to the web site’s official address. That brings us our last nerd detail: how does a website get an official address so that the rest of the web can find it?
Registering your domain name
If you ever wondered what the heck registering a domain was all about … you probably figured it out by now! But just in case – registering a domain name gets you an official address for your web site on the World Wide Web. With this ‘official’ address, the rest of the web can find you.
Like your home address is unique in the real world, there also can’t be any duplicate addresses on the Internet, otherwise no one would know where to go! In other words, domain names are unique addresses on the web.
Why does registering a domain name cost money?
If you want to have your own unique address on the web, your own domain name, it will cost a few bucks for each year you want to ‘own’ the name. The cost of registering a domain name ranges from less than $10 USD to about $30 USD per year. You can register a domain from 1 to 10 years.
The reason for the cost is that the central ‘address book’ of all the world’s domain names needs to be updated – somebody’s got to pay for that! You may have noticed that I just snuck in a little extra piece of information: the giant ‘web address book’ of domains.
That leads us to our last bit of nerd information: when you type in a website’s domain name or click on a link that takes you to that domain name, your browser starts asking servers where that particular domain name is sitting (on the web) and the servers are then able to tell the browser where to go by referring to the giant address book I mentioned above.