You may be thinking about designing and building your own website, or already have a design done. Either way you are probably wondering about the next step in getting a website up on the internet.
You have several choices, but learning how the web works and a few basic terms will make it easier to decide what to do next.
What is the World Wide Web
You’ve seen it, you’ve used it, we all love it and one thing’s for certain, the internet is here to stay!
But what is the internet exactly? Other than a mythical ether available at home, in coffee shops, phones and seemingly everywhere else in our lives? Let’s take a look under the hood.
The internet is a network of computers that spans the entire globe. All computers in the network can communicate with each other using a communication standard called HTTP. Web information is stored in documents called web pages which are stored on computers called web servers. When your computer connects to a web server (via HTTP) it becomes what is called a web client. The program you use to view web pages, whether Firefox, Internet Explorer, Oprah or Safari is called a web browser.
How it Works (basically)
In a nutshell, a web browser sends a request to view the web page to a web server. The request is sent in a special format called HTTP. All web pages use special code that is basically a bunch of instructions that tell the web browser how the page should be displayed. The most commonly used display instructions are called HTML tags.
The web server is in simple terms, a collection of web pages and other files made available to the public. To make your page available on the internet you must place it on a public web server.
The most common way of doing this is to use a professional web hosting company, but there are other ways too.
The Domain Name – Your Own Unique Internet Address
A domain name is a unique address that every website must have to identify themselves on the internet. It’s like a phone number, but instead of numbers in a telephone, you type it in as text into your web browser’s address bar.
When publishing a web site on the internet, you must register a domain name or have someone else assign one to you. A web hosting provider will often provide you with a free one as part of their package, otherwise you will have to register it yourself with a service like GoDaddy or Namecheap. There is a small fee for registering a domain name, usually around $10 USD.
So now you know a little bit about the way the web works, let’s look at how to make your web pages public.
Web hosting Options
We look at five common ways of publishing your site online. The one you choose will largely depend on how serious you expect your website to be.
- Use your Internet Service Provider’s (ISP) web space.
- Host on your own computer
- Use someone else’s websites that allow you to create your own content within their framework
- Use a free web hosting company
- Use a paid web hosting company
Using your ISP web space
Your Internet Service Provider (ISP) you buy bandwidth through might also offer web space, they will often provide basic hosting as part of their service. This option is great for a personal website or for prototyping, but is usually too limited in terms of resources for a serious website.
Hosting on your own computer
It is possible to run a web server from your own personal computer using your ISP’s bandwidth. This option requires a little work setting up and good technical skills, but gives you full control and flexibility. However it will be up to you to install, configure and maintain your own software and you will need to keep your computer running 24/7. If you shut down your computer at the end of the day, your website will go down with it. When choosing this option, ensure your ISP’s terms and conditions allow it, many ISP’s frown on this practice or ban it outright.
Using someone else’s framework
Some websites facilitate content creation within their site. Some popular examples include Squidoo, Hub Pages and Google’s Knol. The advantages of these services are that you can quickly create a website for free. It will also most likely attract visitors much faster than a normal website. The disadvantage is you don’t get to use your own domain name and content expansion is limited. You are also at the mercy of the service, for instance they might close down on short notice taking your website with it.
Using a free web hosting company
These services offer a basic level of server resources, but are not guaranteed to be reliable. Essentially you get what you pay for. A free host may also require you to implement banner advertising on your web pages and usually do not allow you to use your own domain name. Using free hosting may be a good way to get started and test an idea, but are not a good option for anything beyond that.
Using a paid web hosting company
The most popular type of web hosting by far is paid web hosting with a shared plan. The advantage over a free plan is better support, 99% server uptime guarantee and much greater server resources in terms of bandwidth and disk storage space.
Shared hosting means you are sharing a web server with other customers and that the CPU and RAM of the server is shared among other websites. A more expensive option is dedicated web hosting, which costs more, but means you have an entire web server computer dedicated to your websites. Usually shared hosting is fine for all but the largest enterprise websites.
Your choice of hosts should be determined by the goals and size of your intended website.
If your website is small in scope and ambition, then check to see if your ISP offers hosting, or look into a free hosting package or website with dynamic content. On the other hand if you intend on having a larger, more professional web presence, then a paid, shared hosting plan is probably for you.