What’s a Website?

A website is just any size of collection of files on a server. If we’re talking about the website covered under the domain name TechDonkey.com, all the techdonkey files will be sitting on that server. Webpage files here, graphics here, mail over here, web scripts here, and so on.

Think of the server computer as the house the website lives in, okay? If the domains are small, or the server has lots of space, many websites can live in the same server (kinda like an apartment building with lots of tenants.)

Domain names and websites ain’t always the same thing.

ElaineMiller.com is one domain name and one website.
KAP.VancouverLeather.com is one whole complete website under a subdomain of VancouverLeather.
Your internet service provider (ISP) will often give you a few MB free web space in a subdirectory. It usually looks like: http://yourisp.com/~yourusername/

Sometimes a company’s site is very big, or has very different arms of business, so it splits up into a few domains.

Server

Just as a server in a restaurant hands you dishes and salt-shakers and drinks; a computer-type server hands you files like graphics and webpages and your email. Think of it as a smart, fast computer sitting blindly on a steel rack somewhere, with a fat cable up its arse connecting it to the internet. Really honestly, a server is merely a computer with a fetish (and a special set of software instructions) for serving. It lives to receive and carry out your requests, and its owner’s instructions.Just like your computer at home, a server has a hard drive, and files on that hard drive.

When someone like you talks to the server (your computer talks to that server via the aforementioned internet cable) it sends those files to you when you ask for them. Some files can be gotten by anyone who asks (like most webpages) , and some, their server will ask you for verification of who you are (username, password) before it’ll hand anything over.

Domain Names and IP addresses

Continuing the house analogy — imagine the house (server) your domain lives in as having an absolute street address, and when you move in, you put a sign over your door with your domain name, like a quaint wooden carved sign saying “Elaine Miller”.
Instead of your house address reading 1234 anywhere st, Vancouver, Canada, your IP address might read something like 211.111.11.11.

When you make a contract with a landlord (host) to rent a house for your household or business (server space for your website), you move in your stuff, product, or furniture (website files and online applications) and the landlord sets you up with some utilities, and you hang your little sign up.
But how do they find you?

Here’s the complex part. When I type your name (domain name) into the address bar of a browser, the browser learns that Elaine Miller (elainemiller.com) is located at 211.111.11.11, and knocks on the door of the server at that address to ask for the files you sent it for.

How does it find out what your IP address is? It asks the official town gossip — a “domain name server”.

“Say”, your browser says “Where is Elaine Miller Dot Com living nowadays?”
“Oh, Elaine Miller Dot Com, I know of her, she’s over at 211.111.11.11.

The official town gossips (domain name servers) all know each other, and all talk endlessly. When you move, or start a new household (a website with your own domain name), you tell your domain name registrar which particular domain name server is the one who is allowed to know your whereabouts most intimately. This is usually the DNS your webhost runs or accesses. You know, the gossip for your particular little village.

Since the Domain Name servers all gossip to each other, it tells two friends, then they tell two friends, and so on and so on. It’s called propagation.

“Did you hear? Elaine Miller Dot Com just moved to 211.111.11.11.”

Since there’s a lot of Domain Name servers, this process takes a while before every one of ’em knows where you are. (24 – 72 hours) If, in the meanwhile, someone’s browser asks for your domain’s address, the nameserver will be confused, and will not know where to send them, and the user will get an error message.
Domain Name Registrars

Registrars are like little tyrants, to whom you must apply to rent your domain name on a yearly basis. Each domain name + extension combo (name.com, othername.org, othername.net) is unique.
Registrars keep records of who owns (rents) which name, and part of the record (Besides your name and mailing address and phone number and such) is the name of the domain name server which is assigned to keep track of your number (IP) address.

What Hosting Means

If you acquire hosting, you rent space for your website, plus extras.When renting space for your real-life business or your home apartment, you might be paying for square feet of space, plus heat, electricity, water, perhaps landscaping and even security services.

Online, it’s kinda the same.
Your hosting fee gets you space on the server, plus connection to the internet. It may also get you script-running capabilities, maybe shopping cart software, mailing list software, and other extras.

As with real-life renting, what you get depends on what you pay, and also what deals you can sniff out.

So You Want Your Own Website

There’s a few different things to consider about having your very own website under your very own domain name. You can get your geek to do all this for you, but it’s still probably better for you to have an understanding of what’s involved.

(1) Get a domain Name
You gotta have or get a domain name, like joansmith.com, mynonprofit.org, ilovecats.net.
A domain name is rented yearly from a domain registrar.
(A domain name ain’t the same as a website. You can own a domain name, and not have it hosted anywhere, or have it set up with a host just for email, or any number of things.)

(2) Get a host
You have to have a host, who owns or rents the server / computer upon which you keep the files that comprise your website. (Like a landlord who owns the building out of which you run your small business).
You and your host-landlord make agreements about rent, space, what you can or can’t keep in your space, and how much bandwidth (visitor traffic) you’re allowed.

(3) Move Your Content In
Once you’ve made arrangements to move in, and told your registrar about your new name server, you need to move in your files. (Like moving your furniture and belongings to your new apartment). It’s called uploading the files to the server, and you mostly do that with an FTP (file transfer protocol) program.
If it’s a brand new site, your new website may consist of one page that says “Coming next week”, kinda like when you first move out as a teenager, and have only a futon, a fork, and toothbrush.
If you already have a site with content and design and such, you can just move it all in to your new digs, and once the domain name servers propagate your new address, people can find you and drop in (surf, browse) to view your site.

and possibly…

(4) Construct, Build, and design

If you don’t have a website (a grouping of pages, images and scripts) already, you’ll need to build your own or get someone to do it for you.