Web Hosting Demystified
A website is simply a collection of ‘pages’ – files on a computer, much like an Excel or information file might be. The extension (the bit after the dot) for a web page file is ‘html’ or ‘htm’. A web site consists of a number of.html files all connected together so that you can navigate between them.
The name of the site is called the ‘Domain’ or ‘url’ – (Uniform Resource Locator) and is what you have to kind in at the top of the browser to access the site. You need to find one that has not been used already and register – you use a ‘Domain Registrar’ to do this for you. Tell them the domain name and extension you want, they check that it is obtainable and, if it is, they save it for you.
In reality, you need to buy the domain name first – it would be a shame to build the whole web site and then discover that the phrase that you desperately need has already been taken!
When you build a site, the files sit on your PC or Mac but no one else can access them, so you need somewhere the public can see them. You need is ‘Web Hosting ‘. This is simply an area on a computer that is attached to the internet where you store the files that make up your web site. You rent this space by setting up a ‘Hosting Account’ – they will charge to give you space on their big computers (servers).
So you now have a web site, a domain name and a hosting account, but your web site files are nevertheless sitting on your PC. You need to copy them to the space allocated by your Hosting supplier on their servers. You need to do something called ‘ftp’ which stands for ‘File move Protocol’ using some sort of ftp utility programme. I use an Open Source tool (which are free) called FileZilla.
Do you now have everything you need? Well not quite, because there is a vital part missing and it seems to be the part that confuses people most. This is called the ‘DNS’.
‘DNS’ or Domain Name System
What DNS’ing does is to make sure that the domain name points to the space on the server where you put your web site files. The domain name is like a telephone number in the directory – it is just a number until it is truly routed to your home. DNS’ing is how you route the domain name to the server at your hosting company, so that Google knows where to go to load the web site files. This is done using something called a ‘name server’.
When you create your hosting account, the hosting company will send you details of their ‘name servers’. You need to tell the registrar who registered your domain name these codes so they know where the domain name should point. For example, I use HostGator for my hosting and they have allocated name servers of ‘ns1409.hostgator.com’ and ‘ns1410.hostgator.com’. I logged in to the account which holds my domain names and amended the DNS settings for each to point to the name servers HostGator sent me.
If you have hosting with the same company as you have used to register your domains, you do not need to do this step, as they will do this for you.
And finally, you need to wait a while – 24 hours or so – before the changes get passed around the internet. When you kind your domain name into a browser and your page appears on the screen, it is ready!