How does a website work?
Much of our livelihoods, businesses, and infrastructure depends on using a website to survive. From online stores, to freelance professionals – many rely on the internet and their website to make a living. The internet has become an everyday utility that we all use, in one form or another.
Now that it’s become simple to access, use, and even host websites, it can be easy to forget or ignore the processes happening in the background that make it possible for a website to exist. Some may even say that we take for granted just how efficient and user-friendly websites are.
With that said, not everyone is as familiar with the internet. Older generations haven’t grown up around the same technology, so there can often be a lack of understanding of how websites work. Households without access to computers or the internet can also mean that some people haven’t had the same level of experience in browsing websites.
Gaining an understanding of how websites work can be helpful when you need to make changes to your existing setup, or when something breaks and goes wrong! Behind the scenes there are a lot of complex systems in place however you don’t need to know the technical details to get a picture of how websites work.
In this blog post we’re going to explain every aspect that makes up a website, how it works, and how you can make your own website.
Before diving into the technologies and processes that power websites, we need to cover a few basic concepts.
There’s a good chance you’re already aware of many of the details in this section, but if not – pay close attention!
What is a website?
So, we all know that the internet is used to access websites on your computer, smartphone, tablet, or any other device. You will have most likely visited hundreds, if not thousands of websites in your lifetime.
But, what exactly is a website?
A website is a collection of files, or web pages, that are used to display information to the website visitor. These web pages are made up of elements like text, buttons, links, images, or videos.
When you login to a social media platform, visit an online store, read a blog, or book a restaurant, you are downloading and viewing different web pages on a website. Each web page contains its own unique content stored within the same file space on the server.
Based on the information stored on each web page, they are organised into an information hierarchy, allowing you to easily navigate between different pages on the site. This is usually presented in the form of a menu with different interactive links to take you to the relevant web page.
At its heart, a website is a way to publicly display and access information across the internet – and no matter how complex the website is, that will always be the basic purpose.
What is a website made of?
So we already know that a website is made of different files, presented as web pages. But what exactly is stored in these files?
A website, and it’s relevant files, is composed of code which makes up the functions, text, and everything else you see on a web page. This code can be based on a variety of different languages but the standard, most simple language, is Hypertext Markup Language – better known as HTML.
HTML uses tags to describe elements on the web page, and instruct the browser on how to display these elements. Here’s an example of how an HTML element might be programmed:
<head> <title>Page Title</title> </head>
This excerpt would be included at the start of a web page and it defines the section (head), and the title element named ‘Page Title’.
While HTML is a simple, straightforward programming language, there are many more such as PHP, which are far more complex. We won’t confuse you with the technical details on that!
How do internet browsers work?
Internet browsers are what we use every day across all of our devices to access websites over the internet. Some of the most popular browsers include Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox and Safari.
Essentially what a browser does is it decodes the website code that’s programmed on a web page into viewable content that you see on your screen. Without a web browser, websites as we know it wouldn’t be readable. They would just be website files composed of thousands of lines of code!
When you type a domain name into a browser, the browser uses DNS to find the site (we’ll go into this in more details later), download the website files, and translate it into a visual web page viewable by humans.
As new programming languages are developed and more complex sites become the norm, browsers are constantly adapting to accommodate this. There’s a good chance that loading a new website on a browser from 10 years ago won’t work!
The role of Web Hosting
Behind the scenes, websites need to be stored somewhere. This is where web hosting comes into the equation.
Without web hosting, you wouldn’t be able to view websites over the internet. The internet as we know it would simply be unrecognisable.
So let’s take a look at the role web hosting plays in how you view sites on the web.
Where is a website stored?
Much of our digital lives thrive on web based applications so it’s easy to think that the information you see just exists “on the internet”. But just like files on your computer, data needs to live somewhere!
The internet is what connects us to websites, but the website files themselves still need to be stored somewhere. These website files are stored on servers which are usually controlled by a web hosting provider, in a data centre.
Servers are essentially large, powerful computers that are designed for holding information and providing this information to users over the web. These servers are typically expensive and high-end, so they’re not intended for the end-user.
Each server will typically hold many accounts with their own independent websites. These accounts contain the website files which the web server then provides to the user’s web browser over the internet.
You can think of web hosting as the hotel that your website stays in, with the web hosting provider running the hotel and letting your website live there. You pay hosting providers for the space and facilities to accommodate your site, allowing it to be accessible by the rest of the world.
How do domain names work?
A domain name is the unique identifier that you use every day to associate a website with the company, business, or person owning the website.
So you have your website stored on a server with a web hosting provider – but there’s a piece of the puzzle that’s still missing. How does your browser know where to load the website from?
The answer is a domain name. A domain name maps a unique text name that you enter into your browser’s search bar, to the location on a server where the website files are stored.
You can think of a domain name as the address for your house. If someone wants to send you a letter, they need to know where to send it. The address indicates where the letter should be sent to, or returned.
Domain names show browsers where they should go to request the information from a website. Domain names are also used to share relevant information about your website, such as the business name, the industry you’re in, or where you’re located.
When you register a domain name you’re paying for the web address to be created, so that you can then use this in your hosting plan to let users load your website from your domain name.
How can I make my own website?
So we know that a website is written in a programming language, stored on a server, and accessed through a domain name. Now you might be wondering – how can I make my own website?
You might be pleased to hear that you no longer need to know any programming languages to design your site. While you can certainly write HTML code from scratch and have a fully working website, this will take a long time and won’t have the functionality you’ve come to expect from websites these days.
Thankfully there are now a multitude of user-friendly, affordable ways of creating your own website. Gone are the days of learning programming and writing thousands of lines of code!
Website builder tools have been around for many years in different forms, and they’re now more accessible than ever before. Many hosting providers offer easy-to-use, professional site builder plans which let you build a brand new website from the ground up in no time at all.
If you need a complex site with advanced features, then a website builder tool might not be powerful enough for you. In that case, it can be a good idea to hire the services of a professional website developer to build your website. If your budget allows, this can certainly save you a lot of stress!
While behind the scenes there may be a lot of complex technology responsible for running websites, it’s never been easier to create and manage your own website.
If you’d like to know more about our products don’t hesitate to contact our team – we’re always on hand to help.