Daily Archives: November 10, 2009

How a website Works

This is just a quick guide on how a website stays online. It’ll probably be common knowledge to most reading this blog, but good to put up anyway.

You may think when you visit, for example, bbc.co.uk that it’s just “there”, and not worry about how, but my job is dependent on the how. The error messages you see when a website isn’t working are also very descriptive, but quite cryptic if you’re not in the know.

All websites are hosted on servers. A server is just a computer which we use to serve others, so in this case, serve a website, or provide email services. Normally, a server is a rackserver, designed to fit in a small space with a lot of other computers in a datacentre, far, far removed from that big beige box that allows you to browse the internet.

When you visit a website, a lot of different things are happening in the background. Firstly, your computer looks up the computer address with the domain name you just visited. Say you just hit my site, “kirrus.co.uk”. Well, the internet addressing system, that tells your computer where to look for the website is based in numbers. So, your computer asks special servers on the internet, we call “Domain Name Servers”, what the address is for that website. In this case, they’ll reply “”. Your web-browser, firefox, will then ask for “kirrus.co.uk” from my server “80.87…”). Everyone has one of these IP addresses, even you. Go to http://itempeter.com to see yours 🙂

Once my server has the request, it then sends the web-page back to your computer.

What is a webpage?

A webpage, as your computer sees it, is a collection of a couple of languages. The most basic is “HTML”, or “HyperText Markup Language”. This was designed to allow you to quickly put together a webpage – all you do is wrap (or mark up) the text you want with the flags you want. For example <b>word</b> tells your computer to make word bold, so, you see: word

You can see the HTML that makes up this page by clicking on “View” and then “View Source” in your web-browser.

That’s the most basic level. It gets a lot more complex than that under the skin, with extra languages running on your computer (JavaScript, CSS [Cascading Style Sheet]), and on the server (PHP – PreHypertextProcessor, ASP, perl, python, MySQL) but they’re all too complex to go into unless you want to create dynamic websites. A good place to go if you want to create webpages is w3schools.com, where they have lots of tutorials on all the major web languages.