If you want to create web sites, there are hundreds of books and web pages that claim toshow you how. Some of them are very good indeed. But this book isn’t like all those other books and web pages, for a number of important reasons:
1. The Web Book is an electronic book, or e-book. You simply download it as a PDF file from www.the-web-book.com and print it yourself. Or read it on-screen.
2. The Web Book covers all of the technologies that you need to know in order to create Web sites, both using static HTML pages and database-driven sites.
3. Unlike many books on the subject that were written some years ago, The Web Book teaches you up-to-date methods. Follow the instructions here and you can be confident that you’re doing things in the right way, rather than using old-fashioned
techniques that are now frowned upon.
4. I’ve tried my hardest to keep everything non-technical. If you’re “into” computers, you should be able to follow everything just fine. You certainly don’t need to be a professional techie. In fact, if you are, you’ll probably take offence at the way I’ve simplified some things. For which I apologise.
5. If you already look after a web site, perhaps for your school or college, or the department you work for, you may be itching to take your skills to the next level. Or maybe you didn’t actually get much training when you took on the responsibility, and you don’t really understand how everything fits together. In which case, this book is perfect for you. We don’t just tell you to press buttons. We explain what those buttons do, and why you need to press (or not press!) them.
6. Here’s the best bit. The Web Book is free of charge. So if you want to teach yourself how to do Web stuff, whether for creating your own sites or to make sites for other people, just grab a copy of the PDF file, print out the book, and away you go.
One word of warning, though. Creating a web site and doing it properly isn’t a simple task that can be done in an afternoon. Yes, we’ve all seen 2-page magazine articles that imply otherwise, but sadly it’s just not true. Even at 329 pages, this book is only a basic introduction to some of the more complex topics. It’s quite possible to buy books on HTML, CSS, PHP and MySQL which each run to 800 pages. I wouldn’t recommend it, however, unless you have trouble sleeping.
What Is a Web Site
A web site is, traditionally, a collection of pages of information. Creating a web page is, in many ways, very similar to writing a letter with a word processor and saving it on your computer, but there are a couple of important differences.
First, you have to save the page in a special format (ie, language) known as HTML, rather than as a normal document. HTML stands for Hypertext Markup Language. Why hypertext? That’s the name given to the way that we move between web pages by clicking on hyperlinks (those bits of text which are normally in blue and underlined). A markup
language is just a way of “marking up” text to specify that, for instance, when the visitor to our site clicks on Home he gets taken to the home page. The reason we have to save our pages in HTML format, rather than as Word documents, Excel spreadsheets, PDF files, Zip files, etc etc, is that the way we read web sites is with a program called a web browser. For example, Internet Explorer, Firefox, Safari, Google Chrome, or Opera. The only type of information that web browsers are guaranteed to be able to display are HTML files. Sure, if you put a Word document on your web site, or a PDF file, some web browsers might make a good stab at displaying the file. But it’s never guaranteed to work.
The second difference between creating web pages and writing a letter is that, having createdyour web page, you obviously need to save it. But rather than saving on your own computer,where only you can see it, you need to save it onto a web server. A web server is simply anormal computer, connected to the internet, which runs a web server program. Thisprogram means that other people’s computers across the internet can connect to it, request acopy of your page, and display it.
In theory, any computer that has a permanent connection to the internet can be turned into aweb server. Just install the necessary software, which is easily available free of charge, andthe job is done. However, hackers love breaking into web servers and crashing them, ortrying to change the contents of the pages they store. So unless you really know what you’re
doing, it’s much easier and safer to rent some space on someone else’s web server to storeyour web sites, rather than running your own server. It’s very cheap to do, as we’ll discover later.
How the Web Works
It’s useful at this point to outline, in very basic terms, just how the World Wide Web actually works in practice. What really happens when you turn on your computer, open up your web
browser and type www.the-web-book.com into the address bar? How does the information get onto your screen? And where does it come from in the first place? As I mentioned above, a web page is a document file, stored on a web server, created with a program that’s a bit like a word processor but which saves its files in HTML format. When you open up your web browser and type www.qmhqatar.com, your computer connects via the internet to a large, centralised directory in order to find out where the www.qmhqatar..com site is stored. This directory is called a DNS Server. DNS is the Domain Name System, which gives each web server (or rather, each site) a unique name. In this case, the-web-book.com. Computers, of course, don’t like names. They prefer numbers. In the case of the internet, each web server has a unique number known as an IP address. So the DNS directory allows your computer to look up the IP address of the server which holds the the-web-book.com site. Once your computer knows the IP address of the web server which holds the site, your computer can then connect, again over the internet, directly to that server. Your web browser sends a request to the web server, asking for a specific page of the site. The server
sends that page (or, if no specific page is specified, it sends the home page). Your browser then displays the contents of that page, and the process is complete. At least, until you click on a link in order to see another page, and the process starts all over again.
So how do new internet domain names get created? Or to put it another way, how do you get the name of your site into that master DNS directory? It’s a relatively straightforward process.
Let’s imagine that you want to set up a brand new web site from scratch. The first thing you need to do is to think of a name for your site. For this example, we’re going to start selling hamster wheels online. We need a web site, and we want to call it
www.qmhqatar.com. To create a new web site name, and add it to the global DNS directory, we need to call upon the services of a domain name registration company. There are thousands of such companies, any of which will sell you an entry in the global DNS directory. Prices vary, but they’re all selling you the same service, so shop around and find a registrar that you’re happy to deal with. It’s easiest if the registrar is based in your own country, but it’s not essential. If you don’t know where to find such a company, type “domain name registration” into Google or look atthe adverts in your favourite computer magazine.