This month, I begin a series that will attempt to teach you some of the basics of the Internet. This month the subject is Hosting.
To make your Web site accessible and visible to people surfing the Web, the files that make up your site need to be loaded onto a Web server.
A Web server is a computer with a high-speed, always-open connection to the ‘Net (T-1’s and T-3’s are the most commonly used).
That computer is a Web server because it runs server software (Microsoft NT servers use IIS and Linux servers use Apache and/or Stronghold).
The Web server software assigns an IP (Internet Protocol) address to the directory that contains your site. That IP address is the ACTUAL location of your site on the Web. Your domain name is merely a convenience that allows people to access your site by typing something more memorable than a series of numbers. For Instance, the IP address for http://www.websightsolutions.com is http://126.96.36.199/. Type in either address and you’ll go to the same place.
For years, Network Solutions was the only company to assign and maintain the registry of domain names, now there are others. But the system is set up so that, no matter who your domain name is registered through, when people type your domain name into their browsers, they’ll end up looking at your site.
When a browser requests your Web site, the Web server brings up a file called a home page. Usually a file named index.html or default.htm. That page contains the Hyper Text markup language that embeds images, creates links to other pages in the site, and feeds the search engines the keywords and descriptions they need to include your site in their search results.
Interactive elements can only run if the server software is configured to do so. In a Linux environment (which most of our servers are), interactive functionality is powered by Perl-based CGI’s and Databases. A CGI (Common Gateway Interface) Script is a routine that runs on the hosting computer to do calculations and searches. A program called Perl needs to be installed on the server for those scripts to run. Java needs to be installed for applets to run.
A configuration file also tells the server how to run streaming media files, Flash and Shockwave movies and other types of files.
Although you can set up a dedicated server at your business location to host your site, the high cost of servers, reliable high-speed connections and the necessary personnel to administer that server, may make that cost prohibitive. A properly configured server can house several hundred Web sites. Because the reliable high speed lines are expensive, the economy of scale makes your monthly hosting fee much less expensive if you host your site at a hosting service.