how it works

beginner’s guide to putting a site online

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Whether you’re new to running a website and about to embark on your first online project, or taking over from someone and entering unknown territory, then this is for you. While you’re probably happy enough to use the web in various ways – you might not have considered how it all actually works, technically and practically speaking. This is a little summary to explain the ins and outs in simple terms :)

What happens when you go to a website:

This process is the same across devices and the many different applications accessing the web.

illustration: browser + domain name server
When you go to a web address, be that via entering it in the browser manually, using a link from a search engine or within an email, the browser will use the domain name to look up the IP address1 of the site. This address is the location of your website, enabling access to all content such as text, images and media files.

illustration: server and devices

With the IP address located, the browser now communicates with the server to retrieve the site’s content, to present it in its design and to perform site functions (such as form submissions and the like). This process continues as you browse the website, the browser will cache2 certain information, set cookies and aim to keep page loading fast. The performance and complexity of the site will depend on various factors, such as server setup, design & development and file weight of page content.

What you need to put your site online:

There are essentially 2 services you will purchase and renew at set intervals to put—and keep—a website online. Both are required for a top-level domain; other options would include redirects or sub-domains.

domain name registration visual

Firstly, you will need to register your chosen domain name/s with an official registrar. This involves a fee, usually charged on a yearly basis. You will need to provide your name and postal address – details you can choose to keep private or make public. The domain name will be registered with the main database under your name for the set period of time. Your account will allow you to renew registration and change settings for your new site, such as the domain name server.

server visual

Secondly, you’ll need some space to host your files and a server with the right functions for the requirements of your site. What exactly you require will depend on the kind of site you are planning. For a standard site, using popular CMS 3  such as WordPress, the small to medium packages most hosting companies offer would suffice. It is usually fairly straightforward and quick to update your package should your site need more space or bandwidth.

Final thoughts:

It is impossible to predict what your site will need – to give you an idea, here is quick list of typical hosting package features. Speak to your web peeps about what you’ll need specifically for yours :)

  1. sufficient server space 4 on a Linux server 5
  2. FTP access 6
  3. PHP 7
  4. MySQL database/s 8
  5. SSL / TSL 9

There are usually extra features included which are worth considering too, such as email, backups, bandwidth statistics and one-click installers. Before you make your choice, do check on reviews to get a better idea of a company’s quality of service.

You could opt to go with one company for both, as many hosting companies also offer domain registration – or you could keep the 2 services separate, in the hands of 2 different companies. Each option has its pros and cons and this will need to fit your general workflow, too.

Going with only one company has the advantage of easy managing of both domain and hosting, talking to one company only and billing can easily be handled. The drawback is that if there is an issue with either which takes a while to resolve, you are tied to the one setup and service alone.

Keeping the services separate brings independent managing of both aspects of your site. This does mean managing two accounts, pay two different companies for their services. The advantage here is that should there be an issue with the server, you could put your site temporarily onto a different server and point the domain towards it until the problems are resolved. Dealing with only one company could mean delays as the technical support would be inundated with queries.

We hope this helps explain the basics. If you’re not sure, talk to your web team – they will be able to guide you through and make recommendations. If you’re already working with us ~ feel free to ask us all the questions :) Happy to help :)

  1. Internet Protocol address: a numerical label to identify a device connected to a network
  2. cached information is kept in the application’s memory and used to make page loading and site-wide functions faster
  3. content management system
  4. disk space on the server allocated to your account and site to store your files; amount of space needed will depend on your content and media, audio/video media can be quite heavy as will a large number of images.
  5. open source server software, read more on Wikipedia.
  6. File Transfer Protocol, enables access to the server directories for file up/downloads.
  7. Hypertext Preprocessor, a server-side scripting language used for various website functions, such as form processing, read more on
  8. open-source database management system,
  9. Secure Sockets Layer/Transport Sockets Layer: protocols which encrypt / secure connections over a computer network;  read more on Wikipedia or Let’sEncrypt.