Start Here with Some Initial Concepts

This is the boring bit, where authors explain some very basic ideas, to readers who are convinced they already know them. You can always skip to the next page now if you wish.!

What is a Web Site?

A Web Site is simply a collection of one or more "pages" that are available "somewhere on the Internet" for anyone to view. So to create your own web site, all you have to do is create these pages on your computer, just like any other document, then copy them to somewhere where anyone can find them. This "somewhere" is normally onto some "Web Space" provided by your Internet Service Provider. (This is the service you signed up with to get on the internet in the first place).

So what exactly is the World Wide Web?

The popular press tends to use the words "Internet" and "World Wide Web" synonymously. But they are not the same thing at all.

The Internet does the job of "delivering" some chunks of information, to your computer, just like the post office delivers things to your house. It is no more necessary to understand how the internet does this, than it is to understand how the post office works. The important point is that a variety of different types of object may be delivered by the same postman.

The Internet itself has been around for at least thirty years. It was originally used mainly for delivering email, computer programs and very simple text data mostly within the scientific community. Specific "Internet Protocols" have been devised for each of these. The result of all this activity is that there are now many computers around the world all connected together.

The World Wide Web was created much more recently between 1989 and 1991 by Tim Berners-Lee, an Oxford graduate working at the CERN laboratory near Grenoble. This is an international laboratory where groups of scientists meet to study high energy physics. Because the laboratory is so large, they put a lot of effort into making sure each group knows what the other groups are doing. If you are lucky enough to go round the laboratory you will see lots of poster displays on the wall, where each group is "publishing" its work for the benefit of colleagues in other groups. The idea of the World Wide Web was to create a means of making these poster displays available anywhere in the world to people with computers connected to the internet.

It is worth keeping this idea of an electronic poster display in mind when designing your web pages. It will help you keep the right balance between appearance and content, and between text and pictures.

Essential Features of the World Wide Web

The whole idea is that anyone with a computer should be able to both create and view web pages, whatever type of computer they are using. So you should need no special tools to create the pages and as little as possible special to view them. That "as little as possible" has come to be known as a "Web Browser" program and these are now available for just about any computer capable of being connected to the internet.

One aspect of of this is that people will view your pages on all sorts of different sizes and shapes of screen, and using various different browser programs. The content of your page should be understandable on all of these, but the exact way in which it is laid out will differ to suit the viewer's screen. This is an important difference between the web and word processing or desktop publishing software. The latter aims to define the precise layout and appearance of your document on a specific size and shape of paper. The web aims to display the content as clearly as possible on any particular screen.

I have laboured this point because there is an increasing tendancy for people to try to force detailed layout onto their web pages and then insist that their audience use a specific browser and screen size to view them "at their best". This is fuelled in part by the browser manufacturers, who keeping adding "features" to encourage people to use their browsers rather than their competitors, and in part by misguided web authors, usually employed by industrial concerns who have come from a publishing background and want their corporate web page to be layed out with the same precision as their company brochure. Such pages are almost always very slow to load and often have very little content!

My message here, is to avoid this temptation. Keep your pages simple, so they look good on any screen and always remember that it is what you have to say that matters, not how you say it. (This is not a good example, being a particularly boring page with far too much text and no pictures, but I did warn you at the top that it would be!)

What "Language" is a Web Page Written In?

By "language" here, I do not mean English or French or German, but rather what type of code is used to store the contents of your web page in a computer file, so that it can be correctly displayed. In a word processor program for example, special codes are used in the file to indicate layout, different sizes of text etc. The actual codes used for individual letters are fairly standard (you may see them referred to as ASCII, standing for American Standard Code for Information Interchange). However the codes used for all the layout etc. are unique to a specific word processor and would make no sense to a different word processor, or to a human looking directly at the code.

One of the ways in which the web achieves its universality is by specifying all this coding in a very simple language, which may be created with the simplest of text editing programs, available on any computer. There are no special "codes" and the source material can be written and read by a human. This is the way we are going to be creating web pages here.

The language used for the web is called HyperText Markup Language, normally abbreviated to HTML. A markup language, is one traditionally used by printers to enable layout and type styles to be specified to a typesetter. So for example the instruction "<B>" would be used to indicate that the following text is to be displayed in Bold Face. The "Hypertext" part of the name indicates that the language provides a method of including links in a web page, that allow the reader to jump to other pages.

We will look at the details of HTML as we progress.

Where are Web Pages Kept?

Physically a web page is just a computer file on a disk somewhere. When you are writing your pages, this will probably be the hard disk in your computer. Once you are happy with your pages and ready to share them with the rest of the world, you will need to copy them to somewhere that is permanently linked to the internet, even when your computer is switched off. This "somewhere" is normally a disk belonging to your Internet Service Provider (ISP). Your ISP will refer to this as your "Personal Webspace" and most ISP now provide this free for their customers. One of the later topics in this set of pages will tell you how to copy your pages from your hard disk to your personal webspace.
Copyright © Alan Simpson 2000 Back to index. Forward to next page. Last Updated 2000-04-30