Beginner’s Guide to Web Development

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How Does a Website Work?

4 minute read

You’re probably familiar with the concept of a website, but maybe not with how a website actually works. Below, you’ll find an overview of each of the components necessary to view and interact with the website you’re currently on and virtually all other websites on the internet.

What Is a Website?

A website is a collection of individual documents and files made up of text, graphics, colors, links, and formatting that come together to create a complete user experience. Websites are also usually associated with domain names, like www.codeschool.com, that explain to your computer where all of the files that are necessary to display a website are located.

What Is a Web Browser?

Websites are accessible through web browsers. A web browser is a computer application capable of downloading and displaying the files and components that make up a website. Popular web browsers like Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, and Safari are all able to read and interpret domain names like www.codeschool.com, request the necessary files to display those websites, and render them on your screen as a website.

2-by-2 grid of Code School Paths

HTML

At a basic level, all websites are written in a language called HTML, or Hypertext Markup Language. HTML is a universal set of instructions that every web browser is capable of understanding.

Text, images, and formatting are the types of content that can be written in HTML. HTML code is stored within documents with the file type .html that your web browser uses to know precisely how to display a web page. Collectively, the HTML documents and images used to create a website are sometimes referred to as assets.

What Is a Web Server?

Websites and their associated HTML documents and files are stored on computers called web servers. Web servers must be able to receive requests from a user’s web browser and send the necessary files back to them to display a website.

2-by-2 grid of Code School Paths

Web servers are not unlike your own personal computer in that they’re able to separate files and folders just like you do at home, except they’re often connected to very fast internet connections and offer large amounts of storage capable of handling hundreds or thousands of simultaneous users. Popular websites like Amazon.com rely on large web servers to handle millions of product descriptions, product images, and purchases every day.

While HTML is the technology used by web browsers to display content to a user, web servers rely on different languages to operate. The languages and technologies used to manage incoming user requests for website files and handle the organization and storage of user data are often called server-side languages.

Combining Everything

When you type a domain name into your web browser, your browser sends a request to a web server where the website’s files are located. Your browser downloads these files, usually HTML documents and accompanying images or videos, and renders them on your screen. HTML and other languages used to display the data by your web browser are typically referred to as front-end technologies in the web-development space because of their user-facing tendencies.

As you enter things like credit card information or submit a form on a site, the data you send back and forth to the web server is managed by server-side languages, sometimes referred to as back-end technologies. These languages make the organizing of databases easier, as well as manage user requests for new web pages as they navigate a site.

Wix, Squarespace, and Defining Web Development

Even if you’re new to the web development space, there’s a chance you’ve heard of services like Wix and Squarespace, which are ready-to-use website building platforms. These services use things like pre-made HTML templates and have web servers already set up to handle incoming user requests and manage user data. While they’re often the first place beginners go to get a website online and offer a small amount of customizability, we believe there’s power in control — learning the tools that make the web work will help you make smarter decisions about how your own website looks and works. You won’t be limited to using a one-size-fits-all platform.