Before getting a web site on line you need to have a domain name. These are the familiar web addresses such as mywebsite.com that most browsers use to find a particular web site. Domain names, in fact, are pointers to a particular IP address and we use them because they are easier to remember than a series of numbers.
All websites have an IP address in the form 123.456.78.9. The domain name system translates these numbers into names such as mywebsite.com. All domain names are registered in a central registry maintained by InterNIC, a subsidiary of ICANN — the organization which certifies domain name registrars. Domain names are filtered through Domain Name Servers (DNS) which link IP addresses with domain names. Each web site usually has a primary and a secondary DNS – duplicates that increase reliability.
The first step in registering a domain name is to choose it. The name can be almost anything you want, but to be most effective it should reflect the nature of your website. If you are selling watches, for example, it helps to have a domain name that has some reference to watches – A1-Watches.com for example.
The rules for domain names are simple – only letters, numbers or hyphens are allowed. Other than that, a domain name is limited to 70 characters, but you are advised to keep it as short as possible. Domain names can be upper or lower case – case is ignored by DNS but you can use a combination to make the name more recognizable. MyWebSite.com is easier to read than mywebsite.com, but both are identical to the DNS.
There are several extensions available. The most common is .com — it has even entered common vocabulary as a way to express Internet activity – (I own a dot com business). Other extensions include .biz (for commercial sites), .org (for non-commercial organisations), .net (for organisations involved in Internet infrastructure) and .name (for personal names). There are also extensions with more specialized uses such as .museum, .aero, and .coop and are used exclusively by members of certain organizations. In addition to these common extensions, there can also be a country code extension such as .us (United States) or .de (Germany). The rules for using country extensions vary, so you need to check with your registrar to see if they are available to you.
All domains must be registered with a registrar that has been certified by ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers). There are hundreds of registrars and their prices vary considerably. The full list of registrars is available at the InterNIC website (http://www.internic.net/regist.html). Although registrars are closely regulated, they are permitted to offer their services through third parties, so many web hosts offer a domain name registration service even if they are not a registrar. The price of a domain name will usually be higher when dealing with these third-party services.
Domain names are usually registered for a minimum of one year, although you are permitted to buy up to a 10-year registration contract. Usually the longer the registration contract, the lower the price, so if you are sure you will be on the web for a considerable length of time you can benefit from a longer registration period. Most registrars also offer a discount on bulk purchases. If you own a number of domain names you can save money by transferring them all to the same registrar.
You have selected a domain name, registered it and signed up with a web host. What’s next? Your web host has to provide you with details about how to get your site up and running. This information includes passwords to get into your account, paths to directories where your files should be uploaded, and most importantly, what your domain name servers are.
Domain name servers (DNS) provide the link between your domain name (mywebsite.com) and your Internet Protocol (IP) address. The IP address is a series of numbers like this: 123.456.78.9. Every web server has a unique IP address which, in the case of dedicated servers hosting a single domain, is equivalent to the domain name. A site hosted on a dedicated server will respond to either 123.456.78.9 or mywebsite.com by serving the requested webpage.
Most websites, though, are hosted on shared servers. This means that one server is home to many different websites, but they each have the same IP address. If you type in a shared IP address you will get an error page or will be redirected to the web hosting company’s web site. So DNS is necessary for websites on shared servers. Domain names are the only way to request these websites – they cannot be requested by IP address.
When you first purchase a domain name, it will be registered on the DNS of the registrar. Until you arrange for a web host, the registrar company will usually redirect requests for your domain name to an error page or an ‘Under Construction’ page. Note that there is no time limit between buying a domain name and finding a host. Some people purchase domain names without ever intending to build a website on them. Most people, though, buy a domain name with the intention of using it. To do that, you need to open an account with a web host and prepare to transfer your site to their server. Part of the process of preparing your site for publication on the World Wide Web is to alert your domain name registrar of the DNS of your new server.
A DNS configuration looks something like this:
Primary Name Server: NSA.NEWDAYDNS.COM (126.96.36.199)
Secondary Name Server: NSB.NEWDAYDNS.COM (188.8.131.52)
This information is available from your hosting company either in their informational package that they email to you, or on their website. If you can’t find the DNS it’s best to contact your web host and ask for it. Once you have the DNS information you can usually enter it into your account on the website of your registrar. If you have purchased your domain name from the hosting company, they will usually make the necessary changes for you when they set up your account.
When the DNS is registered or modified (when changing web hosts) it can take up to 24 hours for your site to be accessible from everywhere in the world. This is because domain names are registered in a distributed data base that is maintained on thousands of computers around the world. Each computer has a small part of the database in cache, and if they receive a request for an unknown domain that request has to be forwarded to another computer until the information is found.
After you have opened an account with a web host and set the DNS you can start uploading your web pages. The most common way to do this is to use FTP (File Transfer Protocol) software but there are also some other options.
FTP is an Internet Protocol (like HTTP) that allows data files to be transferred from one computer to another. Your web host will provide information about how to connect to your site using FTP. Usually you use FTP software such as WS_FTP or FileZilla to connect to the FTP server on your website. The address of the FTP server is usually ftp.mywebsite.com (where mywebsite.com is the domain name).
Your host will also tell you the location where files should be uploaded. Your account will probably have two main folders in the root directory – public_html and www. Your web pages should be uploaded to the public_html folder. The www folder is a mirror folder which allows people to find your site by using either www.mysite.com or mysite.com.
You may have to adjust a few settings in your FTP software to upload files correctly. For example, if you are using a firewall on your computer you should set the transfer method to passive. If you are using a proxy you will have to adjust the proxy settings.
Files can be sent or received in either binary or ASCII mode. If they are transferred using the incorrect mode they may end up with errors on completion of the transfer. Your FTP software may try to determine which mode to use by examining the contents of the files, or you may have to manually specify the transfer mode. Files that should be sent in ASCII mode include HTML (and variants like HTM, SHTML, DHTML, etc.) TXT, CGI, C, ASP, JS etc. Basically, any file that can be viewed in a text editor should be transferred in ASCII mode. Binary mode, on the other hand, is used to transfer everything else – graphics, compiled programs, and media files.
Using the FTP software, make a connection to your web server. Browse to the folder where you want to upload files (usually by clicking on the folder icons) and then find the local files you wish to upload. Whole directories or individual files may be uploaded.
You can name most of the pages of your website anything you like, but there is one essential file in each directory – index.html or a variant (index.htm, index.shtml etc). This means that your home page has to use this name. The home page can be viewed by typing http://mywebsite.com or http://mywebsite.com/index.htm. In the first case, if there is no file named index.htm the contents of your root directory will be shown. Without an index file in each directory, anybody who browses to that directory can see all the files there. This presents an enormous security risk as well as exposing private information to public view.
FTP is the most common way to upload files to your website but is by no means the only way. Some web authoring packages have built in transfer methods to automatically upload your entire site or individual pages. Microsoft FrontPage is an example of this type of transfer method. In order to take advantage of it you need to have FrontPage extensions installed on your website. You can request this feature from your web host. Other authoring packages have built-in FTP software so that you can build your site and upload with one familiar interface.
You can also build sites online. Some web hosts give you access to browser controlled software that allows you to lay out web pages. Once you are finished the page is automatically saved to the proper location on your server. This type of web builder is usually available through the control panel of your hosting account.