Tech in Plain English: Websites – an Introduction

Tech in Plain English
The anatomy of a website

Over the last few weeks of TiPE, we have (hopefully) explained the various steps that you need to follow in order to get setup with a website. To recap, you need to pick and register a domain name, you need to get a hosting package so you have somewhere to put your site and you need to make sure that your hosting has sufficient capacity in terms of bandwidth to cope with your data requirements.

This week we will move on to look at your website itself. This means we will be lifting the lid on your website and exploring, in a very simple way, the various elements that make up your site and some of the tools you can use to build and manage your content.

What is a website anyway?

We’ll start today at the beginning with an overview of a very simple website. Let’s assume that Joe Blogs wants a personal website to represent himself on the web. He will have a number of pages reflecting his various likes and interests but does not want to be able to update them quickly at this stage, i.e. these pages will be static. He wants these to be all linked together by a homepage so the site will look something like this: 

  • Homepage:
  • About Me
  • Personal History
  • Football
  • Bird Watching
  • Food

In this case we can build the pages very quickly using the standard web language, called html, to reflect this layout. However, while the content of all these individual pages will be contained in the html, we also want to apply a standard ‘look and feel’ to them so that the site all looks the same. In web design we can do this with a stylesheet or css which we can define once to describe the general page background, layout, colours, fonts, etc, and then apply this to all pages on the site. This not only simplifies the design process but it also gives us another important property in web design, consistency.

With this in place, we can then add whatever content we want to the pages in terms of text and images, put all of this into our web hosting space, and voila, we have a (simple) website!

Welcome to the Web 2.0

So, this is all well and good for our simple example as it gives us a presence online and is probably enough to meet Joes original needs. However, in the early 2000s there was a realisation that the Web could be so much more than just a bunch of static websites and we started to see the rise of dynamic content. Now we could have websites that were constantly being quickly and easily updated with new content, allowing users to interact and share things seamlessly, and collaborate in building shared online spaces. Out of this movement we saw the rise of many of the things we now consider to be fundamental to the Web such as blogging (web logs for the uninitiated), music and video sharing sites like YouTube and MySpace, and social media networks like Facebook and Twitter.

Now let us assume that Joe wants to update his now outdated website to include dynamic content. For example, he would like a blog so he can write about his interests, he would like a gallery so he can post photos and videos from his bird watching, and he would also like to link all of this to his Facebook and Twitter account so his friends can find them online. Clearly it is now unfeasible to write all of this by hand so we need to use some tools to make the job easier. What we really need is a content management system (CMS) that we can use to manage our site, keep track of all the various elements, and give us an easy-to-use interface to interact with.

As luck would have it, a number of these tools now exist online and many of these are even free to download and use. There a many of these to choose from, such as Joomla and Drupal, but we tend to use WordPress as it offers many of the powerful features available in professional tools but is still aimed at normal users so is very easy to use. With something like WordPress running our site, we can have any static content we want and still use stylesheets to create our look-and-feel but also now introduce a wide variety of dynamic content and features. Moreover, we can manage our entire site via a simple web-based interface and customise many basic elements like page layout, style, etc without ever having to dig around in html.

It’s never been easier to get yourself online!


If you have any questions about this topic or Hatua’s hosting packages or if you wish to suggest a topic for future Tech in Plain English posts please leave a comment below.
This post is part of Hatua’s Tech in Plain English (TiPE) series. TiPe’s  aim is to translate geek speak into simple english so that our service users can make informed decisions about their ICT needs.

Tech in Plain English: Domain Names

Tech in Plain English



Over the last 2 weeks we have used this series to introduce you to the basic elements of web hosting by comparing it to the example of finding a house. We explained how the disk space in your hosting package is similar to finding the size and shape of home while the bandwidth can be compared to make sure our driveway is big enough for all our visitors. The next Tech in Plain English will now extend this to look at domain names.

If we stick with our houses example then your domain name is quite simply your address on the Web. Just as we have a standard way of writing an address so we have a standard way of writing domain names. If we think about an address like this:

1 Simple Street


Some County


We can easily identify the county of the address (Some County), the town where we live (Exampletown), the street we are on (Simple Street) and finally the number of our house. Likewise if we consider a web address like this:

… then we can see the county of the domain (uk), the type of website it is (co or company) and the company in question (BBC).

What’s in a name?

Every domain name is made up of a number of parts to help us understand and organise the web.   In the case of domain names perhaps the best way of reading them is right to left. So just as we did with the BBC site, we first looked at the right-most chunk (uk), then the next along (co), and so on. This first chunk is called the top-level domain and is the first most important step in categorising our domain name. There are two types of top-level domain, those that identify a country (we’ve already seen uk for example), and a set of generic domains that identify the service such as .gov[ernment], .edu[cation], .com[mercial], .mil[itary], .org[anisations], etc. Originally this list was quite limited, 7 in total, but this number has crept up as the Web has grown and there are currently 21 in circulation with many more on the horizon. Below the top-level domain we can also have a second level (co in our case), a third level, and in fact as many of these as we want.

There is no hard and fast rule to choosing a domain name.  It is always a good idea to get a domain name that in some way identifies your company, the service offered and/or perhaps the country you’re in. This will make it much easier for visitors to first remember your address and second find your site on the web.

So how do we get ourselves a domain name?

There are domain name providers that can supply you with a domain name.  The key thing to remember is that domain names are unique.  Just like no two houses can have the same address no two websites can have the same domain name.     The first thing you will need to do is to check and see if your proposed name is available.  Most domain name providers check the availability before completing the purchase and will even suggest an alternative should your first choice be taken.  You can also use sites like  Whois Lookup to help find out whether a domain name has already been registered.

Once you are happy with the name, you can select it and buy it, usually for a period of one or two years. That means that you have to keep renewing your domain name or else it will eventually get released and potentially taken by someone else!

The next stage is to make sure that the servers where your site is hosted is ‘communicating’ with the domain name.  A good web hosting service will do this for you and then your site will be ready for the world to see. 

To wrap up

So to summarise what we’ve talked about today:

  • We have looked at domain names, what they are and how they work
  • We’ve looked at the different types of domain out there, how people choose them and why
  • We given a summary of how you can get a domain name, the basic steps to go through, and how this all relates back to your web hosting.



If you have any questions about this topic or Hatua’s hosting packages or if you wish to suggest a topic for future Tech in Plain English posts please leave a comment below.
This post is part of Hatua’s Tech in Plain English (TiPE) series. TiPe’s  aim is to translate geek speak into simple english so that our service users can make informed decisions about their ICT needs.