Hosting your own web site: Learning the basics
As a part of our series teaching you how to set up a web site, here are a few concepts and terms you really should know–whether or not you choose to host the site yourself.
Every web site has to live on a computer somewhere, and that computer is called a “host.” Really, web sites are just collections of files (and databases and computer programs) running on a computer somewhere.
The two options for hosting are self-hosting, meaning you’re renting space from a web hosting and then managing your files yourself, or using a hosted content management system, or CMS (more on CMSes in a minute), where the CMS hosts and manages the files for you.
Once you have your files hosted somewhere, you still need to get people to the site. If you’re hosting it yourself, there’s probably no way to give out the address without buying a domain name; if you’re hosting it with a hosted CMS, the CMS will probably give you a subdomain. What’s a subdomain? Well, let’s start with what a domain is: a domain name is a web site address. So http://www.staffhacker.com/ is a domain name. Let’s break it down:
- http:// is the protocol that’s transmitting you the page. Since every web page is either http (Hypertext Transfer Protocol) or https (Secure HTTP), web browsers don’t require you to type this part of the domain name, and often don’t even show it in your address bar.
- www. is the sub-domain. Every domain can have millions of subdomains–www.staffhacker.com, matt.staffhacker.com, whatisa.staffhacker.com, and more. However, www. is the default subdomain.
- staffhacker is the domain. That’s the part we actually own.
- .com is the TLD, or top-level domain. Every TLD can have its own set of addresses, so staffhacker.com can be different from staffhacker.net which can be different from staffhacker.org… and on and on.
So, if you buy your own domain name, you need to choose a domain and choose which TLDs you’ll buy it under. Most people start with a .com, but often non-profits will work with a .org address.
If you’re using a hosted content management system, they’ll often give you a free subdomain. For example, if we hosted our site with WordPress.com, we could get http://staffhacker.wordpress.com/, and we wouldn’t have to buy a domain name if we didn’t want to.
Buying a domain name
GoDaddy is the most well-known domain name registrar (the people you buy domain names from), but their advertising is shady and exploitive, so people are leaving their service en masse. Instead, try a site like NameCheap or Joker.Â A .com domain will probably cost you between $10 and $15/year. The benefit of buying a domain if you’re using a hosted CMS is that they’re easier to remember, type, and advertise: “staffhacker.com” is a lot easier to say than “staffhacker .wordpress.com.” Just sayin’.
Every web site is actually a complex arrangement of code that’s created in a way that commands the browser to present a cohesive web site to you. Therefore, just creating good content isn’t everything; it also has to be embedded in code before it can be a web site.
If you host the site yourself, you’ll need to either code the site yourself using an editor like Dreamweaver, or install your own CMS on your server.
Content Management Systems, however, do all the coding for you, and they provide an easy-to-edit backend interface that creates all the code for you.
Content Management System
If you’re reading this, you probably aren’t a coder/programmer, and if you’re a campus minister, you probably don’t have the free time to go teach yourself how to code. Given these two assumptions, a content management system is exactly what you need. Content Management Systems (like WordPress, Blogger, Drupal, and others) give you simple WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) editors to create your web sites, and prevent you from ever having to use any code.
You can use hosted CMSes, or you can install a CMS on your self-hosted site.
These are the very basic basics. Next week we’ll show you some of the best hosted content management systems, and hopefully this quick primer prepared you to talk with ease about web sites and CMSes and domain names and all of that potentially confusing stuff.