Most of us these days use the internet all the time, but very few actually understand how it all works. Knowing how websites work makes getting online a lot easier. So lets try to go through a few basics here:
- What are websites i.e. what are they made of?
- Where are the websites stored on the internet?
- How the websites get from where they are to your computer?
Firstly websites are not at all complicated. Though it cannot be denied that good websites take a lot in terms of effort, money and time to create them. But at the end, all websites are just a bunch of files similar to the ones stored on your computer at home. Websites are made of content like pictures, graphics, movies, text, music and so on. But there’s one thing that is unique, all websites include computer code written in a programming language called HTML. If you are not familiar with computer programming, you would not find this code pretty, but the web browser on the computer just loves it. Your browser is designed to use this HTML code to stitch all these files together into a website that you see on your screen. You can think of all the website files as pieces of puzzle and the HTML code as instructions to solve it. Now all these files and code need a place to be stored. Just like any pictures or music on your computer, these also take up some space. That is where a web hosting server comes into picture. A web hosting server is a super powerful computer, but it looks slightly different from the computer that we have at home. It has no keyboard, no mouse and no display. Thes reason for this is that web hosting servers have just one purpose to serve, and that is to provide a place where the websites can be stored and accessed. So these are called servers not because of what they are but because of what they do – i.e. SERVE DATA. They have extra hard-drives and processors and take a lot more power to run. Such servers are flat and can be stacked. Most web hosting companies have thousands of such servers housed in their datacenters.
Lastly, how do the websites stored on these servers get to the computer at your home. When you look up a website, you enter the website name or domain name in the web browser and hit enter. Then behind the scenes, your computer goes online to find the particular server where the website is stored by using what is called the Domain Name System or DNS. Just like any normal physical building, all web servers have an address. The DNS maintains a record of which website is housed on which web hosting server, and then tells your computer of where the website is stored. So DNS can be thought of as a phonebook for websites. Once your computer finds the server it connects to it, gets all the files and HTML code, and then your browser puts them all together into a website that you can see and use.