When you saw the title of this post, you may have thought, Oh, that’s obvious! Then, after pondering for a few seconds, you shamefully opened an incognito window and typed into your search bar “how does the web work?” It’s ok. I’ve worked in the marketing industry for six years now, and if it wasn’t for the following (easily digestible) information, I would’ve done the same thing.
At P1WS, we are incredibly fortunate to have a team of knowledgeable (and very cool) Web Developers that presented the rest of the company with a simple guide to what’s actually happening when you type a URL into your address bar. Jeremy Lindemann, our Senior Front-End Designer/Developer, educated the team on the multiple functions and actions at play in those precious few seconds from typing to when a page loads on your screen. Below is the basic sequence of what’s happening.
Basic Web Anatomy
- Domain Registrar is where you buy or register your domain(s). These are your .coms, .orgs, .govs, etc and some of the more popular registrars are GoDaddy, Network Solutions, eNom, and many more. What's the domain registrar’s function? It’s the first step that directs a request when you click a link or enter a domain into an address or search bar. A domain’s primary settings are in its nameservers.
- Nameservers tell the browser where DNS Records are hosted and as mentioned above, always are set within the Domain Registrar account. What are DNS Records, though?
- DNS Records, short for Domain Name System, are like a virtual “phonebook”. DNS Records route various internet requests to their destinations such as, where to find a domain’s site, email service, etc. (check out the PDF below for types of DNS Records and their functions)
- Hosting Provider is where a website (site files) actually lives! Because a bad host can make or break site speed and site performance, this is one of those things that shouldn’t be viewed as a premium expense but as a necessary utility. At P1WS, we host many of our sites on Pantheon and believe that choosing a dependable web hosting provider can benefit your online marketing efforts as well as a user’s experience.
So what’s happening in those precious seconds between link click and page serve up? Domain registrars use the nameserver entries to point to the DNS records, which in turn point to the hosting providers. If you are curious and don’t know who your site’s Domain Registrar is, what’s its expiration date is, or what the Nameservers are, you can go to whois.net and type in the domain URL to find out all of that information.
Other Web Terms You May Have Heard (But Don't Know What They Mean)
When you work with a design firm or internet marketing agency, you will hear a variety of acronyms or what might just seem like a foreign language: Can we get administrative access to your cPanel? or Can we get FTP access? You may recognize some of these listed below, some you may not. Here are the most common ones P1WS deals with:
- cPanel is server software that allows management of adding, removing, and editing of files, databases, and so much more. The hosting automation platform allows owners or managers of a website to control aspect of that site and the server administration through a web browser.
- SSL Certificate, short for Secure Socket Layer Certificate, allows traffic to connect via HTTPS instead of HTTP for security. While you can purchase SSL certificates from Domain Registrars or Hosting Providers, free ones are offered through entities such as cPanel.
- FTP / SFTP, short for file transfer protocol / secure file transfer protocol (more secure than FTP), allow users to connect to a server via software (e.g. FileZilla) to view directory contents, change file permissions, download and upload files, and much more.
- phpMyAdmin is another software which allows users to view, edit, remove, or add contents of a database via a browser-based interface. Conveniently, this can be accessed within a CPanel dashboard or via a login URL.
Don’t Be Afraid to Ask Smart People Dumb Questions
While using the internet is like second nature to many of us, how the web actually works is an infinite subject. Educating yourself on this ever-changing technology can help you understand the basic anatomy of a website and how it functions, further empowering you as a website owner, a site user, or even an internet marketer.
Like what you read? If you have questions for our team and want to learn more, click the link below.