Q&A How do websites work

Q&A #5: How do websites work?

QUESTION: How do websites work?

Short Answer:

Website code & media files + web hosting plan + domain name = live website

Website files
(The blueprints for your building)

Hosting Plan
(The land and building)

Domain Name
(Your street address)

Long Answer:

Take a deep breath… Here we go!

What's in a website?

A website is made of code and media, and it’s published to the internet. (If the site is private and only available on a company’s internal network, rather than the public web, it’s an “intranet site”.

Examples of coding programming languages:

  • HTML
  • CSS
  • PHP
  • Javascript
Examples of media types:

Content Management

Most sites these days are developed on a pre-existing framework that’s handled by a Content Management System (CMS). Using a CMS allows the site to be managed through a database that can be built dynamically and changed easily.

Examples of content management systems:

Publishing the Site (Going Live)

The website files are stored on a computer server that publishes its contents to the web—a web host. Web hosting is usually a monthly or annual cost, which varies depending on the type and level of hosting your site requires. The hosting company manages the servers that host the website files and provide technical support for the sites hosted with them (the amount and quality depends on what’s included in the hosting plan).

If a CMS is being used, it must be installed on the web host’s server.

Shared Hosting

With shared hosting, many websites are stored on a single server, sharing all the server’s resources. Other sites on the server affect the speed and function of all the other sites on the server. Each site has its own hosting plan, and you have no control over what other types of website share the server with your site.

Shared hosting plans start as low as a few dollars per month, but you get what you pay for.

Virtual Private Server (VPS)

Technically a VPS is still a shared server, but each VPS has a designated portion of the space and resources, so other sites on the same server should not have an effect on the others. Multiple sites can be hosted on a single VPS.

Dedicated Private Server

Again, this one is exactly what it sounds like—a single site or set of sites all alone on a server by themselves. Huge companies with sites that get a LOT of traffic use dedicated servers.

Accessing a Website

To access a site using an internet connect device (computer, tablet, smart phone, etc.), visitors use a browser and enter the site’s address.

By default, the site is accessible via the IP address of the server (a series of numbers like 123.456.789.0). Since strings of numbers aren’t generally easy to remember, most people use a domain name to make it easier (.com, .org, etc.). Domains are registered annually through a domain registrar.


URL (uniform resource locator) means basically the same thing as “site address”, but it’s not the same thing as “domain name”. But, then again, if someone asks you for your site address, it might be your domain name. *shrugs*

The domain name forwards visitors to the web host, where the browser accesses the files and displays them as dictated by the code.

And that's how websites work!

Let’s pull that short answer down here again, because after all of that, even I feel a little bit like:


Website files
(The blueprints for your building)

Hosting Plan
(The land and building)

Domain Name
(Your street address)

For start-ups and small business owners, small nonprofit organizations, and up-and-coming authors, the prospect of building a website can be pretty daunting, even with all the tools out there to make it simpler.

Lucky for them (and you!), you don’t have to figure it out—you can hire an expert (or, you know, a team of experts with over 30 years of combined experience) to handle all the complicated stuff for you.

And that doesn’t mean you don’t know what you’re doing; it means that you value your own time and know when to call in the pros.

Got a question for a designer?

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About the Author

Laure Kline

Laure Kline is a graphic designer and communications specialist. She has a master's degree in media design and over 15 years of experience working with agencies, businesses, and nonprofit organizations of all sizes.

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