A Beginnerís Guide to Different Website Technologies and Their Hosting Requirements - Mark Up & Code

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Published: 29th October 2012
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When you begin to size up the multitude of web hosting options that are available to you in the market it is important to bear in mind what specifications your website will demand from your hosting platform. This is particularly salient if the web site is yet to be built and you are considering how to do so. The following article takes a beginners look at the technology that goes into building a website and then how that technology will affect the requirements of your hosting platform.

HTML & CSS - Page Display

In its simplest sense a web page is essentially a document which can be viewed over the internet. It lives on a web server, a computer whose job it is to show the page to the rest of the world. The structure and layout of the content in that document or web page is specified using what is known as mark-up and more specifically HTML (HyperText Markup Language). This is the most fundamental building block of a website and basically labels and classifies every element, or block of content, on the page and therefore the order in which they should appear.

The appearance of each element can be specified on each individual page within the HTML but is instead usually set using another type of mark-up on one or more separate Cascading Style Sheets (CSS, documents often referred to as just Style Sheets). Because these sheets sit apart from the actual HTML document they can tell how elements or groups of elements should appear across multiple web pages rather than just one.

There are different versions and standards of both HTML and CSS markup but the technologies do not affect the type of hosting platform (web server etc) that the website needs as they are simply interpreted by the internet browser software on each userís machine to display the web page.

Content, Databases and Server-Side Scripting

The content that actually sits within each HTML element can be stored within the web page document itself if it is text, or alongside the web page document file, on the web server, if it is another type of file such as an image, a video or a PDF that the page links to or displays.

If the web page needs to be dynamic however, that is to display different content to a user each time it is displayed depending on the userís particular requests or input, the content will be stored in a database on the web server which then allows the relevant content to be used to construct the web page on the server every time it is requested, before being displayed to the end user. Most websites also therefore use a language which tells the web page what content from the database to display depending on what the end user has requested - this is called a server side scripting language. As an example, this language could be used to display content on the same page which is different because it is a Tuesday compared to the version of the page which is displayed on a Monday.

Web pages can also include code (within the page) which allows them to change in accordance with user inputs after the page has been displayed to the user. This is called client side scripting but it does not affect the hosting requirements as the code runs on the userís computers within their browser and not on the server. The most common example of this code is JavaScript.

However, the management software which is used to organise the database system, as well as the server side scripting language which is used to control which content is shown, can both place restrictions on which operating system needs to be used within your hosting platform. The choice of operating system will broadly be between Windows and Linux (open source).

Amongst the most common database management systems for example are MySQL, PostgreSQL and Microsoft SQL Server; the first two of which are open source and supported across both platforms. However, SQL Server is a proprietary Microsoft system which requires a Microsoft Windows operating system. The most popular languages used as server-side scripting language are PHP (PHP: Hypertext Preprocessor), Perl (a more general programming language) and Microsoft's ASP.NET (part of their .NET framework). Languages such as PHP or Perl are again supported by an open source community themselves and so are compatible with both operating systems, however, ASP.NET is restricted to running on a Windows platform.

It is important therefore to check which systems and languages your site is running and consequently which operating system your hosting platform will need to include.

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