If you are going to build an online business then you will really need some tech stuff like HTML. Even if you don’t want to create web sites by yourself, you will need a basic understanding on how these technologies work incase you hire some one else.

How World Wide Web Works

There is a difference between the Internet and World Wide Web. Internet means, just interconnecting a group of computers. It doesn’t necessarily mean you should experience something visual. You can just share files among the connected computers.

But World Wide Web necessarily means visual aspects. It was born to provide a medium to share information visually. HTTP is the protocol which governs the World Wide Web. That’s why you see http:// at the beginning of any web page. HTTP is a child protocol of TCP/IP which governs the Internet.

All the web pages we access are stored in a Web Server somewhere on the planet. All these servers have been interconnected so that they can call web pages from each other. This interconnecting is called as the Internet and all the web pages that reside on these servers build up the Word Wide Web.

When you enter a certain web address to your web browser, first that request is sent to your Internet Service Provider (ISP). Your ISP is connected to the internet so that it can locate the server where the web page you requested resides. Then it presents the request to that server.

The server then fetches the page and fulfills the request. Thereafter you get the page along the same path. The page comes as a set of HTML instructions. Your web browser reads these instructions and displays the page to you. Actually there are some more intermediate steps specially when locating the server. But this is the basic idea.

How You See Web Pages

Client Side Technologies

Client side technologies first come to user’s computer and then run there onwards consuming user’s computer resources. Browsers can read these client side technologies and display the content to the user. HTML, CSS, JavaScript and Flash are in this group.

HTML and CSS decide how the content should be displayed and are not executable. That means they only bring set of instructions to the browser. They are not logical and can’t act upon user’s behavior without sending a request to the server. JavaScript is different in this aspect. It can send information and make request to the server. But it also can act upon user’s behavior without sending a request to the server.

For an example, after a user entering text into a text box JavaScript can analyze the text and display it back to the user with some formatting or it can test whether the user has entered the text according to a pre-defined format (This is a highly used feature of JavaScript. This ensures users send correct data to the server.)

Server Side Technologies

Web servers have default procedures to fetch web pages. You can alter these default procedures adding a server side script. For an example you can test whether from which country the request was made and send a custom web page.

When a web server first receives a request, if the requested web page calls a server side script then the server executes the script and attach the result to the web page to be sent.

These server side scripts are logical and sophisticated. They can analyze user’s behavior from the data he has sent via the request and if required they can interact with a database to fetch some stored results or to store what user has sent.

A typical situation is logging into your email account.

  • First you request the login page by typing its address.
  • After displaying it on your browser, you enter User Name, Password and hit Submit button.
  • Upon hitting the submit button, your browser send a new request the server with User Name and Password as submitted data.
  • Server recognizes that your request needs to run a server side script (for the verification) and executes appropriate script.
  • The script gets User Name and Password as inputs and makes a connection to the database which has stored User Names and Passwords.
  • After establishing a connection with the database, the script can browse the data stored in it.
  • It first checks whether the given User Name exists. If it exists, it then checks whether the Password field of the stored User Name is same as the user given Password.
  • If it matches, then the script produces a connection to the user’s email account. Then the server notifies the user by displaying his email account on his browser.
  • If the Password is incorrect, the script produces an error and the server make it display on user’s browser.

There are lots of server side scripting languages and database servers (A database usually contains its own function for sorting, searching etc. Therefore often referred as database servers). But most cost effective and sophisticated combination has been PHP (scripting) and MySQL (databases). Both are free, fast and light weight.

How You Can Begin to Learn This Stuff

I hope you understood the content of this article. If you did, you now should be able to visualize some of the tasks you do online, like we did in email login. But you may not want to stop there, you may want to build your own stuff. If you want a comprehensive text book, I recommend Internet & World Wide Web How to Program (3rd Edition).

It covers both client side (XHTML—latest version of HTML, CSS, Java Script, DHTML, Flash) and server side (Web Servers, XML, MySQL, ASP, Perl, CGI, PHP, ColdFusion, ActiveX, VBScript, Python). It also includes Adobe Photoshop and Macromedia Dreamweaver basics and comes with a CD which contains free trials for these two.

But if you don’t like referring a big text book then W3Schools has got a great tutorial series. All these are concise and comprehensive. It has also got online editors where you can test your codes and see the result instantly. Below are some good starting points.

Begin with HTML. You may afford not to learn every other technology. But you do need HTML because it’s the base of any web page.

Here are some tutorials to try when you know the basics.

Give me your thoughts, did you get something? What you didn’t understand? Hopefully I will update my nice looking graphic :-)