Getting a website up and running can seem daunting for some people. You know you need a website name but how do you get it up and running? Do you need to buy it? Why does your designer keep asking you for FTP information? Over the years I have run into many of these questions and more from my clients. In this article I will attempt to outline some of the basics and present them in a clear way using practical definitions and examples to help you better understand some of the idiosyncratic terminology of starting a new website from scratch and getting it ready for a web designer to begin creating your personal website.
I’ve picked out a great name for my site, how do I get it on the web?
Purchasing a Domain Name
The first step to getting your website up and running is purchasing a domain name, also referred to as a URL, web address, or a DNS address (more on this later). Every time you type in WWW.AMAZON.COM or WWW.EBAY.COM, you are typing in that company’s domain name. Let’s say you wanted to buy a house, specifically you wanted to buy 9446 Main St. Sacramento CA. You aren’t restricted to only buying from one Real Estate agent or another, you can use any agent you like. Similarly, when you buy a domain name (or a web address to keep with our house analogy) you can go to many different websites or company’s to do so. The most popular seller that many people purchase domains from is called Go Daddy. The place you purchase your domain from is called your domain registrar.
Once you visit Go Daddy, or a similar website, you will enter in your chosen name to check if it is available. If it’s available, a domain name can cost as little as $10. However, if the name has been purchased already, you will be given the option to try a different name using .net or .biz. Sometimes the original purchaser of the domain you want may be selling the domain in question. The prices here can vary depending on the popularity of the name or the whims of the seller. The most common websites are usually .COM, .NET, or .ORG. You can even get specific to your state by choosing a .CA if your business is in California. If you are a for profit business, try to get .COM or .NET first. If those aren’t available, I would recommend finding a more unique name. If you are a non-profit organization, the standard is to use a .ORG.
What’s a DNS Address?
It doesn’t happen often, but there are times when it become necessary to know your DNS Address. Let’s return to the house analogy; many generations ago, property owners would name their property or house. George Washington named his property Mount Vernon, Thomas Jefferson named his property Monticello, and today we have named the house of our president, The White House. So let’s say you wanted to send a letter to the President. Your letter may arrive if you simply write The White House, but if you want to make sure it gets there, you need the specific address, 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW Washington, DC 20500. Similarly, every website has a name like WWW.AMAZON.COM, and a specific address or DNS Address. A DNS Address becomes useful when transferring your sites between hosts, which brings us to the next subject.
I bought my domain name, why doesn’t my site work?
What is Hosting?
So you’ve bought your house, but in order to start living there you have to turn on your utilities correct? Buying your house was a one time fee, but in order to get heat and running water, you have to agree to pay a monthly fee to a company like PG&E. In the same way, you have purchased your domain name, but now you need to agree to pay a monthly fee to a company in order to have them “turn on” your website, this is your Host. The company that “hosts” your site doesn’t have to be the same one that you purchased your domain from (although I would recommend keeping everything in one place for the same of sanity and simplicity). Shopping around for a host can be very similar to shopping around for a car. Bob’s Auto offers the car you are looking for, but they only have the base model and it costs $18,000. However Steve’s Place across the street offers the premium model with leather seats, upgraded sound system, and fog lights for $17,000. Some hosts charge monthly, while others charge yearly. Some hosts charge $5 a month, while others charge $10 a month. Make sure you look into what is being offered with the package you purchase from a host. Sometimes a host will offer extremely cheap hosting, but later you find that email or adding extra space is an extra few dollars a month.
How do I get an Email address with my new Host?
It is worth knowing that some hosts will include getting an email address along with the purchase of hosting. For instance, when I purchased my hosting for my website through Hostek, I was allowed to make my email address firstname.lastname@example.org. My host provides a login area such as myemail.flightworksdesign.com where I can login and check my mail. Or I can use a program like Outlook or Mac Mail to download any incoming messages to email@example.com. I can make as many email addresses as I like, and I can assign as much space as I like to each, speaking of space,
What’s a GB, a MB and a KB?
GB stands for Gigabyte, MB stands for Megabyte, and KB stands for Kilobyte. These are simply ways of designating space and file size. 1000KB = 1MB, and 1000MB = 1GB. We come into contact with these terms most often when purchasing something like an iPhone or an iPod. Apple provides various models and various price points for what fits you. For the casual listener, 16gb will do just fine. For someone who wants to watch videos on their iPod, perhaps they need to spring for the 32GB model. Unless you are a huge site like Amazon or Ebay, you can probably do just fine with getting the basic package your host of choice offers, usually 1GB-5GB.
Okay, I got my domain name, and my host, what’s next?
Once you have purchased hosting, it usually takes a day or two for your domain to “propagate”; this is a fancy term for “turning on your utilities”. Once that is complete you are free to start creating your site. The primary way to do this is via FTP. FTP stands for “file transfer protocol”. Simply put, this is the file structure of your website. If you have ever used Windows File Explorer on a PC, then you can use FTP. Returning to the house analogy; you buy an address/house from a realtor (a domain registrar), and you buy your utilities from PG&E (your host), but your house isn’t a home without some things to make it livable: chairs, tables, beds, or more importantly a refrigerator. This is all the “stuff” (that’s the technical term for it) that makes your house a home. So without any stuff inside, your website will just be a blank page or in some cases a “parked page” (basically a host branded page saying a site is coming soon). So FTP just allows you to upload “stuff” to your website.
To get started, your host will often provide a default FTP username and password, but you can always create your own by accessing your cpanel (short for control panel). This area is slightly different depending on what host you are using, so if you want to tackle this, the best thing to do would be to contact your host customer support and ask where you can create or look-up your FTP information.
Once you have your FTP information, you will need a program that can use that information. Some common ones are Transmit, Filezilla, or Cyberduck. Sometimes hosts will provide an online way to access your files without having to enter in any login credentials or download any additional programs, but I find using a program especially designed for this to be more efficient and easier to use. Once you have downloaded a program, you will be required to enter in your website domain, your username, and password. The process for this is slightly different depending on what program you are using, but the three things you need will always be the same. In some cases you can enter in your DNS (your specific website address number) in place of your web domain name.
Your FTP login information will usually lead you to the “root” folder. This is where you have to upload things in order to have them be “live” on the web. Sometimes your FTP information will give you some additional folders like WWW, TMP, or VAR. Just click on WWW to get inside your root folder. My root folder is where I am going to upload my images, install a CMS (short for content management system) like WordPress, or upload HTML files. Anything I upload to my root folder will be live when I visit my domain. You can also create folders here just like you would inside of Windows File Explorer. So if I wanted to upload all my images into one place, I would create a folder called images inside my root. Now when I want to give someone a link to this image, I simply type www.mygreatdomain.com/images/myimageiwanttoshare.jpg.
I’ve got everything in place, now what does my designer need?
With everything in place, here is what your designer needs to get started on building your website.
1. Domain Name
2. Domain Registrar (where you purchased the domain)
3. Login information for your domain registrar
4. Your host Name (the company you are currently hosted with)
5. Login information for your host
6. FTP username and password