The average person has little or no difficulty starting their computer, opening up their preferred web browser (likely Internet Explorer or Firefox, based on statistics), and surfing to their favourite websites. There is little understanding about how or why it works, it just does, and that’s good enough for the average user. However, once you start looking at hosting your own website, and perhaps managing your own dedicated server, the picture does become a bit more complicated. How is it that you ensure people who look for your site can find it?
An article on HowStuffWorks.com goes into great detail on How Web Servers Work:
The browser breaks the URL into three parts:
- The protocol (“http”)
- The server name (“www.howstuffworks.com”)
- The file name (“web-server.htm”)
The browser communicates with a name server to translate the server name, “www.howstuffworks.com,” into an IP address, which it uses to connect to that server machine. The browser then forms a connection to the Web server at that IP address on port 80. Following the HTTP protocol, the browser sends a GET request to the server, asking for the file: http://www.howstuffworks.com/web-server.htm.
(Note that cookies may be sent from browser to server with the GET request — see How Internet Cookies Work for details.)
The server sends the HTML text for the Web page to the browser. (Cookies may also be sent from server to browser in the header for the page.) The browser reads the HTML tags and formats the page onto your screen.
The above exerpt from the HowStuffWorks article gives a point-form overview of the process, but if you are looking at starting your own website, it’s important to have a more meaningful understanding of what exactly that means; this can help troubleshoot any problems, help prevent problems from ever happening, and for those considering a VPS or dedicated server, it provides a basis of understanding that will help in deciding what server might be required (or if managing one is, perhaps, a bit out of ones league). While the Internet isn’t that difficult to navigate, it takes a lot more to get people to navigate to you, and this article is just a sample of how that works.