(By a person who had to learn it the hard way.)
When I started my website, motherbedford.com, I didn’t know anything about how to create a website. I learned as I went along. Since its creation, I have been asked by numerous visitors for tips on how to get started. I decided to set up this page for the purpose of sharing some of my own experiences.
Click on an icon below to go directly to the particular subject.
Obtain a domain name
Obtain server space
Obtain an FTP program to send your files to the server
Create your web pages
Important odds and ends
You can obtain a domain name (i.e. the name of your website, such as motherbedford.com) at any time, whether or not you have server space. In fact, if you are considering setting up a website, you should register your domain name as soon as possible; your choice may already be taken by someone else.
There used to be only a few choices of what were originally known as 'top-level names' , including: .com, .org and .gov. The top-level name was used in conjunction with a 'second-level' name (as in my case motherbedford.) The combination makes up the domain name. Now there are many more choices of top-level names. So there is a greater chance that some version of your choice of domain name will be available.
This group of 'top-level names' include ones which are sponsored, meaning that they represent and serve specific communities. Such communities are based on professional, technical, ethnic and/or geographic concerns and interests. The three original 'top-level names' of .com, .net and .org, have, through unrestricted use, joined the name of .info which was set up as devoid of restrictions to form a group known as the unrestricted names. There are also certain of the 'top-level names' that are restricted (with the restrictions enforced), meaning that registration of names within them require proof of eligibility within set guidelines. And then, there are certain 'top-level names' which are geographic or country based.
You should try to choose a top-level name that pertains to the type of site you are going to create – but if the domain name that you choose is already taken, you might be able to get a similar one with a different top-level name.
Currently, there are a number of gTLDs (i.e. generic top-level domain) names, authorized by IANA (Internet Assigned Numbers Authority) from which new websites may choose:
.aero is for use by websites devoted to the aviation and air transport industries. It is considered a Sponsored domain name.
.asia is for use by individuals, companies and/or organizations located in the Asia-Pacific region. It is considered both a Sponsored and also a Geographic domain name.
.biz is for use by business oriented sites. It is considered a Restricted domain name.
.cat is for us by individuals or organzations promoting the Catalan culture. It is considered both a Sponsored and also a Geographic domain name.
.com has traditionally been used by commercial sites. It is considered an Unrestricted domain name.
.coop to be used by cooperatives, such as electric coops. It is considered a Sponsored domain name.
.edu is for use mostly by educational institutions, primarily post-secondary educational. It is considered a Sponsored domain name.
.gov is for use by governmental sites, at all three levels: local, state and federal. It is considered a Sponsored domain name.
.info is for use by informational sites. It is considered an Unrestricted domain name.
.int is for use by international organizations. It is considered a Sponsored domain name.
.jobs is for use by employment related sites. It is considered a Sponsored domain name.
.mil is for use by United States Military sites. It is considered a Sponsored domain name.
.mobi is for use relating to mobile devices. It is considered a Sponsored domain name.
.museum to be used by accredited museums. It is considered a Sponsored domain name.
.name is for use by family and genealogical sites. It is considered a Restricted domain name.
.net was originally used by sites involved in internet infrastructure activities. This name's original purpose became mingled with that of the .com name. It is considered an Unrestricted domain name.
.org has been used by sites representing (but is not limited to) non-profit organizations, such as historical societies or institutions of higher learning. It is considered an Unrestricted domain name.
.post is for use by Postal services. It is considered a Sponsored domain name.
.pro to be used by professional individuals, such as doctors, lawyers, etc., and by the professions themselves. It is considered a Restricted domain name.
.tel is for use by services connecting telephone and Internet networks. It is considered a Sponsored domain name.
.travel is for use by airlines, hotel services, travel agencies and tourism sites. It is considered a Sponsored domain name.
.xxx is for use by pornography site. It is considered a Sponsored domain name.
By the end of the 1990s the Internet started to see other names which represented entire and unique countries or geographical locations, such as .uk. In this case, the top-level name refers to a country (e.g. United Kingdom). These are known as ccTLDs (i.e. country code top level domains). According to the Global By Design website, by the year 2009 there were 248 ccTLDs in use.
You can (and should) check to determine if the domain name you want is already taken by someone else before beginning the process of applying for it. A number of websites which are devoted to domain name registration maintain search engines specifically for domain names. A domain name search engine is located on the InterNIC website at this address: http://www.internic.com/whois.html .
Now, to go about actually obtaining the domain name, you need to decide on which ‘domain name registration company’ (i.e. a registrar) to contact. There are a number of companies which are accredited to register domain names. In order to maintain order in the internet the ICANN was established in September 1998. The ICANN (i.e. Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) is the official organization created to ensure that, among other things, domain names are not duplicated. A list of accredited registrars is located at the ICANN website, which is located at http://www.icann.org/registrars/accredited-list.html.
It might be worthwhile to mention at this time that in the spring of 1999 the United States Department of Commerce, as an amendment to a cooperative agreement it had previously established with Network Solutions, Inc., created the SRS (i.e. Shared Registration System).The SRS functions as a central registry for ICANN - accredited registrars. Competing registrars of top-level domain names all utilize this registry to ensure that a chosen domain name is not already claimed when you submit your request.
For additional information on the structure and history of the registration of domain names, you should visit the InterNIC website at http://www.internic.com . InterNIC was established as an 'integrated network information center' by a number of companies, including Network Solutions, Inc., in coorperation with the United States Government. The InterNIC website includes some handy FAQs and links to all the ICANN- accredited registrars.
You can either contact the registration company directly, or if you have already obtained server space, the hosting company might offer the service of registering the domain name for you.
Assuming that you want to go directly to the domain name registration company yourself, you can either make contact by visiting their website, or by utilizing a ‘domain name search engine’ such as the one on the ‘Whois’ page on the InterNIC website. It provides the option to search for either registrars, domain names or name servers.
Now, what you will encounter when you do contact various domain name registrars will be a variety of prices for the service of registering your domain name. The decision of which to take advantage of is entirely yours. As with anything in a capitalist society, some companies may be more reliable than others, and perhaps their prices reflect that reliability. You’ll have to make that determination.
Most of the domain name registrar websites supply online application forms. Some provide telephone numbers if you wish to make contact that way. And many will accept payment in a number of ways, ranging from online secure credit card payment to standard mail-in options.
So, to summarize, you should first choose a domain name consisting of a top-level domain name and a second-level domain name (e.g. motherbedford.com), along with a few optional names. Then you should check to see if it is already taken. Then you need to contact a domain name registrar and fill out and submit an application for your domain name.
Server space refers to the computer on which your files are stored. The internet is, of course, a number of computers linked together to exchange data and files. Servers are computers which are capable of storing data and files and then distributing them at high speed to other computers connected to the internet. Of course they are a bit more complex than that, but in order to own and manage a website, all you need to really know is that you need to store your text, audio and visual files and any other type of data on a server type computer. That means that if you do not want to go to the expense of purchasing and maintaining a server yourself (which would entail constant operation), you will need to purchase (or rather, lease) space on someone else's server.
The companies which own servers and provide space on those servers for your files are known as Web Hosts or Web Hosting Companies. The Web Hosts all provide the service of maintaining your files; how efficiently they provide that service, and what extra options they offer (such as site control panels, exposure to search engines, etc.) is what makes one different from another.
Space on a server used to cost quite a bit for a very small amount of space. Over the recent past, prices for server space have dropped dramatically. Also, many web hosting companies provide a range of plans to accomodate different needs. For example, Netfronts Inc., the web hosting company that I chose to host my website, routinely offers special pricing packages that vary according to the amount of space and the use (i.e. commercial, etc.). What it ultimately boils down to is that, as with anything, you need to shop around and decide which deal is best for you.
There is one major decision that you have to make before deciding on the Web Host from whom you will obtain server space. There are servers which offer space for free, and there are other servers which charge a fee for their space. You need to weigh the pros and cons of each type and decide which is right for you and your website.
After you obtain server space, and inform the web host of your intended website's domain name, you should receive communication from the web host. Among other things, such as instructions on how to set up e-mail and what file name you should give to your main home page, that information should contain your website's IP address number. In regard to the IP (i.e. Internet Protocol) address, it is similar to the URL (i.e.Uniform Resource Locator) address in that it tells a browser where on the internet to look for your file. But the URL address is given in words and describes the type of protocol needed to access a particular file along with the file's internet location and home directory, while the IP address is given in numbers and directs your computer's browser to the homepage of the directory in which your files are stored. The IP address of the motherbedford.com website is 188.8.131.52, and if I type that directly into the address field of the browser and click on the 'go' button/icon, the main home page for the Mother Bedford website will begin to load.
The web hosting company will assign the IP address number; it is not something, like the domain name, that you can pick and choose. So there's no sense in wasting your own or the web host's time in asking for a particular number (no matter how significant or lucky it is to you).
FREE SERVER SPACE
Free space sounds like a very good deal. And for some people, the benefits of server space being free might outweigh the drawbacks.
The greatest benefit of obtaining space on a server run by a web host that offers that space for free is just exactly that - It is FREE! In some cases, those web hosts also offer free use of web page design tools, so that may be a big benefit to some people.
The greatest drawback of obtaining space on a server run by a web host that offers that space for free is that you lose a certain amount of freedom and creativity. To some people, that would not be a drawback, but to others, such as myself, it presents a major problem. That loss of freedom is overtly manifested in the obnoxious banners or pop-up windows that many of those web hosts require you to accept on your pages. When I was preparing the pages for my motherbedford.com site, I wanted the total feel of the site to be 'colonial'; a banner across the top of each page advertising some insidious product would have completely ruined the feel of the site. My dislike for banners and pop-up windows is the main reason why I chose to go with a web host that charged a fee for space. A hidden drawback of obtaining space on a server run by a web host that offers the space free is that the web host might place restrictions on your ability to sell products through your website. If a primary reason for creating a website is to market and sell some product, you might be disappointed by some 'small print' restriction.
There is one other thing to consider in regard to web hosting companies that offer space for free that might be a drawback for you. Your domain name might not be able to be accomodated. You might have spent the time and effort obtaining the domain name you have always wanted, only to find that in exchange for free server space, you will have to tack your domain name onto the end of the web host's domain name. In my case, I wanted my domain name to be exactly what I wanted: motherbedford.com. I didn't want it to be webhost.com/motherbedford.
PAID SERVER SPACE
Web hosting companies which charge a fee for the space on their servers tend to provide you with as much freedom as is possible (within the bounds of morality). Many web hosts do not allow pornography - but if that is what you want on your site, you can probably find one of the web hosts that offer free space that will allow it.
Additional benefits of choosing a web host that charges for its server space include special options such as numerous mail boxes and 'shopping cart' functionality. Netfronts Inc., offers twenty-six options on its 'commercial' packages, one of which is a Site Statistics option to allow you to view site usage. A really nice option is the ability to sell space within your own server space to another individual. In some cases that second space user can obtain a unique domain name rather than having it tacked on to the end of yours.
OBTAIN AN FTP PROGRAM
The most important segment of the whole 'create your own website' process is not, as you're probably thinking - getting the domain name; the most important segment of the whole proces is obtaining a FTP program. The FTP program is the way you will get your files to the server. No FTP, no website!
The letters FTP stand for File Transfer Protocol. Essentially, an FTP program puts your files into a format (such as binary or ASCII) that can easily be transferred between two computers.
You must use either a FTP or a similar program in order to transfer your files from your computer to the server computer. Many (but not all) web hosts who offer server space for free provide a means for you to transfer your files to their server. With the click of a button or icon, your files are sent to their server, but that is about all you can do. A true FTP software program gives you options to manipulate and work with your files (such as the ability to delete files that you find you do not want to be taking up space on the server).
You can find many websites which offer freeware or shareware versions of their FTP programs that you can download to your computer. Downloading such free- or shareware versions allows you to be able to inexpensively try out different programs. But if you want more options, and the benefit of technical support, you should consider purchasing the full version of the FTP program of your choice. My personal choice was WS-FTP Pro (after I tried the free version of WS-FTP LE). I have used it for nearly fifteen years now, and I have been very pleased with it.
WS-FTP Pro is very simple to use. You just choose the destination file directory on the server to which you want to send your files. Then you choose the file directory on your own computer from which you want to send files. Then you highlight the files you want to transfer, and press the "send" icon/button. The program provides an on-going log display of the status of the transfer. It's that simple.
CREATE YOUR WEB PAGES
Now we come to the part that will either be your easiest or your hardest part of the process of creating your website. You can create a website by any number of methods. There are commercial programs, such as: WebEasy Professional, Intuit Website Creator, Web Studio, Yola Silver, Xara Web Designer, WebPlus, Web Page Maker, Ezypage, SiteSpinner and ThunderSite Deluxe, each of which provides you with a variety of background, button and icon image files along with templates and all other fancy things to assist you in the creation of a web page fairly effortlessly. Or you can create your page in the same way that I have created this webpage - by typing text directly as html (i.e. Hyper Text Markup Language). I created all the image/graphic files that appear on this webpage (and on every page of my website) using the JASC Paint Shop Pro software program. I utilized the Notepad word processing program wthin Windows to create most of the web pages on my motherbedford.com website because its capability of converting / saving document files as html files set it somewhere between the fancy web pages software and the basic html text.
As noted above, some web hosts provide their customers with free web design tools in the form of software that includes templates, graphics and word processing. Ultimately, you have to check out a number of these options to see which one(s) you feel comfortable with and/or produces the results you are looking for.
IMPORTANT ODDS AND ENDS
The following items are some things that didn't fit easily into the subjects covered above, but they are things that I found out the hard way are very important.
Give your main home page the file name of: index.html   and don't capitalize the 'i'. There's no ifs, ands or buts about it. Well, maybe that's a little harsh, but many browsers can access the website's main page only if that is the file name and it is all in lower case letters. Apparently, when you obtain server space, and a directory is set up for you by the web host, that is the standard. In some cases other file names might be acceptable, and the web host should tell you what file names are acceptable in their communication with you. But if the web host does not inform you of what is acceptable, and you want to have as few problems as possible, just name it 'index.html', and you'll be glad you did. When I first started up motherbedford.com it wasn't explained in those terms, so, out of habit I gave my main home page the file name of 'Index.htm' because I like to capitalize the first letter. I also tend to save my files simply as .htm rather than as .html. But I couldn't understand why I wasn't taken to my home page when I typed the address http://www.motherbedford.com into the browser's address window. It took me a couple e-mails to the web host before I figured out that I had to follow the instructions I was being given EXACTLY.
Assuming that you are not creating a website for a particular event that will last only a short time, and therefore that you intend to keep your website in operation for a length of time, you should get used to its URL. Think of how embarrassing it would be to have a website and want to brag about it to your friends, but when asked for the URL so they can visit the site, you can't remember the URL! If you dissect the URL, and understand the individual parts, it might be easier to remember. The URL (Uniform Resource Locator) begins with the (1.) Protocol or data source. (This is usually http but can be ftp, mailto or some other protocol form). The protocol is followed by a colon and two forward slash characters ( :// ). Then comes the (2.) Domain name, consisting of the three letters, www, followed by the second-level name, followed by the top-level name. The next part of the URL is usually the (3.) Object name (This is the actual name of the desired webpage's file.) Note: Around the mid-2000s, as web browsers became more advanced, it was found that the "http://www" portion of the URL was not absolutely required in order to access a website. Currently, websites can be accessed by most internet browsers simply by input of the domain name, e.g. motherbedford.com.
The directory that should have been created by the web host to which you will transfer your files should be labeled as "www". There might be other directories, including ones labeled "logs", "mail" and so forth. Those directory names might be preceeded by your domain name. Those directories will serve as repositories for various types of files but not the ones that anyone accessing the web will be able to have access to. The thing to remember is that your webpage files will be stored in the directory simply labeled "www".
Keep in mind that everything you want to appear on your webpages have to be created (or obtained) by you, and then transferred to the web host server. So if you create a web page that consists basically of text, but contains three different images, such as icons, bars and so forth (in the form of .jpg or .gif files), you must make sure that you send all four files via the FTP program to the server. In order to have gotten an image to appear on your web page, you probably had to 'insert' it. The way the image became 'inserted' on your web page is by the creation of a link from the web page to the image file in a directory on your computer. So when you send your page's file to the server, if you fail to also send the image file that you inserted, there will be nothing on that server to be linked to the page. The result will be a blank rectangle where your image should be.
You should always check your web pages for errors before transferring them to the server. The way to do that (if you are using the Windows OS) is to simply open either the 'My Computer' or 'Windows Explorer', find the directory and then the file, and double-click on the filename. If you have set up the properties of .htm and .html files to open using your browser software (such as Internet Explorer, Foxfire, or Google Chrome), the file should open and display just as it would on-line. Then you can see how it will look and if there is anything missing or in error. It is also a good idea to have all of the current web browsers, such as Internet Explorer and Google Chrome, loaded on your computer so that you can check how your web pages will display in various of the popular browsers.