Lesson 2: Intro to the web

This lesson will explain the fundamentals of how websites and web services work together.

Hi and welcome to Lesson 2 of the How to Build a Portfolio course. This lesson will explain the fundamentals of what makes up a website and the different services and softwares required to run a site. If you already know this, you can skip ahead to Lesson 3.

The reason I made sure to include this lesson is that many people misunderstand the basics of how domains, email hosting, website hosting, and content management software work together. Understanding these foundations will help you make informed decisions when choosing providers and when troubleshooting potential issues as your site changes and grows. It will also give you the foundational knowledge about the web industry that will help you in the rest of the course. Ok, let’s get started. 

Let’s break down the anatomy of a website.

anatomy of a website

Where does my website live online?

At their core, websites are essentially files and databases. People visiting a site are making requests to the computer server where those files live, requests to view the content. Without a server to host your files, your website can’t be made accessible to people online. That’s why you need to purchase a hosting service to house your website files and database. This is usually a service paid monthly or annually by a hosting company that manages the servers and the server software.

What is WordPress and why do I need it?

To design how that website content is organized and displayed, you’ll need to build your website with software. CMS, or Content Management System, is the software you use to build your website, hosted by your web host. 

WordPress is a CMS, in fact, it’s the most popular one. WordPress is also free, and is what is called “an open-source software”. That means that WordPress isn’t a company or no one person owns WordPress. It’s a software project that is maintained and developed by hundreds of thousands of contributors around the world. And I’m one of them! If you download WordPress in Canadian French, you’ll see interface text that I translated. 

I want to highlight this because I often get questions from people I meet who ask: do you work for WordPress? The answer is no, because WordPress isn’t a company. There is a foundation that manages the non-profit and community functions of the WordPress Open Source Project. But people who work in the WordPress industry work for hosting company’s, web agencies, they are freelance developers or designers, make themes people can purchase for their sites, or sell plugins that enhance the features on a site. These people all run their livelihoods supporting and creating products for people using WordPress, but they don’t work for a company called WordPress. 

In the situation you encounter a problem with your web hosting, you can call the company that manages your hosting, but if you ever get stuck or angry at your WordPress site, you won’t find a WordPress customer service phone number to call. But you can find thousands of people online who make a living offering WordPress Support, and a million blog posts or videos on how to use WordPress, often by the very people who contributed to building the feature. 


How do I pick what my site’s URL is?

If we go back to our anatomy of a website, the next element I want to talk about is domains. Domains are the unique web address people will use to get to your site. When you type in a URL, which stands for Uniform Resource Locator, it usually looks like this:


HTTPS stands for Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure. HTTP means the same thing, but it means it’s unsecured. I’ll explain more about this in lesson 3. You might be wondering about www or World Wide Web. This is no longer needed and most URLs don’t use it anymore.

Now the rest is up to you, as long as nobody else has already claimed the same domain. The first part, in my case, andreazoellner, is your unique domain, and the last part, .com, is what is called a Top-Level Domain. Top-level domains are pretty varied now a days: .com, .org .ca, .blog .online . shop and so so much more. 

That’s why I wouldn’t worry too much if your first choice for a domain is already taken since you may be able to find a combination and a top-level domain, that’s unique to you. 

So how do you register your domain? You need to go through a registrar or a reseller to secure your domain. Domains are overseen by ICANN, or the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, and registrars own the rights to sell certain top-level domains, like .com or .blog. 

Registering your domain is an annual fee. If you fail to renew your domain, someone else can snap it up. 

Hosting companies often bundle things like annual hosting with domain registration and email, but more often than not, they are reselling domains, and not the original registrars. Don’t worry though, there aren’t any major pros or cons to where you register your domain, since like your website, you can often move your domain registration to another provider. 

How do I get a custom email address?

Lastly, email. While Gmail dominates the landscape for free email, professionals and businesses should seek out a professional email address that matches your web domain. For example, you can reach me at a@andreazoellner.com and you can reach my blog’s team at hello@capsulesuitcase.com. This is not necessary to get started, since you can totally list your Gmail address as a way to get in touch or have online contact forms route directly to any free email you have already. But, to look extra professional and polished, I do recommend getting your own email address with your site domain. 

Getting email hosting is a separate service to web hosting and domain registration, but you’ll often see 2 or 3 of these services bundled. Just remember that if you do select these services from different providers, to keep an organized record of your renewal dates so you never let anything accidentally lapse or expire and compromise your website.

And that’s it, those are the ingredients to getting your website online. In the next lesson, we’ll get our hands dirty and I’ll show you exactly how to get started with your hosting, domain, and email setup.