What goes into making a website
I generally encourage having personal websites. They have a lot of uses, and contrary to the widespread anti-self-promotion sentiment, I actually like it when people link themselves. It gives me a way to find out what they're about if I'm interested.
Stop freaking out about self-promotion
So I thought I'd make a sorta guide on how to set them up aimed at people with little technical knowledge. (This involves *picking up* some technical knowledge, but not as much as you might think.)
First, there are a lot of "website builder" platforms or Content Management Systems out there, like Wordpress and Wix. These aren't what I'm on about. They're a quick path to putting up some content, but they don't give you full control over the website - you're limited to what the platform offers as far as layout and style, post format, comment/account systems which are usually confusing and buggy, and anything else you might want. (This may not actually be true of Wordpress if you run it yourself on a self-hosted server, which you can do. I don't know much about that option, honestly.)
This guide is gonna be about "the real way" which has the following benefits:
1. Flexibility. You can do anything with a server you control, not just things the platform supports.
2. Independence. If your website is built on a platform like the above, migrating off it can be difficult. You can probably export all your text content, but putting your website back up with a different solution would take a lot of manual work and it'd probably never be the same; especially if you have things like user accounts or comments which wouldn't carry over easily. If you self-manage your website like I do, you could set it up on a new server in an hour. I even scripted my install process so I wouldn't have to do hardly anything. That's impossible with a hosted platform.
So what I'm getting at here is, the quick and easy path leads to the dark side :P
So there are a few essential components that go into a website:
- A domain name - the part like `yujiri.xyz`. You'll need the nameserver for your TLD to resolve requests for your domain. This does cost money, but barely (I get mine for like $13/year).
Wonderful explanation of the Domain Name System
TLD (top-level domain)
- A computer to act as a server. It's actually possible to just use a home computer for this, but not necessarily a good idea because it means your website goes down whenever *your* internet does. Your connection may also be too slow to give a good experience to viewers from around the world. The easiest way to get a server that avoids those problems is to rent one from a service like Digital Ocean or Ramnode. This also costs very little (I get mine from Digital Ocean for $5/month). Note that these don't give you a Remote Desktop Connection-like interface to your server (although I'm sure there are ways to set up something like that), only SSH access. If you don't know what that is but aren't scared off by it, you can learn a lot about how to use a shell over SSH from the Ubuntu command-line tutorial - the server will most likely be running Linux. Be aware that you can use SSH from Windows with PuTTY.
Ubuntu command-line tutorial
- A web server program to run on the serving machine. I use Nginx for this; its configuration is very simple (it can do with just a small text file that's mostly default settings) and it supports modern protocols like HTTP 2.0 out of the box.
Something that's not required but that you should get as soon as possible is an HTTPS certificate, so users can connect to your site securely without seeing a scary warning message. (Sites without HTTPS support are also penalized in Google search results.) These used to be expensive, but nowadays you can get one from Letsencrypt for free with their Certbot utility.
It's possible to just write a plain text file and have Nginx or another web server program serve it. That wouldn't be very interesting though, because plain text doesn't allow for any kind of markup such as clickable links. For real web content, there are three core technologies involved:
- HTML (HyperText Markup Language) is what the actual content of web pages is written in. HTML is pretty easy to learn, especially since you only need to know a small subset of it unless you make spiffy web apps or something. It's worth learning even if you don't hand-write all your content in HTML, since it helps you understand how it works; it's also useful to know in general because many websites' comment systems (eg. Wordpress and Disqus) offer HTML formatting.
- CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) is how the style or appearance of a page is defined. CSS isn't something you use regularly though; for a blog you probably just need one CSS file that's used on every page.
HTMLDog CSS tutorial
That's all the ingredients to a website! If you're following this and get stuck, feel free to ask me.
I also happen to develop a project called Didact that aims to do the busywork for you without taking away any of your flexibility.
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