Website Design
ANSWERS
  1. How to Set Up Your Hosting in 5 Minutes Flat.
    Once you've chosen your web hosting, you'll often find that you're given a set of passwords and technical details, before being left to more-or-less figure it out on your own. If you haven't started a website before, that can be a daunting experience.

    Point Your Domain at Your Host.

    The email you received should have contained the addresses of some nameservers. Nameservers look like this: ns1.yourhost.com. If you can't find it, take a look at the help section of your host's website.

    Once you know your host's nameserver, go and log in at your domain name registrar's website. They all work differently, but somewhere you should see options to configure your domain. Replace the registrar's default nameservers with your host's nameservers.

    Try going to your domain by typing www.yourdomain.com into your web browser. If it's working, you should see a page telling you that your configuration was successful. If it doesn't, then you should take a break for a day or two – nameserver changes can still take a while to spread across the whole Internet.

    Test Your FTP Account.

    The next step is to try uploading a page to your website by FTP. Before you can do that, though, you need an FTP program and a test page.

    The easiest way to make a test page is to open Notepad and write "this is a test". Save it as index.html. When it comes to the FTP program, you have a lot of choice. There's something for everyone: some good free ones to consider are Cute FTP (cuteftp.com), Smart FTP (smartftp.com) and Bulletproof FTP (bpftp.com).

    Once you've done that, open the FTP program and ask it to connect to your host's FTP server. This is usually ftp.yourhost.com, although you might also now be able to access it through your own website by using ftp.yourdomain.com. Once you're connected, you should browse through the folders looking for any existing index.html file – it'll usually be in a folder called something like 'public' or 'public_html'. Upload your own index.html over this one, and say 'yes' when you're asked if you want to overwrite it.

    Now, go to your website in a web browser. If everything's worked the way it should, then you'll see what you wrote in that file right there on your website! You can get started straightaway writing real content to replace that little bit of text – it's always exciting when you realise that your site is out there and ready on the web right now. If you don't see the text, on the other hand, then you might want to refer to your host's support pages.

    Set Up an Email Address.

    Almost all web hosts allow you to configure your account using a program called cPanel. The host your email sent you should tell you how to access it: it'll usually be something like http://www.yourdomain.com:2082/cpanel. If you know the address but you can't get to the page, you might need to disable any firewall software you have running on your computer.

    If you've got the cPanel address right, you'll be asked for your username and password, and then you'll be presented with a screen full of icons. Which icons you have will depend on which features you got with your web hosting. Look for the icon called 'email', and then create any accounts you want there.

    To check your email, you need to add an account in your email program. This shouldn't be too much trouble: look for an option called 'Accounts' in your email program's 'Tools' menu, and then tell it you want to add an email account. You'll be asked for POP3 and SMTP servers (your host can provide these), as well as the email address and password you just configured in cPanel. Try sending an email to your new address from one of your other accounts, to see if it works.

    Other Things to Do with cPanel.

    It varies from website to website exactly what you might need to do with cPanel. It makes it easy, though, to do whatever you might need to do, whether it's adding new FTP accounts or creating databases. Don't worry: cPanel is designed to stop you from messing anything up, so it's fine to experiment with it a little.


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  2. Image Formats: GIF, JPEG, PNG and More.
    When you want to put graphics on your website, you'll face an unexpected problem: what format should they be in? On their own computers, many people save pictures in Windows' default BMP (bitmap) format, but the files it creates are simply much too large to put on a website – they'd take about a minute for visitors to download and use up all your bandwidth in the process.

    When you put pictures on the web, you need to consider the trade-off you want between image quality and speed: the smaller the file, the worse it's going to look. To help you out, here's a comparison.

    GIF.

    GIF stands for Graphics Interchange Format, and was the first image format used on the web. It was invented by CompuServe in 1987, updated in 1989, and hasn't changed since – and it shows. Images stored in GIF format can only use a maximum of 256 colours, which makes things like photographs and logos look terrible. GIFs popularity is mainly due to it being first and producing very small files, although it is also notable for being the only image format that allows you to create small animations.

    Really, the only things you should use GIFs for now are files that have a limited number of colours, and are technical in nature – diagrams, for example, work well in GIF format. Things like photographs that use many colours will come out looking very strange.

    JPEG.

    JPEG was designed by the Joint Photographic Experts Group, who gave it its name. It was designed as a format suitable for storing high-quality photographs at low file sizes – file sizes small enough to put on the web. Today, the format is supported in almost all web browsers, and is also the format that you'll get photos in if you take them with a digital camera.

    The most important feature of JPEG is both the best and worst thing about it: lossy compression. The word 'lossy' means that data is lost from the picture when it is saved at smaller file sizes. Image-editing programs will generally let you choose how much compression you want, from none (highest quality, large file size) to 100% (very small files, but terrible quality). Unfortunately, JPEGs that have been compressed too much come out looking worse than useless, but many people still use high compression settings out of a misguided desire to have the very smallest files possible. If you've ever seen images on the web that look very 'blocky', you've been a victim of JPEG compression.

    If you do use JPEG, then, it's really recommended that you turn compression off altogether, or use a maximum of about 25% – the files are quite small already, without going overboard with the compression.

    PNG.

    PNG stands for Portable Network Graphics, and is the newest web image format in widespread use. It was designed as a replacement for the outdated GIF format, allowing files to use millions of colours instead of only 256. PNG files have smaller file sizes than GIFs, although they are often larger than JPEGs, since PNG compression is lossless (never loses any image quality).

    The most useful feature of PNG is that it supports something known as 'alpha transparency': basically, images with transparent backgrounds that blend in perfectly. The only thing stopping widespread adoption of this feature is that it isn't currently supported by Internet Explorer, but there is a workaround for this problem: search for ‘AlphaImageLoader’ for more information.

    Converting Between Formats.

    For most purposes on the web, all the graphics you want to use should either be in JPEG format (for photos) or PNG format (for less complicated graphics). That's a problem if you've got a collection of images in all sorts of other formats.

    Luckily, a good image editor should be able to convert from any format to any other very easily. In Paint Shop Pro, for example, you simply open your images and save them again using whatever format you want – you can even run the 'Batch Converter', which will convert a whole folder full of files all at once. If you don't have an image editing program, there are plenty of free image viewers that will do the same job for you.


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  3. Registering a Domain Name
    Before you can start a website, you need to come up with a domain name. The domain name is the name of your site on the web – the 'www.yourname.com' that people will type in their browsers and see at the top of every page of your website. Obviously, it's important to choose a good one.

    Not Just Dot Com.

    Many people don't realise, but the web has a lot more to offer than just .com addresses. .com is primarily intended for companies (the 'com' is short for 'commercial') – alternatives include .org (organisations) and .net (intended for Internet service providers). There are also kinds of domains that you can't get for yourself, including .edu (educational institutions) and .gov (government departments). In most cases, you should be looking at .com if you're a 'real' company selling physical products, .org if you're non-profit, and .net if you're web-only – but if you can get a good .com, it's often worth having just for the prestige and recognition factor.

    There are some addresses that have been made available more recently, such as .name (for individuals) and .biz (for companies). They aren't yet well-recognised, though, and both seem like a bit of a joke – asking customers to go to yourname.biz to get to your business website just makes you sound dodgy, so you should avoid it for now. You should also look out for fake domains like .shop and .free, which are sold at some places but won't be accessible by most of the Internet.

    On top of all that, each country gets its own code, and is free to divide it further how it sees fit. The United Kingdom, for example, owns .uk, and has divided it into .co.uk (companies), .org.uk (non-profit), and .me.uk (individuals), as well as a few non-public areas like .ac.uk (academic) and .gov.uk (government). If you want people to know where in the world you are, or you can't get the .com name you want, a country address is a good alternative.

    Choosing a Name.

    Domain names aren't at all expensive any more, but millions of them are already taken – it can feel very difficult to come up with one for your website. Here are some tips:

    First of all, give up on any single word that can be found in a dictionary. There are people monitoring these domains constantly and buying them the moment they become available. It's also not really worth trying anything under four letters long, especially under .com, because you're deeply unlikely to find one.

    The best thing to do is to come up with a series of three words or so that describes your website. You'll need to think around this problem. If you're registering a business website, you might want to include something in the domain to distinguish it from other businesses with the same name – the town where you're based, for example.

    If you want to get ranked high in search engines, it's worth considering what your potential customers would be searching for when you're registering your domain name.

    If you're trying to register your own name, then you might just be plain out of luck. Look at every kind of address you can think of. One common trick is to register a domain in a country where you don't actually live, and use the last two letters as part of the domain – Robert Smith, for example, might register robertsmi.th, even though .th belongs to Thailand.

    Finding a Registrar.

    Once you've made a list of domains you're happy with, the next step is finding a registrar: godaddy.com, namecheap.com and registerfly.com are some of the cheapest out there right now. Really, anything over $10 per domain is a rip off – shop around.

    When you type your chosen domains into a registrar's search box, they will tell you whether or not each domain is available, and how much it would cost. Prepared to be surprised by some of the truly obscure names that are already taken, but don't give up.

    Finally, when you're registering your domain, make sure to put in genuine contact details, as it can be taken away from you if you don't. You should also remember the username and password you use, as you will need them before you can point that domain to your website.


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  4. Uploading Your Website with FTP.

    Once you've created your website, you're going to need to upload it to your web server. The easiest and fastest way of doing this is using FTP. What's FTP?

    FTP stands for File Transfer Protocol. It's a standard for transferring files quickly and easily between computers, intended to allow computers with different operating systems to exchange files without users needing to worry about the different file systems they use. Compared to HTTP, transfers over FTP are very reliable, meaning that your upload will not just fail without telling you, and you can pause and resume any upload you start.

    To connect to an FTP server, you need three things: the FTP server's address, a username, and a password. Your web host should have provided these to you when you opened your account, or you may also be able to create one yourself using your website's cPanel. Check your host's help for more information. Before you can use FTP, you need an FTP program. Luckily, you have quite a few choices.

    Internet Explorer.

    What, Internet Explorer? Yes, IE actually has an FTP program built in. Just go to your host's FTP server using a URL with ftp:// instead of http://, like this: ftp://ftp.example.com. You will be asked to enter your username and password, and then you'll be presented with a view of the files and folders on the FTP server, just like if they were on your own computer! To upload files, all you need to do is drag them from wherever they are now into this window.

    So what's the problem? Why not just use IE for all your FTP uploading needs? Well, unfortunately, the answer is that it isn't very reliable as an FTP program: it works, but it's very slow, and won't automatically try things again if it runs into errors. It also lacks a good way of telling you how far along your uploads are or giving you much control over them – fine for uploading one or two files, but not so great when it comes to uploading a whole website.

    CuteFTP.

    CuteFTP (www.cuteftp.com), by GlobalScape, was one of the first useful graphical FTP programs for Windows, and is still popular. It supports resuming, scheduling transfers in advance and multiple transfers at once, and also has the useful feature of allowing you to quickly edit files on the server using a built-in text editor. It costs $40, or you can get a Pro version with more features for $60. WS FTP.

    WS FTP (www.wsftp.com) is another old, established FTP program, but recently became a lot easier to use than it used to be. Some useful features include its various wizards and tutorials for doing common things, editing files on the server using any software you like (a rare feature) and sorting options that let you find files quickly. It also has special features to help you out with blogging and digital photography. Cost: $60.

    BulletproofFTP.

    BulletproofFTP (www.bpftp.com) is an FTP client that does a lot of things automatically – it's clever when it comes to handling common situations in a good way, where other FTP programs can often do things you wouldn't want or constantly ask you to confirm things. However, the interface is looking a little dated now, and it costs $30.

    SmartFTP.

    SmartFTP (www.smartftp.com) is my personal favourite FTP program. Why? Well, it has a modern, easy-to-use interface. It's updated often, and has almost all the features of the programs above, as well as very good support for queuing, proxies, backups, and some obscure things like chmod that you might need to do from time to time. Best of all, although it costs $37 for business use, it's free for non-commercial or personal users.

    FileZilla.

    Finally, if you want a completely free and open-source FTP program, FileZilla (filezilla.sourceforge.net) is worth a look. While the interface is simple and a little technical, it does most things you would want it to do, and is surprisingly fast and stable. If you want an easy to use program that doesn't hide anything for you, then you could do worse than FileZilla – and hey, if you want it free, you don't have that many choises

    You can find a good tutorial for using FTP programs Here


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  5. Which Database is Right for You?
    If you can choose your database, you're lucky: few hosts offer anything more than MySQL. If you're doing things yourself, though, or you have one of those rare hosts, then you might find that you need to weigh up the positives and negatives of different database software.

    MySQL.

    MySQL is the most common database software for small websites, but is laughed at in the rest of the industry. It's fine for simple insertion and retrieval of data, but if you start trying to do anything more advanced with it, you're going to start running into problems.

    So what doesn't MySQL support? Today, MySQL doesn't support views ('virtual' tables made from other tables), stored procedures (small programs that can be stored in the database) or triggers (actions that the database can be told to do automatically when certain things happen). However, many of these features are promised in future versions.

    What does MySQL have going for it? Well, for one thing, it's free, and it's the most-used database on the web. The database has speed, simplicity, and a no-nonsense attitude on its side. MySQL is usable with a lot of different programming languages instead of being artificially restricted, and runs on a lot of operating system. There's no shortage of big websites using MySQL and doing just fine: CNet and Friendster spring to mind.

    Visit www.mysql.com for more information.

    PostgreSQL.

    MySQL's biggest open source competitor is PostgreSQL (www.postgresql.org). It's often considered to be a better database overall than MySQL, and yet it has a much smaller market share. It a more established and mature database than MySQL, with roots in the early '80s compared to MySQL's start in the mid-'90s, and is also released under a more flexible license.

    The biggest strength of PostgreSQL is that it lets the database do more of the work: you define rules to say how your tables relate to each other, and PostgreSQL 'understands' and make things easy on you. It supports all the latest standards and features, making it a much better choice as a drop-in replacement for an expensive enterprise database than MySQL is.

    Microsoft SQL Server.

    Microsoft's SQL Server supports lots of extra features that other databases don't – because they were entirely made up my Microsoft. There are two reasons why some people use SQL Server: first, it works well with IIS and ASP, and second, it works graphically instead of using text.

    However, as with most Microsoft products, security has proved to be SQL Server's weak point. Back in 2003, the Slammer worm demonstrated how insecure the software is when it spread between servers using a vulnerability in SQL Server. The problems caused were bad enough that the entire Internet actually slowed down, and although Microsoft says it has committed to improving security in all its software, it remains to be seen whether something similar might happen again.

    Oracle.

    Oracle is widely considered to be the best database out there. It's a very old, stable database, and is the most-used in big enterprise operations, mainly because it's so much faster than anything else out there. Oracle works on lots of different operating systems, and has support for lots of interesting features like Java and XML.

    Oracle offers a lot of documentation and support on its website and, despite what you might think, is usable with languages like PHP. People used to avoid Oracle because it was wildly expensive compared to other database soft out there, but Oracle now makes a 'Standard' version available for around $150 per user – quite comparable to Microsoft's SQL Server. At this point, the only reason not to use Oracle is that you want your database to be entirely free – you'd be a fool to choose SQL Server instead of this, for sure.


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