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This chapter is from the book

Finding a Web Server

Before you can display your HTML pages on the Web, you need access to a Web server. This may already be taken care of for you, especially if you are creating pages and posting them within your organization or corporation. When you want to update the site, you just need to know how and where to send your HTML and related files, or you might need to know how to copy them over the network to your Web server.

Otherwise, if you're working within a smaller organization or on your own, you need to make some arrangements for obtaining Web server space and figuring out how to get your files online.

What Is a Web Server?

A Web server is simply a computer that runs software designed to send out HTML pages and other file formats (such as multimedia files). The server should have a relatively high-speed connection to the Internet (faster than typical modem connections, for example) and should be powerful enough to deal with a number of simultaneous connections.

Generally, Web server software requires a fairly robust operating system (like Unix, Linux, Windows NT/2000, or MacOs X). However, software is available for other versions of Microsoft Windows, and earlier Macintosh OS versions are popular for smaller (and reasonably worry-free) Web sites.


You can access lists of ISPs around the country (and the world) at thelist.com or http://www.yahoo.com. You might also check with your current ISP for Web deals, because many popular online services offer free or cheap Web space.

Dealing with an ISP

For any sort of connection to the Internet, you probably need to work with an Internet service provider (ISP). ISPs offer dial-up and special high-speed connections to the Internet, as well as Web servers and other types of Internet servers for your use.

For the typical smaller Web site, you want a hosted account, sometimes called a shared hosting account. This simply means that you share space on one of the ISP's Web server computers with others who have hosted accounts. Generally, this gives you an URL that begins with the name of the ISP's host computer, but points to a special directory for your HTML pages. For example:



Domain names always have domain name extensions, such as .com, .net, and .org, which are used to differentiate otherwise identically named sites. For instance, w3.com and w3.org are two different Web sites. The number of domain name extensions has multiplied recently, with possibilities such as .biz and .info.

For this type of service, prices range from free (particularly if you already use other services from that ISP) to $25 or so, depending on the amount of storage space you have and how many megabytes of downloaded traffic your site is allowed to handle. The more traffic, the more expensive your site is.

At the next level, you might decide that you'd prefer to have your own domain name. This means your Web site is accessible at an URL similar to http://www.yoursitename.com, such as http://www.fakecorp.com. Clearly, this is desirable for organizations and businesses, although you may opt to register a domain name for your own personal or avocational use as well.

In general, ISPs help you register a domain name when you're establishing new service, but that isn't completely necessary. You can register domain names on your own via a number of different services, such as Register.com (http://www.register.com/) and Network Solutions (http://www.networksolutions.com/). Prices for domain registration can vary, although most name brand services charge $25–$35 per year for a domain name.

After you have a domain name registered, your ISP can set up a Domain Name Service (DNS) record that tells other DNS servers around the world to point to a particular server computer whenever that domain name is requested. So, http://www.fakecorp.com points to the server that the ISP has provided for your Web pages, and others are able to access your pages easily.


You'll often find that your favorite domain names are already registered. On many of the registration service sites, you can perform a WhoIs lookup to see whether a domain name is registered, and to whom. Paying for a domain name that you really want, particularly if someone is "squatting" the address and not using it is still common (although perhaps not as glamorous).

Perl is a scripting language that's commonly used for programs that are stored on Web servers and used to interact with Web browsers.

Do You Already Have Server Space?

If you use an ISP for your Internet access, there's a decent chance that you already have Web server space available to you. Most of the major national and international ISPs (such as ATT WorldNet, America Online, and Prodigy.net) offer free Web space with most of their account types.

If your ISP offers free space, all you need to do is find out how much space you get and how to take advantage of it. You may also want to look into any options your ISP offers for registering domain names. In most cases, having your own domain name associated with the Web server space costs extra. "Web Publishing Services," which is a chapter available online, has more information on free and commercial Web server options. (See the Introduction for details on how to download this chapter.)

What Software Does Your Server Run?

For HTML documents, images, and most multimedia feeds, the software that your ISP uses for its Web server computers is largely irrelevant. However, when you get into more advanced tasks—or when you decide you want to take advantage of interactivity options and add-ons—the type of software your ISP uses can become much more important. So, these are a few questions you might consider asking a customer service representative at your ISP (or a prospective one):

  • Can I run CGI scripts? If so, which languages? Although most basic Web sites don't deal in CGI scripts, you may need them if you want to add interactivity to your site in the guise of HTML forms, bulletin-board forum software, or database access. Note that in some cases a particular language version may be required (such as Perl 5 instead of Perl 4), so knowing the version numbers can be helpful. (See Chapters 16, "CGIs and Data Gathering," and 17, "Forums, Chats, and Other Add-Ons," for more information.)

  • Which extensions and server side includes are available? Depending on the Web server software and any extensions that are installed, you may be able to add special commands to your HTML documents that make it possible to display the current time, hit counter, and quite a few other options that are specific to particular Web server applications (see Chapter 17).

  • How are statistics reported? With some ISPs, you may be able to access a special URL that shows you how many people have visited your Web site, along with other information from them (such as which pages referred them to your site). In other cases, statistics are stored in a special file that you need to download to your computer and then process with a statistical analysis program (generally available as a free download).


Every time a user loads a page on your site, it's called a hit. The hit counter is one way to keep track of how many visitors a page on your site has received.

With most Web server programs, the default page that is first loaded is named index.html or index.htm. So that's the name you use for the first page you'd like to present to users when they access your Web site.

Asking these questions—particularly when you're a bit more familiar with the answers you want to hear—may help you decide on an ISP to use for your Web serving. See Chapter 17 for more details.

Accessing Your Web Server Space

After you've decided on an ISP, you're ready to create your HTML pages and upload them to the server. To do all this correctly, though, you probably need to ask a few questions:

  • What is my site's default URL? This should be the ISP's host address and a directory for your username. For example, if your username is jsmith, the default URL for your site might be http://www.fakeco.net/jsmith/members.fakeco.net/jsmith/, or something similar. Different ISPs organize this in different ways, so you need to make sure you get this right.

  • How do I upload files to my site's directory? You should get instructions for accessing your Web site's directory on the Web server using an FTP application. This is discussed in more detail in the section "Updating Your Web Site," later in this chapter.

  • What limitations are there on the names I can give my files? The Web server's operating system may not be instantly obvious to you. If this is the case, you want to ask if there is a certain filename length or a certain format for naming files that you need to follow.

  • Can I create subdirectories within my main Web site directory? Most Web servers give you this ability, but some don't.

With those questions answered, you are able to upload and access your Web pages easily.

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