Setting Up A Web Site

by Sruli Shaffren, sruli@alsonetworks.com

In this article we will discuss the basic components for getting your ideas onto the web with a web page of your own. You should read this article if you have never registered a domain name, created a web page, or uploaded a web page to a web server, and are perhaps mystified as to the process.

Here are the basic steps for getting a web page on to the web:

Register a unique Domain Name with an ICANN registrar (a domain name is an Internet identifier, for example, mydomain.com)
Arrange with a web host to have your pages stored on a web server (the web hosting company is the place where your web site sits - they have servers that store the pages making up your site)
Determine the primary and secondary Domain Name Servers (DNS) you should use to point your domain name at your web server. Your web hosting company will provide this information. The DNS is what your browser uses to look up where web pages are stored so they can be displayed, and where your email program looks up your addresses so email can be delivered. You can think of this as the telephone book, with your domain name being the name in the book, and the web server's address being the phone number.
Work with your domain name registrar to set the DNS for your domain name (in other words, make sure they know where to find your web site and email by listing you in the phone book. This will cause your domain name to propagate across the Internet, because everyone can get to a copy of that phone book).
Once your name has propagated, copy your pages to the web server. This is usually done with an FTP program, but there are other options.

The first step in getting your unique name registered is to make sure that it's not already taken! The way to do that is to look up your name in a whois server. The authoritative list of domain names is maintained by The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). Your name has to be unique for the same reason that a phone number has to be unique; when someone types your domain name into their browser or sends you an email, you want them to reach your web page or mailbox. A more complete discussion of this issue can be found at Internic. There are many whois servers available on the Internet. One good one is Whois. Go there and type in the name you want to register. If the message you receive is No match for , you're in business!

The next step to either register the domain name on your own or through your web hosting company. If you just want to grab the name but don't need or want a web site right away, you can easily do that. Find a registrar you like (a full list of ICANN registrars can be found here: Registrars) and register your name.

It's important to realize that not all registrars are equal. Some are more expensive than others. Some require you to register the name for at least two years. Some offer a free 1-page web site or a free email address with your registration. Shop around for the mix that appeals to you.

Another option you have is to allow your web hosting company to deal with the registration issues. If you're ready to get going with your web page, this might be the best choice. Many web hosting companies can offer "free" domain name registration (of course it's not really free, they just build the cost of registration into your web site purchase) or $1.00 registration or some other discount. If you choose this route, make sure the web hosting company lists you as the administrative contact for the domain name. This is important! If they don't do this, you don't really own the name, and in the event you become unhappy with their service, your domain name is at their mercy. The administrative contact is the true owner of the name, and is authorized to make DNS changes for the name (for example, moving from one web host to another).

Once the name is registered, you'll need to find a web hosting company. There are literally thousands (maybe a lot more!) of companies out there hosting web sites. Web hosting companies either own or rent web servers (okay, they're just computers) which have connectivity to the Internet. Astute readers will ask, "Wait, my computer is connected to the Internet! Can I be a web server?" The answer to this is, well, yes, but you don't want to be. The difference between your home computer and a web server is that the web server was designed (we hope) to be a web server. The correct software has been loaded, configured, etc., and most importantly, it has a great connection to the Internet. We're not talking Cable or DSL or even T1 here; a good web hosting company's servers have connections that put those to shame. The reason web servers need that kind of connectivity is that hundreds or thousands of people per day might want to see your web site, and you want them to all have the ability to do so quickly, without a long wait. And there are often between 200 and 400 web sites on any given web server, so the machines might have a lot of demand on their bandwidth during some times of the day.

How do you pick a web hosting company? There's no definitive answer to that question. With all the choices out there, you can certainly find a company that meets your needs if you shop around. A lot depends on the kind of web site you're going to create. For example, if you're going to use Cold Fusion to develop your web site, you'd better make sure your web host supports Cold Fusion. Some considerations when choosing a web host:

How much disk space do they offer?
How quickly do they respond to your emails? Do they sound like people you can work with?
Do they offer the features you need?
Are their prices competitive? (I list this last because I think it's the least important criteria.)

You should also consider the platform upon which you want your web site hosted. This is a fancy way of saying, "what operating system does the web server run, and what software is loaded on it"? If you are planning to develop a SQL Server based system running Active Server Pages, you're going to need a Microsoft platform, probably a Windows 2000 server. If your web designer likes to work with PHP and MySQL, you're probably going to end up with Linux. If you're going to design your web pages using Microsoft FrontPage, you're going to have to make sure your web server has FrontPage Extensions installed. Talk to your web designer and your web hosting company and make sure your questions are answered. Your web designer is the person or company that creates the web pages - the layout, the colors, the pictures, etc. If you can't get good answers, remember that there are a lot of web hosts out there, and as the buyer, you have the upper hand.

After you have chosen your web hosting company, you'll need to sign up with them. Unless they are registering the domain name for you, they'll need your domain name. The web host will provide you with the primary and secondary DNS server names they want you to use. These servers are basically computers at their site (oversimplification alert!), which list all the domains they host. You then go to your registrar's page (the place where you registered the name) and set the DNS for your name to those servers. Your registrar (behind the scenes) makes this information public by publishing this information to the shared registry, which can take up to 72 hours (it's called propagation delay) but can be as little as 12-24 hours. Once this time has passed, your web site should be visible on the Internet.

The next step is for you to upload your pages to the web site. Your web hosting company can give you details on how to do that in your specific case, but the usual procedure is for you to use an FTP program to connect to your web server, log in, and upload the pages (like copying files in Windows Explorer). If you have done this successfully, you should be able to see your pages in a browser.

Another thing you'll want to set up fairly quickly is your email addresses. Your web host will usually provide you with some kind of control panel through which you can set up your mailboxes. One thing to look for is a "catchall" email address, which will allow you to receive any mail to your domain, even if the mailbox name is misspelled. This means that if someone tries to contact webmster@yourdomain.com but they meant webmaster@yourdomain.com, it'll get to you anyway. You might want to set up some email addresses to be "forward only" or "alias" email addresses. This means that they aren't real email addresses; mail sent to them only gets forwarded to a "real" email address. You might want to do this so you can have sales@yourdomain.com, info@yourdomain.com, and support@yourdomain.com all go to you@yourdomain.com. Make sure you understand your web host's instructions for how to set up Microsoft Outlook, Eudora, or some other email client or Webmail so you can pick up your "real" email. Also, make sure you pick up your email once in a while, because uncollected email usually counts against the space you paid for when you reserved your web site with the web hosting company.

I hope this introduction has helped somewhat to demystify the process of getting a web page on to the Internet. It's really not complicated once you understand it and have done it once or twice. Remember, everyone out there with a web page had to learn how to do it at some point, and there are millions of web sites out there! You can do it.


I encourage you to send feedback to this article. I will be glad to follow up this article with others, going more fully into areas I have only touched on or perhaps even left out. Please send your comments to sruli@alsonetworks.com.


Sruli Shaffren has been a computer consultant for many years, working for large clients. The consultant who helped set up our web site and many others, he is the owner of Also Networks, an ISP and web hosting company that does software development for small and mid sized businesses since 1999. He offers 50 megabyte web sites for as little as $6 a month and dial-up Internet access for $12.50 a month.