WWW FAQs: How do I set up a website?

2012-03-26: first, consider the easy way. There are many websites that help you create a website of your own with very little learning required. I am one of the developers of Apostrophe and I strongly recommend it. Apostrophe is suitable for both personal and professional websites, so you may not need to look any further. Other options of this kind include squarespace and weebly. If all you really want is a blog, consider tumblr as well.

But whether you choose to build your website yourself in HTML and CSS or use a friendly service like Apostrophe, you'll still want to register a domain name for yourself. That's the name that users type into their browser to see your website. Picking a good one matters. For more information, see how do I register a domain name?

The services mentioned above include web hosting and don't require you to learn HTML and CSS. So the rest of this article is meant for folks who want to build their own site, to learn more about the technology or to do things the convenient services mentioned above don't provide.

You must choose a web hosting company to host your site for you. Hosting prices vary from $5/month on up depending on the nature of your site and the amount of traffic you expect; extremely popular sites can expect to pay for a more expensive plan, or to pay extra bandwidth charges.

Web Hosting Talk offers well-established forums in which to discuss the quality of various web hosting providers.

Third, you will need to create your website's content. In most cases you will already own one or more programs that can be used to save web pages in the World Wide Web's HTML format. For instance, both the 100% free OpenOffice suite and Microsoft Office offer a "Save As..." HTML capability in their word processor software. Creating a web page with these tools is much like writing any other document, with the addition of the ability to make links to other pages and sites.

But how exactly do you make a link from one page to another? In OpenOffice, this is very easy to do:

1. Select the text or image in your document that should become a link.

2. Pull down the "Insert" menu and choose "Hyperlink."

3. In the "Target" field, enter the URL of the page you want to link to. If you are linking to another page in the same folder on your own website, you can just enter the filename, such as aboutus.html. That's all. This isn't hard— just keep it simple and don't second-guess yourself into getting it wrong! You don't want to enter a complete filename with drive letters and slashes here. Just the name of another page that you plan to put in the same folder one you move your pages to your website.

4. Click "Apply." This is important.

5. Click "Close."

If you are writing HTML by hand, see the article how do I link to another page or file? for a complete explanation of how to make links.

"Can't I host my own website at home?" Yes... but it's inconvenient, unreliable, and insecure. Real hosting can be very cheap, as cheap as $5 a month, so think twice before hosting at home. See should I host my own website at home? and how do I host my own website at home?

You can name the rest of your web pages anything you like, but be sure to name your "home" page index.html. Web servers understand that index.html is the file to give when the user doesn't specify a particular page. So when a user types in or clicks on a link to www.example.com, the page they get is index.html. If you don't provide an index page, users will see a directory listing or an error message— not professional.

You will also need to create graphics for your site, of course. Your graphics must be in GIF, JPEG or PNG format to be used effectively on the web; please do not put BMP files on the web as they are very, very slow to download and do not work with every browser. All Linux users, and Windows users who are willing to take the time to master a somewhat confusing interface, will want to use GIMP, which is free and very powerful. Windows users should consider the very affordable and user-friendly Ultimate Paint; many features are available without restriction even without the $39.95 registration. Macintosh users and high-end graphics mavens swear by Photoshop.

Fourth, you will need to upload the pages and images you have created to your new web space. Your hosting company will provide instructions for this. Often your hosting provider's instructions call for moving files via FTP or Secure FTP (SFTP). Windows users can do that with FileZilla, a free, open-source, noncommercial FTP and SFTP "client" program. MacOS X and Linux users have command-line FTP built-in, but MacOS X users will probably prefer the user-friendly Transmit program.

Once you've uploaded your files, your site is up!

Webmasters who wish to understand the web more directly and gain more control will be interested in learning about HTML (Hypertext Markup Language), the format in which web pages are created. Although I have recommended user-friendly tools above, it is not difficult at all to learn to write your own HTML elements, and you will gain a deeper mastery of the Web that way. For more information, see what are HTML and XHTML?

Professionals and others with a significant budget should also look at Macromedia Dreamweaver, currently the most reputable high-end tool for creating web pages.

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Legal Note: yes, you may use sample HTML, Javascript, PHP and other code presented above in your own projects. You may not reproduce large portions of the text of the article without our express permission.

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