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How Websites Work

Understand How Websites Work in 5 Easy Steps: Chalk Talk #7


As a business owner that’s constantly overwhelmed, how do you stay on top of how your website works? Understanding how the Internet works is essential to finding success managing a digital business. In this article, I’ll guide you through a simple explanation.

  1. Let’s say your on your cell-phone. You type “” into the URL bar and a request is sent to your internet service provider (ISP).
  2. From there, your ISP tries to find the “name” server, which matches the URL with a string of numbers called an IP address, an address for a server.

Note!  As a business owner, you need to understand the significance of the domain name registrar.  You need to be sure you own your own domain. It’s like signing the lease on your business storefront. Your domain name registrar service is not the same thing as the server that is hosting your website, but they can sometimes overlap. Some registrar services will host your website as well. Make sure that you own both, failing to establish ownership over your domain can set you up for problems down the line.

  1. Once your request has reached the server, it is routed through code written in a server-side programming language such as PHP.

Note! If you’re working with a service like wordpress, the website hosting and the code may come wrapped together. In this case, you’re getting a website that your hosting on a server. The service handles both the code that defines your website’s theme and the server that hosts your website online.

  1. From there, the server sends a response: a packet of HTML, javascript, or other content.
  2. The browser on your phone parses the information and presents it to the user.

In a nutshell, that’s how the Internet works! Understanding these little details will pay off in the future as you scale up your digital brand.


[00:02] Hey, this is Shaheen over at Web Upon and this is episode number seven of Chalk Talk Thursday. Today I want to cover how websites work. This is actually a super common question that I get all the time, and I think especially for business owners that are busy with everything else they’re doing, its hard to stay on top of all the little minute things that go into a website and what exactly is happening. I’m going to explain those, so you understand how it works, and emphasize the key areas that every business owner should be aware of when it comes to actually owning their site and making sure that their developer isn’t going to be in a position where they have undue leverage upon you.

[00:38] Starting off from your cellphone, when you type something in, it’s going to go over to your ISP, this can be any internet service provider like Comcast, or Cox, or Netlink. I looked and there’s hundreds of them in the US, but there’s probably about a dozen. These are the people that are delivering internet to you directly. From there, let’s say you type in, it’s going to go off and basically try to find something called a name server. What the name server does is matches this letter, this word that you can understand, or whatever it may be, with a string of numbers that’s actually the address for a server.

[01:18] Now, the thing I really, really want to emphasize here, and this is again something that every business owner should understand is that, there is something called a domain name registrar. And this is something that you as the business owner really, really want to own. You want to own your domain name. Occasionally, developers will buy the domain name for you just because they’re trying to help you out. Some of them are more nefarious about it, but the thing to understand is, you really, really want to own your name. It’s like you signed the lease on your actual business storefront. You want to own the name. What this is, is a domain registrar.

[01:55] Now, domain registrars are separate from servers. The server is the actual host, that’s the data server that you’re paying for. Some common hosts in the US are GoDaddy, you may have heard that name before, or DreamHost, I love using WPX host. So there’s tons of hosts out there. And what they do is maintain the server space. Now the thing to keep in mind is that these two things, the registrar and the host can be separate, but they can also be the same thing. So you can have your name registered with a separate service and you can have it hosted on a separate service.

[02:32] Often with GoDaddy installations, I find people who have registered their name there and they’re also hosting it at GoDaddy. But in both cases, you as the business owner want to make sure that you’re paying for, and you own your hosting, and you want to make sure that you paid for when you own your domain registration. You don’t want to hit a situation where a couple of years into your business growth, you come upon a day and suddenly your website’s down, and it’s down because you haven’t renewed your domain name or your actual hosting has gone down because you haven’t paid for it, anything like that. So it’s very important to remember that. So once it’s at the actual server, it gets routed through some code. So this could be PHP or any number of other languages that are able to operate on the server.

[03:14] And what this code does is sends information out in html, JavaScript, it sends you the pictures, all these things you’re probably familiar with. Now, the thing to keep in mind here is that when it comes to the server code, this can also basically be functioning on a service that wraps the hosting in with the code. So if you’re using WordPress, you’re basically getting a code set that you’re hosting on a server. Let’s say you have a WordPress website, you may have paid for someone to get you a WordPress setup, you may have paid for a theme, that’s all code focused. Now, you may also be paying for hosting for that same WordPress website, so you paid for the theme, you paid for the WordPress development and it’s sitting on a server, and then you also may have independently paid for a registrar for your domain name.

[04:00] It can also be the case that you paid for a name, you’re also hosting with the same company that’s your domain registrar, and you also just use one of their site builder or something like that, but that’s something that I think every business owner should really be aware of. I often encounter a lot of confusion around what a domain name registrar is and what an actual host is. So there are some services that are basically combining the code and the actual servers all into one package, so you’re also paying for that. Something like that could be Shopify, or BigCommerce is great one also it does this, Volusion does this but they’re terrible as an SEO. I’m just going to throw that in there. Don’t go with Volusion. Magento can also be grouped into here, but I wouldn’t recommend them either.

[04:45] So basically with these services, you’re paying for the code package and there handling all the server hosting functions for you. They may also offer to register your domain name. I of course would always just being the paranoid developer that I am, separately register my domain name so I own it from any other services. And then that way you’re basically secure no matter what happens. And that’s a good place to be for any business owner, especially when you’re investing a lot of time and money into your brand name and into your business growth.

[05:13] So you have these stacks of code that are operating on servers and what they’re serving on html and pictures and JavaScript. And then at the end there, what’s happening is that a browser is parsing this information which is going to give you your nice little Emoji on the very, very end of this entire circle here. The browsers can be anything like Safari, or Chrome, Firefox. So all of these things are browsers, and what browsers do is basically parse these html and pictures and Java scripts, so you can see it all nicely on your phone or your desktop at the end of the day. And yeah, that’s how websites work.


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