Understanding How the Web Works

Essay by bhassan November 2014

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Understanding How the Web Works

As a web designer, it's important to understand how the web works and the processes involved in hosting, serving, and rendering websites. By understanding the terminology and underlying technology, you'll create more efficient sites and have a concrete understanding of why you do the things that you do. Before we move on to specific topics, let's take a moment to examine how the web works as an overall process. If you could compare learning web design to building a house, consider this the foundation. One of the first things I want to clear up is the confusion between the terms the Internet and the web. Most people assume they're the same thing, but they're not.

The Internet is a term that's used to refer to a massive network of millions of computers all over the world that are used to share and transmit information. This is done through various protocols and languages and includes things like email, SMS messaging, application data, as well as the web itself.

The World Wide Web, which is usually shortened to just the web, is way of transmitting data over the Internet using the HTTP protocol and HTML. We'll talk more about protocols and languages later. For now, let's just focus how data is shared over the web. The web can be summarized as a series of interactions between two types of systems, clients and servers.

Clients are the devices that request and render web content. Popular clients include browsers, mobile applications, screen readers, and the various content aggregators. We live in an increasingly connected world, and the number of clients that can access web content is growing rapidly. In fact, trying to keep up with all the new clients and how they access and render your content is one...