Website Building Blocks

There are a number of ways to build a website. You can enter HTML code directly into a text editor like NotePad, then upload the files to your web server. Many people prefer to do it this way, because they retain the most control over their site. Of course, you need to be very familiar with HTML, and preferably also with CSS. This method works well for simple 1 to 5 page websites.

If you want to step it up a level, you can use a WYSIWYG HTML editor like Dreamweaver or NVU. These are software packages which run on your computer, and which work rather like a word processor. You can switch between a view of the web page as it will appear, and the underlying HTML code. Once you’ve created a web page, you can upload it to your server from within the program.There is a bit of learning curve, especially with Dreamweaver, which is incredibly powerful.

Up to now I’ve been talking about static HTML web pages. If you want to add dynamic features, where a web page is created ‘on-the-fly’ based on the user’s input, a database is needed. With this kind of website, everything gets stored in a database on the server and is recalled when the page is rendered by the browser. Websites like Amazon.com, eBay and of course Google would be impossible without scripting languages like ASP, ColdFusion or PHP.

Dreamweaver can create pages using these scripting languages. However, most people will find it simpler to use a Content Management System (CMS) of some kind.

A CMS is a script which runs on a web server. It acts as a framework for a website, meaning that everything doesn’t have to be created from scratch for every new website. It will include support for various common activities, such as publishing content, allowing user searches and comments, updating and editing content, and generating web feeds. A big advantage is that you can access the script from any computer on the Internet, as long as you know the user name and password.

There are hundreds of CMS scripts available, many of which are licenced under the Gnu Public Licence (GPL). Some of these are are optimized for specific purposes, for example Moodle, which is intended for e-learning systems. Forums, wikis and blogs all use some form of CMS script.

Popular ‘general purpose’ or ‘portal’ CMS scripts include XOOPS, Drupal and Joomla. You can add features to these scripts by installing additional modules or plug-ins. You can also change the way they look by installing different templates or themes, or you can create your own.

WordPress is a popular script which was originally designed as a blogging platform. From a structural point of view, blogs are websites where the articles or ‘posts’ are listed in reverse date order – in other words, the most recent posts appear first. With the addition of the ability to display static pages as well as posts in release 1.5, WordPress started to bridge the gap between ‘blogging platform’ and ‘CMS’.

Fans of the various CMS scripts can get a bit, well, fanatical. Each CMS script has a unique mixture of strengths and weaknesses. My personal preference for most purposes is WordPress, because it is flexible enough to cope with most requirements, yet easy to understand. Some of the other CMS scripts use cryptic terminology and concepts which I find confusing.

Based on the number of visitors to the website, WordPress is the most popular of the CMS scripts at the moment. This means that support is widely available.

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