Practical Ecommerce

Tech Support – July 2006

Question: I’m contemplating either DSL, cable or a T-1 line for my business. How can I determine which Internet connection is best for my company?

Brian Getting: While DSL, cable and T-1 lines all provide a high-speed, “always on” connection to the Internet, they differ in both the connection method and their overall speed. DSL (Digital Subscriber Line), connects you to the Internet by piggybacking a signal onto your existing telephone line. DSL can be limited by the distance of your business to the nearest phone company routing equipment and is probably the slowest of the three connections. Cable is a bit faster than DSL, since the signal is provided through the coaxial cable associated with your cable television service. Your business will need to have a cable signal in order to receive cable Internet, however, most homes and buildings are already wired for cable by now. Both cable and DSL are comparable in their pricing and are the most common choices for small business owners. A T-1 line delivers a connection to the Internet over a fiber optic line that a telecommunications company will need to install into your business. While considerably faster than other connections, T-1 installation can be expensive, and the cost of a T-1 line is prohibitive to business owners that don?t absolutely need it. When choosing a connection, consider what infrastructure your business already has (phone line or cable line), and what your needs will be for the speed of your connection.

Question: How do I know if my website works properly with all browsers and with both PC and Mac platforms?

One of the hardest parts of designing and developing websites is making sure that they display and work properly when viewed with various browser and operating-system combinations. While there are a lot of different combinations out there, most designers will aim for compatibility with Internet Explorer, Firefox, and Netscape for Windows and Safari, Firefox, and Netscape for Apple OS X. This can be tricky, however, since each browser has its own unique weaknesses. The best way to ensure your website will be compatible is to test it with as many different browsers and operating system combinations as you can while you are designing the site. Another option is to use a service such as Browser Cam, which will provide you with screenshots of how your website will render in selected browsers and operating systems. This does not, however, provide a test for functionality, which is equally if not more important than the visual rendering. Remember to test your site often as you are developing, since problems are easier to fix when caught early.

Question: My hosting plan is for a certain amount of bandwidth. What is bandwidth, exactly, and why does this matter to a hosting company?

To put it simply, bandwidth is the amount of data that is transferred to and from a web server. Bandwidth includes all data transfers, including FTP, email and web traffic. For example, let?s say you have a one megabyte file you want to place on your website. That file was emailed to you from a designer, which means that one megabyte of information was transferred via the web server to your email inbox. You then get that file from your email and send it (via FTP) to your public website. That FTP session then transferred another one megabyte to the web server, so you are now up to two megabytes of bandwidth. Now let?s say that someone downloads that file from your website. Yet another one megabyte of information is transferred from the web server. Through all of this, you have now used three megabytes of bandwidth on your hosting account. This is important to hosting companies because a website using a lot of bandwidth consumes more resources from the hosting company, and often times they will charge extra for additional bandwidth.

Question: What are .htaccess files and what do they do?

When your website is hosted on a Unix server, as most websites are, you will probably be using the Apache web-server application. This is the application on the server that receives requests for web pages (from your brower) and responds to them properly. One feature of Apache is that it makes use of .htaccess files. These are small text files allowing you to tell Apache to do things like define custom error pages or password protect a folder on your website. Each folder on your website can have its own .htaccess file if needed, although an .htaccess file in one folder will affect all folders inside of that folder as well. So what can you do with .htaccess files? There is a whole list of commands that the Apache web-server application will understand. One of the more common commands tells the server not to allow directory indexes. This means that if someone were to navigate to a folder on your website (and there wasn?t an index.html file in that folder) they would not be presented with a list of the files in that folder. Another common use of .htaccess directives is to use modrewrite (an Apache module) to rewrite URLs so that they are more search-engine friendly. To find out more about .htaccess files, see the Apache documentation.

Brian Getting

Brian Getting

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