Practical Ecommerce

Have You Ever Wondered How a Website Works?

In the most basic terms, a website is a collection of files on the hard drive of a server that can be accessed by the public. Since this is not a very satisfying explanation of what a website is or how one works, perhaps it is easier to follow the pathway between someone that is surfing the Internet and the website they are viewing.

Type in a domain name

When you fire up your favorite web browser and type in the domain name of a website you want to view, the first thing that happens is that a request is sent to the server that is hosting that website. This server is found via the Domain Name Server (DNS) system, which associates the domain name (which we humans understand) and the address of the server that is hosting that website (which the computers understand). Once that request is received by the server, it looks at the files of the website to determine what happens next.

The first file to be checked is the home page file, which is usually called “index.html” by default, although another file could be assigned as the home page. If this file is a dynamic script, such as a PHP file, then the server runs the script and the appropriate HTML output is sent back to the browser that made the request. In the case of an HTML file, which does not require the server to do any processing, the file is sent or “served” directly back to the browser. This is referred to as a “response” from the server, and completes the basic cycle that makes websites work: the browser makes a request, the server processes that request, and returns and appropriate response to the browser.

Interpret the code

When the browser receives the response from the server, which is made up of primarily HTML code, it then proceeds to “parse” or interpret the code. Most websites require much more than simply HTML code to display properly. They also require images, Cascading Style Sheets, JavaScript and other assets to display properly. As the browser begins to interpret the HTML code, it will come upon references to these assets, telling the browser that it needs to get these files as well. It is not uncommon for a even a simple web page to require more then fifteen separate files in order to display properly, so the browser sends a request to the server for each file that it needs.

Display the website

When all the files that are required to display a web page have been downloaded, the browser is then able to properly display the website and the loading process is complete. We all probably remember waiting for images to download, or watching, as a web page slowly seemed to piece itself together in front of our eyes. Usually associated with a very slow Internet connection, the phenomenon is caused by the amount of time it takes for all of the files needed to display a web page are downloaded.

The process then starts all over again when a link is clicked, which triggers the browser to make a request for another file from the server.

Brian Getting

Brian Getting

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  1. Legacy User September 17, 2007 Reply

    Very informative article: I used it in a paper for my ecommerce class.

    The article I chose was “Have You Ever Wondered How a Website Works?” written by Brian Getting, which describes how a website functions and how the data is transferred between the server hosting the website to the browser that the user is using to retrieve it. Typing the name of the website into the browser begins the communication between the browser and the server hosting the website. Once this is done the default program on the server is usually “index.html” which is like the outline or index of the website. After reading this program the files are sent directly to the browser by the server hosting the site. After all the files have been downloaded to properly display a website, the cycle ends until another user action has taken place. When a link is clicked it then redirects the server to send another page to the screen. When it is blurry or graphics are slow to load, it is usually due to a poor internet connection, but by making the website plainer this can be reduced. The more graphics, animations, bells and whistles that a website offers the longer it takes for the user to load. There is a fine line between efficient operation of a website and a visually attractive website that keeps the customer or users attention.
    I selected this article because I use the internet on a daily basis and never understood what the process was between my computer and the hosting server. The more someone understands how a business technique works, such as ecommerce, the better one can use it to best suite the needs of the business. I hope to own my own business some day, and to me this seems the most cost efficient way to get your product to the customer, not only to your community but to anyone in the world. You can incorporate the postal service and could run your business literally from your garage, and still maintain the virtual impression that you are a thriving successful business.
    More and more business transactions are attributed to website purchases every year. This is a growing market, because once the initial investment on building the website and making a product are complete, sales and profit can be achieved with minimal employees. This provides for a more efficient business, with less overhead due to employee costs. Cheaper labor prices in foreign countries, also exchange rates make it possible to sell, for example, fireworks in the United States from a website and then send the order directly to the distributor for a profit and have the distributor ship the product directly to the customer. You become the middle man with out having to have the added cost of inventory control.
    There are so many ways that the website affects everyday business with not only websites but intranets which are ways one employee can communicate information between employees securely. Fax machines are a thing of the past saving on paper by keeping everything filed on an intranet digitally. Forms and articles can be found with modern search engines rather than fingering through filling cabinets.
    These are just some of the concepts that I have come up with by better understanding the way a website works. The more understanding I have of ecommerce and how it can be used as an advantage in the business world, the better I will be able to apply to my company whom I work for, or the business that I own for myself. Either way in the global changing economy a business either adapts or goes out of business.

    Works Cited
    Gettings, Brian; Practical Ecommerce (2007). Have You Ever Wondered How a Website Works? [Electronic version]. Retrieved September 15, 2007, from

    — *Chad Gray*

  2. Legacy User January 7, 2008 Reply

    I think that this "explanation" of how a website works is not helpful to me. What I was looking for was all of the things that make up the website.

    — *Milun*

  3. Legacy User February 29, 2008 Reply

    I found this really useful. I was looking for something to give a basic introduction to the inner workings of the Internet and this did an excellent job.


    — *Petrice*

  4. Legacy User March 17, 2008 Reply

    its very useful thanks

    — *aravind*

  5. Legacy User May 18, 2008 Reply


    — *James*

  6. Hamidreza January 10, 2016 Reply

    it is a very good article, simple and usefull