What is the (World Wide) Web?

When you view a web page, you are actually using a pair of programs that work together to deliver and display that page on your screen.

One program is a ‘web server’. This generally resides on a computer in a remote data center, and it does nothing but sit there and wait for someone to request a web page from it.

The other program is a ‘web browser’ such as Microsoft Internet Explorer, Firefox or Google’s Chrome. It resides on your computer (or tablet or smart phone), and allows you to request a web page. You can initiate your request in a variety of ways. For example, you can type the address of a web page into the ‘address bar’ of the browser, you can click on a link (hyperlink) on a web page that leads to the one you want, or you can use a ‘bookmark’ that you have previously set.

Once you make your request, your browser forwards it to the web server where the page (hopefully) resides. The web server looks for the page you requested, and if it finds it, it sends it back to your browser, which displays it on your screen. That page may contain links to other web pages, and you can request one of them by clicking on the appropriate link. That’s why it’s called the web; almost everything is interconnected via links.

What is a website?

A website is a collection of related web pages. They may have a similar look and feel, including a similar banner (what’s on top of the page), footer (what’s on bottom), sidebars and other common features. There will usually be one or more menus that allow you to navigate between the pages, hopefully in a logical and intuitive fashion.

One page will be designated as the ‘Home page’, which is the normal entry point of the website. The Home page often has a stronger visual appearance, similar to the cover of a book, and provides access to the rest of the site.

What about functional web pages, such as for e-commerce?

Things can, and do, get much more interesting. Basic web pages just display a fixed set of content, and that’s it. However, web servers can do more than this. For example, a web page can accept information from the user and the web server can route it to a computer program for further processing. The program will do whatever its instructions call for, which may include looking up information in a ‘database’ or processing an on-line purchase or customer service request. Once the request is processed, the program usually sends a result back to the web server, which in turn sends it to the browser to display on your computer.

Usually, but not always, you can tell when this is happening. The web page may end in something like .aspx or .php, which tells the server what type of computer program it should use to process the page. The file containing the web page will include special instructions (hidden from you) that are responsible for handling whatever functions the page is supposed to perform. All you see is the results.