How Web Pages Work

Setting the Stage

At this moment, it is nearly guaranteed that:

  • You are sitting at your computer.
  • You are using a Web browser to read this page, and that browser could be Microsoft Internet Explorer, Firefox or maybe Netscape.
  • You want to learn how Web pages work, and perhaps learn the art of creating your own pages.

Because you are sitting at a computer, you have a Web browser and you possess the desire to learn, you have everything you need to get started. You can learn HTML and experiment with your Web browser to find out how to create any kind of Web page you can imagine.


In order to talk about Web pages and how they work, you will want to understand four simple terms (and if some of this sounds like technical mumbo-jumbo the first time you read it, don't worry):

  • Web page - A Web page is a simple text file that contains not only text, but also a set of HTML tags that describe how the text should be formatted when a browser displays it on the screen. The tags are simple instructions that tell the Web browser how the page should look when it is displayed. The tags tell the browser to do things like change the font size or color, or arrange things in columns. The Web browser interprets these tags to decide how to format the text onto the screen.
  • HTML - HTML stands for Hyper Text Markup Language. A "markup language" is a computer language that describes how a page should be formatted. If all you want to do is display a long string of black and white text with no formatting, then you don't need HTML. But if you want to change fonts, add colors, create headlines and embed graphics in your page, HTML is the language you use to do it.
  • Web browser - A Web browser, like Netscape Navigator or Microsoft Internet Explorer, is a computer program (also known as a software application, or simply an application) that does two things: A Web browser knows how to go to a Web server on the Internet and request a page, so that the browser can pull the page through the network and into your machine. A Web browser knows how to interpret the set of HTML tags within the page in order to display the page on your screen as the page's creator intended it to be viewed.
  • Web server - A Web server is a piece of computer software that can respond to a browser's request for a page, and deliver the page to the Web browser through the Internet. You can think of a Web server as an apartment complex, with each apartment housing someone's Web page. In order to store your page in the complex, you need to pay rent on the space. Pages that live in this complex can be displayed to and viewed by anyone all over the world. Your landlord is called your host, and your rent is usually called your hosting charge. Every day, there are millions of Web servers delivering pages to the browsers of tens of millions of people through the network we call the Internet. Read How Web Servers Work for details on this process.

It is extremely easy to experiment with Web pages without using a server. Your browser can view the Web pages you create from your personal machine. Once you understand how to create your own pages, it is likely that you will want to put them "out on a server," so that people around the world can load your pages and read them. We will talk about how to do that at the end of this article.