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Guide to Website Development

What is website development

A website stands as the virtual storefront, the first encounter for users seeking information, services, or products. Behind the sleek interfaces and interactive features lies the intricate art of website development, a process that encompasses a multitude of disciplines. This guide to website development, covers the diverse landscape from the fundamental elements of markup and coding to the intricacies of scripting, network configuration, and the intricate world of Content Management Systems (CMS).

At the very foundation of any website lies the artistry of markup and coding. Hypertext Markup Language (HTML) and Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) form the backbone, shaping content and dictating its visual presentation. Understanding these fundamental building blocks is akin to deciphering the language in which the digital narrative is written.

Moving beyond static displays, the infusion of interactivity and dynamism breathes life into a website. This is where scripting languages, particularly JavaScript, come into play. They empower developers to create seamless user experiences, fostering real-time interactions, dynamic content updates, and the responsive designs that modern users have come to expect.

Effective website development extends beyond the surface, delving into the intricacies of network configuration. Server-side scripting, database management, and server protocols are the unsung heroes working behind the scenes, ensuring the smooth flow of data between the user’s device and the server. This, in turn, is paramount for optimising performance, scalability, and maintaining a secure online environment.

Guide to Website Development web design peterborough blue dolphin

Web Development vs Website Development

As we ascend the ladder of complexity, we encounter Content Management Systems (CMS), the architects of user-friendly content creation and management. Popular platforms such as WordPress, Drupal, and Joomla democratise website administration, allowing even those without extensive coding knowledge to maintain, update, and expand their online presence effortlessly.

What distinguishes web development from website development? The former encapsulates a broader spectrum, encompassing the creation of web applications, complex systems, and more. On the other hand, website development is a focused endeavour, centring specifically on crafting and maintaining web pages, be they static or dynamic. Understanding this nuance is key to navigating the diverse avenues within the ever-evolving landscape of digital creation.

In this article on website development, we embark on a journey through the layers that constitute our digital experiences. From the foundational languages to the intricate scripting, network configurations, and the empowerment of CMS, each aspect weaves into a digital tapestry that defines the online landscape. So, join us as we unravel the code, uncover the secrets, and demystify the artistry that brings the virtual world to life.

website development it can be dangerous choosing the wrong content management system

The importance of web development!

The Internet has become a portal and primary method of research, connection, education, and entertainment in the world. As of 2023, there were 4.95 billion global Internet users — more than two thirds of  the world’s population.

Given the rapidly-increasing number of Internet users, it’s no surprise that web development is a rapidly expanding industry. Between now and 2028, the employment of web developers is expected to grow by 13%, much faster than most other technology careers.

Website Design Fundamentals

1. What is a website and a browser?

Websites explained

A website is a collection of related web pages that are typically identified by a common domain name and are published on at least one web server. These web pages are interconnected and often include multimedia content, such as text, images, videos, and interactive elements. A website serves as a platform for individuals, businesses, organizations, and other entities to share information, provide services, and interact with a global audience through the World Wide Web.

Fundamentally, a website is built using various technologies and languages, with HTML (Hypertext Markup Language) serving as the backbone for structuring content on a page. CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) is employed for styling and formatting, ensuring a visually appealing and consistent presentation. JavaScript, a dynamic programming language, adds interactivity to web pages, enabling features like animations, form validation, and dynamic content updates.

Web browsers

In conjunction with websites, web browsers play a pivotal role in facilitating user interaction with online content. A web browser is a software application that retrieves and displays web pages from the internet, interpreting HTML, CSS, and JavaScript to render the content on a user’s device. Popular web browsers include Google Chrome, Mozilla Firefox, Microsoft Edge, Safari, and Opera. These browsers provide users with a graphical interface to navigate the web, bookmark favourite pages, and interact with various online elements.

As technology advances, websites are evolving to incorporate responsive design principles, ensuring compatibility across a spectrum of devices, including desktops, laptops, tablets, and smartphones. Additionally, the development of web applications and dynamic content delivery mechanisms has further enhanced the user experience, transforming websites into powerful platforms for communication, commerce, and collaboration in the digital era.

what is a website and what is a browser

2. What is an IP address?

To access a website, you need to know its Internet Protocol (IP) address. An IP address is a unique string of numbers. Each device has an IP address to distinguish itself from the billions of websites and devices connected via the Internet. As of April 2023 there were around 1.6 billion websites but only around 15% were active

The IP address for Blue Dolphin is 185.151.30.156. You can find any website’s IP address by visiting a site like Site 24×7

To find your device’s IP address, you can also type “what’s my IP address” into your search browser or visit this site 

While you can access a website using its IP address, most Internet users prefer to use domain names or by going through search engines. i.e. they type in www.bdolphin.co.uk directly or search web designer Peterborough

3. What do HTTP & HTTPS mean?

HyperText Transfer Protocol (HTTP) connects you and your website request to the remote server that houses all website data. It’s a set of rules (a protocol) that defines how messages should be sent over the Internet. It allows you to jump between websites and website pages.

When you type a website into your web browser or search for something through a search engine, HTTP provides a framework. Allowing the client (computer) and server to speak and understand the same language when they make requests and responses to each other over the Internet.

Think of HTTP as the translator between you and the Internet

  • It reads your website request
  • Reads the code sent back from the server
  • Translates it for you in the form of a website.

4. What is coding?

Coding, in the context of website development, is the process of creating and designing the underlying structure and functionality of a website through the use of programming languages. It is a fundamental aspect of web development, providing developers with the tools to instruct computers on how to execute specific tasks and display content. The languages used in coding for websites include HTML, CSS, and JavaScript, each serving a distinct purpose in shaping the overall user experience.

HTML, or Hypertext Markup Language, forms the backbone of web pages by defining the structure and layout of content. It uses tags to mark different elements on a page, such as headings, paragraphs, images, and links. HTML provides the essential framework that browsers interpret to render a webpage visually.

CSS, or Cascading Style Sheets, complements HTML by focusing on the presentation and styling of web content. It enables developers to control the appearance of elements, specifying details like color, layout, and font styles. CSS allows for the creation of visually appealing and consistent designs across various pages within a website.

JavaScript, on the other hand, is a dynamic programming language that adds interactivity to web pages. Through JavaScript, developers can create responsive and engaging features, such as interactive forms, dynamic content updates, and animations. JavaScript executes on the client-side, meaning it runs directly in the user’s browser, enhancing the user experience by enabling real-time interactions.

Logical to achieve specific functionality

Coding involves writing and structuring lines of code in a logical sequence to achieve specific functionalities. It requires a clear understanding of the programming languages being used, as well as problem-solving skills to troubleshoot and optimise the code. In website development, coding is an iterative process that involves writing, testing, and refining code to ensure that the website functions as intended across different browsers and devices.

Coding is not only about creating static web pages but also about building dynamic and responsive web applications that can adapt to user input and deliver personalised experiences. As websites become more sophisticated, coding remains an essential skill for web developers, allowing them to bring innovative ideas to life and create digital experiences that meet the evolving needs of users on the internet.

All software is written by at least one coding language, but languages vary based on platform, operating system, and style. All languages fall into one of two categories: front-end and back-end.

what is coding for website design

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5. What does front-end mean?

In website development, the term “front end” refers to the user interface and user experience components of a website that are directly visible and accessible to visitors. It encompasses everything that users interact with, see, and experience on the browser when they navigate a website. The front end, often referred to as the “client side,” is the part of web development that focuses on presenting content in an aesthetically pleasing and user-friendly manner.

Front-end development involves the use of various technologies, including HTML, CSS, and JavaScript, to create the visual elements and interactive features that make up a website. HTML (Hypertext Markup Language) structures the content on a web page, defining headings, paragraphs, images, and links. CSS (Cascading Style Sheets) is responsible for styling and formatting, ensuring a cohesive and visually appealing design. JavaScript adds dynamic behaviour to the front end, enabling features like animations, form validation, and real-time updates without the need for a page reload.

Front-end developers play a crucial role in translating the design and user experience objectives into a functional and engaging interface. They need to consider factors such as responsiveness, cross-browser compatibility, and accessibility to ensure that the website works seamlessly across various devices and platforms. Additionally, front-end development involves optimising performance to enhance the speed at which web pages load and ensuring a positive user experience.

As websites have evolved, front-end development has become more complex with the emergence of frameworks and libraries such as React, Angular, and Vue.js. These tools provide developers with pre-built components and a structured approach to building interactive and scalable user interfaces. The front end, being the most visible part of a website, is often subject to continuous refinement and improvement to meet changing design trends and user expectations.

The front end of a website is the user-facing aspect that encompasses the design, layout, and interactivity. It represents the digital storefront where users engage with content, and its development is a crucial aspect of creating a compelling and effective online presence.

6. What does back-end mean?

The term “back end” refers to the server-side components of a website that operate behind the scenes, handling data processing, storage, and server-related functionalities. Unlike the front end, which deals with the user interface and presentation layer, the back end is responsible for managing the logic, databases, and server-side operations that enable the functionality of a website.

Back-end development involves working with server-side programming languages, databases, and server configurations to ensure that a website can perform tasks beyond what the user sees on the screen. Common server-side programming languages include PHP, Python, Ruby, and Node.js, each serving a specific purpose in processing data and generating dynamic content. These languages enable developers to create the business logic and algorithms that power the website’s functionality.

One of the key components of the back end is the database, which serves as a repository for storing and retrieving data. Databases, such as MySQL, PostgreSQL, and MongoDB, are crucial for managing information such as user accounts, product details, and other dynamic content. Back-end developers design and implement database structures, ensuring efficient data storage, retrieval, and manipulation.

Security is a paramount consideration in back-end development. Back-end developers implement measures to protect sensitive information, authenticate users, and secure data transmissions between the server and the client. This includes practices such as encryption, secure coding techniques, and user authentication protocols.

Back-end development also involves dealing with server configurations and infrastructure. Developers choose appropriate web servers, manage server resources, and optimise performance to ensure that the website can handle varying levels of traffic and operate reliably.

Collaboration between front-end and back-end developers is essential for creating a cohesive and functional website. The back end provides the necessary support for the front end to display dynamic and personalised content based on user interactions. Together, these components form a full-stack development approach, where developers have expertise in both front-end and back-end technologies.

The back end of a website is the technical backbone responsible for server-side operations, data processing, and business logic. Back-end development is essential for building robust, scalable, and secure web applications that can handle complex tasks and deliver a seamless user experience.

what does back end mean in website development

7. What is a CMS and how does it differ from a site builder?

A Content Management System (CMS) and a site builder, such as Squarespace or Wix, are both essential tools in the realm of website development, each serving distinct purposes and catering to different user needs. At their core, these platforms are designed to facilitate the creation and management of websites, but they differ significantly in terms of functionality, flexibility, and user experience.

A Content Management System is a robust software application that empowers users to create, modify, and organise digital content on a website without the need for extensive coding skills. Popular CMS options include WordPress, Joomla, and Drupal. CMS platforms separate the design and content elements, allowing users to update and edit the content without directly manipulating the website’s code. This separation of concerns makes CMS particularly advantageous for websites with large amounts of dynamic content, as it streamlines the content creation and editing process.

On the other hand, a site builder like Squarespace provides a more user-friendly and visually intuitive interface for individuals or small businesses looking to establish an online presence without delving into the complexities of coding or design. Site builders typically offer a range of pre-designed templates, drag-and-drop elements, and customisation options, making it easy for users with limited technical expertise to create visually appealing websites. However, the trade-off is that site builders may have limitations when it comes to advanced customisation and scalability, making them more suitable for simpler websites.

While CMS and site builders both contribute to the democratisation of website development, they target different audiences and use cases. CMS platforms are ideal for those who require more control over their website’s structure, functionality, and content management, often serving businesses with intricate needs. In contrast, site builders are tailored for individuals or small businesses seeking a streamlined, hassle-free solution to quickly establish an online presence with visually striking websites.

Understanding the distinctions between a Content Management System and a site builder is crucial for anyone venturing into website development. The choice between the two depends on the specific requirements of the project, the level of technical expertise, and the desired balance between customisation and ease of use.

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Guide To Website Development

The Website Development Process

The process of creating a website isn’t as easy as 1-2-3. Each development path is different based on the type of website, programming languages, and resources.

The points below serves as a brief overview of the web development process and a short introduction to the most common languages and CMS options.

1. Form a plan.

It’s vital to first connect with teams and personnel across your organisation to develop a plan for your website, before laying pen to paper or hands to keyboard,

Here are some questions to consider before your first site draft:

  • What is the goal of your website?
  • Who is your audience, and what do you want them to do on your website?
  • What type of website are you building? (e.g. basic informational, membership, online store)
  • What content are you aiming to publish, and at what volume?
  • What’s the purpose of this content?
  • How will you structure your website for the best navigational experience?
  • What’s your budget?

Answering the questions requires interfacing with your web development, marketing, and financial teams to determine your priorities and make informed decisions.

It’s much easier to create a site plan at the beginning of the process rather than reverting your progress at a roadblock.

2. Create a wireframe.

All good websites start with a blueprint. Developers call this a wireframe. It doesn’t have to be an official document; it’s simply a vision for your site that’ll give both you and your developer(s) direction and a place to start. You can draw it on a whiteboard or use a tool like Balsamiq

Wireframes are strictly visual tools that will help you understand where text and images will go on individual webpages. You can use blank boxes and “dummy text” to get an idea of how your content will show up on the front-end. Work with your developer to create wireframes so that they have an idea of what you’re picturing.

3. Draft up a sitemap.

Next, it’s time to create a sitemap (not to be confused with sitemap.XML, which is an XML file that helps search engines crawl and find your site). Just like a business plan gives a potential investor insight into your goals and deliverables, a sitemap gives a developer the information needed to meet your vision. You can create your sitemap on your own or work with your developer(s).

Here are a few questions to ask yourself when planning your site:

  • What individual pages do you want?
  • What content will be on those pages?
  • How can you organise those pages into categories?
  • What is the hierarchy of pages on your site?
  • How will the pages link together?
  • What pages and categories are essential to your site and user experience?
  • Which pages or categories could be removed or combined?

Again, it’s a good idea to consult with other teams within your organisation. If you have an SEO and/or content strategy team, their input will be critical in the linking structure and categorising of your pages.

3. Write your website code.

The next step in the web development process is writing the code.

Developers will use different coding languages for the front-end and back-end of websites, as well as for different functionalities of the site (such as design, interactivity, etc). These different languages work together to build and run your site.

Let’s start with the most commonly-used languages.

HTML

HyperText Markup Language (HTML) has been used since the 1990s. It’s the foundation of all websites and represents the bare minimum of what’s needed to create a website. While it’s possible to create a website with only HTML, it wouldn’t look particularly attractive.

Languages like CSS and JavaScript enhance and modify the basic site structure built by HTML codes. HTML5 is the most recent version and supports cross-platform browser functionality, making it popular in mobile application development.

CSS

Cascading Style Sheets (CSS) was developed in the late 1990s. It adds design elements like typography, colours, and layouts to websites to improve the overall “look” of websites.

CSS allows developers to transform your website to match the aesthetic you envisioned for your site, and like HTML5, CSS is compatible with all browsers.

JavaScript

JavaScript is the cherry-on-top of coding languages. Created in the mid-90s, JavaScript is used to add functionality to websites. Developers use it to add animations, automate tasks within certain pages, and add interactive features that enhance user experience.

JavaScript is rapidly evolving. Once considered a “toy” language, JavaScript is now the most widely used coding language in the world. With the help of Node.Js, it’s now a back-end coding language. It’s the first language to be understood by browsers, and some have even discussed applying machine learning to it, too.

HTML, CSS, JavaScript are the “big three” of web development. Almost every website uses them in some capacity. There are plenty of others, such as server-side languages like JavaC++Python, and SQL, but understanding these three is foundational to your website development knowledge.

4. Build the back-end of your website.

Writing code might be one of the more complicated parts of web development, but it’s hardly the only component. You also have to build your back-end and front-end site structures and design.

Let’s start with the back-end.

The back-end handles the data that enables the functionality on the front-end. For example, Instagram’s back-end stores my photos, so that the front-end can then allow others to look at them. It’s made up of two key components:

  • Databases, which are responsible for storing, organising, and processing data so that it’s retrievable by server requests.
  • Servers, which are the hardware and software that make up your computer. Servers are responsible for sending, processing, and receiving data requests. They’re the intermediary between the database and the client/browser. The browser will, in effect, tell the server “I need this information”, and the server will know how to get that information from the database and send it to the client.

These components work together to build the foundation for each website.

As for building your website, backend developers will establish three things.

  • Your logic code, which is a set of rules for how your website will respond to certain requests and how objects of your website will interact.
  • Your database management, which is how your website will organise, manage, and retrieve its data.
  • Your infrastructure, which is how your site will be hosted. Hosting your own site will give you greater control, but it’s much more expensive and requires you to maintain your own server health and security.

With these components and decisions in place, your website will be ready for front-end development.

Note: The back-end is slightly tangential to web development because you don’t always need a back-end if you’re not storing any data. “Data” in this context means any user-entered information that you need to save and persist. Think about logging in to a website. If they don’t have a back-end, how could they remember your login information? Or what your profile settings are? To get this information, you need a back-end.

Amazon, as an example, needs to know what products you have purchased, what products you have looked at, what delivery addresses you have created, and more. This is all “data” that lives in a database. If they didn’t have a back-end with a database, none of that data would be accessible to them.

On the other hand, a website that’s purely informational and doesn’t require the users to enter any data wouldn’t need a back-end.

So, if you have no data, you don’t necessarily require back-end development. But that’s not saying you shouldn’t learn the basics. You never know when you might need it.

5. Build the front-end of your website.

If you’ve ever dabbled in web design or toyed with a website in WordPress, Squarespace, or Google Sites, you’ve touched front-end web development.

The front-end stuff is important — it’s what your visitors, customers, and users see and how they’ll use your website.

Front-end (or client-side) development includes a combination of JavaScript, HTML, and CSS. It also controls components such as typography and fonts, navigation, positioning, and browser compatibility and responsiveness. This part will reflect more of your initial site vision and what you included in your wireframe.

As technology and consumer preferences change, client-side coding tends to become outdated much faster than back-end development. This is where coding resources (like the ones we’ve included below) come in handy.

6. (Optional) Work with a CMS.

Why would someone choose a CMS over coding “by hand” or “from scratch?” It’s true that a CMS is less flexible and, therefore, gives you less control over your front-end. However, a CMS is easier to use (you have to write less code), and it often has tools for hosting the site, storing user information, creating a blog, publishing landing pages, capturing leads, and even building an email list. As a result, you’ll be able to make your website more profitable with less than half the work.

CMS options often include plugins that remove the need to write a back-end. For example, there are WordPress plugins for eCommerce so that, instead of building a complicated back-end to charge customers’ credit cards, you can just use an existing plugin and avoid the need to deal with databases and server-side code.

Popular content management systems include HubSpot, JoomlaMagento, and WordPress — which has over 65% market share. (In this case, we’re talking about open source WordPress software, not the WordPress site builder.)

7. Acquire a domain name.

At this point, your website will have an IP address. It also needs a domain name, a memorable website name that your visitors can use to find your site.

Perhaps you’ve heard of sites like GoDaddy and Hover. These services help you purchase a domain name and register with ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers). Most domain registrations are good for a year before you’re required to renew.

Website builders and hosting services, like WordPress and Squarespace, also allow you to purchase a domain name.

8. Launch your site.

Once you’ve set up a domain name and linked it to your host, you’re almost ready to unveil your work to the web.

But not so fast — there are still a handful of things you’ll need to check before an official launch. These include planning out responsibilities on your team, testing your site thoroughly for any glitches, optimising for SEO, and a final check before “flipping the switch” and making your site live. Importantly remember that now your WordPress website is live it will need to be maintained and updated 

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