Internet Basics: The
World Wide Web
What is the World Wide Web and why is everyone
talking about about it?
Web History: Just as all roads in the
Microsoft Windows empire lead to Bill Gates, the vast network of the World Wide Web can be
traced essentially to the vision of one person, Tim Berners-Lee, now director of the
World Wide Web Consortium. In 1989, Berners-Lee proposed a
communications model to transcend differences in computer platforms and thus more easily
share information available via the Internet. Berners-Lee was then a researcher at CERN, a
research laboratory for particle physics in Geneva, Switzerland. His motivation was to
find a way for CERN members to share information worldwide. In this link,
Berners-Lee tells how
a broader social revolution he originally envisioned is starting to take place through Web
The Web makes use of a standard communications
protocol, HyperText Transfer Protocol (http://), and a standard presentation language,
HyperText Markup Language (HTML). These standards allow users to view the same Web page
whether they have a Windows machine, a Macintosh or UNIX-based system, or another
platform. Although Web pages may have minor differences in the way they appear, the
information contained within them is the same. HyperText covers much more than text files,
however, and can include images, audio, video, order forms, mini programs or voice e-mail,
and the list is growing!
Web Terminology: You've already learned
some key Web words. "HyperText" is probably one of the most important concepts
to understand regarding Web technology. Hypertexted documents are those linked together in
non-linear ways, often from many different locations. The Web is formed by these links
among documents. Web designers and content providers use HyperText Markup Language (HTML),
a system of placing different style , location or behavior tags on text, to define their
relative appearance in a Web browser and link these documents together. Here is a glossary of some other terms you will likely come
across while accessing the Web and its larger parent, the Internet.
Web Browsers: A Web browser is a
software program you can use to access files on the World Wide Web. Netscape Navigator is the most prevalently used, but
another good browser is Microsoft's Internet
Explorer. Other browsers include Mosaic, Lynx and those specific to certain online
The look of the Web pages you access will depend on
the features your browser supports. Some browsers support frames and tables. Others do
not. As new standards become prevalent in the HTML language of Web designers, more
browsers will support more file behaviors, enhancing the look and uniformity of Web pages.
For now that is still in flux, with Netscape and Microsoft one-upping each other with new
and amazing Web tags and plug-in technologies unique to their own browsers.
Web designers often have a dilemma because their
pages may look perfectly good in one browser, but not so good in another. I design my
pages for Netscape Navigator and Internet Explorer, but I also sometimes have to design a
text version of some sites. For instance, one customer of mine has many clients on
CompuServe, which owns the Spry Mosaic Web browser. This browser does not recognize the
same text tags as the other two, so the documents do not display correctly.
Netscape Navigator can be
downloaded for evaluation free of charge. Internet
Explorer is a free product. These links are to their download sites.
Browsing Through a Web Site: These
descriptions are here to help you understand what you see within your Web browser program
and how to maneuver within it with the following basic commands:
Web pages are often composed of hypertext links (also
called hot links) to other documents or two other spots within the same document.
Generally, when you see text in a different color and/or underlined (this is a preference
you can set, too) you will know that it is a hotlink. Sometimes (not always) visited links
will be a different color from unvisited ones. (You can set your preferences here too.)
Most Web page default backgrounds are gray, a
color that to me is hard on the eyes. I prefer more contrast and set my default background
color to white, which my browser will adhere to unless the page comes with its own
background color or image. Some people prefer a misty
green. It's up to you, but you don't
have to settle for gray unless that's what you like.
URL or Location or Net site: The Web address
of the document you are viewing or seeking, ie. http://www.yahoo.com
, is the Uniform Resource Locator or address for the default opening home page for
the Yahoo! Internet catalog. Open URL or "open location" means "go to this
Web document on this server at this location." The specific name of the document is
at the end of the URL, and information in front of it describes to the computer the path
it must take to reach the document. If no specific document is named at the end of an URL,
the computer will default to a set name, such as "index.html" and either show
that document or a list of the contents of the last directory in the path.
When you are viewing files locally on your computer,
your own computer works the same way as a server by following paths to the file you are
seeking. So it is important to be familiar with the way the files and directories are
nested and arranged on your computer. You can customize this to some extent to suit your
own organizational preferences. You will notice this more as you visit more URLs and see
how other webmasters are organizing the files on their servers.
Open File or "open local" means to
open a document stored locally on your hard disk.
"Save As Text" means to save the
text parts of the document.
"Save As Source" means to preserve
the document's HTML tags so that you can view it the same later in a Web browser (minus
any images, which you can also save to disk but to display properly the image must be
placed on your hard disk in the same path as defined in its HTML tag. The images in this
file would not display properly you you move them out of the "images" directory
because I have defined their path in the HTML coding. The browser will display a little
broken image icon or a question mark to indicate there is supposed to be something there
but the file is not in the location specified.)
While I'm on the subject of images, you can
always turn off the display of images in your browser for really quick page loading. But
many Web designers use image maps (illustrations with hotlinks) on their sites and
you will miss these as well. Most designers will also include text hotlinks that are the
same as those in the image maps for use in this case. You will know an illustration has a
hot link in it if your cursor changes to a pointing finger when you pass over key areas.
"Back" and "Forward"
buttons take you to the previously cached or next cached documents and can preserve form
information you've type in. The "stop" button halts a page from loading
and is helpful if you're tired of waiting for large image files to load.
"Home" defaults to a home page of
your choice. You can set this URL yourself although most browsers default to their
"Refresh" or "Reload"
accesses the freshest version of the document available from the server and prevents you
from seeing an older cached version.
Most Web pages also have a signature at the bottom
with credit information and a record of the document's URL and the last time it was
Once you visit a site you like, you can "bookmark"
the page or add it to your "favorites" or "hotlist" (different Web
browsers call these files by different names), so that you don't have to type in its URL
each time you want to visit it.
Organizing your bookmarks is time well spent but I
also have come across several useful Web URL utilities. The one I use most is
WebQuick which keeps a handy list of the last
thousand places I've been (you'll be amazed how fast those files mount up!). Many people
also offer their bookmarks over the Web. You can save these files as source and import
them into your bookmarks for more bookmarks than you'll ever need.
You can also use the find or search button to
find or advance to specific text. This is particularly helpful with lengthy documents that
require a lot of scrolling.
Sometimes you may want to view the HTML source
of a document or find out more information about that document. In Netscape "document
source" and "document info" commands supply this information. This is
especially helpful if you would like to try to develop your own Web page and you want to
learn how it's done.
At the bottom of the Web browser is a status bar.
This generally displays communications with servers and other server messages, such as
"contacting host" or "loading file." Sometimes the status bar can have
little messages in it programmed in by a Web designer. This is done with special Web
scripting applications, one is known as Java and another is Java Script. Both of these
scripting languages provide additional capabilities for Web designers and programmers and
ultimately more fun for you as a Web visitor.
Another trick to keep in mind is right mouse
button magic (or if you use a Mac mouse, just click and hold the mouse button down).
This often brings up a new menu list of items, among the most helpful to me is "new
window with this frame" and "add to address book (in e-mail)."
Error Messages: Don't fret when you get an
error message from your browser. This is common and usually has one of several origins.
Make a note of the specific error and what you were doing when it occurred. Particularly
aggravating are some Netscape General Protection Fault or application errors that shut
down the program under Windows 3.1 and Macintosh Type 11 errors. Netscape has specific
steps to alleviate these problems. Other errors may occur if you are not properly logged
in before you launch your browser. Typically the browser may tell you there is no DNS
entry for the server it is seeking, and that may have been caused by the fact that you
aren't actually online.
If your program crashes while you are online
(and it will occasionally): Stay calm and accept this as a fact of Internet life. The
technology is changing rapidly and many programs have to work together when you are
browsing the Web. If your mouse button is frozen, try force-quitting the program with
keyboard commands. If the freeze remains, you may have to restart your computer. Turn off
the power and wait at least 30 seconds for the hard disk fan to spin down. If you have an
external modem, turn its power off and then turn it back on. Login again and relaunch your
browser. Immediately go to options, network options and clear your disk and memory caches.
You may want to increase the size of your cache.
Another common error over which you have no control
is a 404 File Not Found error. It simply means the document you requested via an URL
doesn't exist on the server. This is likely to happen either because the document has been
moved by the webmaster or its URL has been mistyped by you. Remember that most servers are
UNIX-based machines and are case-sensitive to file names. Thus if you type an URL
requesting the file "Index.html", it won't find it if the file name is actually
"index.html". Remember to be careful to type in the URLs exactly as they appear
with no spaces. This is another reason a bookmarks file is so valuable. It alleviates all
that typing and the potential for error in URLs.
Web Interactivity: One of the most
exciting things about the Web is that it offers two-way communications. You may be alone
in a room on your computer, but you are never alone on the Web. Web telephony and video
conferencing are emerging technologies, but interactive forms provide another way of
sending information back and forth, and Web pages are becoming increasingly more dynamic
depending on who accesses them at what time and with which browsers and whether you've
been there before or not (as "cookies" can establish) Web servers can
construct HTML documents on the fly from form input. An excellent example of this is a
message board system. You can post a message and the computer can take that data and
construct a new Web page on the spot with the use of a cgi (common gateway
Searching the Web: There are many
search engines and catalogs available to help you find what you're looking for on the Web,
which is also populated by numerous "spiders" and "robots" moving from
server to server scanning HTML documents, gobbling up words and digesting them as
databases. My favorite online directory is Yahoo!, and if an initial search of the Yahoo!
directory doesn't tell me what I need, I click from there to a link to Alta Vista or
excite or WebCrawler, which send out spiders to catalog text contained within documents.
There is an art to refining your searches that can best be learned through trial and
error. Yahoo! has helpful search options. Also helpful: software managers that search a
myriad of directories, catalogs and robot-generated databases. Client-side search managers
such as WebCompass can
perform focused searches for you in the background.
Here are some of my favorite Web directories and/or
These search pages will plug you into several search
engines at once:
Saving Documents, Working Offline: You
can view Web documents offline by saving them as text or source. You can also print them
for viewing later. Many Web browsers will issue an error if you launch them offline, but
generally you can just click "okay" and keep working anyway. This is helpful if
you are creating a Web page you want to test view offline, and is also helpful if you have
a lot of e-mail to compose. Some Internet magazines come with CD-ROMs that are packed full
of Web sites in their entirety, saving you online and file transfer time. These CDs often
typically are also jam-packed with the latest plug-ins and shareware. Try one out! There
is also an assortment of available offline browsers, such as WebWhacker, which can download whole web sites for
offline viewing later. You can configure these offline browsers to notify you when a page
you're interested in has changed.
Push-Me, Pull-You: "Push"
technology is a hot Web topic for online marketers and information providers hoping to put
their message on your desktop. As a Web browser-person, you "pull" the
information you want from servers by clicking on the topics and/or ads you're interested
in. In "push" technology, the information comes to you. An example of this is
the wildly successful PointCast Network, which
delivers some high-powered news and information by topically-arranged
"channels," along with an assortment of animated ads, ticker tapes and
screensavers, that can be updated via automatic downloads as often as you like. Other
choices include After Dark Online, Netscape's
In-Box Direct, which
delivers Web pages and news sites fresh to your e-mailbox, and BackWeb. Both Netscape and Microsoft are working to
integrate push technology into their browsers.
Emerging Technologies and Plug-Ins:
Many Web sites are pushing the envelope in terms of media development, but you won't be
able to enjoy this technology unless you've downloaded and installed the necessary
plug-ins (usually easily available free downloading via the net) or helper applications,
which are software programs designed to launch a specific type of file. A plug-in is
designed to launch the file within your browser window. A helper application is an
external program that displays a file outside your browser window.
Developing technologies include software for Web
telephone and video conferencing capabilities, three-D virtual reality worlds,
Real Audio (and now RealVideo) for streaming realtime
audio/video broadcasting. Cornell University's CU-SeeMe
videoconferencing software brings to life all those familiar TV-phone cartoon scenes
on the Jetsons. Who knew that technology was so close at hand?
A couple came into my office one day convinced their
daughter's boyfriend was probably doing something illegal because he wanted her to make
their long-distance phone calls via the Web (and save all those long distance fees). They
left my office amazed but reassured that her boyfriend wasn't out of line and that maybe
their daughter really did need that new computer at college after all.
Netscape and Explorer come preloaded with many
helpers, but you'll also have to download some plug-ins yourself and more are being
developed daily. There are more than 100 Netscape plug-ins available. Be sure to check out
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