Demystifying Web Servers, Hosting & FTP

If you’re brand new to web design, making sense out of web servers, FTP, and how it all works can seem pretty confusing. I clarify the whole shabang in this short video. Enjoy!


I know there’s a lot of people that struggle with these concepts — these concepts of working with web servers and how that works how do we connect to a web server how does the visitor interact with the web server visitor to our websites that is. So I thought I’d explain it all in one short and sweet video — here’s the whole shebang short and sweet here for you so here we go.

I have the overhead cameras set up and what I’ve drawn out here for us is a laptop which represents our computer — your computer, my computer…the computer that you and I build our website on. We have a web server over on the right-hand side…here this is the live web server. And finally I just drew in I suppose that supposed to be an iPhone…I don’t know what that’s supposed to represent…the visitor’s device or the visitor’s computer. It could be a tablet, it could be a smartphone, it could be their own laptop — whatever. So that’s what that represents.

So here’s the deal, here’s how it all works: You and I are going to build our website on our local computer typically this is the case, so we’re going to build everything on our local computer. What is a local computer? Well that’s your computer, that’s my computer — my laptop in front of me. In fact me a second here is going to flip over to it. I happen to have my coding application of choice open here, this is Coda, my coding application of choice at the time of this recording anyway. But you don’t have to hand code things out as I’ve done here, you could use an application like Dreamweaver. That is perfectly fine. You could even build your website using WordPress installed on your computer. That’s fine as well. Point being that everything is built on your computer, typically.

But of course visitors that you want to have come see your web site can’t see it on your computer. They can only see it if it’s on a live public web server and that’s what this guy is all about. So what we need to do is we need to take our website that we’ve built here and we need to move it over here. Think of the last time you moved — you sold your house and moved. It’s the same idea or maybe you moved into a different apartment. So what we’re going to do is we’re going to upload the website to the live web server. This is done via a process called FTP. I could tell you what FTP stands for but trust me you don’t care! What we really care about is the process of getting our files from our computer to our live web server. The live web server is public. So how do you go about uploading your local website to your live public web server? That is all done — if I flip over here — using something called an FTP client. There are a ton of FTP clients. Many of them are free. Here on my laptop I’m running a Firefox plugin called FireFTP.

I’ve been using it for years and years and years. I love it because it’s simple. On the left-hand side, what I see is a list of my local files. So on the left-hand side, this is my computer — a folder on my laptop. Over on the right-hand side I see my live web server — so these are all files and folders and so on on a live public web server. So what I can do is simply use these arrows — I could grab a file if I wanted to and simply upload them using the little green arrow, or I could do the opposite — I could take a file that’s on the live web server and I can move them down to my local computer.

Okay so that’s how that works. It’s a pretty simple, straightforward process but you’ve probably never had anyone explain it all to you. It’s straightforward and simple, but again it’s made to be complex. So that’s the deal. Now if ever there comes a time where I want to make a change to my website, typically again that change would happen locally and then I would upload the changes; I would publish the changes; I would go live with the changes…there’s so many different terms that all mean the same thing: We’re launching, we’re deploying; we’re publishing…All that means is you’re just uploading your changes, your updates, to the live public server.

Now here’s how the visitor comes into play: The visitor comes along, types in your URL, and they can access the public web server. That’s how that happens. So at no time is the visitor actually going to your private computer. They’re always going to a public server.

Okay now just really quickly, just well I think of it, here the public web server again people get a little bit confused by this stuff. Think of your public web server as a house or even an apartment building. You can do a couple of different things, but generally speaking you can either rent or you can own — it’s entirely up to you and depending on your budget and depending on the size of your website and how much stuff you have, you can either rent or own just like a house. So typically what happens is people rent. What that means is you’re just renting some space on a hard drive on a web server. That’s called “shared hosting” and that’s very, very common. Or you can go with something called “dedicated hosting” which means you essentially rent or potentially buy the entire web server for your own uses.

Now I’d love to do videos on what to look for in web hosting some of the better web hosting companies what to ask different questions things like this. We don’t have enough time right now to get into things like setting up hosting and domains and all that good stuff but hopefully all of this at least is enough to get you going. Again, it’s not complex, it just seems complex because there’s so many different terms that all mean the same thing. Hopefully all of this helped you out explaining all this. So once again we are gonna start off on the on the computer here building our website using whatever method you want — WordPress, Dreamweaver, Coda…whatever you want. Then what we’re gonna do is we’re gonna upload that content via FTP to our live web server. Once the visitor comes along, this is what they’re going to see — they’re gonna see your live website. So that’s the deal. Alright so there you go I hope that helps!

Hey, I’m Geoff. I create online video courses to help people launch their online projects, expand their businesses...and yeah, make more money!

Learn more about me here.

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