Getting Started - Bringing a Web Site Online
For simplicity I'm going to assume anyone reading this has already learned the basics of HTML or has already created a site / web page or is looking to upgrade from free hosting (ISP space or otherwise). The process is actually very simple, these four steps should help you get a web site up and running in no time.
Step 1: Registering a Domain Name
Registering a domain name is easy and there is no configuration required until you actually have a hosting plan to go with it. A couple good registrars are Registerfly and Namecheap, they have easy to use control panels which offer full control over your domain name and they're the ones I use in examples.
When you register you can skip the up-sells (SSL certificates, email starter packages, whois protection, etc) unless you are really interested in purchasing one of those.
Step 2: Sign Up With a Hosting Provider
Since this is a "getting started" guide the focus will be what I think is the most common inexpensive hosting type available which is shared or virtual hosting. The hosting provider is where you upload all the files you create for a web site, I don't have any host recommendations for this step since there are literally hundreds of hosts and plans available at different price points with wildly varied features. Buyer beware however, generally you get what you pay for no matter how good the feature list is, the "If it's too good to be true..." saying applies.
During sign-up you will be asked some or all of the following: 1) registering a new domain, 2) transferring a domain, or 3) use an existing domain name. If you're following this guide then you will want to use an existing domain name (the one registered in step 1).
After sign up you should receive a few important pieces of information to start working with your account:
- The server IP address and/or link to login to the control panel.
- Your account login details (username/password) to use with the above control panel link. May have separate login details for the hosting provider account management area for billing and such.
- The address of two name servers to use with your domain name. (typically NS1 and NS2.EXAMPLENAMESERVER.COM)
Step 3: Upload Files
You can upload the html and graphics files with a file manager provided through the control panel or use FTP, it doesn't really matter which you use although I find FTP to be more convenient and quicker.
Before uploading files be aware of the directory(folder) structure where files will be uploaded. There is usually a "user root" and a "web root" directory, user root is "above" web root and not accessible from the world wide web and web root is where all your page files should be uploaded. The web root folder is commonly named "/public_html" or "/htdocs" or "/wwwroot".
cPanel File Manager Screenshot
The quickest way to upload without having to find an FTP program is to use your browser, type ftp://username:firstname.lastname@example.org into the address bar and you should be brought to a similar directory structure as the one displayed above. (replace username, password and yourdomain with your own)
Click or open the web root folder (/public_html in this example) and simply drag and drop or copy and paste all the web site files and folders to it.
Step 4: Point Your Domain to Your Hosting Account
Now that you have a domain name and a hosting account you need to link them so when someone types the name into a browser they are served the files you uploaded.
Steps to add name servers to your domain, example screens used here are Registerfly and Namecheap control panels:
1) Login to your account
2) Click on Manage Domains and then click or select the domain name you wish to use
3) After clicking on the domain name you wish to manage, select the menu option which modifies the DNS settings (Namecheap calls it "Transfer DNS to Webhost")
4) You should now be at a screen with up to five or six blank boxes, this is where you input the name servers provided by your web host (not the domain host) when you signed up. Enter in the two server addresses in the first two boxes and click on save or submit.
That's all there is to it, the DNS settings will take time to spread throughout the internet so don't expect these changes to be instant, it can take anywhere from a few minutes to 48 hours to see your web site appear when you enter the domain name into your browser.