Getting a Web Development Job For Dummies (2015)
Part II. Core Technologies for Web Development
Chapter 7. Introducing Web History
In This Chapter
Discovering pre-web Internet information tools
Seeing how BBSes drove the need for netiquette
Finding out how DNS supports the web
Learning how Berners-Lee invented HTML and the web
If you’re going to be a web developer, you should know two words really well. One of them is developer, and there’s no big prize for guessing the other one. (Okay, we’ll tell you. It’s web.)
Each of the standards that makes the web what it is today influences what you and others do as a web developer. You also have a lot of choices as to which standards to use to do each part of a given job because there’s a lot of overlap in functionality among them.
As mentioned in Chapter 6, having a core of technical knowledge about web development in general is important to communications and productivity across a web development project team. And if you’re taking on big parts, or all, of a project yourself, you certainly need to know the basics of every part of the process.
If you know the basics, you can participate actively in a wide range of discussions — and you’re ready to build on your knowledge as specific topics come up during the development process. This allows you to participate in more interesting work, get involved with more interesting projects, and find more interesting jobs. (And get more interesting paychecks.)
So use this chapter to get oriented, and to make good decisions in your work and in collaborating with others. Then use the core information we cover here to help you dive deeper as needed.
Discovering How the Internet Started
The Internet has been around for several decades. It was first used for higher education and military connections. Three of the popular early uses, which continue in various forms, were
· File transfer: Just moving files between different computers can be very difficult. File Transfer Protocol (FTP) was a real breakthrough in getting files from one place to another.
· Email: You may be old enough to remember when people on one email system, such as CompuServe email or MCI Mail, were absolutely unable to send email to one another. Internetworking — yes, the Internet — first allowed email to be transferred clumsily between one system and another, and then made email the flexible and capable, if sometimes overwhelming, tool it is today.
· Bulletin board systems (BBSes): Bulletin board systems allowed people to share comments asynchronously (when they felt like it, not at the same time), and for other people to see the comments and add to them.
The Internet is, at the end of the day, a system for transferring files. IP (Internet protocol) breaks files up into packets, which are then reassembled at the receiving end. The power, capability, and flexibility of the Internet and the web, and also many annoying problems, relate to this basic underlying mechanism as to how it all works.
FTP, email (as implemented on the Internet), and Gopher are examples of Internet services. An Internet service is simply a specified capability that runs on and depends on the Internet itself. Thinking of the web as just another Internet service is a great way for all of us people in the web development world to stay humble — and to realize that we could start to be made obsolete by some new Internet service development tomorrow.
Before the web, there were file sharing tools called Archie, Veronica, and Jughead — tools for finding files stored at various locations on the Internet. Gopher was a menuing system for listing what was available at a given location.
The web was a great solution to the complexity of these early tools. You didn’t need to know how to use them, and you probably barely needed to know what they were. Just remember that these colorful names, and a host of others, graced the early Internet. Take the opportunity to ask an old-school web development hand what those days were like over a cup of coffee sometime.
Figure 7-1 shows a page from the Education Resources Information Center (ERIC) about a document that describes gophers, Veronica, Archie, and Jughead. Look up this document sometime at http://eric.ed.gov/?q=Gophers%2c+Veronica%2c+Archie%2c+and+Jughead&ft=on&id=ED384536 and use it to get a basic orientation to these early Internet tools.
Figure 7-1: ERIC has a nice description of pre-web Internet services.
BBSes and netiquette
The need for netiquette (Internet etiquette) started with the tendency of people to be very bold, direct, and rude in email and especially on BBS systems.
Email also seems to encourage intemperate comments, but at least people know who you are, so there’s accountability at the end of the day. On BBSes, however, people are usually anonymous.
The combination of text-based messages and anonymity somehow seems to incite people to be rude, profane, and mean. Netiquette developed as an attempt to rein in these harsh tendencies.
Nothing’s changed much, though, since netiquette was first popularized in the 1990s. In fact, these problems may have gotten worse. Twitter, which is nothing if not an odd kind of interactive BBS, regularly makes news when public figures send strange, embarrassing, and even harassing or aggressive tweets. Facebook has its share of embarrassments and errors too.
Just keep being careful about everything you share online, and keep enjoying the trials and tribulations of those who aren’t.
Schadenfreude (pronounced like “shod-en-froid-a”) is a German word meaning “taking pleasure in the discomfort of others.” It’s a word that you might find useful when you try to describe how it sometimes feels to hear that someone you don’t like very much has breached common standards of civility on the Internet.
Understanding the Domain Naming of Parts
One of the keys to the functionality of the Internet and the web is the domain naming system (DNS). The domain name system imposes a set of text names onto data servers that would otherwise only have IP numbers.
DNS also stands for domain name server, which is part of a network of servers that hold domain names. All the computers on the Internet access domain name servers to link a domain name, such as www.facebook.com, with the IP address of Facebook’s main server.
When you put up a new website, it’s hosted on a server with a specific IP address. A domain name is then assigned to that IP address. If you use a web page creation and hosting service such as Weebly or WordPress, that might be part of the domain name:yoursite.weebly.com or yoursite.wordpress.com.
Or, you can buy your own domain name, and that is then superimposed on the IP address and any intermediate domain name: www.yoursite.com. The other addresses still work, but people will almost always use www.yoursite.com to reach your site.
Weebly, WordPress, and other similar sites allow you to find an available domain name and buy it from within their service. It’s a little more expensive than going to a specialist domain registrar such as GoDaddy, the current market leader, but it’s convenient and easy to do.
The magic of DNS, as this example shows, is that it allows all sorts of trickery and chicanery to go on under the surface, while maintaining a consistent and easy-to-remember (for both humans and machines) set of names. For instance, Facebook has innumerable servers; in fact, one of its early competitive advantages was a system for getting more servers online than its competitors could field, at a lower price per server than anyone else.
Yet every time you type www.facebook.com into a web browser, the site — customized to your preferences — always comes up. You don’t need to worry about which servers have capacity, or how the bytes move across the Internet between Facebook’s computers and yours. You just use the same domain name every time, and the site you are requesting appears.
For a web developer, it’s worth knowing something about domain names. First of all, a web domain, as opposed to an FTP or other type of domain, is denoted by www — for World Wide Web — at the start of the domain name.
The web is so dominant now that many websites are engineered so that you don’t need to type the www. — you can just type facebook.com and get the same result as if you typed www.facebook.com. Not all websites, however, support this. (If you manage a website, make sure yours can be accessed with or without the www. prefix.)
The important thing to remember about domain names is that they’re processed backwards (except for the presence or absence of www. at the start). Here’s what we mean. Domain names have several components, which you should know as you pursue your web development career:
· Top-level domain (TLD): This is the end of the domain. The most familiar domain names to most users, especially American users, are .com, .org, and .edu. These domain names represent businesses (“com”mercial organizations, nonprofits (nonprofit “org”anizations), and universities (“edu”cational institutions). There are also country codes, such as .ca for Canada — very confusing to Californians, who are used to abbreviating their state name as CA, which is the official United States Postal Service designation for the state. And there are combined TLDs, such as .co.uk to represent British (“UK” or “U”nited “K”ingdom) “com”mercial organizations — that is, businesses.
· Second-level domain: This is what we think of as the core part of a domain name — the facebook in www.facebook.com. Popular second-level domains that go with core TLDs, such as facebook.com and savetheseals.org, are aggressively sought. It can be very hard to find a good, suitable domain name for your company or nonprofit.
· Additional domain levels: Technical people like to differentiate sub-sites by using the third-level domain — such as na.mycompany.com, eu.mycompany.com, and so on for the divisions of a multinational company. This usage is almost completely opaque to regular web users. Consider instead putting the sub-site in the domain name by using a slash, such as mycompany.com/na, mycompany.com/eu, and so on.
If you get involved with choosing a domain name for your organization, you will need to know more than we describe here. However, at least this description gives you the lingo and some key concerns to think about. Dive deeper by doing research online and talking to other web developers if you need to actually do something important in this area, such as coming up with a domain name that will represent a business or nonprofit for years to come.
One good resource for learning more is a web page on the very useful website — no pun intended — usability.gov. The usability.gov website contains a ton of great information and resources, and the page on usable domain names is worth a great deal just on its own. See Figure 7-2 for a look at the page, then visit here for details: www.usability.gov/get-involved/blog/2007/03/creating-usable-domain-names.html.
Visit usability.gov for tons of great information about web usability.
Figure 7-2: The usability.gov website will tell you about good domain names and much more.
The contentious usage of “American”
Knowing how to use words properly in a truly international — even borderless — context is a very important part of being a web developer. One contentious word is American.
People born in the USA like to think that “American” refers to them and no one else. But almost all other people in the western hemisphere — that is, those from Mexico and Canada, Central America, and South America — thinks of themselves as American as well.
The negative stereotypes that go with American — that is, that people from the U.S. are loud, boisterous, and ignorant of the world beyond their country’s borders — are all too nicely supported by those of us who use the word “American” as if it had no possible meaning outside of “Born in the USA,” as Bruce Springsteen sang it. Be aware that people from many other countries have at least partial claim to the “American” designation as well.
Discovering How Tim Berners-Lee Invented the Web
The rich range of Internet services that were being so widely used in the ’80s encouraged a lot of new users, as well as increased use by existing users. However, usability became an increasing barrier to getting the most from these services. As an early user of pre-web information services, one of this book’s authors (Bud Smith) remembers feeling excited by having access to huge amounts of information, but also sometimes feeling lost among the different protocols and options.
Tim Berners-Lee solved this problem, creating a new Internet service for a rather narrow purpose that ended up changing the world.
Berners-Lee worked at CERN, the immense and hugely expensive European physics research facility housed in Switzerland. He wanted to use the Internet to publish early drafts of scientific papers. (It usually takes months for a paper to get peer-reviewed and published, and researchers were left without valuable information that could affect millions of dollars in experiments while they waited.)
For some reason, Berners-Lee focused on creating a very simple solution to his problem. He was already familiar with hypertext — the idea of creating links in text so that clicking on a word or phrase could pull up a different document.
And now we have naming of Tim
Non-Brits may not recognize it, but the use of a double-barreled last name, such as Berners-Lee, often indicates an aristocratic heritage among Brits. In the British aristocracy, a merger in marriage between two important families is marked by the creation of a hybrid name.
Berners-Lee is certainly an aristocrat, but of the new kind, rather than the old: an aristocrat by virtue of merit and achievement. He has several awards of merit, including a knighthood from Queen Elizabeth.
There was a huge run-up in the value of website-based companies in the late 1990s, and many companies tried to offer Berners-Lee a chance at riches if he would only join in. He refused several near-certain chances to become a very wealthy man. Instead, he became director of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), a hugely influential body in the ongoing development of the web. He continues to find ways to contribute to the growth of the web and the Internet.
But Berners-Lee also had to account for graphics. Graphics are a huge part of a physics paper, and they can range from simple line drawings to highly complicated scatter charts of nucleonic explosions. Berners-Lee included an easy-to-use standard approach to including simple GIF (Graphical Interchange Format) graphics directly in text documents, and a way to link to graphics in other formats, such as JPEG (Joint Photographic Experts Group, a flexible compression standard commonly used for photographs).
This, in the humble opinion of your humble authors, was the secret sauce that really made the web take off. People love images interspersed among words, as the widespread popularity of magazines showed, then and now. (Magazines are still popular today — it’s just that many of them are online, in the form of websites!)
Berners-Lee invented the first version of HyperText Markup Language (HTML) and created the first web page, on the brand-new CERN website that he created: http://info.cern.ch/hypertext/WWW/TheProject.html.
Figure 7-3 shows the current state of that early web page, which is not saved anywhere in its original form. It was updated every day for years, and some copies of the page in various states have been saved, starting a couple of years after it was first published.
Figure 7-3: The first web page will remind old-school developers of the early web.
The look and feel of this archetypal web page will remind long-time web developers and web users alike of how the web mostly looked in the early days — like a well-laid-out BBS page with hyperlinks. Widespread use of graphics and attempts to create page layout capabilities required later advances in both technique and the underlying technology, including rapid evolution of HTML and the creation of CSS. We describe the current state of HTML in Chapter 8.
The web evolved quickly. Marc Andreesen invented the first widely used web browser, Netscape Navigator. It became widely popular, and the rest is history.