Serving Up Your Own Website

By Ronald Pacchiano | Posted June 06, 2003
Ever since I started browsing the web I have been interested in designing my own website. The problem was that I didn't have the slightest idea in how to go about doing it. I spoke with one of the sales people at our local CompUSA, and he suggested that Microsoft FrontPage would be the perfect tool for designing my own web page. After a few weeks of experimenting with it, I finally managed to put together what I think are a couple of really nice websites.

With my websites now designed, I'd like to actually get them published onto the Internet. I'd like them to have their own web addresses, like www.myfamilysite.com, and maybe even have e-mail addresses associated with them. The problem is that I don't know how to go about doing this or even what the first step in the process should be. I would very much appreciate it if you could please provide me with instructions that outline all the steps involved in setting this up. Thank you!

Publishing a website on the Internet is actually a much simpler process then you might think. As a matter of fact, the toughest part of the entire process is building the site itself. Once that's been completed, getting the site online can be done in just a few days. However, there are a number of steps that need to be carried out before this can happen. We'll discuss each of these steps in detail.

Step One: Registering a Domain Name
The first and most basic step in setting up a website is to register a domain name (e.g. www.myfamilysite.com) with the governing body of the Internet, the InterNIC. Domain names make use of a variety of extensions. The most popular one is, of course, .COM, but you can also use .NET, .BIZ, .INFO and .TV, to name just a few. As a general rule, your domain name should be somewhat descriptive of the type of content visitors will find on your site.

The basic function of the domain name is to allow people to easily remember and access your website. The way this works is as follows— the website domain name is mapped to a specific IP address, which represents a physical point on the Internet— your website. This IP address is recorded in a Domain Name System (DNS) server. When a person tries to access your website, that request is sent to the DNS server. The DNS server resolves the domain name to its specific IP address and then routes the request on to the appropriate page.

There are a variety of ways to go about registering your domain name on the Internet. My suggestion would be to register it at Register.com. I've registered all of my sites with them. They have a very easy to use domain name management system that allows you to quickly and easily update DNS records, modify MX mail records, and change administrative and technical contacts. One of the biggest advantages I found with using Register.com is that when you update a record, it usually gets processed within 24-48 hours. I have worked with other registrars before that have taken days or even weeks to process updates. Not to mention that trying to navigate some of their configuration menus can be a bit bewildering. Regardless of who you register with, in many cases they will give you space for a few simple web pages and even a couple of e-mail accounts.

Step Two: Where to Put Your Website
Now that you have your domain name registered, it is time to ask yourself where you are going to store your website. This is referred to as "hosting." You have two options here. You can either try to host the site yourself, or you can choose what most people do and have someone host it for you. Let's look at the requirements for each.

  • Option 1: Having It Hosted:There are numerous advantages to having the site hosted by someone else. For starters, other than the website itself, there is very little that you need to do. The ISP or Internet Service Provider does all of the hard work for you. They provide the web server along with a high-speed Internet backbone for serving up web pages quickly, they configure all of the software, and they professionally maintain all of the servers.

    Sites hosted by an ISP are also better suited to deal with high volumes of Internet traffic. This is a good choice for people who don't have the time, money, or technical skill to maintain all of the necessary equipment on their own. It's also a good choice if your website is being used for business where it is imperative that the site stays up and running 24/7. The only real downside to this is that it becomes an additional expense. This can become quite expensive if you have a large website or you need a dedicated server to handle the large amount of traffic you're expecting to generate.



  • Option 2: Hosting It Yourself: I would only recommend hosting the site yourself if you have a relatively fast— both upstream and downstream— cable or DSL Internet connection. Typically, Cable and DSL modems have very high download speeds, 600k or more in some cases, but their upload speeds can be as slow as 90k. This could make your website extremely slow for anyone trying to access it. If you're going to be hosting a personal webpage like a resume or a family photo album, which is only going to experience limited traffic, then hosting the site yourself is feasible. For anything more than that, I would seriously recommend going with Option 1.

    However, if you feel comfortable with the above, here are the rest of the items you'll need to get your site online. First and most important is a web server. Now this doesn't need to be a big expensive box, as in most cases, you can use your desktop PC. Personal Web Servers are available for most versions of Windows. For Windows 98-based computers, Microsoft includes its Personal Web Server (PWS) right on the Windows CD. Complete instructions for installing it can be found online.

    Unfortunately, the Microsoft Personal Web Server (PWS) isn't supported by Windows XP Home Edition. As an alternative, Microsoft FrontPage 2002 can use disk-based Web pages, which should work fine.

    Microsoft, however, recommends that if users of Windows XP Home Edition need web server functionality, they should consider upgrading to Windows XP Professional. Windows XP Professional is designed for business users and comes with Internet Information Services (IIS) version 5.1. IIS 5.1 includes Web and FTP server support, as well as support for Microsoft FrontPage transactions, Active Server Pages, and database connections.

    Another important requirement for the web server is a static IP address. As we mentioned before, an IP address is associated with your webpage and is used by the DNS servers to resolve your site to users. Most home users have Dynamic IP addresses. The difference between the two is that a static address remains constant, whereas a dynamic IP address randomly changes. The problem is that if you register your site with a dynamic IP address and that address changes, people will no longer be able to find your site.

    Many ISPs will offer their home users the option of upgrading to a static IP address, but it usually costs more. In some cases, you can only get one if you upgrade to a business account, which are often much more expensive. However, even if you only have a dynamic IP, you can still host your own website. You'll just need to sign up with a company that offers Dynamic DNS. Another reader actually asked us about Dynamic DNS a few weeks back, so I won't repeat the details of it here. If you're interested, that information can be found online.

    Once you have your IP address information, you'll need to go back to Register.com and update your information. You'll need to update the IP address that the domain name points to, and you'll also need to update your DNS server settings. This information will be provided to you by your ISP. Remember, this update will take between 24-48 hours to take effect.

    With the web server now configured and your IP and DNS settings updated, the next thing you'll need to do is modify your router's firewall to grant Internet users access to your website. This can be done in a number of ways. If you're hosting the site on a secondary PC (one that doesn't have any personal information on it), then you can just place that PC in your router's Demilitarized Zone, or DMZ (define), and avoid any configuration headaches.

    If, however, your web server is on your primary PC, I wouldn't recommend dropping it in the DMZ. Instead, you'll need to modify the router's firewall rules to allow HTTP traffic coming in on port 80 to pass on to the web server. A word of warning here— even though this should be very straightforward, at times it can be rather difficult to properly configure. So you might want to test it outside of the firewall first, just to make sure it's working properly before trying to modify the firewall. Otherwise, believe me when I tell you that trying to troubleshoot issues without first verifying things could drive you nuts! Your firewall's documentation should be able to walk you through the procedure for modifying your firewall rules.

Step Three: Publish Your Website
Now that you have a functioning web server, the last thing you need to do is publish your website pages to it. This is very easy with Microsoft FrontPage. All you have to do is open your website, click "File," and then select "Publish Web." Answer the Wizard's questions and moments later your website will be online and accessible to the Internet community.

That should be it. Good Luck!

Adpated from PracticallyNetworked.com.

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