Web development: a short technical guide

Website projects are complex beasts and it can often seem as though your agency is talking in a different language.

It all seems simple: plan, design, build, test and go live. And it is, but along the way you will come across various technical terms. Understanding what they mean is important.

I don’t think it is any web development agency’s intention to dazzle clients with their knowledge of technical acronyms or bizarre names but web development really is another language. In fact, it’s multiple languages.

Decoding the terms

Front and back

Websites have a front-end and a back-end. The front-end is what you see in the browser and the back-end will typically have a content management system (CMS). There are other components to the back-end but it is unlikely that you will see them as they are not meant to be visible.

HTML

All websites are built using HTML (hypertext mark-up language). This is the code that builds the website, you can see it like the fundamental building blocks to create your web pages. CSS (cascading stylesheet) is another language and this makes the website display nicely in the browser (unless you are using IE6).

Languages

Common types of scripting or programming languages (“code”) websites are built in are:

  • PHP
  • ASP.NET
  • Java
  • Python
  • C
  • C++

I won’t bore you with the definitions (that’s for Wikipedia) but they all do the same thing, i.e. make websites function and do magical things like let users register or add items to shopping baskets.

The more complex the website, the more important the choice of code is. Large, complicated websites need to be built in a language that is robust and can cope with future changes. Always do your research to make sure that the right one is selected.

The more complex the website, the more important the choice of code is. Large, complicated websites need to be built in a language that is robust and can cope with future changes.

Javascript v Java

These are two different languages:

  • JavaScript is a scripting language that sits in browsers (i.e. client-side) and helps users interact with a website. There are other uses of JavaScript outside of the web in areas such as game development and PDFs.
  • Java is a programming language and is more complicated. It can create standalone applications that would not require a browser to run it.

Databases

If you have a CMS or are capturing any type of information, e.g. registration details, then the website will require database programming. This sits server-side. It is unlikely that you will ever see the database in its raw form (you aren’t missing much – unsurprisingly it’s grey and bland) but a CMS is one way of “revealing” it to you in a much prettier and user-friendly form. Ultimately the CMS is allowing you to add fields to the database when you add a new page.

It is unlikely that you will ever see the database in its raw form (you aren’t missing much – unsurprisingly it’s grey and bland).

The most common type of database is MySQL, pronounced “My S-Q-L” or “My sequel”. If you manage your own hosting, then your agency is likely to ask you to set it up with a MySQL database. Hosts will normally charge more for database packages and extra databases.

Frameworks

Frameworks are tools which have been built by programmers in order to facilitate development. It allows developers to use ready-made components. This helps programmers to build websites faster and to work collaboratively with the same original code.

There are different kinds of frameworks whether you are a back-end or a front-end developer:

PHP Frameworks

  • Zend Framework
  • Symfony
  • CakePHP

HTML/CSS Frameworks

  • YAML
  • KNACSS
  • Bootstrap (a framework built by Twitter)

Talking technical

Don’t be afraid to ask your agency about technical lingo. It is to their benefit to explain everything so you understand how the website works. In return, you will be able to have better conversations with a basic understanding of web development terms.

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