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A DNS stands for Domain Name System is a system that allows users to access websites using a unique identifier (name) entered into the address bar. This functions by the domain name containing the IP address of the web server which is used to query web pages. (Cloudflare. n.d. a)
The DNS process is split into five specific steps to find the IP address associated with the domain name correctly. The first step that is taken when a user enters a domain name into the address bar is to search the local DNS cache. This is stored on the computer and maintained by the Operating System (OS). If the domain name is found within the local DNS cache, then it will send back the corresponding IP address. If the domain name is not located within the local DNS cache, it will query the resolving name server also known as the recursive name server. (Gonyea, 2018)
The resolving name server is the second step after the local DNS cache. This name server is provided by the ISP and contains their own DNS cache and also contains popular domains due to the possibility of other customers querying the same request. If the recursive name server cannot find the domain, it will then query the root name server. (Gonyea, 2018)
The root name server is the third step after the recursive name server; this acts as a directory which will analyse the current query to redirect it to the correct Top Level Domain (TLD) name server. (ns1, n.d.)
The Top Level Domain name server, also known as a TLD name server, is composed of specific nameservers depending on the Top Level Domain associated with the domain. This name server is similar to the root name server as it only redirects the query to the Authoritative name server. (Cloudflare, n.d. c)
The authoritative name server is responsible for having the IP address associated with the domain name queried. This type of name server is the last part of the domain request process which will send the correct information back to the recursive name server for it to be stored within their local DNS cache. This name server’s DNS database is dependent on information is given from domain registrars for it to correctly direct users to the IP address of the website they want to visit. (Cloudflare, n.d. c)
The domain name is organised into various zones. The first zone is the “Root Domain” which is unnamed and represented as a trailing period “.” within a domain name. However, this is not displayed to users on web browsers. The second level is called the “Top Level Domain”, commonly referred to as TLD. This zone allows users to identify what the domain’s region is or the type of organisation they are. For example, .ac.uk, .edu, .co.uk, .gov, .us, etc. The third zone is called the “Second Level Domain”. This zone is a varied length with the function of being the primary identifier for organisations, businesses, and individuals. For example, Walsallcollege.ac.uk, google.com, youtube.com. The last level is the “Subdomain”. This section of the domain is also controlled by the domain owner and is used for organisation purposes. This is typically done if the subdomain is different from the main website. An example of this usage is with different geographic locations and departments contained within the organisation (e.g. support.Twitter.com). (Microsoft, 2009)Below is a visual example of the structure of a domain name.
Communication protocols are an important part of the client to server relationship when querying a website for the web files. Without the usage of these protocols, users would not be able to download and view websites. The main protocol used for communicating with a web server is the HTTP protocol. According to Nginx (n.d.) HTTP stands for HyperText Transfer Protocol. This protocol is the main foundation of the World Wide Web which has the main function is to transfer Hypertext documents from the web server to the requested client. HTTP is also a stateless protocol which according to Mozilla (n.d.) is defined as no link between two requests being successively carried out. This means that no information is stored between different web requests. However, sessions can be used which can allow information to be stored for a later purpose. HTTP has been superseded by HTTPS which is a more secure version of the HTTP protocol. The principle of HTTPS still follows the same communication methods used in HTTP; however, it utilises encryption methods such as SSL (Secure Socket Layer) and TLS (Transport Layer Security). The SSL encryption method uses certificates handed to the server to verify that they offer encryption of data between the browser and the client. (SSL, 2005)
According to GoDaddy (n.d.) FTP stands for File Transfer Protocol. This type of protocol is used when communicating with a server for the purpose of downloading or uploading files. While this is not as important of a protocol as HTTP or HTTPS, it is still useful for users who want to upload updated web documents which will be used by the web server to publish the website. For the user to connect to the server, it must be set up to allow FTP the connections through a specific port (port 21). When purchasing a web server, this is typically pre-configured, so no additional configuration other than defining specific user access is required. To use FTP, the user will need an FTP client. There are a wide variety of FTP clients that can be used that contain a variety of features and layouts. (GoDaddy, n.d.)
When publishing or accessing a website, the hardware is a key requirement that must be used for the website to be accessible by users and can be modified by the administrators. The main requirement for hosting a website is the physical server. There are two options available when it comes to a server. The first option is to purchase or rent from a server hosting company. This consists of two sub-options. A dedicated server or a cloud server. According to Rackspace (n.d.), a dedicated server is: “a physical server that is purchased or rented entirely for your business needs.”.
In comparison Rackspace (n.d.) also states that cloud servers can “be configured to provide levels of performance, security and control similar to those of a dedicated server. But instead of being hosted on physical hardware that’s solely used by you, they reside in a shared “virtualised” environment that’s managed by your cloud hosting provider”. The other alternative to outsourcing the server is to purchase the server and set it up in-house. This option is still chosen by both small and large organisations but has the apparent variation of server specifications. However, in-house hosting can be largely beneficial for large organisations as they will be able to control every aspect around hosting the web server. This includes setting up the security measures and defining what type of software and operating system they will use.
When publishing a website to the Internet, there is the requirement for hardware such as routers and modems. According to BBC (n.d. a), the router allows a LAN (Local Area Network) to be created by connecting the devices all to the router. The modem is stated to enable Internet connectivity over a telephone line by converting the digitals from digital to analogue. Typically, a router will often house modem functionality, therefore, reducing the amount of networking devices required for an organisation or home to connect to the Internet. Without these devices, web servers would not be able to communicate to requests therefore not allowing the website to be published.
Server operating systems are a critical part of allowing websites to be designed, published and accessed. This type of operating system is designed to function on servers that facilitate the client-server model. Furthermore, the server operating system is also used as a foundation to enabling functionality such as a web server, database or a mail server. Similar to web server software, there are a large variety of operating systems available which can provide different benefits and also contain pre-installed packages which could be useful depending on the developer’s requirements. Without server operating systems this would not allow full utilisation of the server’s hardware and also not allow the website to function correctly, therefore, preventing users from accessing it. (Stroud, n.d.)
Within a web server, it is essential that the correct software is installed to allow specific functionality. There is a wide variety of web server software available for web developers to choose from that can add particular benefits over other types of software. For example, a web server can use the Apache to allow HTTP functionality for the sending web documents from a server to a user’s browser (Pickaweb, 2018). However, NGINX also offers the same HTTP functionality as Apache but also allows for load balancing to maintain website load times. (Nginx, n.d. b) Overall web server software can be beneficial as it provides the foundation for allowing websites to be published to the Internet while also allowing users to connect to the websites and use functions such as databases.
Within website development, there are a variety of web technologies available that can be used. Within this technology, there are two main categories: Client-side scripting languages and server-side scripting languages. These terms can also be known as front-end and back-end.
Server-Side Scripting can be used for a variety of applications but is primarily designed for complex calculations that Client-Side Scripting cannot do. It can be used, with the addition of a database, to log users into the website securely. This can then be used to provide a personalised, dynamic website based on the information from the database. It is also used within e-commerce websites to store information as well as storing basket information using a session. (BBC, n.d. b)
Frameworks were created as a method of reducing the time taken to create websites through utilising libraries that contain code that can be directly inserted into the web document. This can increase a website’s functionality as using these frameworks can allow increased exposure to modules that could potentially not be visible through the standard method of using text editors. The frameworks are designed to be used by both technical and non-technical as its primary focus is deploy speed. This often comes with the disadvantage of increased waste code within web documents which could harm the website as it could potentially increase the load times for users with slower speeds.
Frameworks also support the idea of consistency across web pages. Bootstrap is a prime example of this type of ideology. This is because Bootstrap was created to encourage consistency across Twitter. Without using a framework, developers can still achieve web page consistency through development using a standard text editor. However, this would become time-consuming as each page would have to be carefully designed to ensure that the consistency is maintained. This can become time-consuming for a web developer as it could potentially impact the overall functionality of the website if they have a time frame to keep to.
The alternative to using a framework for website development is using a standard text editor. While not all text editors are created equally, they contain similar advantages and disadvantages. The main benefit of using a text editor for web development is the reduction of file sizes due to wasted code. This is often beneficial to websites as larger file sizes also interlink with increased loading times. The key disadvantage of using a text editor is time. When using a text editor, you have to type every line of code out (or you can copy and paste from previous work). This decreases the website development efficiency as more time will be spent writing the code for the website than designing and testing.
To conclude, web development technologies and frameworks have a crucial role in regards to website design, functionality and management. They offer non-technical users the ability to create consistent websites with advanced functionality without requiring them to learn the language. This also benefits technical users that want to increase their website deployment efficiency but also take advantage of ease of consistency across all of their web pages. As a result of this consistency, this means that websites can also be easier to manage as complexity is reduced.
Influence of Search Engines on Website Performance
Search engines can play a significant role in the amount of traffic an organisation will get to their website if their webpage is contained within the first page of search results. This often defines its relevance to the user’s search term and will usually be one of the first to be clicked. This is because search engines employ practices known as “crawling” which evaluates the page to identify what it is about (Google. n.d.). This then gets indexed into a database which will then get queried to define its relevance to a user’s search term. According to McGee (2010), Google counts site load speed as a ranking factor within their algorithm for search results. This means that sites that have quicker loading speeds will further improve their overall ranking.
According to The Guardian (Lines, N. 2014) Search Engine Optimisation, also known as SEO is the process of optimising a website for the sole purpose of increasing its position (ranking) when displayed on a search engine result page.
If organisations, both large and small, utilise Search Engine Optimisation within their websites it can be both beneficial for the users and the organisations. For example, if a page takes more than a few seconds to fully load the user will be less likely to stay on the site and will resort to choosing other results. This can impact the potential revenue gained for sites that sell products as it will result in less potential customers. This optimisation can be done through methods such as reducing the file size of documents and images.
Design can also play a vital role in the ranking given by search engines. Most modern websites follow the “mobile first” approach which explicitly targets mobile users and then upscales to tablets and desktop computers. This type of model ensures that no matter the device the user will always have a friendly experience with the website. According to Google (n.d. b), 77% of mobile searches are conducted in environments where computers are more likely to be present. Since 2016, Google has adapted their ranking algorithm to prioritise mobile-friendly websites over non-mobile-friendly websites. This is further supported by their statistic of 94% of people in the USA with mobile devices search for information on their mobile devices. This incentive further encourages that website performance and viewability should be maintained on mobile devices as well as desktops. (Google, n.d. b)
To conclude, search engines heavily influence how organisations create, update and maintain their websites due to the importance of maintaining or increasing their search result rank. As search engines have become a standard for finding information quickly and easily, it is no coincidence that organisations have used a plethora of tools and techniques at their disposal to ensure they increase their website performance.
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