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Building a Basic web site

No matter how you plan on building your web site, you need to know some basics about the way Web pages are put together. In a nutshell, HTML files are text files that tell the Web browser what to display. Unlike word-processed documents, pictures remain as separate files from the text.

Before You Begin

Before you begin your web site, you need to know how the files used in Web pages interact with each other. An excellent resource for this information is the HTML Source: Basic Links. Also, Human Resource Development offers classes. (Call 348-9700 for information or check the (link removed) Once again, students should check the course catalog for Web page classes.

Starting to Build

Once you understand how the different files will interact to make up your web site, you are ready to start building it! Most people will build their site on their personal computer and then upload it to their bama account or another Web server. The first thing you should do is to create a directory on your personal computer to contain the site. You can have subdirectories of the main directory, but two things should be true:

  1. Your main web site directory and its subfolders should only contain files that are part of your site.
  2. All of the files that will be part of your site must be in the main web site directory or one of its subfolders.

If you aren’t entirely sure how to accomplish this, that is a sure sign that you need to learn more about files and directories. Do not underestimate how important this skill is.


After you have set up your directory, you are ready to build your page on your own computer. There are two approaches to the HTML editing process. One says you need to do the HTML coding by hand, which is not as difficult as it might sound. The other approach says that that isn’t necessary, just use one of the many WYSIWYG (pronounced Wizzy-wig: What You See Is What You Get) HTML editors available. Many serious Web page programmers (professional and otherwise) use a combination of the two methods.

HTML coding does offer some advantages. It is cheap; all you need is a text editor like Notepad or SimpleText. It offers ultimate control, which can result in smaller, more flexible pages. On the other hand, using a Web page editor can be faster for some tasks, and it doesn’t require an extensive knowledge of HTML. However, many editors create bloated (overly large) HTML code that will make your page take longer to download, and the code may not work with all browsers.

A combination approach is the most flexible. HTML knowledge can make you more productive in almost any editor, plus troubleshooting pages (“why doesn’t it look the way I want it to?”) becomes much easier. Also, it will allow you to implement features in your pages that your favorite editor may not support.

Resources for learning HTML:

  • w3schools.com provides an excellent introduction to HTML, very good for beginners.
  • HTML Goodies: Check out the HTML Primer. Once you are more familiar with HTML, you might want to check out the tutorials on such topics as tables, forms, frames, etc.
  • W3C’s HTML home page: The World Wide Web Consortium’s site for HTML. While this is not the best way to learn HTML, it is a great place to look up particular tags.


The HTML editor currently supported by the IT Service Desk is Macromedia Dreamweaver. Macromedia Dreamweaver is available in the SUPe Store as part of the Adobe Creative Suite 4 available for an academic price of approximately $199 (either PC or Macintosh), (the suite also includes Fireworks, Flash, InDesign, PhotoShop, Illustrator, and Acrobat 9 Pro).

And You’re Off!

As you create your site, make sure that you save it all (including any graphics files) under the main Web directory you created earlier. Don’t put any spaces in your file names. You may want to use underscores ( _ ) or dashes ( – ) instead. Many Web servers, including bama, are case sensitive, so keeping all of your file names lower case will make things easier.

Each Web server has a particular name that is required for the home page. If you are going to publish to bama.ua.edu, name your home page index.html or index.htm (or index.shtml if you are using server-side includes) in your main Web directory.

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