Graphics Unplugged

Website Development Basics

Posted by Kyle Diedrick

I’ve always thought that there is a relatively high barrier to entry for newcomers to website development. A combination of acronyms and programming concepts can make learning how to develope websites fairly daunting, not to mention all of the concepts that go into good design. One of the main reasons I started the blog here at Graphics Unplugged is to help reduce this barrier to entry. With this post I want to explain some of the basic concepts and acronyms that are used daily in website development. I’ll expand this list as things come up or things change, so if you have something you think should be here please put it in the comments below.


HTML stands for Hypertext Markup Language. This is the basic framework of all websites and is how web browsers determine what content to load. HTML 5 is the latest version, which is not currently supported by internet explorer. HTML 5 adds a lot of functionality that required javascript or flash in previous versions.


CSS stands for Cascading Style Sheet. Styling provides the effects that are applied to the HTML of sites, and changes the way that sites look. In the early days styling was applied directly within the page, but this dramatically increases the file size of the page as well as makes design fairly tedious. CSS allow designers to separate the style from the HTML and content of the page. By separating the styling from the page it allows for faster page loading as well as the use of the same styles on separate pages. There are tons and tons of tutorials and books and information available on CSS since it is the primary way that websites are currently styled.


PHP stands for Hypertext Preprocessor and allows for websites to load information from the server prior to the page being displayed by the web browser. PHP is what powers Content Management Systems which allow for the manipulation of content without having to have access to the actual code for the page. It is used to retrieve data from databases such as MySQL or MSSQL.


SQL stands for Structured Query Language and the two most common versions are MySQL and MSSQL. MySQL is named after its original developer’s (Michael Widenius) daughter, My. MSSQL is the Microsoft SQL. Both of these are used to store data for websites, which allows for a number of things where the data needs to be saved and accessible on the web server. SQL and PHP work well together, and most tutorials on one discuss the other. To people without previous experience in programming PHP and SQL are particularly complicated, although you can use both without having much familiarity with how they function by installing a Content Management System such as WordPress or Joomla.


CMS stands for Content Management System. As mentioned above two of the more common CMS are WordPress and Joomla but there are many others that exist. CMS provide a framework for providing a wide variety of functionality without requiring the developer to code the page from scratch. They also allow for web designers to produce a website for a client and then allow the client to update the site without having to allow them access to the code. Each CMS has its own advantages and disadvantages which allow them to be used differently over a variety of sites.


Javascript is used to allow for the manipulation of content once the page has loaded. This means anything from basic animations to adding effects to objects. It is used on a number of sites and provides a variety of stylistic effects and features which are not possible via CSS.


Ajax is short for Asynchronous Javascript and XML. It is typically used for interactive web applications which require the manipulation of content without reloading the page. Ajax has been used for basic things such as photo slideshows as well as much more complex applications. The biggest advantage to Ajax is being able to keep other objects such as the navigation in place while the client can load new content.


Javascript, Ajax, and jQuery are all related since they all work through javascript. By loading different sets of javascript libraries (pre-written javascript functions and sets of code) such as jQuery or Ajax you can increase performance by only loading the libraries that are necessary. jQuery includes Ajax as well as the ability to manipulate CSS and the use of plugins, among other things.


Adobe Flash is used for many things on the web today. Flash is probably the most familiar of all the systems on this list. Its most common uses include audio and video playback, but it can be used to produce entire websites. With the advent of HTML 5 there has been some speculation on the future of Flash since HTML 5 provides much of the functionality that previously required Flash. Most websites that feature animations also use Flash, and this may or may not change with HTML 5. One typically unmentioned advantage to Flash is that it looks the same regardless of what web browser it is viewed in. Unlike HTML and CSS which can work differently in different browsers.

Hopefully this has been an insightful explanation about many of the different technologies that are used in website development and as things continue to change I intend to update this page. Like I said at the beginning of the article, if you have something that you wish to know more about please post it in the comments and I will add it to the page.

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No CommentsPosted March 7th, 2010Kyle Diedrick

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