How Websites Work: A Housing Analogy

The internet is a superhighway, allowing anyone to go anywhere. Though most of us know how to get from site A to site B, few of us know how it all works together. Below is an analogy I have used with my clients to help them understand how the pieces of the web work. I hope it helps you, too.

The Browser

A web browser (Internet Explorer, Firefox, Chrome, Safari, and Opera) is a car. We get into a web browser and type in where we want to go, and the browser (car) takes us there. Some browsers are better than others, and some need to be taken to the scrap yard. Be sure to have the latest browser version installed, so that you can have the best driving experience possible.

popular browsers

The Domain

A website’s domain is an address ( Domains are cheap to buy and relatively easy to get. In my experience with clients, most people buy domains from a company like, perhaps because it does a lot of television advertising. You can, however, buy a domain and server space from the same company, which will make your life so much simpler! A domain is just ONE part of obtaining a website. Buying a domain is like buying the address number plaque for your home.

domain name

The Hosting Company

If a domain is an address, the hosting company is the realtor and will sell you a piece of land where you can put your stuff (website content). The hosting company will provide the internet real estate for your website, so you can host your content on as much space (usually more than you could possibly need), so the world can come by and visit.

The Server

Server space is the internet property the host is selling you . A server is a remote computer that can be accessed by anyone with internet access. When you visit a website, you’re asking the hosting server to give you the text, images, and information on the website.

All Together

A website is a house filled with your content, which sits on a nice chunk of internet real estate (hosting server). To drive to the lot, you need an address (domain). A domain is JUST the address. Having a domain without a hosting server is like sending your friends to nowhere. You can have multiple domains (addresses) but without a host server (property), you’ve got bupkis.

FTP (File Transfer Protocol) Login Information

Keeping with our housing analogy, the FTP is how a web designer (think of us as contractors and interior designers for your house), can access your lot. It’s our job to build your house, and without the correct keys to your lot, we can’t put anything on your property, nor can we remodel your existing house (old website). We need a username, password, and FTP information (something like, to break ground. We need the keys to get through the gate.


htmlHyperText Markup Language (HTML) and Hypertext Preprocessor (PHP) are the backbones for a website’s construction: the bricks, wood, nails, and concrete. Without them it’s impossible to build your house. A web designer/developer is able to construct a website using those languages, giving the site structure and functionality.


cssA Cascading Style Sheet provides the style across the website. All houses need raw materials to be built, and all houses need a design and blueprints for where and how the materials will be constructed. CSS tells a website where to put the windows, how big the windows will be, and how they’ll open. CSS determines the color of the paint, the trim, the door, how wide the lawn spans, how tall the house stands, and whether your garage door slides up as one piece, or coils together. CSS makes your house awesome.


Static websites, which were the norm for many years, didn’t move. That is to say, if you the client (house resident) wanted to re-arrange your furniture (website content) you needed a web designer/developer to do it for you. CMSs (Content Management Systems) changed that. WordPress (a popular CMS) gives you, the client, a set of keys, so you can move your furniture or change it out whenever you want, without a developer to let you in the house. Make sense? Remember, though, that not all interior design moves are good ones. You may think it’s important to put three chandeliers in the dining room, but how will that help your visitors (website users)?

wordpressI hope that has made understanding how your website, or future website, works. If not, please leave your questions in the comments!

About the author

Courtney: Courtney Kirchoff is a published novelist and web designer. She lives and works in the greater Seattle area.


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