The Web Developer’s Dictionary

Web developers have their own language, and it’s full of acronyms and terms that are relatively unknown to folks outside of the development world. This lingo can be confusing, especially if you don’t work with websites every day, and if you’re going through the process of building a brand new site or redesigning an existing site, you might feel a little lost when your developer tries to explain things to you. To make things a little easier, I’ve put together this handy little “dictionary” with definitions of some of the most commonly used web development terms, and I’ve arranged them in order from the most commonly used to the more obscure.

So, are you ready to expand your web development vocabulary? Let’s go!

FTP (File Transfer Protocol): This is the protocol for exchanging files over the Internet. FTP is most commonly used to download a file from a server using the Internet or to upload a file to a server.

PHP: PHP is a popular server-side scripting language that is designed for web development. PHP is now installed on more than 244 million websites and 2.1 million web servers. A PHP page is, essentially, a file with the extension .php that contains a combination of HTML tags and scripts that run on a web server. This type of programming language is most commonly hosted by a Linux server.

ASP.NET: ASP.NET is a server-side web application framework that is designed for web development. It was developed by Microsoft to allow programmers to build dynamic websites, web applications and web services. ASP.NET pages have a file extension of .aspx. These files typically contain HTML markup, as well as markup defining server-side web controls and user controls. This type of programming language is most commonly hosted on a Windows server.

JavaScript: JavaScript is a programming language used to make web pages interactive. It runs on your computer and doesn’t require constant downloads. JavaScript support is built right into all the major web browsers, including Internet Explorer, Firefox, Chrome, and Safari.

Since the demise of Flash, JavaScript has become the go-to language to create any type of animation on the web today. Lightbox popup effects, slideshows and photo galleries are all typically run on JavaScript. A bonus is that it works on mobile phones and tablet devices, so web developers can create a seamless experience across all platforms.

SSL Certificate: SSL certificates are small data files that digitally bind a cryptographic key to an organization’s details. When installed on a web server, they activate the padlock and the https protocol (over port 443) to allow secure connections from a web server to a browser. Typically, SSL is used to secure credit card transactions, data transfer, and logins. It is also becoming the norm when securing the browsing of social media sites.

An organization will need to install an SSL certificate onto its web server to initiate secure sessions with browsers. Depending on the type of SSL certificate applied for, the organization will need to go through differing levels of vetting.

CMS (Content Management System): A CMS is a software system that provides website administration tools so users with little knowledge of web programming languages or markup languages can create and manage website content with relative ease. Examples of different types of CMS systems are WordPress, Joomla, Expression Engine, Concrete5, and Drupal.

DNS (Domain Name System): A DNS is an Internet service that translates domain names into IP addresses. Because domain names are alphabetic, they’re easier to remember. The Internet, however, is really based on IP addresses. This means that every time you use a domain name, a DNS service must translate the name into the corresponding IP address.

The DNS system is, in fact, its own network. If one DNS server doesn’t know how to translate a particular domain name, it asks another one, and so on, until the correct IP address is returned.

Domain Name Registrar: This is an organization or commercial entity that manages the reservation of Internet domain names. An end user selects a registrar (think Godaddy or Network Solutions) to provide the registration service, and that registrar becomes the “designated registrar” for the domain name chosen by the user.

Only the designated registrar may modify or delete information about domain names in a central registry database. It is not unusual for an end user to switch registrars, invoking a domain transfer process between the registrars involved.

When a registrar registers a .com domain name for an end user, it must pay a maximum annual fee of US $7.85 to VeriSign, the registry operator for .com, and a US $0.18 annual administration fee to ICANN. The maximum period of registration for a domain name is 10 years.

Propagation Delay: When your website’s address is entered into a browser, the computer requests the IP address of the server housing your site from your Internet service provider’s (ISP) DNS records. If the site is not listed in the records, it queries registrars to find out who the DNS start of authority (SOA) is for your website. If you’re using your registrar’s name server as your SOA, it looks up the “A” record for your domain and returns the IP address of the server listed.

To speed the loading of websites, each ISP caches a copy of DNS records for a period of time, sometimes up to 48 hours. This means that they make their own copy of the registrar’s master DNS records and read from them locally instead of making a direct request to the domain registrar every time a request for your site is made. This speeds up web surfing quite a bit.

The downside to caching the master DNS records is that each company or ISP only updates their records every few days, and any changes you make to your DNS records are not reflected between those updates. The slow updating of the cached records is known as the propagation delay because your website’s DNS information is being propagated across all DNS servers on the web. Once completed, everyone can visit your website.

Web Cache: Web cache is a mechanism for the temporary storage (or caching) of web documents, such as HTML pages and images, to reduce bandwidth usage, server load, and perceived lag.

If you examine the preferences dialog of any modern web browser (like Safari, Firefox, or Chrome), you’ll probably notice a “cache” setting. This lets you set aside a section of your computer’s hard disk to store representations that you’ve seen. As you jump from web page to web page, caching those pages in memory lets you quickly go back to a page without having to download it from the web again.

When we make updates to a client’s site, it is very common that we ask them to clear their cache so they can see the changes live on their website. If you are interested in learning how to clear your browser’s cache, check out this helpful guide.

A Useful Resource

There you have it—a few definitions for some of the most common web development terms. This is by no means a comprehensive list, but hopefully it will come in handy for those of you who want to learn the basics of how websites work. Fellow developers, if you can think of a term I missed, let me know in the comments!