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How do websites work?

Websites are made up of words and images, all bundled up in files. The computer that stores these files could be anywhere in the world, but your computer can still talk to it because the internet connects them.

When you type in a web address like wikipedia.org, your computer is sent all the files by cables or wirelessly. And shows all the files in a way that is easy to view.

An illustration of content that makes up a webpage

Our story starts with homework. Where every good story starts...

We have to write a story about the Romans - by tomorrow morning. And we don’t know anything about the Romans.

Let’s go to Wikipedia. That’s always a good place to start.

An illustration of a person sitting with their tablet computer

I open up the browser on my iPad. A browser is really good at reading and showing website files.

Most websites are written in a language called HTML.

Using HTML, people give meaning to words by tagging them. So a computer can read them. For example, you can create a paragraph by putting a <p> tag around words.

An illustration of the code that creates a website

I start to type Wikipedia into the box at the top of my browser. Look at that, my super-smart browser suggests Wikipedia.

There is a computer somewhere in the world that holds the files for Wikipedia. As soon as I press enter, my iPad will send a message to this computer asking for all the files it needs to show Wikipedia’s home page.

An illustration of the routes that data takes over an internet network

I hit enter. Computers can talk because they’re connected to the internet – a network of computers, phones, and cables that covers the whole world.

My iPad knows where the other computer is because everything connected to the internet has its own address – called an IP address. IP addresses give each computer a unique identity.

An illustration of networks talking with each other

When the Wikipedia computer receives the request for files, it grabs them and sends them back.

This type of computer is called a server. A server is specially designed to hold files. And they are always on so they can send and receive files at any time.

My browser then takes those files, and figures out how to build and display them.

An illustration of building a website

And Wikipedia is there. On my Ipad.

The whole process takes seconds in real life. Information travels around the internet at the speed of light. So it can travel around the world in the time it takes you to blink.

An illustration of Wikipedia on a tablet computer

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