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Lessons learned from the web

Keep names short

Have you ever tried to tell someone how to enter a web address over the phone? The smartest person can go brain dead as you try to spell a long web address for them. When you are planning your web site, make sure all the directory and page names are short and meaningful.

Windows vs. Unix/Linux

If you are a windows user, you know it doesn't matter whether you type a file name in all upper case, all lower case, or a mixture. But many of the components of the internet are on Linux or Unix machines, not Windows machines. And unlike Windows, Linux and Unix consider an upper case letter different than the lower case letter. Your domain name can be used in any combination of upper and lower case, but the rest of the address (the names of your pictures, the names of your pages, the names of the directories holding them) need to be consistent - you can save a page using upper case or lower case, but every use of that page must use exactly the same case.

To survive the upper case vs. lower case problem, I suggest that ALL names that might be entered by a customer be in lower case. Sure, I have files names for pictures like LargeBookcaseFrontView.jpg but these are pictures I display from the web page, where I can focus on getting the "spelling" right, not names I expect users to type in directly.

Microsoft decided to use the "\" as the symbol to designate a directory. On Unix and most other systems the "/" is used to designate a directory. On the internet, always use the forward slash, "/".

Spaces can be a problem - in some cases they have meaning, like the end of a parameter. In many cases multiple spaces in HTML are automatically reduced to a single space. Spaces aren't allowed in at least some of the systems that "carry" our Internet messages. Therefore a file name (page, picture, or whatever) with a space in it, has the space converted to #20 - it tells the internet that it isn't a space now (since that would be bad) but when you use it or display it, convert it to whatever symbol has the hexadecimal value 20 - duh - a space. Simple answer, spaces may work fine on your machine, but not on all machines - don't use them in your file names!

Directory structure

You will probably find it much easier to maintain your web site if you use multiple directories - with different directories for different content. Some web sites keep all the pictures in a single directory, but I find it more convenient to keep the pictures associated with a page in the directory with that page. As your site evolves, some of the pictures will no longer be used, and it becomes easier to find which pictures can be dropped if they are in the corresponding directory.

Another advantage of directories is the "default" page name. If no file is specified in the internet address (URL), the internet looks for a page called "index.html" (or if it doesn't find that file it looks for a number of other possible default file names). Therefore I can tell someone to go to www.solowoodworker.com/why and they will see the page www.solowoodworker.com/why/index.html . By carefully planning the names of your directories, and having a suitable "index.html" file in each directory, you can guide your customer to a portion of your web site with what appears to be a simple address.

When you are creating your web site, make a directory on your machine that will correspond to the home directory of your web site... holding the "index.html" file that represents your home page. Make a subdirectory on your computer that corresponds to each subdirectory you plan to have on your web site. From the home directory, to link to another page such as this, specify the address why/webtricks.html ... just start with the directory. If you want to link from this page back to the home page, specify ../index.html - the ../ says go to my parent directory. If you want to go to the parent of my parent directory, say ../../ and the file name you want.

"<head>" section

In addition to a "<body>" section of a web page, that contains the information that will be displayed, there is a "<head>" section that provides information about the page. The "<Title>" is what the browser puts in the title bar - one of the keys to looking professional. The "<META NAME="keywords"..." are terms you suggest using when the search engines index this page. Refining this list is time well spent if you want to be found on the web. The <META NAME="description"..." is the brief one paragraph summary of the page, and is what the search engines show when they display the result of their search. "<META NAME="ROBOTS" content="INDEX, FOLLOW"> invites the robots that "Crawl the web" to index this page, and to follow the links on this page to other pages to index. This is just a small example of the information that can be in the <head>.

Search engines look at the keywords that you provide in the header, then compare the keywords with what is on the page to be sure they are on the same subject... in the early days, the keywords were sometimes on a very attractive subject, and the actual contents were a porn site or other "hijack." Just repeating the key words in minutely fine print, or repeatedly, or other deception, is often detected, and is likely to get your site boycotted or blacklisted.


In the future I expect to add pages on other tips and techniques for building a web site. Please send me questions about parts of this page that are not clear, and I will try to help (and improve this page). And if you haven't seen it yet, check out the page on use of the web.