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Web Design Glossary - the jargon explained

The jargon in most subjects is intended to help those familiar with it to communicate more quickly and succinctly rather than deliberately creating an 'us and them' to baffle the uninitiated - honest!


Account: Some websites allow you to access certain information or carry out certain actions, eg. buying goods, only if you are known to the website.  A bit like having a bank or store account.  The website typically stores a record of activities and can retrieve them only for you and (usually) the site owner.

Android: the operating system, created by Google, used in many mobile phones and tablets.

Apache: open source web server software that runs mostly on Linux servers (but can run on Windows too) and powering the majority of the world's web sites.

App: short for 'application'.  Another name for a computer program, though the term tends now to be used for programs running on tablets and mobile phones - also on websites - hence 'web app'.

ASP: a programming language, derived from BASIC and used to write web applications running on Windows based servers.  Stands for Active Server Pages.  Microsoft's competitor to PHP.

Bug: an error that results in a computer program behaving in an unexpected manner.  The term possibly originates from an error in an early US Navy computer that malfunctioned when a moth (ie. a bug) flew into the hardware and caused a short circuit.

Client: in web context, a computer operated directly by a human being and used to run programs and access information from servers on the web.  A client computer is effectively the opposite of a server.

Cloud: Using remote computer networks which share resources. Some website hosting is on cloud based servers, but this doesn't mean they're floating around the sky on satelites.

CMS: a piece of software that allows you to login to your website and make changes to it without having to get involved the underlying technical details.  Stands for Content Management System.  

CSS: code format used to define the appearance of content on web pages.  Stands for Cascading Style Sheets.  In modern websites the page organisation and meaning is defined in HTML while the appearance, the colours, fonts, the layout of items on the page, is defined independently in CSS.  Similar in principle to the style sheets used by word processors.

Cron-job: a program that runs on a server at a specific time each day, week or month.  Can run anything from several times an hour to once a year.  Often used for automated backups and similar repetitive, behind-the-scenes tasks.



Domain: also known as a domain name.  A website's address on the internet, eg. tesco.com, abbeydale.net.  The last part of a domain usually indicates the country and/or type of business that operates the domain.  Eg. .co.uk indicates a commercial company trading in the UK.  In practice there are few real restrictions on the use of domains and they are allocated on a 'first come, first served' basis.

Email: a system for exchange of messages and files between computers attached to the web.  Also refers to a single emailed message hence 'sending an email' or 'receiving a number of emails'.

Ecommerce: the process of buying and selling goods and services from a website and taking payment for them on the web too - usually by credit or debit card.



GMail: Google's free web based email service with email addresses ending in @gmail.com.

Host: a web server, a computer attached to the web and publicly available 24/7 so that anyone, anywhere on the web can see your website.  Space on the disks of a host computer is usually rented on a yearly basis and paying the rent for the coming year is referred to as 'renewing the hosting' for your website.

Hotmail: Microsoft's free web based email service with email addresses ending in @hotmail.com.  Also has country specific email addresses such @hotmail.co.uk.  Now replaced by outlook.com.

HTML: the language or code format in which web pages are written and which allows text to be organised and mixed with images and other graphical elements.  Stands for Hyper Text Markup Language.  HTML has grown and become more powerful as the web has become more popular and used for more and more complex forms of information. 

IMAP: a method of connecting a computer to an email server that results in you receiving emails as soon as the server gets them storing those emails on the server.  They stay there until you delete them so IMAP requires a lot of server space to be devoted to storing emails.  IMAP stands for Internet Message Access Protocol.

iOS: Apple's operating system for iPhones and iPads - equivalent to Google's Android.



Javascript: a programming language used to make web pages react to human actions, eg. clicking a button or rolling the mouse over a menu item.  Javascript runs within the web browser when client computers display web pages. In the past Javascript was restricted to quite simple functions but the language has grown in power and features in recent years and now forms a vital part of most modern web pages.

jQuery: a powerful add-on to Javascript that not only makes it easy to bring web pages to life with smooth animations but also allows powerful data manipulation to be carried out in response to user actions.  jQuery has spawned a whole generation of highly interactive web sites.

Junk mail: also known as 'spam' - unwanted and usually unsolicited email - often used to carry viruses and attempt to trap you into revealing personal or financial information (phishing).

Link: a piece of HTML code on a web page that lets you jump from one page to another, either on the same website or another website completely.

Linux: the open source operating system used in most web servers and based on the earlier Unix system.  It is also available for desk top computers but is not as popular there as Windows.

Login: the act of identifying yourself to a website on which you have an account.  Once you have logged in you may be allowed to access privileged information or carry out restricted tasks not available to those who don't have an account.


Mail server: a web connected computer used to send, receive and routeemail.  A website host computer typically also acts as a mail server to handle email addresses based on your website domain.

Malware: virus or other unwanted software running on your computer that, at the very least, degrades its performance, at worst steals information from your or stops your computer from working.

MySQL: (pronounced 'My Sequel') an open source database commonly used on web sites and web applications.

Open source: a movement, supported by Google and Oracle among others, to make software widely available and free, where developers typically make money, if they do at all, from support contracts and add-on work.  Linux, Apache, MySQL and PHP are open source software products as are the Joomla and Wordpress content management systems.  The choice is often between open source and Microsoft.

Operating system, or OS: - the basic software required to run a computer.  Many personal computers run the Windows OS while web servers typically run one called 'Linux'.



Page: just like books, websites are made up of individual pages.  Website pages, however, can be linked together making it easy to move from one page to another and not necessarily in a fixed order.

Page speed: An assessment of how fast a web page loads, from the server response time to appearing on the device. It is one of the factors which can affect a website's position in search engine results.

Phishing: describes an email (usually) that tries to trap you into revealing personal or financial information to criminals.

PHP: an open source programming language commonly used to write web applications - programs running on a web server.  These typically store information in a database on the server, eg. to operate an account on an ecommerce website or content management system.  PHP commonly runs on Linux based web servers but can run on Windows servers too.  It is a recursive acronym and stands for PHP Hypertext Preprocessor.

POP3: acronym: a method of connecting your computer to an email server to receive emails such that the computer stores the incoming email and (usually) deletes it from the server.  Often preferred by hosting providers over IMAP as it requires less space on the web server.  Stands for Post Office Protocol 3.

Responsive design: a technique by which a single web page may have one appearance on a large computer screen and a different appearance on a small tablet or mobile phone screen.



Server: a computer that is used only to feed information to other computers rather than being directly used by a human operator.  A web server is connected to the internet 24/7 and sends ('serves') the files making up your website when other computers ask for them.

SMTP: an acronym describing the connection between a computer and mail server used to send an outgoing email.  Also used for connections between email servers.  Stands for Simple Mail Transport Protocol.

Spam: junk email - unwanted and usually unsolicited email - often used to carry viruses and attempt to trap you into revealing personal or financial information (phishing).

Surf: moving from one web page to another by following links in the HTML code - 'surfing the web'.



Virtual server: not a real server!  Usually refers to single, large computer, eg a web server, pretending to be many smaller ones.  The technique is used to add a level of security - to isolate individual websites or groups of websites where a single physical server hosts many hundreds of sites.  It prevents one website's software from interfering with another.

Virus: a computer program that can replicate and spread itself from one computer to another, usually over the internet.  Most viruses have evil intent, ie. they are malware, and try to extract personal and financial information from you and pass it back to criminal gangs.



Web: aka world wide web, www.  The interconnection of computers all over the world that allows information to be spread rapidly - usually from a web server to a client but it works the other way round too.

Web app: a program that runs as a website, or a website that performs some programmed action, depending on your point of view.  A web app can combine program code running on the server (eg. PHP code) and on the client (eg. Javascript) to provide a smooth and responsive user experience.

Webmail: generic term for web based email programs such as GMail and Hotmail.  Here you can send and receive your email from any computer attached to the internet.  You don't need an email program specifically connected to your email account(s).  Abbeydale hosted websites provide webmail access to your domain based email addresses.

Web site: a collection of files that present information in a commonly used format (HTML & CSS) so that it can be accessed from any computer connected to the internet.  The files can contain text, still images, video and also interactive elements and program code that allow information to be passed back and forth between a server and a client.

page last updated: 09/11/2014

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