Web Design Jargon Buster!

I went to look up ‘web service authentication tokens’ earlier, started reading and in several parts thought to myself “what the…?” Being one of the less binarily competent humans in the WSAD team, my limits are usually found at what something is, and what it does. The how and why, as with so many specialist fields are where the experts come into their own.

Anyway. It made me think about how we try and phrase things when it comes to talking about anything remotely technical. If I’m having a conversation with a client who’s not technical then I’ll always try and avoid the web design jargon. However I am a firm believer that when we don’t know what something is or what it’s for, it’s well worth trying to gain a rudimentary understanding if we are able to.

So that in mind, I thought about the things that come up all the time but can so easily cause confusion or uncertainty over what is actually involved. In fact, sometimes the terminology is scary. The other day we restarted one of the programs we use and on-screen appeared instructions that actually used the phrase “kill process or sacrifice child”. Computers, whilst useful, can also be utterly ridiculous.

That’s not the brand of scary I was talking about though, the frightening aspect we’re looking are the words and acronyms that we hear all the time, but perhaps don’t entirely grasp.


Fear inducing, no?

Well fear no more… This is not a high-end explanation of the complexitities beneath the screen, that’s way beyond me anyway. This is a (hopefully useful) guide for getting by and gaining an understanding of the relationships between the various acronyms and terms that commonly crop up in web design and development projects. I’ve also purposely not included uncommon uses of terms, only using .

The only assumption I’ll make is that you know what a website is and how to get to one. And if you claim you don’t, well then how did you get here? Eh?

Right then, from the start:



What is it? A server is a computer where your website lives. It’s set up to send your website, or “serve” it to users across the web when people go to your address.

The server can also be called the “Host”. That’s where the phrase “hosting” comes from. When you pay for hosting, you’re renting a server somewhere for your site to be stored on.


Domain Name / URL / Address:

What is it? It’s a name for where your site lives that’s (ideally) easy to remember. It looks like this www.xyz.co.uk / xyz.co.uk

Your site also has an address that is harder to remember. It’s made solely from numbers and looks something like this: – Easier for computers, but not for humans. It’s called an IP address.



What is it? Domain Name Service. It takes the IP address ( and ties it to the memorable website name (www.xyz.com). Now both humans and computers are looking in the same place, even though one uses numbers and one uses alphanumeric characters.

Think of it like an alias. Like shortening Maximillian to Max. Or like a mask, a mask covering a face made out of numbers.



What is it? File Transfer Protocol. It’s a method used to move the files for your website onto the server so that the world can see it.

If you’ve ever wondered how sites “go live” this is a big part of it. The web design files are all moved onto the server via FTP software. A username and a password are needed to move files on or off the server, keeping your site protected.



What is it? Secure Sockets Layer. It protects information going to or from the site. This is particularly important when personal information is linked with a website.

You can tell whether a site is protected by looking for a small padlock icon near the address bar. Be wary of giving personal details to sites that do not provide this type of security.



What is it? Hypertext Markup Language. It tells computers what content to show on a website.

HTML can be used to add effects to text, like bold or italic. It also allows images and links to be included on websites too.



What is it? Cascading Style Sheets. It’s a bit of an odd name. CSS dictates the layout for a website, something that HTML is very limited at doing. HTML and CSS used together give almost limitless design possibilities.

This site is built using HTML and CSS (amongst other things).



What is it? It’s a program that allows information to be very efficiently managed and used for lots of purposes. In instances where a site has logical functions or stores information, a database usually is at the centre.

Even simple ideas can require complex underlying solutions, databases are ideal for this and for sorting information intelligently.

That’s plenty for one day I reckon, hope that it’s useful. If you come across any others that you think need de-coding give us a shout on twitter.