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Under the Hood: The Engines That Make Your Site Work

Many of us really do not want to see how they make sausages (yuk!), and those that do tend to have a change of diet. Luckily, no animals are killed and thrashed to make a website! Hopefully, this short article will provide a very basic understanding of the events that take place in order for you to view a typical web page.

You'll please forgive the Wikipedia references I've put in so you can look up more information, but I have verified the veracity of each of them. In addition to the links I put in, a web search will provide lots more info on any given topic.

Inside the web page

There are many ways to “serve up” a page from a website. The most basic if which is a text file that contains HTML (Hypertext Markup Language), and the most basic HTML would look like this:

<p>A line of textual information to display on your browser’s screen</p>

The ‘<p>’ marks the beginning of a paragraph, and the </p> marks the end. They are not displayed. They are detected by the browser receiving the web page and what is between them is interpreted as a block of text with a hard carriage return (new line) at the end.

Of course there are many, many HTML elements and directives which instruct the browser that there is a table or a list or bolded text, plus margins, indents, etc. In addition to that, there are coded instructions called “scripts” that are essentially mini-programs that run and perform some visual or calculative functions on the web page.

Besides HTML files, which usually have the file extension “.HTML” or “.HTM”, there are other files that contain both HTML and server-side instructions (e.g. programs that are used by the server, not your browser) and have the extension “.PHP”. PHP files can contain both HTML text and PHP functions that can, say, reformat a web page due to the detection of a tablet or a cellphone, or call up information from the server’s database for inclusion on the web page.

A scripting language called CGI (Common Gateway Interface) is also used for web servers and provides more flexibility for server-side programs to interact.

What’s going on at the server?

The server has a tall stack of programs that help serve up a web page. First, you have the operating system, usually Linux or Windows, which allows the computer server to work at all. Then, you have what nerdies call a “LAMP stack” (Linux) or “WAMP stack” (Windows), LAMP and WAMP being acronyms for all the necessary pieces: [L]INUX (or [W]indows), [A]pache, [M]ySQL,[ P]HP.

“PHP is a server-side scripting language designed for web development but also used as a general-purpose programming language. “ ( PHP works behind the scenes at the server, not on your browser. The browser you use to view the site uses HTML, CSS and Javascript, all of which I will address later in this document.

“MySQL is a relational database management system.” ( which allowing storing and retrieval of categorized information. Prior to the use of databases, all text and images on a particular web page resided in separate files. Databases keep all of the site’s information, or pointers to information, inside a single database making things more efficient.

“The Apache HTTP Server, colloquially called Apache is the world's most widely used web server software.” ( You can think of Apache as the waiter serving up all your courses. You request a web page and Apache “puts it together” using data sent to it by contents of the web page.

What’s my browser doing with all that data?

Your browser is, in essence, a program “interpreter”. It interprets the instructions sent to it by the server in order to render out pages for viewing. Additionally, it provides bidirectional communication and “talks with” the server so that information can be sent back and forth between your browser and the server.

The browser interprets these types of commands: HTML, CSS and Javascript. HTML, we know, provides basic structure where text, tables, lists, images, links and other data are contained. We’ve already talked about various HTML instructions that include paragraphs, tables, lists, images, etc.

Font types and font sizes, colors, borders and all other items presented visually on a web page are all controlled by CSS. CSS stands for Cascading Style Sheets. “Style sheets” give you an indication that CSS is involved in styling your web page and “Cascading” means that any style can be overridden by later CSS instructions. For example:

#smallbox { font-size: 12px; height: 100px; width: 100px; }

The line above is a typical CSS entry. It addresses an element name “smallbox” inside the HTML document. It instructs that element to be 100 pixels by 100 pixels in size, and any text in that box should be sized to 12 pixels. If there is a box inside that box that is named “insidebox”, then we can change only the inbox parameters like this:

# smallbox # insidebox {font-size: 10px; height: 40px; width: 80px;}

The above CSS instruction will override the font-size of the larger box, so that the #inside box will have smaller type, but the larger, outside box will still retain 12px type.

Lastly, there is Javascript. Like PHP and CGI, Javascript is an interpretive language. It does not have to be compiled into any other form for it to run. You browser contains a run-time Javascript interpreter.

Javascript is very powerful. It can change almost any aspect of a web page. It provides features that allow information to be added to a web page by the viewer, which can then be sent back to the server, like email address, answers to questions and polls. Perhaps the most common use is shopping carts that need to relay information between the server and the customer. It can also make visual elements move around on a page.

Advancements in content delivery

Javacript has caused some security problems over the years, and folks have been trying to get more of its functionality into HTML itself. So, here came HTML5 and CSS3. These two new additions to a web programmer’s toolkit provides a lot of functionality that Javascript provides, but instead of writing Javascript programs, it uses new commands like [video] and [canvas]. With these new commands, web designers can more easily create web pages without having to rely on any other facility, and reducing the overhead of Javascript’s interpreter.


I’ve tried to describe the events that bring you a typical web page and hope I’ve accomplished that. There is a multitude of documentation on the web, and it’s literally ‘on the web’ so a Google, Yahoo, et. al. search for any of these topics will bring up more information than you ever wanted.

Obviously, this document was not created to be a complete guide, only an overview, and I am not a professional writer, so if you have some comments that would make this document more clear, bring it on!

Hover or click to pause testimonials
Eric Ray, Director of Software Engineering, CorrectCite,

Norm has been a very valuable partner in helping us update our Web site, recover from a previous Web developer's mess, and navigate some very challenging transitions from a neglected Web presence to a Web presence that we rely on to move our business forward. From his upbeat and enthusiastic approach to the work at hand to his flexibility in the face of ever-changing priorities, accelerated deadlines, and the pressure of responding to issues in real time, he has been consistently delightful to work with.

Norm provides uniformly high quality work, and is quick and responsive in dealing with bugs or problems. We look forward to a long-term relationship as we move to a maintenance model of site development, and would certainly choose to work with him again if we had it to do over again.

Website design and development
John Hawkins, President, T3 Trading LLC.

Norm made an extra effort to fit me into his schedule, because he knew I was on a tight deadline. He took my script, and knew exactly how to put the right inflections at the right places, for maximum impact. He did a great job with the graphics I asked him to supply. He got the job completely finished the next day, and I am extremely pleased with the professionalism of the finished product. Norm is, without any doubt, a go-to guy. Highly recommended!

Video Production and Editing
Paul Lawson, SPECInc.,

We are exceptionally pleased with Norm’s production of the website and our new promotional video. His enthusiastic suggestions were often helpful and his artistic presentation of our products and services have produced several complements from our customers. We also appreciate Norm’s follow through in maintaining the website and making minor changes for a year after its completion.

Video Production and EditingWebsite design and development
Art Drake,

My product was completely new. There were no comparable sites to model. I had been working with another site developer and spending a lot of time and money for a site that just didn't get up and run. I had thousands tied up in work done for the web site. Norm stepped in and in less than a week, things were cooking. He keeps the puzzle pretty as it expands to cover my latest achievements. I can't say enough good things about Norm.

Website design and development
Kim Bechthold, CEO, Sundance Diagnostics, Inc.,

If you are fortunate enough to be able to have Norm Strassner create your website and your company presence on the web and in social media, Count Your Lucky Stars!

Norm stepped in to a half-finished website, under a critical deadline. He finished the site in record time, dramatically improved it, set up a new webhost, made our Facebook page great and did about a thousand more things in just two weeks. He didn’t just do everything with lightening speed, he propelled us into a sophisticated level of programming that is exquisite and will serve us incredibly in this world of “blast-out” communication and personal engagement.

Every single time I called or emailed Norm, day or night, when we were under major pressure, he answered with amazing enthusiasm, stepped up, instructed, took over to save time, and even laughed at the fun.

What a great genius, great talent, and what a great person with whom to work!"

Website design and development
Kevin Griffin,

Strassner was not only professional and well-priced, but also very explanative and easy to understand. I didn't feel like I was talking to a used-car salesman like with other web designers. I got a lot of continued help after the job was done, and would recommend Strassner for anyone looking for web design.

Website design and development
Kevin Kisich,

I showed Norm the kind of site I wanted to have, and they executed it as per my wishes. The photographs they took to show off my products were perfect, and they helped me to create my own e-commerce site.

Over the next several months they responded quickly to changes and needed updates to the site, and alerted me to problems. This provided an excellent foundation to increase my sales via e-commerce.

Website design and development
Michael Bissonnette,

Norm directed, edited and authored, as well as helping to provide content for, an 8 DVD set of my seminars and now helps me to keep my on-line marketing materials updated and looking amazing.

Norm’s breadth of experience in web site design and development, media production and computer hardware and software has allowed me to quickly take advantage of new marketing strategies via my website. He’s my go-to guy for web and video, as well as an adviser for our IT needs.

Video Production and EditingWebsite design and development
Karmyn Heilmann,

Our Biotech company was a start up and we needed to find an individual who would be consultative in creating our site. We came across some of Norm Strassner’s work.

Norm was very involved in putting together the best site to fit our needs in a short time frame. He was extremely proactive in helping us get the message across and patient in handling all of our changes. We received a website that exceeded our expectations.

The expertise was very helpful and his services are a great technology value.

Website design and development
Jennifer Schwartz, Boulder, CO

Norm made a slide show for my daughter’s bat mitzvah. The guests, and my daughter, loved it and it really set the tone for a loving celebration. But even more than that, he made a collection of memories that I will keep in my heart as well as in on my computer. He truly made a keepsake that I will treasure forever.

In addition to a stellar product, the process was easy. Norm was lovely to work with—friendly, informative, and flexible. He did not pressure me with deadlines and edited the piece exactly to my liking. I would recommend him without hesitation to all my friends.

Video Production and Editing
Kathryn Alexander,

Strassner has saved my ***! Norm is fast, dedicated and goes way beyond. I've been very happy working with Norm

Website design and development
Leslie Weise,, CO

While planning our website, we looked for the artistry and technical skills that any web professional should have but also someone who is knowledgeable and sensitive enough to help us make an impact in the world of environmental sustainability.

We found those abilities in Norm Strassner. We are very happy with the website’s look and feel, and quite confident of its infrastructure as we plan to add on a lot more custom functionality in the near future. I highly recommend Strassner Web and Video for superior work at a very reasonable price.

Website design and development
Renee DeHaven,

I had no idea what I wanted my site to look like, so I let Strassner Web & Video create it from scratch.  They did a fantastic job and I love my new site. Bottom line: If you want a great web site for not a lot of money, call Norm!

Website design and development
Chris DeMoss Goodman, Boulder, CO

Norm Strassner was amazing to work with. He was available on short notice, and produced a wonderful product. He listened to our requests and requirements for his services, and came through 100%. He not only video taped our family's event, but edited and assembled the most amazing video to showcase our evening. My mother commented that the video takes her "back to that very moment in time.

He was incredibly thorough at capturing all of the important moments, before and during the evening. Looking at the finished video, it seems as though his video camera was in two places at the same time. I can not speak highly enough of the quality of work he produces. If you are fortunate enough to have found Norm, you can rest assured he will do an amazing job!

Video Production and Editing
Lena MQ Heilmann, Locate Your Trigger,

I am so grateful to Norm for helping me realize a website that was long a dream for me. Norm helped me with every step of and worked with me on all large-scale decisions as well as small details. I am so pleased with the end result, and I look forward to watching the project expand. I know I can rely on Norm in the future, as well. I highly recommend Strassner Web and Video!

Website design and development
Tom White,

When I was starting up my new anti-snoring ring business, I knew that I wanted Norm Strassner to do my website. With his wealth of experience, I was sure my site would be outstanding, and it is. Norm is easy to work with and is totally professional, as well as having his own input, which is always of value. I would recommend Strassner Web & Video services to anyone!

Website design and development
A.J. Grant, Environmental Communication Associates,

Thanks so much! The video was a smash hit at the ACF Explorers Club event. We used it as the close to the evening. Amazing that you pulled off the creation in such fine fashion and with such knowhow. You added the right touch!

More than anything, want to extend a big heartfelt thanks to you for being there when needed with your talent and reassuring voices!

Video Production and Editing