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How the web works

Posted in Performance

Do you know how the web works? When you open a website in your web browser what you see isn’t on the internet. Confused? Stick with me!

It’s worth mentioning what the web isn’t. It isn’t driving to you’re friend’s new house, taking your shoes off at the door and having a look round. It’s actually more like your friend sending you pictures and videos of their house in the post; only much quicker than anything the Royal Mail can manage!

Making a request

The first thing you do when you want to view a website is look for it or find it. There are—broadly—three ways to get to a website:

  1. Type a website address into your web browser’s address bar
  2. Type a search into a search engine like Google or Bing, then click through to the website you want from there
  3. Follow a link from another website (Twitter, Facebook, or anywhere else on the web)

Doing any of these three things is called a request: “can I see this website please?”.

The website itself lives on a web server—a place on the internet where a website lives—and, when a request comes through, the server then sends (serves) the website to the person who asked to see it.


Your browser then starts to receive all the files that make up the website you requested. So when you view a website, you’re literally viewing it on your smartphone, tablet or laptop.

Sending and receiving

So the only time you’re actually online, when you’re using the web, is

  1. When you ask for something
  2. When you’re sent something

This is why using the internet over a broadband connection is quicker than 3G – the files from the web server are sent and received quicker on broadband, so the website appears quicker.

So the web is a back-and-forth between you and a web server. As a website owner, this is an important idea to get your head around as it informs a lot of decisions your web designer will make when designing and coding your site.

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More resources

Here are a couple more resources for you to enjoy. If that’s not enough, have a look at the full list.

  1. Images as the first thing in a button or link

    If the text of an interactive element like a button or link is preceded with an accessible image, we’ve probably got an accessibility problem.

  2. Alt text for CSS generated content

    There’s an interesting feature in Safari 17.4 that allows content added with CSS to have ‘alt’ text. I’m not sure how I feel about this.