ShooFlyBuzz

Welcome to ShooFlyBuzz, the company weblog. We use this space to talk about what’s happening with ShooFlyDesign, but more generally to talk about web design, the challenges we encounter, the tools we use, websites we like, and provide some training on the care and feeding of your own website.

If you want to send in feedback, leave a comment, send an email, or tweet @shooflydesign.

Everyone knows what a website is. You type an address (like shooflydesign.org) in your web browser, and there it is. The pieces that actually are needed to make a website are not necessarily very clear, so this article will offer an explanation in (hopefully) plain language.

If you want to create a website (and, if you're working with us, it's safe to assume you do), you have to take care of some technical requirements before you'll really have a website:

  1. Your files. This is the stuff that makes up your website. A website, as experienced by regular people, is just a bunch of files. It's text files, usually combined with image files, and often including audio files (like MP3s), rich media (like Flash ads, games, or applications), and other such goodies. But really, it's just files. When you "go to" a website, your computer is actually downloading files and displaying them for you in a structured way. That's an important thing to understand -- the web experience, as far as consuming stuff online, is pretty much structured downloading. There's frequently more to it, but not much, and not it's important enough to go into here.

  2. Web hosting (or a web server). This is a computer, or just disk space on a computer that's connected to the internet (usually with a really fast connection), that holds the files that make up your website, and knows how to hand them out, by request, on the internet.

    ShooFlyDesign has a favorite partner for web hosting (Hostbaby), but there are lots of them out there with recommendable qualities. A good web host will offer a fast connection, good communication with you, and whatever combination of features is appropriate for your website needs.

    Once #1 and #2 are taken care of, you have everything you need. You can offer your website to the internet. The problem is, if you stop here, the address of your site is often a bit weird, like monkeyserve.example.com/users/paulf0123/ or even just numbers and dots, like 127.87.45.1. To solve that problem, you need the next item.

  3. Domain name, like shooflydesign.org. You register these, which is essentially renting them, to solve the problem of your website having a weird address. Along with web servers, there are other types of computers (forming the Domain Name System) that translate domain names into addresses computers use to find other computers -- in this case, your computer uses a domain name to find a web server of interest. Each computer connected to the internet can have more than one domain name.

    Domain names make the process of finding and navigating websites easier, as well as allowing more sensible email addresses (i.e. [email protected] instead of [email protected]), and more. The benefit is pretty entirely there to serve humans, who deal with words much more easily than long strings of numbers.

    The domain name system is kind of complex, but one important point to note is that each kind of domain name (called top level domain, like .com, .org, .net and so on) is under the auspices of one organization or company. Other companies and organizations are allowed to rent domain names out to people, and there can be many layers of middlemen in the process.

  4. Webmaster. This means a lot of different things. It's almost always the person or people responsible for making sure your website is running. Sometimes it's used to mean the person who designed the site. This can be a person, or a team of people, or you, but generally speaking it's the person who's responsible for making sure the website is up and running.

Apropos Services

ShooFlyDesign offers services in the creation of your files (#1 above) and in the maintenance of your website (#4). We do not offer web hosting or domain name registration. We could, but we've chosen not to for a variety of reasons. Web hosting can be expensive to offer, and we're not interested in that overhead, preferring to refer business to companies we like and respect.

Offering domain name registration relatively easy and not expensive, but domain names are used as identifiers, and we think it's a good idea for our colleagues and clients to keep their domain names as close to their vests as possible, instead of imposing ourselves as a middleman. We're happy to serve as technical contacts, and to help with registration and all parts of the process, but in the end, we want the domain name to be yours, with ShooFlyDesign serving as your appointed webmaster to help.

As of this Friday, November 12, domain transfers will be a lot easier. If you want to move a domain from one registrar (say, Network Solutions) to a better one like GoDaddy or Register.com, it will be easier to do than ever. That's the good news.

Update on 11/12/2004: Apparently we were mistaken in our original take on this issue. Thanks to John Gruber for linking to this article that explains the situation better. Transfer of ownership of domains is not really affected by the policy change. Your domain cannot be stolen without confirmation from you. If someone attempts to change ownership of the domain, and you don't confirm it, the transfer just fails, the way it always has.

That said, making sure your contact information is up to date is still very important, because that's what will allow to transfer from a crappy domain registrar to a good one. And if you happen to like your registrar, as we do, you might want to lock your domain there. It is, however, not as imperative as we thought. Here are the steps you should follow to confirm your domain status and contact information.

  1. Make sure you know who your registrar is. If you don't know, you can find out using a tool called WHOIS. Type your domain in the WHOIS field (it's not labeled domain, which could be confusing). The registrar is shown at or near the top of the results.
  2. Update your contact information with the registrar, if it's out of date. The most important piece of data that must be correct is your email address. Make sure it's an address you check regularly, and also make sure any spam filters you're using allow email from your registrar's domain to get through. To make the update, you'll need your account information for your registrar. With GoDaddy, this is usually a customer number; with Network Solutions, it can be a variety of things, including an email address. There will also, of course, be a password you'll need to find or remember.
  3. Once you know the account information is up to date, you've done the most important work. There is, however, one more step you can do -- lock your domain. GoDaddy calls it Locking a domain, Network Solutions calls it Domain Protect. The generic term appears to be "Registry-Lock", and it shows up in WHOIS results also. The upshot is, if the domain is locked, it cannot be transferred to another registrar or modified in any way. The domain still works just fine, your website and email are still fully accessible, it just can't be changed. You can always turn the lock off if you need to update some information, or if you decide to transfer the domain to a new registrar.

This article is not quite as important as we originally believed, but keeping your domain contact information up-to-date is very important, so we can at least feel good about that.

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The latest browser from the Mozilla Foundation has been released. It's called Firefox, and you should download it and take it for a spin.

Firefox is an alternative to Internet Explorer, and a very good one. It is fast, more secure, and more compatible with modern websites than Internet Explorer.

The download for the Windows installer is 4.7 MB, which is not too bad, especially on a fast connection. ShooFlyDesign recommends it highly. It will honestly make your experience with the web a lot easier.

Today is the day of Firefox's official release after years of development, so the servers might be slow. If you are savvy with BitTorrent, you can download a torrent file instead, which might help you get Firefox more easily.

If you have any questions about using Firefox, you can feel free to let us know.

If you're wondering, we are ShooFlyDesign use a special Mac browser based on the same innards as Firefox. It's called Camino, and is available as a technology preview right now. Firefox is also available for Mac OS X, but Camino is made especially for the Mac, and uses some stuff that only the Mac supports, so it is our browser of choice for daily browsing.

If you get an email from any web service asking you to confirm your password, credit card number, or anything else remotely sensitive, be extremely careful. The scammers are very sneaky about this stuff. Emails can look credible, even offer links that look safe, to the websites you actually use.

Here are some things to do to make sure you're really going where you think you're going.

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It's generally not a good idea to attempt to design your own website without some prior experience. Bad things can happen. Updating your own website, on the other hand, is cost-effective and relatively painless, for you and the people who painstakingly designed it.

It is possible, and frequently a good idea, to build special online tools to edit portions of your website that update frequently (news sections can be run with weblog software like Movable Type, for example). We'll assume you just want to perform occasional updates on certain pages, in which case specialized, or customized (like we can provide), software is not necessary.

Updating bits of your website is pretty easy, but we're going to try to cover everything you need to know, so this document may look a little long. Don't be afraid, it's not hard.

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We just finished our redesign of this website. Our portfolio is up-to-date for the first time in over a year, and we have a lot more stuff here to look at. Actually, to say the website is "finished" isn't true; a website is never finished. There may be wrinkles here and there. If you find something, let us know.

We hope to do a fair amount of writing here in the weblog. If you're interested in keeping up with us, come back periodically. We have an RSS feed to use in your favorite RSS reader. If you don't know what that means, take a look at NetNewsWire for Mac OS X, Abilon for Windows, or Straw for GNOME. We use RSS readers every day, and find them very helpful for keeping up with our favorite websites. Even if ShooFlyDesign isn't your favorite website, you should still check out an RSS reader (they're also called aggregators, since they generally grab RSS feeds from lots of websites at once).

We offer two RSS feeds: one with brief summaries of the entries, one with the full articles. Take your pick and enjoy.

We don't use Windows on a regular basis, but we have tried various FTP and SCP clients that will help you move files to and from your web server. Here are some to check out.

  • WinSCP -- This does SCP, not FTP. Make sure your server supports SSH (if you use Pair or Hostbaby, it probably does).
  • LeechFTP -- A friend of ours thinks this is the cream of the crop for free FTP on Windows.
  • SmartFTP -- Supports regular FTP.
  • FileZilla -- Feature-rich and free, but a bit slow in our experience.
  • FTP Explorer -- Mimics the Windows Explorer.
  • WS_FTP LE -- Free for educational users. We used this when I was in college.
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Every self-respecting nerd knows that FTP is the way to move files around. Actually, I should say that FTP is the way to move files around unencrypted. Sending files by email is convenient, but inefficient and slow. Email was designed for sending small bits of text, not large binary files.

Enough of the "I don't like attachments" tirade.

At ShooFlyDesign, we use two FTP clients for the Mac: * Interarchy * Transmit

We are fans of both these fine applications. Neither is free, but both are excellent. I was an Interarchy user through version 5, at which point I switched to Transmit. Now that Interarchy 7 has come out, I've returned to the Interarchy fold. But I still like Transmit a great deal, and use it from time to time.

Interarchy is a true power-user's FTP client. It also does SFTP and FTP over SSH, two ways of sending files over an encrypted connection instead of a clear one. It does all kinds of other stuff, all of which are very useful, and packs the whole thing into a nicely thought-out interface. They've borrowed a great deal from Safari, Apple's web browser for Mac OS X, in their user interface approach. It's fast, feature-rich, and reasonably priced at $39.

If you're still using Mac OS 9, you can use the last version of Interarchy (6.3) for Mac OS 9 for free. Just download it from Stairways, and off you go.

Transmit is the picture of elegant software. It is the FTP application I would recommend for people who don't use FTP all the time, but do need to use it from time to time. Transmit can also speak SFTP, but that's it. Clean and simple. At $25, Transmit is also a great buy.

If you need something free, and your server supports one of the secure variations on FTP (SFTP or SCP), check out Fugu. Even disregarding the price, it's excellent. There are many other FTP clients at various prices and levels of quality, if you're interested.

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When developing websites nowadays, we spend a lot of time dealing with CSS, the language of website stylesheets. The usual way this works is you edit the CSS, save the page, open a web browser and look at the changes. Lather, rinse, repeat.

If you use a Mozilla-based browser (Firefox, Camino, or Mozilla itself), you have a much easier option. The Edit CSS bookmarklet from SquareFree.

Bookmarklets are bookmarks, made of JavaScript, that live in your toolbar. You choose the bookmark, and something happens. In this case, a window pops up, loading all the CSS that's affects the page you're viewing. Linked, imported, and embedded stylesheets all load in the window. Edit what you see in the window, and the results are shown instantly in the browser window.

Similar technologies exist in some web editors. On Windows you can tie into the Internet Explorer layout engine with various software (I've heard), and on Mac OS X you can tie into the WebCore engine using BBEdit and numerous other editors. However, neither of these options exists on the other platform. Mozilla works everywhere.

I use BBEdit's preview engine all the time, but the Edit CSS bookmarklet is still one of my favorite tools. Did I mention that it's also free?

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