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I try not to use too many technical terms when speaking with my clients. For those of you who may be interested, however, this page includes descriptions of some common terms used in web development.


Ajax stands for “Asynchronous JavaScript and XML”.

Ajax is a collection of technologies that enable a web page to connect to the web server behind the scenes and handle data sent back from the server when it is returned, without having to refresh the page. The web technologies used in an Ajax application are JavaScript, XML, dynamic HTML, CSS and a server-side scripting language such as PHP or Java. Relational databases such as mySQL are typically used to store data used in AJAX applications.

This technology enables web applications to have a look and feel similar to desktop applications. An example of Ajax that you may have seen is the auto-complete feature in google search.

Client-side Scripting

A client-side script is a program that runs within a user's web browser. JavaScript is an example of a client-side scripting program.

Cross-Browser Compatibility

One of the most frustrating aspects of web design is getting the website to function properly and work well in multiple browsers. There are often small differences in the way different browsers interpret HTML, CSS and JavaScript code and how they display the web pages. Sometimes the differences can result in major display issues.

The terms “cross-browser compatibility“ and “multi-browser compatibility“ are often confused. “Cross-browser compatibility“ means that the website or application works in all versions of all browsers since the web began. “Multi-browser compatibility“ means that the site works in several web browsers.

There are hundreds of variations of browsers and versions in use, and getting a site to work properly in all of them is virtually impossible and not an effective use of time or expense. It is important, however, to ensure that the site works in the browsers/versions used by the majority of your site visitors. With this in mind, a web developer should work with the web site owner to profile the target visitors to the site and ensure that the site works in the browsers they most commonly use.

It is often helpful to review the web logs provided by most web hosts for existing sites. A good source of web usage statistics can also be found at the w3schools site.

CSS (Cascading Style Sheets)

CSS, short for “Cascading Style Sheets”, is the language for describing how the content of web pages is presented (e.g. layout, colors, fonts, etc.) It is used with documents that have been written in a markup language, most commonly for web pages coded in HTML or XHTML.

CSS was designed to allow for the separation of the content of a document (marked up with HTML or XHTML) from its presentation. This results in nice, clean page code. The pages will download more quickly and are easier to maintain. It's easy to change the design of the entire site by just editing the style sheets. Pages with this kind of code are also easier for alternative browsers, such as the screen readers used by the blind, to make sense of. The pages are more accessible to the handicapped, and to cell phones and PDA's as well.

Domain Name

A domain name is a unique web identifier of a website. For example my domain name is

The domain name is related to, but not the same as a URL.


HTML, which stands for Hypertext Markup Language, is the language for defining the structure of web pages. With HTML, markup tags are used to label pieces of content such as paragraphs, headings, links etc.

HTML documents are stored as text files and can therefore be displayed on practically any computer. How the web pages actually look depends on the the type of computer, the monitor and the web browser (Internet Explorer, Firefox, Chrome, Safari, etc.) The appearance of the page (visual and aural) is also controlled with CSS.

The use of HTML has been superseded by XHTMl in the latest web standards recommened by the W3C.


JavaScript is the most popular scripting language on the internet. It is a client-side scripting language, which means that it runs on the user's computer rather than on the server where the website is hosted. JavaScript is supported by all major browsers such as Internet Explorer, Firefox, Chrome, Opera, and Safari.


MySQL is the world's most popular open source database. For more information, please visit

Open-Source Software

In general, open source refers to any program whose source code is made available for use or modification by its users. It is usually developed developed as a public collaboration and made freely available. For more information, please visit The Open Source Initiative.


PHP is an acroynm for PHP: Hypertext Preprocessor. PHP is a widely used open-source scripting language that is well suited for web development and can be embedded into HTML. For more information, please visit

Server-side Scripting

A server-side script is a program that runs on a web-server to dynamically create web pages. Such scripts are usually used to provide interactive web sites that access databases or other data files on the server. Popular server-side scripting languages include PHP and ASP.


URL stands for Uniform Resource Locator. A URL is an internet address that points to a specific file or page on the internet. It may also include additional parameters that are passed to the web file.

Some examples of urls are:

  • – this page
  • – this is the url of this specific location within the glossary page
  • – the home page for this site
  • – this also gets you to the home page. When you leave off the part of the url after the domain name, it defaults to a file called index.htm, index.html or index.php, any of which may be the home page.

Also see the definition of domain name.

Web Hosting

In order for your web site to be available on the internet, you need a web host. A web host stores all the pages and files needed for your web site on a “server” computer, and provides the software to make it available to computers connected to the internet.

There are many options for web hosting. Your best choice of hosting plan will depend on the amount of storage you need, the traffic you expect to receive and the technology used in your site.

Web Site Template

A web template is a pre-made design that can be used as a starting point for a web site design. They are customized with your content and images. Many templates can be fully customized to include the features, pages and design elements that you want.

Developing a web site from a template can save a substantial amount of time an money compared to paying a professional designer for a custom design. It also allows you to visualize what the site will look like before any time is spent on the design.

Thousands of professionally designed templates are available. Some sellers of templates also have a “buy unique” option, which means that they stop selling the design after you purchase it.

Most templates are provided with the html code to make it a fully functioning site. Others provide a visual design, typically in a PhotoShop PSD file, leaving the coding to the web developer.

W3C (Worldwide Web Consortium)

The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) is an international community that develops standards to ensure the long-term growth of the Web. For more information, please visit


XHTML for extensible Hypertext Markup Language and is a variant of HTML that uses the syntax of XML.

XHTML consists of all the elements in HTML 4.01, combined with the strict syntax of XML. It is part of the new web standards recommended by the W3C.


XML stands for eXtensible Markup Language

XML is a flexible text format for creating structured computer documents. It is similar to HTML, but more flexible because with XML you are not restricted to predefined tags. The rules for creating XML markup is also much stricter than for XHTML. XML is part of the new web standards recommened by the W3C.