Untangling Your Web

Thomas Terranova

Web development is a strange endeavor. It depends upon a wide range of arcane skills and many of its adepts are loath to share their secrets. In part, it’s because many of these Web wizards are self-taught. They struggled for their skills and don’t want to be cavalier about giving them away. You can learn the basics in school, but even college can’t prepare you for the problems you’ll face in the real world. Eventually, you’ll need to seek help from the self-styled Harry Potters of the Web world.

It’s ironic that there’s a steep learning curve for Web development since there are very few individual tasks involved that are inherently difficult. The problem is that there are an awful lot of different tasks. As time passes and you work on different projects, you’ll create a mental codex that slowly cross references itself so that problem solving gets easier and easier. If you tough it out, you too can become a nerdy high priest of the Internet.

It’s that simple. No oaths, no cloven hooves, no contracts signed in blood—just patience and persistence. For those who can’t conjure up a friendly guru or geeky cyber-coven to mentor them, we offer some helpful solutions to help you along on that shadowy road to technological enlightenment.

1 My Free Web Site’s URL is too long
If you’ve developed a Web page on a free hosting service, but find the URL you were given too cumbersome and hard to remember, just reserve the domain name you would like to have (try and pay for domain forwarding. Forwarding will send anyone who goes to your preferred URL to the URL of your actual website.

2 What’s the cheapest place to register domain names?
Try A single registration is just $8.95 a year, but the price goes down even further if you register for longer periods of time or register domains in bulk.

3 My Tables Don’t Look Right
Even when you’ve specified width and height for every cell in a table, it can still collapse and deform, depending on what browser is viewing it. To fix this, use a 1x1 pixel transparent gif image. Stretch the width or the height of the gif as needed in strategic locations to guarantee that your table and individual cells within it will be sized correctly.

4 Putting Text Over a Gradient
For an easy gradient effect behind your text, use your graphic editor to create an image the same size as the cell of your table where the text will appear. Apply a gradient fill to the image in the colors of your choice. If the gradient is vertical, crop the image to the height of your cell by one pixel wide. Use the image as the background for the cell of your table and stretch it to fit the width. Choose a contrasting color for your text and you’re done.

5 How Do I Specify Which Page is Seen First By Visitors to My Website?
Each ISP has different rules, but in general the first page browsers see is called “index.htm” or “index.html.” Other possibilities are “default.html” and "default.htm.” Sometimes there is a hierarchy that will check for each of these in turn. Check with your Web host for their methods. If you need a custom default page, such as “welcome.php,” many Web hosts can set that up for you.

6 How Can I Get More Control Over the Display of Text on my Web Pages?
If you use Cascading Style Sheets you can control the look of text with tools similar to those available for standard typography such as spacing, leading, kerning, and font size. Check out for more information.

7 How Can I Get My Page to Look the Same in All Web Browsers?
Unfortunately, each browser has special features and quirks. If you are willing to develop alternate sites for each browser, you can do a browser detect when someone enters the site. Much easier is to write code that is compatible with all browsers. Tools available at Net Mechanic and Any will each help to identify compatibility problems.

8 How Can I Add a Blog to my site?
Blogs, or Web logs, are a great way to quickly set up an impressive looking website / journal where you can keep an online journal, post files, and interact with visitors. Visit Movable Type to get started with a great blog program.

9 How Do I Submit My Site to Search Engines?
Ever seen those “Submit Your Site to 10,000 Search Engines!” offers? Don’t do it. You’ll probably just end up with lots of spam. Instead, check out How I Promote My Website for some sane advice on site submission.

10 How Can I Use Javascript Without Learning to Program?
Many sites on the Web, such as, offer useful and entertaining javascript elements that are pre-written and ready to use. Just copy the source code and add it to your pages. It’s as easy as that.

11 Get An Award!
Awards are great for your ego, but they can be good for your site traffic as well. There are so many award sites out there that almost anyone can win at least a couple to paste on their site. Go to to submit your site to over 300 award sites.

12 How Can I Add a Guestbook to My Website?
A guestbook is a great way to see who’s visited your site and what they thought of it. At you’ll find a guestbook program that’s easy to add to your site and to customize.

13 Display Your Logo in the Address Bar and Favorites List
First, create a 16x16 graphic and save it in the windows .ico format. Next, save the image as “favicon.ico” in your website’s root directory. Now visitors will see your icon in their browser instead of the default icon.

14 Create Text Links In Multiple Colors Without Style Sheets
Have you ever wished you could have more than one link color on a single page without creating a style sheet? You can! Just delete any global “link=” and “vlink=” settings from the header of your page. Now, for each link, place a font color tag INSIDE the anchor tag for each link. Example:

15 If A Surfer Has Graphics Turned Off, How Do I Keep My Page Layout From Collapsing?
Make sure that every image tag on your pages has both height and width values. That way, placeholders of the correct dimension will be used in place of the graphics that aren’t shown – preserving your layout.

16 Privacy=More Responses
If you want to get more responses to forms or questionnaires on your website, be sure to include a visible privacy statement. Once you disclose that you won’t be adding people to any lists or sharing their information with anyone else, they will be much more open to participating. The same applies to sites that use secure servers. If you’re secure, brag about it!

17 Use Your Web Browser as an FTP Program
You don’t need an independent web browser to use FTP. Just open your web browser and type ftp:// and then your server address. After a few seconds you’ll be prompted for a username and password. Once validated, you’ll see and be able to navigate through the site’s file structure. To copy files between local computer and server, just drag and drop!

18 I Can’t See the Graphics I Just Uploaded
There are several things you can check. Make sure the images are in .gif or .jpg format. Other formats won’t work in most browsers. If they are jpg, make sure that they were saved in RGB and not CMYK format. Try saving and uploading your graphics again. They may have become corrupt at some point. Files names are case-sensitive, so check for mistakes in capitalization. Last, check to make sure that your ftp program is uploading the files in binary format and not ASCII.

19 I Can’t See the Update I Just Made To A Web Page
Sometimes your Web browser displays cached version of Web pages. Hitting “Refresh” will usually solve the problem. However, some browsers – Internet Explorer for the Mac is an example – get very attached to their cache and just won’t let go. Try holding down shift while you click “Refresh.” This should force a full refresh. If not, empty your cache and restart the browser.

20 Apply Gradients to HTML Text
At you’ll find a nifty little tool that will automatically generate a gradient sequence and then produce code to apply the colors to any text. You can do this by hand, but it’s much faster this way. Used sparingly and appropriately, this technique can be subtle and effective.

I hope these tips will help YOU build a better Web site!