And I Wondered Why Nobody Knows How the Internet Works

closeThis post was published 14 years 3 days ago. A number of changes have been made to the site since then, so please contact me if anything is broken or seems wrong.

This Web design course I’m taking at school doesn’t have much in the way of accuracy. In this second workshop, for example, there is a “Spotlight On: Default Pages” sidebar that states (my emphasis in italics):

Default Page

The Default page is the first page of your Web site that visitors see. This page will most likely contain links to other pages in your site.

Every Web site has a Default or Index page. When you type a Web site address in a browser, it automatically looks for a file called Default or Index. It is important to make sure that the very first page in your Web site has this title, otherwise user’s browsers will not know what page to show first, and your page will not work.

Pay special attention to the italicized phrase, and the sentences surrounding it. Bad grammar aside, it contains a big mistake. The users’ browsers won’t know which page to show first? More like the server won’t know which page to send first. The browser doesn’t care what the default or index page is named; it just wants the file that corresponds to the request. The server’s responsible for telling the browser what to display, not the other way around. The browser just takes what it’s sent and displays it.

Another sidebar in the same section, titled “Spotlight On: Working and Published Files” states (again with my emphasis):

Working and Published Files

In this course you will create and use both working and published files. Let’s make sure you know the difference.

  • Working files are Web Dwarf files that are stored in your Working folder. You will use these files to build your pages and make changes later. These are not the files people will see when they visit your site.
  • Published files are HTML documents stored in your Published folder. These files will go on a server for people to view through a browser. These files can’t be edited. If you want to make changes, you’ll have to edit your working files and then republish them.

WHAT?!?!?! HTML files can’t be edited without going through that idiotic Web Dwarf program?! What are they teaching?! The files generated by Web Dwarf (or, as I’ve dubbed it, Web Dumbo) may be highly complex, utilizing paragraphs of inline CSS and absolute positioning, but they can be edited with any text editor on the planet. This crazy notion that HTML files can only be created and edited by programs is an absurd thing to teach. I’ve written entire websites in Notepad++, without ever touching a WYSIWYG editor. And the pages were smaller for it.

The code Web Dwarf generates is monolithic. An “Invitation” page that was supposed to contain an image, a title, and a short info section, all about 1 kb of markup, turned out to be more than twice that, with two images. Why? The program converts the title elements into images. Which makes it even harder to edit the page.

This, unfortunately, represents the level of technology education present in today’s world. Most high school students have typed and saved maybe one Word document, if they’re lucky, by the time they graduate. Many don’t even know what HTML, CSS, and JavaScript are. In this world where we can socialize, communicate, shop, and even learn online, a basic, correct understanding of how the Internet works should be required. No more errors like teaching students that browsers determine what page to display. No more telling teenagers that their HTML files can’t be edited. They can be! The server determines what page you see when you ask for a particular address. If we continue like this, the Internet will likely collapse in the next century because nobody will know how it works!

dgw

I am an avid technology and software user, in addition to being reasonably well-versed in CSS, JavaScript, HTML, PHP, Python, and (though it still scares me) Perl. Aside from my technological tendencies, I am also a theatre technician, sound designer, violinist, singer, and actor.

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