Technical Glossary

We have decided to put together a glossary of Technical Terms, which is basically just language we use in our project documents, along with any other terms used by us that may need clarification.

**It is condensed in the scrolling box below, so just click inside the box itself, and scroll your mouse wheel, or use the scroll bar inside the box, to advance through the glossary.**

Accessibility

Basically, this is the ability of a website to be used by people with disabilities, including visually impaired visitors using screen readers, hearing impaired visitors using no sound, color blind people, or those with other disabilities. A website with low accessibility is basically going to be impossible for those with disabilities to use. Accessibility is particularly important for sites providing information to those with disabilities (healthcare sites, government sites, etc.), though it is an important aspect to consider when designing any site.

AJAX

Stands for Asynchronous JavaScript and XML. AJAX is typically used for creating dynamic web applications and allows for asynchronous data retrieval without having to reload the page a visitor is on. The JavaScript on a given page handles most of the basic functions of the application, making it perform more like a desktop program instead of a web-based one.

Algorithm

A set of (mathematical) instructions or procedures for carrying out a specific task such as defining the steps taken by an automation system.

Anchor Text

The text a link uses to refer to your site. This can make a big difference in your site’s search engine results. See also: Backlink.

Automagically

A portmanteau that combines “automatically” and “magically.” Generally, it refers to something that has a complex technical process that’s hidden from users, so that something almost appears to work by magic. If you think about it, many modern internet-based technologies could be classified as “automagical.”

Back End

The back end of a website is the part hidden from view of regular website visitors. The back end generally includes the information structure, applications, and the CMS controlling content on the site.

Backlink

Backlinks are links from other sites back to your own. They’re sometimes also referred to as “trackbacks” (especially on blogs). Backlinks have a huge impact on your sites search rankings. Lots of backlinks from high-ranking sites can greatly improve your search engine results, especially if those links use keywords in their anchor text.

Bandwidth

Bandwidth can refer to two different things: the rate at which data can be transferred or the total amount of data allowed to be transferred from a web host during a given month (or other hosting service term) before overage charges are applied. It is generally referred to in term of bits-per-second (bps), kilobits per second (kbs), or other metric measurements. Lower bandwidth internet connections (such as dial-up) mean data loads slower than with high bandwidth connections (like cable or fiber).

Below the Fold

This term is a carry-over from newspaper publishing days. In newspaper terms, “below the fold” means content was on the bottom half of the page (below the physical fold in the paper). In web design terms, “below the fold” refers to the content that is generally going to be below the point first viewable to the average website visitor in their browser (in other words, viewers would have to scroll down to see the content).

Breadcrumb

Breadcrumbs are the bit of navigation elements that generally appear near the top of a give web page that show you the pages and subpages the appear before the page you’re on. For examples, on a blog, the breadcrumbs might look something like: Home > Category > Year > Month > Post (or they might be a lot simpler that that). The breadcrumbs term comes from the fairy tale “Hansel and Gretel.”

Browser

Browser refers to the program a website visitor is using to view the web site. Examples include Safari, Firefox, Google Chrome, Opera, and Internet Explorer.

Cache/Caching

Cached files are those that are saved or copied (downloaded) by a web browser so that the next time that user visits the site, the page loads faster.

Cascading Style Sheets (CSS)

Also referred to simply as CSS, Cascading Style Sheets are used to define the look and feel of a web site outside of the actual HTML file(s) of the site. In recent years, CSS has replaced tables and other HTML-based methods for formatting and laying out websites. The benefits to using CSS are many, but some of the most important are the simplification of a site’s HTML files (which can actually increase search engine rankings) and the ability to completely change the style of a site by changing just one file, without having to make changes to content.

Client-Side

Client-side refers to scripts that are run in a viewer’s browser, instead of on a web server (as in server-side scripts). Client-side scripts are generally faster to interact with, though they can take longer to load initially.

Content Management System

Also known as a CMS, the Content Management System is a backend tool for managing a site’s content that separates said content from the design and functionality of the site. Using a CMS generally makes it easier to change the design or function of a site independent of the site’s content. It also (usually) makes it easier for content to be added to the site for people who aren’t designers.

Deprecated

Deprecated code is code that is no longer included in the language specifications. Generally this happens because it is replaced with more accessible or efficient alternatives.

Development Site

While building a new website or application, or redesigning/performing maintenance on an existing website, developers (usually) will not touch your Production System (see definition: Production System). In place of doing so, an environment which matches the Production System as exactly as possible, will be built for the sole purpose of building, testing, maintaining or otherwise editing the website or application being developed.

DNS

Stands for Domain Name Service (alternately Domain Name System or Domain Name Server). Basically, it’s the thing that converts IP addresses into domain names. DNS servers are provided with the IP address of your web server when you assign your domain name to those servers. In turn, when someone types your domain name into their web browser, those DNS servers translate the domain name to the IP address and point the browser to the correct web server.

Doctype

The doctype declaration specifies which version of HTML is used in a document. It has a direct effect on whether your HTML will validate.

Dom

Stands for Document Object Model. It’s a language-indpendent, cross-platform convention for representing objects in XML, XHTML, and HTML documents. Rules for interacting with and programming the DOM are specified in the DOM API.

Domain

The domain is the name by which a website is identified. The domain is associated with an IP address. Domains can be purchased with any combination of letters, hyphens (-), and numbers (though it can’t start with a hyphen). Depending on the extension (.com, .net, .org, etc.), a domain can be anywhere up to 26 to 63 characters long.

E-Commerce

Short for electronic commerce. It’s the buying and selling of goods online, through websites. Products sold through e-commerce can be physical products that require shipping, or digital products delivered electronically.

Em

Em is a unit of measurement for sizing fonts and other elements within a web page relative to the item’s parent element. A 1em font is equal to the point size for the font already defined in the parent element (2em would be twice the current size; .5em would be half the current size).

External Style Sheet

This is a CSS document that is written in a separate, external document. The biggest advantage to using an external style sheet is that it can be linked to by multiple HTML/XHTML files (which means changes made to the style sheet will effect all the pages linked to it without having to change each page individually).

Favicon

Favicons are tiny (generally 16×16 pixels, though some are 32×32 pixels), customizable icons displayed in the web address bar in most browsers next to the web address. They’re either 8-bit or 24-bit in color depth and are saved in either .ico, .gif or .png file formats.

Fixed Width Layout

A fixed width layout has a set width (generally defined in pixels) set by the designer. The width stays the same regardless of screen resolution, monitor size, or browser window size. It allows for minute adjustments to be made to a design that will stay consistent across browsers. Designers have more control over exactly how a site will appear across platforms with this type of layout.

Fold

The fold is a term carried over from newspaper design and pagination (where the fold referred to the physical fold in the paper). The fold in a website is the point on the webpage that rests at the bottom of someone’s browser (in other words, to see anything below the fold, they would have to scroll down). There are varying opinions on how important the fold is in web design.

Font Weight

The font weight refers to how thick or thin (bold or light) a font looks.

Front-End

The front-end is basically the opposite of the back-end. It’s all the components of a website that a visitor to the site can see (pages, images, content, etc.) Specifically, it’s the interface that visitors use to access the site’s content. It’s also sometimes referred to as the User Interface.

Graphical User Interface

Also referred to by its acronym: GUI. A graphical user interface uses an input device (like the mouse) and visual representations of how the user is able to interact with a web application. In other words, it’s all the front-end stuff you see on a web application. It’s purpose is to allow you to interact with a web application without having to enter code.

Hexadecimal

Also referred to a “hex” numbers, they are a base-16 numbering system used to define colors online. Hex numbers include the numerals 0-9 and letters A-F. Hexadecimal numbers are written in three sets of hex pairs. Because screen colors are RGB (Red, Green, Blue), the first pair defines the red hue, the second pair defines the green hue, and the third pair defines the blue.

.htaccess

The .htaccess file is the default directory-level configuration file on Apache servers. They are also known as “distributed configuration files.” Configuration directives contained in the .htaccess file apply to the directory in which the file is placed as well as all of its subdirectories. Within the .htaccess file things like authorization and authentication, rewriting of URLs, cache control and customized error responses can all be specified.

HTML

Stands for Hypertext Markup Language. It’s the primary language used to write web pages. HTML is primarily intended as a way to provide content on websites (with CSS handling the layout and stylistic options), though it can also be used to determine how that content is displayed.

HTTP

Stands for HyperText Transfer Protocol. HTTP is a set of rules for transferring hypertext requests between a web browser and a web server.

HTTPS

Similar to HTTP, HTTPS stands for HyperText Transfer Protocol over SSL (Secure Socket Layer) or, alternately, HyperText Transfer Protocol Secure. Like HTTP, it’s a set of rules for transferring hypertext requests between browsers and servers, but this time it’s done over a secure, encrypted connection.

Hyperlink

A hyperlink is a link from one web page to another, either on the same site or another one. Generally these are text or images, and are highlighted in some way (text is often underlined or put in a different color or font weight). The inclusion of hyperlinks are the “hyper” part of “hypertext.”

Hypertext

Hypertext is any computer-based text that includes hyperlinks. Hypertext can also include presentation devices like tables or images, in addition to plain text and links.

iFrame

Short for Inline Frame. An iframe is used to display one or more web pages within another normal web page (one that isn’t a frameset page).

Image Map

An image map is used in XHTML to allow different parts of an image to become different clickable elements (and can also allow some portions of the image to have no clickable element).

LAMP

Stands for Linux, Apache, MySQL, and Perl (or sometimes PHP or Python), and is referring to the specifications of a web server (defining the operating system, web server, database, and scripting language, in that order). One of the advantages of LAMP setups is that the software used is all free and open source.

Landing Page

A landing page is the page where a visitor first enters a website. Oftentimes, a special landing page is created to elicit a specific action from the new visitor (usually in connection with an advertising or marketing campaign).

Liquid Layout (Fluid Layout)

A liquid layout is one that is based on percentages of the browser window’s size. The layout of the site will change with the width of the browser, even if the visitor changes their browser size while viewing the page. Liquid layouts take full advantage of a person’s browser width, optimizing the amount of content you can fit onscreen at one time.

Meta Data

Meta data is the data contained in the header that offers information about the web page that a visitor is currently on. The information contained in the meta data isn’t viewable on the web page (except in the source code). Meta data is contained within meta tags.

Meta Tag

A meta tag is an HTML tag used to include meta data within the header of your web page.

Navigation

Navigation refers to the system that allows visitors to a website to move around that site. Navigation is most often thought of in terms of menus, but links within pages, breadcrumbs, related links, pagination, and any other links that allow a visitor to move from one page to another are included in navigation.

Non-Breaking Space ( )

A non-breaking space (also referred to as  ) is a white-space character that isn’t condensed by HTML. It’s primary function is to hold open table cells or add spacing between words (or a the beginning of paragraphs if an indent is desired).

Open Source

Open source refers to the source code of a computer program being made available to the general public. Open source software includes both web-based and desktop applications. Open source programs are generally free or very low cost and are developed by teams of people, sometimes comprised mostly of volunteers.

Permalink

Short for “permanent link.” Generally used only on blogs, a permalink is a link that is the permanent web address of a given blog post. Since most blogs have constantly-changing content, the permalink offers a way for readers to bookmark or link to specific posts even after those posts have moved off the home page or primary category page.

Plug-In

A plug-in is a bit of third party code that extends the capabilities of a website. It’s most often used in conjunction with a CMS or blogging platform. Plug-ins are a way to extend the functionality of a website without having to redo the core coding of the site. Plugins can also refer to bits of third-party software installed within a computer program to increase its functionality.

Production System

In the process of development, a Production System is the currently live version of the website/application in development. A Production System, is any system or website live and fully accessible by the public.

PSD

A Photoshop design file. The abbreviation PSD stands for Photoshop Document. Photoshop is a tool widely used for web design and development and works well to provide a finished and complete design, which will usually then be given to a programmer/web developer, to create the code needed to render the design on a website and/or webpage.

Really Simple Syndication (RSS)

Also referred to as RSS. RSS is a standardized XML format that allows content to be syndicated from one site to another. It’s most commonly used on blogs. RSS also allows visitors to subscribe to a blog or other site and receive updates via a feed reader.

Schema

Generally, a schema is an XML document used in place of a DTD to describe other XML documents.

Script

Generally refers to a portion of code on an HTML page that makes the page more dynamic and interactive. Scripts can be written in a variety of languages, including JavaScript.

Selector

In CSS, the selector is the item a style will be applied to.

Server-Side

Server-side refers to scripts run on a web server, as opposed to in a user’s browser. Server-side scripts often take a bit longer to run than a client-side script, as each page must reload when an action is taken.

SOAP

Stands for Simple Object Access Protocol. It’s an XML-based protocol exchanging information across the internet to allow an application on one site to access an application or database on another site.

SQL Query

A SQL Query, used within the SQL language for database architecture & management, is used to fetch the data from a database table which returns this data in the form of a result table. These result tables are called result-sets.

SQL Injection

SQL injection is a code injection technique, used to attack data-driven applications, in which nefarious SQL statements are inserted into an entry field for execution (e.g. to dump the database contents to the attacker).

Tag

A tag is a set of markup characters that are used around an element to indicate its start and end. Tags can also include HTML or other code to specify how that element should look or behave on the page. See also HTML Tag.

Template

A template is a file used to create a consistent design across a website. Templates are often used in conjunction with a CMS and contain both structural information about how a site should be set up, but also stylistic information about how the site should look.

URL

Stands for Uniform Resource Locator. A site’s URL is its address, the item that specifies where on the Internet it can the found.

Usability

Usability refers to how easy it is for a visitor to your site to use your site in its intended manner. In other words, are navigation, content, images, and any interactive elements easy to use, functioning the way they were intended, and that your intended target visitor will not need any special training in order to use your site.

Web Page

A web page is a single document, generally written in HTML/XHTML, meant to be viewed in a web browser. In many cases, web pages also include other coding and programming (such as PHP, Ruby on Rails, or ASP). Web sites are generally built from multiple interlinked web pages.

Web Server

A web server is a computer that has software installed and networking capabilities that allow it to host web sites and pages and make them available to internet users located elsewhere. There are a few different setups that can be used for a web server, including the LAMP setup mentioned earlier.

Web Standards

Standards are specifications recommended by the World Wide Web Consortium for standardizing website design. The main purpose of web standards is to make it easier for both designers and those who create web browsers to make sites that will appear consistent across platforms.

XHTML

Stands for Extensible Hypertext Markup Language. Basically, XHTML is HTML 4.0 that has been rewritten to comply with XML rules.

XML

Stands for Extensible Markup Language. XML is a specification for creating other, custom markup languages. It’s an extensible language because it allows for the user to define the mark-up elements.

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