Getting Started Guide

1.Getting Started #

Carleton College provides students, faculty, and staff with the opportunity to register a domain name and create a digital presence through various mediums such as blogs, portfolios, and wikis. You can easily install open source applications such as WordPress, MediaWiki, Drupal, Scalar, and Omeka to your own domain, and use this space to create your digital identity and express your creativity.

1.1.Choosing your domain name #

Choosing your domain name is the first step in getting started with staking your claim on the web. Your domain name is a unique Web address (e.g. yourname.sites.carleton.edu) that can be used to build out your own digital presence. As you make your choice, there are a few considerations to keep in mind:

Your Domain Name Must Be Available: Domain names must be unique, which means in order for you to claim your own, you need to be sure that it is currently available (and not being used by anyone else or any company or organization). There are lots of tools to check on domain availability, and when you sign up on sites.carleton.edu, we’ll actually check the availability of your choice for you. If you’d like to spend some time thinking about your choice and checking availability before you actually sign-up, we recommend using whois.com.

Choose a Domain You Can Live With: You should choose a domain name that you feel you can live with for quite some time. You should pick something that you won’t find embarrassing in the future. A good rule of thumb is to pick a domain that you would be comfortable putting on a future job application.

You May Wish to Include Your Name in Your Domain: There is no requirement that your domain reflects your specific identity in the form of your first and last name. However, choosing a domain name that includes your name may make it easier for you to achieve higher rankings in search engines when someone queries your real name.

Pick a Domain you Like: At the end of the day, your domain should reflect you. Pick a domain you like and are proud of. It can reflect your interests, sports you play, or your hobby. Or it could just be your name. The “right” domain for you is the one you’re comfortable with.

1.2.Signing Up #

Review the Guidelines

Before you get started, we recommend that you review our information about Choosing a Domain Name.

Getting Setup

  1. Once you’ve reviewed the guidelines, you can proceed to the sign-up page.
  2. Scroll to the bottom of the page and fill out the Request Form.

Additional Domain Name Options

If you would like a different domain name, there are 2 additional options. Please indicate in the Request Form if you are interested in the options outlined below.

  1. Buy a top-level domain from Reclaim Hosting: It is easy to create your own top-level domain. This allows you to select a URL for your website that is easy to remember and share. While you are at Carleton College, this is available for a nominal cost (currently $15/year). You can continue to use this domain after leaving Carleton College Sites, although the cost may increase
  2. Connect an existing domain to your cPanel: If you already have an existing domain that you’ve previously registered elsewhere, simply point your domain’s nameservers to ns1.reclaimhosting.com and ns2.reclaimhosting.com.

1.3.Privacy #

What you add to your sites.carleton.edu webspace rests entirely with you. You can choose not to pick a domain that reveals your name. You can use a pseudonym on your actual site. However, when you sign up through the default process, your name does get published as part of the public record about your domain name. Anyone can find it by looking up details about the ownership of that domain name through a public “Whois” request.

This is NOT an issue if you’re already planning on using your name openly on your site (in your domain name or elsewhere). This option is aimed, specifically, at those who, for whatever reason, feel they want to take every precaution to hide their identity on their site.

1.4.What Can You Do with Your Account? #

Your ability to do things on Carleton College is dictated to a large degree by the limits of your imagination. That said, there are some technical requirements and limitations that you should be aware of and might want to review.

To spark your imagination, here are some ideas that might help you get started:

Install a Web Application in Your Space

Carleton College makes it very simple to install certain Web applications in your Web space. Web applications are just special software that run on a web server. Usually, they allow you to build and manage a website. The kind of site you can build depends on the type of application you install. Here are some examples of applications that you can easily install within the sites.carleton.edu web hosting interface:

WordPress: WordPress is a simple-to-use blogging application. The tool also comes with a huge array of plugins & themes to allow you to create virtually any kind of website imaginable. We have guides on using WordPress here.

Omeka: Omeka is an open-source web application that can be used to create and display online digital collections and archives. We have information available to help you install and use Omeka here.

Scalar: Scalar is a content management system with the idea of creating non-linear books on the web. You can learn more about its functions and how to install it here.

Grav: Grav is an open source, flat-file CMS made for folks who are looking for something a little more experimental. Grav provides a straightforward framework for creating pages and inserting media. We have additional resources for Grav here.

Mediawiki: It is the open-source wiki software that runs the online encyclopedia, Wikipedia. This tool may be right for you if you’re interested in publishing documents and then collaborating with others on them. Find our guides on Mediawiki here.

These are just a few of the open-source applications that are available to you in your Carleton College web space.  We encourage you to read more about what Web applications are and which ones are available to you through this project.

Organize Your Site with Subdomains and Folders

Through this project, you’ve received a domain name that you can actually subdivide and organize anyway you like. One easy way to organize your domain is to create subdomains, in which you can then install other applications. In addition, you can just set up subfolders for your site (which can also have their own applications installed in them). Here’s an example of how you might organize your site (using the subdomain vs. the subfolder approach)

Subdomain Approach Subfolder Approach
yourdomain.com (“root”) Install WordPress as your “main site” yourdomain.com (“root”)
course1.yourdomain.com Install a second WordPress instance for a course you’re taking yourdomain.com/course1
photos.yourdomain.com Install ZenPhoto for a public photo gallery of your photos yourdomain.com/photos
docs.yourdomain.com Install MediaWiki for a club you belong to that wants to collaboratively edit its bylaws yourdomain.com/docs
files.yourdomain.com Install OwnCloud so you can access your files on your laptop and at work yourdomain.com/files

This is just an example of a way to organize your site and then use different sections to do different things. There is no one solution to this challenge, and what you do should be driven by what makes sense to you. To start, you may just want to install one thing at the “root” of your domain, and then let the rest evolve as you get to know more about what’s possible.

Map Your Domain (or a Subdomain)

If you already have a digital presence that you’d like to pull into your Carleton College space, domain mapping is an option you may wish to explore. This allows you to assign your domain (or a subdomain) to another service. Some services that work with domain mapping are:

When you map a domain, users who visit your URL will automatically see your space on one of these services. It’s a great way to incorporate your activity elsewhere into your domain, and it might be a good first step if you’ve already established a presence somewhere else and just want to point your new domain to that space. Talk to Academic Technology for help doing this!

1.5.What Exactly is a Web Application? #

In the most general terms, a Web application is a piece of software that runs on a Web server. A Web server is a just a specialized computer designed to host Web pages.

Most Web applications are comprised of two components: files and a database. When you install a Web application, you will need to make sure all of the files are copied over into the appropriate location AND that a database (and database user) has been set up to connect to those files. Often, you will have to do some configuration to make sure the application knows how to access the database.

The system we use for Carleton College uses a special script installer called Installatron (in cPanel) that allows you to automatically install dozens of open source applications. When you use Installatron, you don’t need to worry about moving files, creating databases, or doing the initial configuration. It’s all taken care of for you.

In order to run on the Carleton College server, Web applications must be able to run on a LAMP server, which is the particular kind of Web server that we use. Occasionally, a Web application may require additional components or modules that need to be installed on the server.

1.6.Static and Dynamic Websites #

Static Websites

In the early days of the Web, almost all Web sites were what is known as 'static sites.' Content (text, images, video, audio, etc), was placed or embedded in a file in which HTML tags were used to format it. If you looked at the actual contents of the file, you might see something like this:

The content and the tags lived side-by-side. To edit the page, you’d open up the file (on your own computer) in a program capable of editing HTML files and make changes to either the content or the presentation. Every page had to be edited individually, even if the edits you were making were for common elements that appeared on many pages (like menu bars).

From a technical perspective, accessing a static Web site is fairly straightforward. When your computer is connected to the Internet, you can use a Web browser to access files on a Web server (as long as you know the address). The Web server delivers the contents of those files to your browser, and your browser displays them.

Dynamic Websites

Over time, as the Web became more sophisticated, new systems emerged for creating and managing Web sites. These moved beyond the model of having content and HTML tags live in a simple HTML page which your browser accessed and displayed. Instead, these systems were Web applications – software that literally runs on the Web server and makes it possible to manage a Web site, often with very sophisticated features. One feature of these applications is that they separate content and presentation by storing most content (your text, images, etc) and data about the site (the title, options, etc). in a database.

On the Web server, the Web application installs files that are written in some kind of programming language. The server reads this code and obeys any requests in it to access data in the database (which lives on a separate server) and displays it according to the instructions in the code.

Essentially, the data for the site (living in a series of tables in a database on the database server) is entirely separate from the actual presentation of the site (living in the code of the programmed files on the Web server). Special software on both the Web server and the Database server enable the two to speak to each other and work together.

One of the benefits of using a Web application is that you usually don’t need to touch (or even look at!) the code in order to make changes to your content. In addition, editing the site usually involves accessing some kind of control panel through your Web browser and filling out a form, instead of having to download and access files in software on your own computer.

Dynamic vs Static Content

Sometimes when we talk about the difference between dynamic and static content we get bogged down in the idea of whether or not the content is “fresh” (dynamic, regularly updated) or “old” (static, never updated). How frequently you update your content has nothing to do with what kind of system you are using to manage your site. You can manage a static Web site (as described above) and update the content every day. You can also have a dynamic Web site (running something like WordPress) and never change the content after you create it.

Generally speaking, it is easier to regularly update content on a dynamic Web site because the Web application just makes it easier. Sometimes, even when you just want a very basic page or placeholder, it’s easier to install a Web application (and only put up a single page) then to manually create an HTML page and upload it.

A Side Note about Separating Content from Presentation: Style Sheets

Another aspect of separating content from presentation involves the use of 'Cascading Style Sheets' (CSS). These are special files that live on your Web server and are linked to your Web pages. They contain information (written in a special markup language) about how to make elements on your site look. For example, they allow you to define in a single location what all Level 1 Headings look like on your site. They are an important aspect of understanding how to separate content from presentation, but they’re not really an aspect of the difference between static and dynamic sites. Both static and dynamic sites can use style sheets.

1.7.Technical Requirements/Limitations #

Carleton College uses a Web server known as a LAMP server. “LAMP” is an acronym for the technology stack that is installed on the server:

  • Linux: This is the open-source operating system that is used on the server.
  • Apache: This is the Web server software that the server uses.
  • MySQL: This is the database software that the server uses.
  • Php/Perl/Python: These are the three programming languages that the server can interpret.

Generally, if you are using applications available to install by default through the sites.carleton.edu, you shouldn’t need to worry about these technical details. All of the software that is available for installation (in cPanel) meets the technical requirements.

If you’re interested in finding/installing another application (that isn’t available through our automatic installer tool), then you’ll have to be sure that the server can support it. To start with, you’ll want to be sure that the Web application can run on a LAMP server. Check the technical requirements for the application to determine this. You’ll also need to do some research about whether there are any additional services or modules required on the server. Some software may require components that aren’t included in the default installation of the LAMP stack. In that case, contact Reclaim Hosting with details about what you need, and we’ll see what we can do.

2.When You Leave #

There are a few reasons that could lead you to consider exporting your website content from Carleton College. Perhaps you’re leaving the University, or maybe you’re just wanting to use your data on another hosting environment. Whatever the case, you have a couple options for how you want to handle this:

If you are leaving the college, you can migrate your webspace from Carleton College to our hosting provider, Reclaim Hosting, for a discounted price. Detailed instructions can be found here.

If you would like to move to a third party service, you’ll want to capture a backup of your site. From there you’ll be able to import this backup into a handful of other web hosting services. You can find instructions on taking a backup here.

2.1.Export from WordPress #

If you are using your WordPress, you can also get an export of your posts, pages, comments, custom fields, categories, and tags.

The WordPress export is great for grabbing the content of your WordPress site so that you can import it into another WordPress host, such as WordPress.com or WordPress.org.

Note: Exports do not include plug-ins, or other site customizations.

Exporting

  1. From the Dashboard navigate to Tools>Export
    The screenshot below shows how to export all of your posts, pages, comments, custom fields, terms, navigation menus, and custom posts. However, you can also export just certain posts, pages, or media. The export page within WordPress

This export process generates an XML file of your blog’s content. WordPress calls this an  eXtended RSS or WXR file.

Note: This will ONLY export your posts, pages, comments, categories, and tags; uploads and images may need to be manually transferred to the new blog. If possible, do not delete your blog until after media files have successfully been imported into the new blog.

Importing

Once you have exported your posts, pages, etc., you can import them into your new WordPress site.

  1. Login to your new WordPress.com or self-hosted WordPress site and go to the Dashboard.  From there navigate to Tools>Import and click on the link to “Run Importer
    Screenshot showing where to find the WordPress Importer
  2.  Next you will see a screen that prompts you to upload the WXR (.xml) file you generated through the export process. Browse to your exported WordPress archive and then click the “Upload file and import” button.
    Upload file and import
  3. Choose and upload your file.  You will then be prompted to assign an author to the posts that you are importing.  You can use this function to assign one author to all posts, or you can manually set the author for each post in the posts menu. Unless you have a space limit, you will also want to select the option to “download and import file attachments” before clicking the “Submit” button.
    Select desired import options and click the
  4. When your import is complete, you will see a confirmation screen.
    Confirmation screen

Your exported content is now added to your site. If you had posts on your site prior to importing, those posts are still available. Because the export did not include themes or plug-ins, you will need to reinstall those separately from the export/import process.

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