When I transferred the blog to WordPress I promised to write a guide to creating your blog on WordPress, or at least describe how I transferred the blog from Google’s Blogger service to a self-hosted installation of WordPress. Well, the guide to how this might be done really has to start with getting your own site up and running, not with the process of getting 10+ years of Blogger blog entries to appear in WordPress. WordPress is hands down one of the best ways to get your writing in front of people who want to read it, but WordPress is just the front end of a process that starts with deciding on a web host.
So, starting from the beginning, the question is should you self-host or should you pay someone to host your site? You can self-host your own website, we did that for years on a Dell PC that we had bought for me to do CAD on. We slapped a second NIC card in it and it was the router/web host for the family until it died a few years back. When we set that system up we had programmers who worked for Dell wandering in and out of the house on a pretty regular basis. It was a simple thing to get one of them to set up a Linux shell on the old CAD system, load Apache on it, do their programming magic, and presto we had a webhost. A black box that I never did manage to figure out how not to break, so I left it alone aside from editing my homepage. I had a static page on ranthonysteele.com that I paid for for years and years for no good reason other than that I figured I needed a website. I was a technologist, a CAD evangelist, and I was quite full of confidence in my unique abilities back when the internet was young and I was certain that the best times in life were still ahead of me.
But this article isn’t about how poor health can ambush and destroy the best laid plans of men. Anyone who doubts this is true should read up on the life of Alexander the Great. The greatest conqueror on the face of the Earth then or now, who was rudely interrupted in the middle of his conquest of Asia with a sudden illness and subsequent painful death. My life plans were much less grandiose than that, and don’t involve the enslavement of entire regions of the planet, and I’m not dead (at least not yet) so I’ve been diverted and not canceled, at least. But being here writing about how to get blogging software to work on a site you run yourself was not where I wanted to be eighteen years down the road. And I’m still not up to that, or up to recommending that you self-host even the most basic site on today’s internet.
I never got the hang of programming. I never found any joy in it. I just wanted to be able to program a website without having to do all the work involved in writing all the code for myself on top of all of the CAD work that I was already engaged in at the time. I knew I hated writing code from the few times that I tested/edited/wrote lisp scripts for AutoCAD. Luckily we had some real programmers on staff at one of the architecture offices I worked for, so most of my work with scripts was testing and not writing. But I did enough of it that I knew that the fiddly, nitpicking work of making sure that every character in the code was absolutely perfect was not what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. So the static page remained static for years on end, while I relied on Blogger to keep doing their Blogger thing as a few years turned into ten and then into fifteen.
The Wife on the other hand needed to maintain her professional presence in the digital world. She had to create and maintain websites through all of the really early years of the world wide web, websites for many different versions of her own professional abilities (effects, actor, producer, unlicensed broadcast engineer, etc) and eventually she wound up maintaining websites for many different people. When she first started using her current web host she set up a demonstration account to show me what we could do with blogging software. I thought it was interesting but maintaining my own website looked too much like programming to me. Besides, I had a history on Blogger and I didn’t want to lose it.
…And then Blogger started to show the effects of Google not seeing blogging as one of its money-making features. The exploitation of programming holes the long unpatched bugs in the web interface not to mention the released and never updated mobile app. So when I turned to her with my Blogger is losing my drafts problem, she threw together another website for me on her hosting service using my old ranthonysteele.com URL, and I was in business for myself. At least to all external observers, I was flying on my own.
Except, I still didn’t understand one damn thing about what it was I was doing. I’m still not a programmer. Learning the in’s and out’s of maintaining a website is much harder than my experience with learning architecture was. Learning how to build something is as simple as wandering through a construction site and asking questions over and over. This is something I’ve done since the town doctor bought property across the street from my family in Leoti, Kansas, and proceeded to have a house built there. I was six or seven years old then, and construction was this weird miracle process that I experienced first hand through each stage as I wandered that construction site on a daily basis.
A small U.S. town in the 70’s was such a wonderful place and time to grow up, from that perspective. No one cared that a child, or a group of children, wandered onto construction sites. They’d even answer questions if you asked nice, before shoeing you away so they could get back to work. I cut my architectural teeth that way, on dozens of construction sites. Wandering into construction wherever I stumbled across it, fascinated by the simple act of creation that was involved in them. Wandering around in finished buildings and then going places that aren’t finished for public occupancy so that I could see how all the pieces went together to form the seamless facade that is what the public sees.
Programming is invisible, like the structure hidden behind the finish in your home. Programming is best when you never notice it. If you notice the programming, it is like noticing that whoever taped and floated the wallboard for your office wall wasn’t very good at their job. You have to know where to look in order to find the programs that run everything on the web. Right click on any window in your browser, for example, and pick view page source. You’ll get a nearly incomprehensible page of text characters as a result. Incomprehensible, if you are a layman.
If you work with HTML for awhile, something you will have had to do if you’ve written anything for the web and cared about how it looked, the text that is displayed becomes more comprehensible. You can seperate commands <text> from the rest of the content on the page simply by recognizing the characters that denote a command. If you’ve been working around websites for years like I have, you become convinced you know more about the subject of putting stuff on the internet than you actually do. Until you have to do the work to get it there, and there is no one willing to talk to you about it.
So if you find yourself in the predicament I’m describing, trying to figure out how to get stuff to show up on the internet, this guide is for you. Welcome. Let’s learn stuff together, eh? The first thing you want to decide is where to host your website. That’s your first job.
Most cheapskates will be tempted to host their own website. My advice is don’t. Don’t do it unless you are a programmer and you have enough cash to pay for all of the hardware you will need (and if you are that person, you won’t be reading this in the first place) That is my best advice right there. If you aren’t a programmer then hosting your own website is ultimately only going to create another digital zombie that can be used to attack other websites, or it will serve as a ransom target. A liability that will cost you more than the hosting fees will cost you. So don’t be John Podesta. Be smart, like Hillary Clinton. What, Hillary Clinton isn’t smart? She didn’t get caught, did she? I rest my case. Hire people to do the stuff you don’t know how to do, and pay them well to do it. You’ll thank me for that advice, if you follow it.
You also don’t want to necessarily go with the cheapest web host. Do you want the cheapest doctor you can find, or the one that knows enough to help you and not hurt you? There are several websites that can help with this task, selecting a web host. Who is hosting this? is one of those sites. Look around to see what the people in your line of work are doing. See what other comparable web hosts are offering and for what price. Go with someone who can help you in a crisis, not just someone who has the cheapest price. You can even buy space from a web host so you can act as a web host. This is what the Wife is doing, she’s just not making any money off of me when she does it.
So you have your web host selected? Good.
A web host provides the software you will be using to create your website. Everything to do with computers requires software, but the internet is everywhere and in everything these days, so it is easy to forget that there is code behind all this interconnectivity that we enjoy today. Your web host will have software it utilizes, and that software is most likely going to be Apache. As an open source evangelist, I wouldn’t suggest you run anything else on your web servers.
Cpanel is the most common graphical user interface for Apache once you get beyond the command line; and frankly, why use the command line if you don’t have to? Cpanel is short for Control Panel. If I have to tell you what a Control Panel is then you haven’t been doing this long enough. Take some basic computer classes, or just pay SquareSpace for their services. They’ll happily hold your hand, given how much you will be paying them. If you don’t have the money for Squarespace (it isn’t cheap) and can manage without their very useful 24/7 helpline, but still want to be using a super simple interface, there is Wix.com and Weebly.com. Squarespace isn’t paying me a dime to recommend them, therefore I’ll go the distance and give you a few more options.
Going hand in hand with Cpanel is WHM, the WebHost Manager (this will be important in the next section) Their user documentation is here and here. If your web host uses Apache they are most likely going to be using Cpanel and WHM as the control panel and manager for the hosting service. Once you have signed up with a web host you are now dabbling in web hosting, at least vicariously. WHM is your best friend when managing a web host. You should probably get to know your new best friend better.
If your site is new on the web hosting service, it is a pretty simple thing to just pick the software you want to use from the software list that your web host should offer (softaculous on our web host) WordPress is very likely to be one of them. Install that software and start playing around. You’ll break things a few times, but that’s great. You want to break things when you are learning new stuff. Use the installer to uninstall, and start over. Have fun! If your site is a new site with a new web host then congratulations, you’re done. If you are like me, borrowing space on someone else’s hosting site, then you are only getting started. Read on for the dreaded WHM and the effective separation of your shit from their shit.