Welcome to the hardest part of mastering the web: UNIX. This initial stage is getting easier and easier, thanks to the recent glut of HTML authoring packages and the more "user-friendly" environments created by many internet service providers. For those of us who are still working from UNIX-based systems, we still have a few technical hurdles to confront. But if you cross these, you're over the most difficult step. Unfortunately, it's the first one.

Why worry about UNIX? Most of the foundation to the World Wide Web owes its emergence to the 1983 release of a UNIX computer package which enabled users to network via telephone lines and modems. Because of this early relationship between UNIX and computer networks, the UNIX language colors much of the material on the Web, even if you access the internet from another kind of system. All of the slashes and colons in internet addresses are lifted from the UNIX computer language.

One feature of the UNIX platform is that it may be customized and controlled by individual users at many different levels. Because of the user control allowed by a UNIX operating system, each network will feature its own unique protocols for creating documents and directories. The UNIX system here at the University of Virginia will be different from systems at other universities or businesses. In addition to the variation among UNIX operating systems, many networks currently are run from PC and Macintosh based systems, such as the Windows NT server, used here at AS@UVA, the American Studies Web Site. The procedures for creating home pages with these systems will vary from the ones detailed on this page. If you are working from one of these alternate platforms, click on one of the following links for assistance in creating internet files. If you are working on a UNIX system other than the one supported by the University of Virginia, please consult your institution's computing center for assistance. Once you've established your files, come back to this page to learn the basics of HTML; standard HTML tagging operates on any kind of server and does not distinguish between UNIX, PC, or MAC platforms.

Establishing a Unix Account

The file structure--whether UNIX, Windows NT, or Macintosh--forms the backbone of all your web documents. Before you can begin using the HTML language, you must have a document to hold the information you wish to present on the web. At UVa, this process begins with your university electronic mail computer account. If you do not have an account, contact the Information Technology and Communiations (ITC) for information, or click the link for the on-line Help Desk. You can reach them by e-mail at accounts@virginia.edu or by phone at 804-924-3731, from 8:00AM to 5:00PM Monday through Friday. If you are on grounds, ITC is located in Wilson Hall, room 235.

Creating the Public_HTML Directory

Once you have established an account on the university system and have connected to the UNIX system from your computer, you will want to enter the UMenu system. The UMenu is one of the many customized features allowed by the UNIX operating system and was created by ITC to facilitate work on the UNIX system. Depending on how your connection is established, you can reach the UMenu by simply hitting the return key once you see the Rotunda "Welcome" screen or by typing "umenu" at the UNIX "$" prompt. Once you see the menu on the screen, you will want to go to item 6, "System Customization," and then to item 11 on the following menu, "Create Your Own Home Page." This new feature installed by ITC has removed the most difficult part of building a home page--creating the directories and subdirectories of your web files and releasing the "permissions" on both, a process which enables everyone to be able to call up your home page and read the information on it. If you are interested in learning how to create these items, consult ITC for a schedule of their short courses on the UNIX system. If, however, you are not planning to become a Webmaster or a UNIX programmer, be glad for the travail that ITC has spared you, and move along with your home page construction.

Once the system works its magic, you will discover that your account now contains a few new items. To view your account, return to the main menu and select item 4, "File Management." To view your account files, choose "File Viewer," and the contents of your UNIX account will be displayed. Among the many items you will see, the one you just created is a directory called public_html and another is a subdirectory of public_html called images. The public_html directory is the parent directory of all the documents and subdirectories which will appear on your home page. Any document you wish to display on your web site must be stored in this directory because the computer has released permissions on this directory. By releasing permissions, this document is now readable and executable by outside users whose computers are "asking permission" of your computer to take the information from the file requested, transport the information to its own system, and then translate it so that others can read it. The images subdirectory is a suggestion provided by the automatic setup program for those users who would like to store all of their graphic images in a single file. It is not an essential component of the public_html directory, but can be a handy place to organize graphics. Removing this subdirectory, however, will not damage your public_html account in any way.

Creating the HTML File

You will notice that in your public_html is a file called template.html When UNIX created the public_html directory for you, it also installed this document, which is a sample home page template you can use to make a home page. If you view this file, you will notice that it contains a series of codes contained within the less-than(<) and greater-than(>) brackets. This is HTML, the language that "marks up" simple text so that a web browser can read it and display it on your terminal. Follow the instructions provided in the template by going into the "File Editor" selection. Once you have filled in the suggested information on your home page, save the file and rename it home.html. The document called "home.html" is the default home page and is the page that UNIX will designate as the home page if a user does not specifically request a named file. To rename the file, you must return to the UMenu and select item 9, "Go to UNIX." The UNIX prompt will appear:

darwin: /home/mst3k/ $

where darwin is the machine within the UVa server on which your account resides, home is the file in which user home pages are stored, and mst3k is your user ID. The $ is the default UNIX prompt. You need to pull up your public_html directory. To do this, you need the cd command, which means change directory. Type cd public_html at the prompt to change the active directory from your parent directory, mst3k, to your public_html, which is a subdirectory of your account, but the main directory for all web-related materials in your account. The prompt will show that it has retrieved your public_html:

darwin: /home/mst3k/public_html $

If you need to see the contents of your directory, you need to use the list command. This command has many different attributes, but the basic one is the short form attribute, designated by the command ls. This command will list contents of your directory by filename only. When you type ls at the UNIX prompt, you will see the files stored in your public_html:

darwin: /home/mst3k/public_html $ ls
images/ template.html

You see that you have a subdirectory called images and of course, the document called template.html, which is what we want to rename as home.html. The UNIX rename command is mv, followed by the name of the file we're renaming, then the new name we're giving it. In this case:

darwin: /home/mst3k/public_html $ mv template.html home.html

We want to rename (mv) the file template.html as home.html. Now, to double check that it has indeed worked, use the ls command again at the unix prompt, and you should see that we still have the images subdirectory, but now we have a file called home.html instead of template.html If you're still not confident that it the renaming has been successful, return to the File Management option and view the file home.html. You should find your newly created home page, now with its proper name. Congratulations! You now have a home page on the web. As you get started with HTML, this sample page will be helpful in giving you a basic understanding of how the language works, but hopefully, as we progress through the lessons in the workshop, you will be able to turn the elementary document you see into a uniquely personalized home page.

UNIX and Internet Protocols

You have a home now, but what about your address, and what do all those bizarre characters and letters mean? As I mentioned in the introduction, UNIX and the Web are closely linked. The many addresses on the World Wide Web, including your own, are all products of the UNIX environment. The cryptic abbreviations, colons, and slashes direct the web browser to your UNIX account and to the individual directories, subdirectories, and files within it. It is essential that you enter all addresses exactly as you see them because the UNIX language is an exact and unforgiving one, sensitive to spelling, case, and syntax.

For example, let's return to our UVa user ID "mst3k," which is stored on the machine called "darwin." Since you have created a public_html directory and a file called home.html, you now have an World Wide Web address, or Uniform Resource Locator (URL). Your URL is:


Translated, that address means that the computer is looking for a World Wide Web document ("http://") at the server "darwin.clas." in the domain of the University of Virginia ("virginia.edu") in the public_html directory (signified by the ~ tilde symbol) of the user with the ID mst3k, the name of the document is "home," and it is in html format. Whew! That's a lot of data in one brief address, but you can see why it is important to enter the addresses correctly. Remember that when we named the "home.html" document, we did so because the computer will automatically use that document as the home page. If the person looking for your home page did not know how many directories you had in your account, or did not know that you called your home page "home.html," it wouldn't necessarily matter. They could simply enter


and the UNIX system would automatically scan your public_html directory and transfer the document called "home.html." Of course, if you have another document you would like to view, for example, one called "other.html," you would simply enter that name in your URL in the place of "home.html," and it would be summoned to your screen.

If you're comfortable with the basics of UNIX, and your home page is in place, it's time to start working some magic of your own with the HTML command tags.

Sponsored by the American Studies Group at UVA ©1996
Maintained by Joshua Johns