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What software do I need to build a website?

In this article we lay out which software components you need when you're editing, uploading, or viewing a website.

Prerequisites: You should already know the difference between webpages, websites, web servers, and search engines.
Objective: Learn which software components you need if you want to edit, upload, or view a website.

Summary

You can download for free most of the programs you need for web development. We'll provide a few links in this article. You'll need tools to 1) create and edit webpages, 2) upload files to your web server, and 3) view your website.

Nearly all operating systems by default include a text editor and website viewer (called a browser). So usually you only need to acquire software for transferring files to your web server.

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Dig deeper

Creating and editing webpages

To create and edit a website, you need a text editor. Text editors create and modify unformatted text files. (Other formats, like RTF, let you to add formatting, like bold or underline. Those formats are not suitable for writing web pages.) You should choose a text editor wisely, since you'll be working with it extensively while you're building the website.

All desktop operating systems come with a basic text editor. These editors are all straightforward, but lack special features for webpage coding. If you want something a bit fancier, there are plenty of third-party tools available. Third-party editors often come with extra features, including syntax coloring, auto-completion, collapsible sections, and code search. Here is a short list of editors:

Operating system Built-in editor Third-party editor
Windows Notepad Notepad++
Mac OS TextEdit TextWrangle
Linux Vi (All UNIX)
GEdit (Gnome)
Kate (KDE)
LeafPad (Xfce)
Emacs
Vim

Here is a screenshot of an advanced text editor:

Screenshot of Notepad++.

Uploading files on the Web

When your website is ready for public viewing, you'll have to upload your webpages to your web server. You can buy space on a server from various providers (see How much does it cost to do something on the web?). Once you settle on which provider to use, the provider will email you the FTP (file transfer protocol) access information. Uploading files to a web server is a very important step while creating a website, so we cover it in detail in a separate article. For now, here's a short list of free basic FTP clients:

Operating system  FTP software
Windows WinSCP FileZilla (All OS)
Linux Nautilus (Gnome)
Konqueror (KDE)
Mac OS Cyberduck

Browsing websites

As you already know, you need a web browser to view websites. There are dozens of browser options for your personal use, but when you're developing a website you should test it at least with the following major browsers, to make sure your site works for most people:

If you're targeting a specific group (e.g., technical platform or country), you may have to test the site with additional browsers, like Opera, Dolphin, or UC Browser.

But testing gets complicated because some browsers only run on certain operating systems. Apple Safari runs on iOS and Mac OS, while Internet Explorer runs only on Windows. It's best to take advantage of services like Browsershots or Browserstack. Browsershots furnishes screenshots of your website as it will look in various browsers. Browserstack actually gives you full remote access to virtual machines so you can test your site in the most common environments. Alternatively, you can set up your own virtual machine, but that takes some expertise. (If you're going that route, Microsoft has some tools for developers including a ready-to-use virtual machine at modern.ie.)

By all means run some tests on a real device, especially on real mobile devices. Mobile device simulation is a new, evolving technology and less reliable than desktop simulation. Mobile devices cost money, of course, so we suggest taking a look at the Open Device Lab initiative. You can also share devices if you want to test on many platforms without spending too much.

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Document Tags and Contributors

 Contributors to this page: SphinxKnight, chrisdavidmills, Jeremie, Andrew_Pfeiffer, kklein
 Last updated by: SphinxKnight,