4 The facilities of the internet used to support e-commerce and e-business systems

4.1 The World Wide Web

The aim of Section 4 is to describe briefly the main facilities of the Internet that are used to support e-commerce and e-business systems.

The web is nothing more than a collection of files stored at locations throughout the world. These files are written using a special language known as the Hypertext Markup Language (HTML). A file written using this language will contain text which forms the information content of the file, together with instructions which define how the text is to be displayed; for example, HTML contains a facility whereby blocks of text are specified to be displayed as bullet points.

The user of the World Wide Web employs a program known as a browser. When the user wishes to read a file on the World Wide Web they will inform the browser of its address on the web and the browser will fetch the file. The browser will then examine the contents of the page and will determine from the HTML in the file how it is to be displayed; for example, it might meet some HTML which switches the display of the material from one font to another font.

A file which is downloaded into a browser is known as a web page. The computer that holds web pages is known as a web server. The collection of pages which are linked by some theme – for example, they may be pages which all belong to the same retail company – is known as a website.

Each page that is downloaded into a browser will have references to other pages expressed as hyperlinks. For example, a page belonging to a book retailer will have hyperlinks to the various sections of the site which deal with different types of books. Hyperlinks can refer to pages within the same site or can refer to pages within another site; for example, an online magazine might refer to other online magazines which are part of the same publisher's stable. Figure 2 shows a typical display from a browser. It represents a page from a site run by a British consumer organisation. There are hyperlinks embedded in the site in the main parts of the text (these are underlined) and hyperlinks in the left-hand side of the page in the shaded square.

The description above of the World Wide Web is a bare bones one which was true about eight years ago: web pages can now contain a wide variety of media including audio files, video files, graphics and even programs which can execute while the browser is being viewed. Without the World Wide Web e-commerce would be barely possible: it provides a standard interface to a variety of documents, products, services and software.

Figure 2: A typical web page