Understanding Accounts & Passwords

One aspect of usccreate.org that users may find a bit complicated at first is understanding the different accounts (and associated passwords) that you can manage as part of your participation in the project. This article outlines the types of accounts that you are likely to have, what they are for, and how you go about resetting passwords on each of them.

Your cPanel Account

When you first sign-up for your domain and hosting, a cPanel account will be generated that provides you with access to your slice of the usccreate.org Web server. Your cPanel account is automatically associated with your USC network username and password. Therefore, your network username will grant you access to your cPanel account.

Your Application Administrator Accounts

Every time you install a new application in cPanel, an Administrator Account for that application will be created. You will likely use these accounts very often – every time you need to login to your application to manage the associated Web site, you will use this account.

For example, if you install WordPress to manage your Web site, every time you need to add content to WordPress, change your theme, approve comments, etc. you will use this account to login.

Usually, you will be given the opportunity to choose the username and password for that account. We recommend choosing something that you are likely to remember but that is strong and secure.

Upon installation, you will likely receive an email confirming the user-id/password combination you chose. It will also have information about how to access the login page for that application. You may wish to make sure you don’t delete this message.

Depending on the application you’re working with, managing and resetting the password for this account will vary. If you’ve used Installatron (in cPanel) to install the application, however, you can always review the account credentials:

  • Login to cPanel through https://usccreate.org/dashboard/.
  • Click the Installatron icon in the Software/Services section.
  • Find the application you installed under My Applications.
  • Click the Edit button (this looks like a blue wrench).
  • Scroll down to find the Administrator Username and Password.

In addition, most applications should have some kind of password reset link on the login page.

Other Types of Accounts

In addition to the three account types outlined above, there are a few other kinds of accounts you may have as part of usccreate.org:

  • FTP: If you set up FTP on your account, you will need to set up an account.
  • Application User Accounts: In addition to the Administrator Account that you set up when installing an application, most applications will also let you set up user accounts.

Subdomains vs. Subdirectories

When you’re first getting started with a new space on a new Web host, you might think of yourself as owning a small “territory” of the Web. Everything you place in your public folder on the server becomes available for anyone on the Web to see (assuming they know the address of your site and the files you’ve placed there).

If you’re just putting up a handful of static, HTML pages which you want to make available to colleagues, friends, or family by sending them links, then working with this large, unorganized space may work. But as soon as you get to the point where you want to organize your site, you’re going to need a new strategy.

Consider this scenario: you want to have a personal blog on your new Web space, where you share pictures and short written pieces with family, friends, and colleagues. In addition, you’re working on a large research project that requires you to build a Web-based repository of digital images related to your discipline. You want to use one application (say, WordPress) to manage your personal blog. For your research project, you’ve settled on another open-source application (Say, Omeka). Both of these are applications that need to be installed on your Web host, but you can’t just put them both at your main domain name – if you did, both sites would quickly experience conflicts and errors. You need to cordon off separate spaces for your different Web “properties.”

There are two primary strategies for parceling up your Web space. You can create subdomains or subdirectories. But before you can understand the difference, you need to first understand what we mean when we talk about your root domain.

Root Domain

Let’s say you’ve registered a new domain for usccreate.org called yourdomain.com. Anything that is stored at this core URL is considered to be at the root of your domain: Nothing comes before the address or after the address. You can certainly decide that you simply want to have a single site on your Web host (say a blog running WordPress), and you can set that blog up at your domain’s root. To get to your site in this scenario, users would simply go to yourdomain.com.

Subdomains

When you want to do more than just have a single site at the root of your site, you need to decide now to organize your space. One way to do so is by setting up subdomains.

You’re already familiar with the concept of subdomains, even if you don’t know it. A subdomain is a prefix on the URL of a domain.

Domains serve two purposes: they help to organize the site from a technical perspective, but they also serve as indications to the users that they are in a new/different space.

As you work on your site, you’re welcome to create as many subdomains as you like, and in each subdomain you can actually create a distinct, individual Web site.

Subdirectories

The alternative for organizing your space is to simply set up subdirectories. These function much like file folders on your computer. Instead of creating a blog at blog.yourdomain.com you would place it in a subdirectory called “blog” making the address yourdomain.com/blog. Setting up subdirectory is really easy. You can create folders on the fly when installing applications (like WordPress), and you can also manually create them in your file browser.

There is one particular issue you need to be aware of. Let’s say you’ve installed WordPress to be your primary blog at yourdomain.com. Later, you decide you want to create another image gallery site on your site, and you want to place it at yourdomain.com/gallery. But, if for some reason you’ve already created a page on your WordPress site called “Gallery” then the URL yourdomain.com/gallery will already be taken. If you try to create a subdirectory of the same name, you’ll get a conflict and errors.

Tips & Review
  • Subdomains are generally a cleaner, more elegant solution to organizing your site. You’re less likely to get conflicts or errors. However, when using subdomains the process is slightly more complicated: You must create subdomains first, before you can install anything in them.
  • Subdirectories don’t create as pretty URLs as subdomains, but they’re easier to set up. They can, however, result in conflicts with existing Web pages.
  • As soon as you create subdomains or subdirectories to organize your site, you need to consider how people are going to find them. If you’ve created a new primary blog at blog.yourdomain.com, and someone goes to just yourdomain.com, they won’t see that new site. It is possible to set up redirects to avoid this issue. You can also always create links from pages on one subdomain of your site to another.
  • If you really just need one site, sometimes installing at the root of your domain is the easiest thing to do, at least as you’re getting started. You can always add more pieces to your territory later with either subdomains or subdirectories.
Tutorials

Privacy

What you put up in your Create Digital space 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.

What Can You Do with Your Account?

Your ability to do things on Create Digital 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

Create Digital 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 Web site. The kind of site you can build depends upon the type of application you install. Here are some examples of applications that you can easily install within the Create Digital Web hosting interface:

WordPress LogoWordPress: WordPress is a blogging application. While it allows you to quickly and easily set up a blog, it also comes with a set of features that really make it possible to set up any kind of basic Web site without much difficulty. We have resources available that are focused on installing and using WordPress.

Nextcloud: If you’ve used DropBox, the concept of Nextcloud will be familiar. It allows you to upload and access files from anywhere with Web access. You can also share those files and sync them to your devices. This Web application is another quick install through Installatron in cPanel.

These are just a FEW of the open-source applications that are available to you in your Create Digital 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 Create Digital 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.

What is DNS?

Remember back before everyone had computers that fit in their pocket, how companies would ship a book full of phone numbers to your doorstep? We might have known who we were looking for, but we needed to look up phone numbers to reach them unless we had the number memorized. When you get your own domain name, by default it’s nothing more than a shortcut, an address, or (to fit this very imperfect analogy) a phone number. When you type a domain name into the address bar of your browser, someone has to identify it and tell it what to display. That’s where a name server comes in.

A name server is a computer, running as a server, that keeps a record of all the domain names that are associated with it and keeps track of where those domains should go. In the case of usccreate.org the name server is the same computer that runs the hosting. DNS stands for Domain Name System and the name server on usccreate.org gives control to it to identify what should be displayed when someone types in your domain. Consider the fact that you might have one or more subdomains in your account. The name server and DNS are able to identify those subdomains and let the world wide web know that they exist and point to some files/folders on a computer somewhere.

When you signed up for a domain through the usccreate.org system your name servers were chosen for you. So when people type in your address, the server responds with information about your account. When you migrate an account away from one hosting platform like Create Digital and onto a new service, it will require you to change the name servers so that your domain name points to a new server with its own files and structure. It’s also possible to have subdomains that point to entirely different servers than usccreate.org. For example, you could have a subdomain that looks to Tumblr for files.

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 Create Digital 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. You can find out more about Installatron here.

In order to run on the Create Digital 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.

What is a subdomain?

A subdomain is one way of organizing and separating content on your site. You’re already familiar with the concept of subdomains, even if you don’t know it. A subdomain is a prefix on the URL of a domain.

Domains serve two purposes: they help to organize the site from a technical perspective, but they also serve as indications to the users that they are in a new/different space.

We have resources that demonstrate setting up subdomains and illustrate the difference between subdomains and subdirectories.

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:

image

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.

image

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. They allow you, for example, 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.

What is Domain Mapping?

Domain mapping, simply put, is deciding where visitors should be directed when they visit various pieces of your website. Domains and subdomains can be mapped directly to folders located within your webhosting account, where you may have installed WordPress, Omeka, MediaWiki, or other web applications.