Starting A Web-Based Side Project: Here’s What You Need To Know

Web-Based Side ProjectA side project is a great way to learn something new and expand your horizons. It may be a first step towards to a new business or career. Even if you already run a business or have a career you love, a successful side project can strengthen your reputation as a proactive and creative maker. Side projects have been hailed as the new resume.

Unsplash, a hugely popular free image service, started out as a side project by design community Crew. The company makes no money from Unsplash directly, but its core business receives millions of visits from potential users every month because of Unsplash. Side project marketing is being called the best thing since content marketing — you don’t just write something useful, you build something useful.

For many, the main draw of side projects is the opportunity to learn something new. If you want to learn web development, the best way to start is to have an idea what you want to build and learn while you build it.

If you think you’d like to create a web-based side project — a website, eCommerce store, or web app — here’s what you need to know to get started.

Choosing A Platform

The platform you choose depends on what you want to achieve, both in terms of the result and the learning process. Let’s start with the most straightforward option.

A Free Content Management System

The easiest way to get started with a web-based project is to use a free content management system. WordPress is by far the most popular choice; it can be used as the foundation of almost any type of site, including publishing, eCommerce, social media, membership, and affiliate marketing sites. Much of WordPress’ functionality is provided by third-party plugins which are easy to install and use.

For some projects, WordPress is overkill. You might prefer to opt for a more focused content management systems like Ghost, or even a static site generator like Jekyll or Lektor, although these have a steeper learning curve and require some ability to code.

Beyond The CMS

If you have a vision for a web application and want to learn how to build it, you have no end of choices. I advise you start by learning a popular back-end programming language and a web application framework for that language.

Popular languages in this space include:

  • PHP – PHP is the language WordPress is built in. It has the virtue of being quite easy to learn at a basic level. There are many PHP web frameworks, with Laravel and Symfony being among the most popular.
  • Ruby – Ruby is a general purpose programming language that is hugely popular among web developers because of Ruby On Rails, a powerful and popular web framework.
  • Python – Python — my personal favorite — is powerful, flexible, and quite easy to learn. Python also benefits from a huge library of modules that can used for web development. The most popular web frameworks for Python are Django at the “batteries-included” end of the spectrum and Flask, a microframework.

You will also need some familiarity with front-end languages — at a minimum you’ll need to learn HTML, CSS, and JavaScript.

All of these can be learned online, but if you’d prefer a comprehensive course to take you from novice to knowledgeable, I recommend both Codecademy and Code School, the former of which is free.

Web Hosting

The final piece of the puzzle is web hosting. A web host is a company that provides access to server resources and bandwidth. Your website or application will need a server, and there are plenty of options to choose from when it comes to hosting plans.

For a side project, I’d recommend you start with a managed virtual private server. Virtual private servers are inexpensive compared to other hosting options, and unless you want to add Linux server administration to the list of things you need to learn, opting to let the hosting company manage it for you is best.

Hopefully, this article has given you a clear idea of what you need and need to know to move forward with your web-based side project. Good luck!

Matthew Davis is a technical writer and Linux geek for Future Hosting.

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