What is Web Hosting and How Does it Work (Full Guide)
When you want to start your own website you will learn that you need web hosting but what exactly that term means?
So, what is web hosting and how does it work? Web hosting is the process of storing any sort of data related to a website and all the necessary technologies for this website to be online and accessible to internet users. Some specialized computers called servers have all the info needed for a functional website and when internet users type the domain of the website or visit via search engines, the server sends all the information to their browsers.
Let me explain web hosting in more detail.
How Does Web Hosting Work?
A website is a collection of different files and there is a need for storage. The web hosting provider covers that need by providing a place where all your files related to your website will be stored. A special kind of computer that we call web server saves those files for you. When you pay for web hosting services what you actually do is to rent space from them for your website needs.
But of course, having only a place to store your files is not enough for your website to be functional. There is a set of technologies that your web hosting provider needs to install and run on the server. For example, your computer probably has Windows or Mac as an operating system.
On the other hand, the majority of servers run Linux as an operating system. There are also other software programs installed on the server that needed for the website functionalities.
Web hosting providers have staff dedicated to the general monitoring of these servers. Their role is related to both hardware and software needs/updates of the server.
When you visit a website you actually send a request to the server that hosts the site. Your browser (like Google Chrome) “asks” the server to return all the info it has for a certain URL such as https://www.buycompanyname.com .
This URL points to a specific IP address (some numbers needed for a computer to communicate with another) and to a specific subfolder in that computer (server). For your browser to be able to present the site visually to you correctly it will need some instructions ( the source code!) that are included too in the sub-folder.
Why Do I Need Web Hosting?
The question that comes to your mind probably is why do you need web hosting. You might think about why you can’t use your computer and store all the files for your website there for free. Technically you can but there would be limitations.
The computer needs to be online all day so your website to be visible from others. When a power cut happens your site would be offline.
Another issue is related to security. When you host a website you actually give access to someone to view files from your computer. A cybercriminal might take advantage of this and expose other vulnerabilities in your pc. If you are not experienced enough, you can get exposed and other people can have access to your pc other than just viewing your site.
For all these reasons for most people, I suggest using a web hosting provider than risking to host their site on their own computer.
Why is Web Hosting Important?
Web hosting is really important for the success of your site. A good web hosting company should provide at least 99.9% uptime meaning your site should be accessible on the web almost every hour of the year. They need also to protect the server where your website is hosted from any hacking issues and provide backup in case something happens to the server. So that’s why you can’t take web hosting lightly since effects greatly the online presence of your business (your website).
What Are The Different Types Of Web Hosting?
There are many types of web hosting, let’s examine some of them:
Shared hosting means that multiple sites are hosted in one server (one physical machine). Your website will share resources such as RAM, CPU or disk space with many other websites and you will not really know which are these sites. In that case, if there is a huge spike in traffic to some other site and starts to use a lot of resources then it can affect your site’s performance.
There are also some security concerns if some other website is hacked or the owner of it uses shady tactics. These activities can potentially harm your site’s security and online reputation too.
The advantage of shared hosting is that it is the cheapest option and almost always the best option for beginners and sites with low traffic. You can always upgrade a plan based on your needs and traffic later.
VPS hosting means that your website has its own resources even if the files of it are stored in the same physical machine with other websites. With a technique that is called virtualization, your site uses a portion of the physical server resources (like RAM, CPU, disk space, etc) without any other website be able to use the same portion of them.
This is a good choice for overcoming the potential security or performance issues that can be caused by other websites on the same server.VPS hosting costs more than shared hosting but less than a dedicated one.
Dedicated hosting is where you rent a whole server. In that case the server stores only your website. You can use all of the resources without limitations. There are plans where you can change everything software related to the server or you can let the hosting provider manage it for you when you are not a technical person.
Big organizations choose that option when their site receives a lot of traffic and their stored data is very critical to risk it.
When you use Cloud hosting you don’t rely on a single server to host your site. Your website’s data is spread among multiple machines. Based on your traffic your site can use resources as needed. This option is very good for performance purposes since your site will not face issues when a huge spike of traffic comes or a server stops working because of a technical problem.
In colocation hosting, you buy the server and you pay rent to place it in a data center of a hosting provider. The advantage here is that the facilities are ideal for server usage. The data center has power generators so they don’t face any issues with power cuts.
They also have ideal temperature and humidity in facilities for better server performance. Another advantage is that the data center has access to far bigger internet speeds.
Managed Hosting is where the hosting provider takes care of all the technical administration of a server. Meaning they take care of the hardware, software updates/configurations, and security issues. The server hosts only your website and you can take advantage of all of the resources of the machine.
Reseller hosting is where someone individual or company buy web hosting services from bigger providers at better prices than the retail ones and resells them.
In that case, the reseller needs to have some technical knowledge to manage any issue that might come. The final client deals with the reseller and not with the original provider.
Clustered Hosting is where multiple servers host the same website. The difference with cloud hosting is that the servers’ resources are dedicated only to one website. The advantage here is that you don’t rely only on one server to host your site.
WordPress hosting is a form of hosting adjusted for better performance for sites that are built with a popular software platform called WordPress. The performance improvements are related to the site speed and security aspects.
WordPress hosting can be one of the hosting types we described earlier. When you see just “WordPress hosting” that usually means your site will share resources with other websites (shared hosting).
WordPress is a software that helps you create a website even if you don’t have technical or programming knowledge. Over 1/3 of all websites have been created with WordPress.
Which Web Hosting Should I Use?
I have written a very detailed blog post about which web hosting provider (click the green text for that post) I choose and why.
If you decide not to follow my suggestion and you wonder how to choose a hosting provider, this is what you need to look for in a web host:
1.) Is it a real company? Can you find the address, phone numbers, and social presence? Hosting would be a critical part of your online success so you need to choose trusty partners.
2.)Can you find good (objective) reviews online by checking popular Facebook groups or Reddit discussions? Sometimes there are a lot of reviews based on potential compensation from the hosting company which is still ok if the author of the review mentions that.
3.)What disk space they offer? This is the amount of storage for any kind of file/document/media your site will need such as images, video, etc
4.)What is the amount of bandwidth that they allow? Bandwidth is the data that can be exchanged between the internet users and your website. There always limits in this kind of exchange. Many web hosts claim that they offer unlimited bandwidth but this is not usually the case.
If your site contains a lot of videos and other kinds of media and at the same time you have a lot of traffic then you use a lot of bandwidth.
5.) What is the uptime for the servers they use? This is a metric that counts the amount of time (in percentage) a server is online and running without problems. If the server has a problem then your site will be offline and the visitors will see an error instead of a full webpage.
6.) Do they offer customer support 24 hours per day and even on holidays? It is often that some technical issues are happening even in the most inconvenient time. You need also to check the technical capabilities of the support team.
Try to send some emails before you purchase a plan with them. Test the knowledge of the staff by asking questions about the technical aspect of your site.
7.)Where are their servers located and do you have the option to choose from different regions? If the majority of your traffic comes from a certain country then it is wise to choose a server located in that country or very close.
When the server is located close to the country of your online visitors your website tends to load slightly faster for them.
8.)Do they offer SSL certificate for free? This is a very important feature of your website. When a site’s URL starts with “https” instead of “http” that means an ssl certificate is in use.
Nowadays is a must for a site to use an SSL certificate. Search engines like google prefer to rank sites that use “https”. It is also better for user experience since there is a notification in the browser of your visitors that the site is secure!
It is also good for security reasons when an online visitor submits his personal details or some payment information. When a site has ssl certificate the data that user exchanges with the site are encrypted and it can’t be stolen by hackers.
9.)How many sites can you host? If you are planning to create a lot of sites, you need to check also this detail in the plans available from the hosting provider.
10.)How often do they back up your site? You might do some design change in your site or by mistake to delete some important parts of it. In that case, if you don’t use some third party solution you need to be sure that your provider backs up your site regularly.
11.) Do they offer a trial period where you can cancel your plan and get a full refund? The Industry standard is that most hosting providers offer this option to their customers. The period can be 15-60 days usually.
12.) What is the renewal price after your current plan expires? Many web hosting providers offer initially very cheap prices but the renewal is way too expensive. Since you are probably planning to have a working website for a lot of years you need to find out if the cost is good enough for the long term.
Can I Host My Own Website?
You can host your own website but unless you have technical knowledge is not advised. The main issues are related to security since your computer will be vulnerable to the outside attacks from hackers and bots. You need also to consider that your computer should be 24 hours open and online.
If you still want to try to host a website from home the best environment for that purpose is Linux. You can check these tutorials for more details: digitalocean.com tutorials .
If you still want to use Windows then check this website: wamp server
What is the Difference Between Domain and Hosting?
The domain name is the way for online users of finding your website’s content. If they type the domain name in their browser they can view your website. It is something like an online address or unique ID.
Web hosting is actually where all the files of a website are stored. Without the existence of these files and a server (specialized computer) that hosts these files, no site can exist.