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Beginner's Guide to Web Hosting
What is Website Hosting?
Website hosting is the place where all of your website’s files are stored. It’s like the home of your website. Without website hosting, your site will not appear on the internet to site visitors.
Web hosting companies store and serve websites. There are many different types of web hosting plans available:
- Shared hosting
- Virtual private server (VPS) hosting
- Cloud hosting
- Dedicated servers
- Colocation services
- WordPress hosting
- Reseller hosting
Website hosting involves much more than storing and serving your website files. With web hosting, you will have a variety of additional services. This might include basic web design and development, increased security measures, server speed optimization, and domain name registration.
What is a Domain Name? Is It the Same as Website Hosting?
There is often confusion about the difference between a domain name and website hosting. Here’s a brief domain name vs website hosting comparison:
A domain name is the address or URL of your website that people type in their web browser when they want to visit your website.
Every website has what’s called an IP address. A typical IP address will be a combination of numbers separated by dots (e.g., 67.993.22.1). The IP address is easily recognized by computers and allows computers to connect to the internet. However, people have a hard time remembering them. That’s where a domain name comes into play. A domain name includes words that make it easier for people to remember website addresses.
Now, instead of typing in the IP address of the website you want to visit, all you have to do is type in the domain name (e.g., bestwebhostdeal.com).
You must purchase and register a unique domain name that is not in use by anyone else before signing up for web hosting and creating a website.
Website hosting is the place your website files are stored. The web hosting provider is the one responsible for storing and securing those files. It’s also the web hosting company’s responsibility to serve your website to those that type your website’s domain name into their web browser or click on your site in a search result.
You must have web hosting if you want your website to appear on the internet.
To make this domain name vs website hosting comparison easier, think of it this way: the website hosting is your website’s house and the domain name is its address.
How Does a Web Server Work?
Web servers are physical computers that have operating systems, network connectivity suites, performance and security tools, and firewalls. They are responsible for displaying your website to people when they request access.
When someone enters your site’s URL in their web browser or clicks on your website in a search result, the domain name translates into the IP address of your web hosting provider’s server, which contain your site’s files. Your website’s files are then sent back to your site visitor’s browser and appears on their screen as your website.
Hosting providers have the ability to split web servers so multiple website owners can utilize its resources or rent out an entire server to a single site owner.
What Are the Different Types of Web Hosting?
There are many different types of web hosting available and the type you use will depend on your individual needs.
- Shared Hosting: your website is stored on a server alongside many other websites. The resources available on the server are shared among all the websites being stored on the server. This is best for beginners and those with small sites and not a lot of site traffic.
- Virtual Private Server (VPS) Hosting: your website is stored on a physical server, much like shared hosting. However, there is a virtual layer on top of the physical server’s operating system so you can access an allotted amount of resources without having to share. This is best for those on limited budgets that have growing websites.
- Cloud Hosting: your website is stored on multiple cloud-based servers. This means you have access to unlimited resources. If one server crashes, another server with a copy of your website’s files on it takes over and continues to serve your website to site visitors. This is best for those that prioritize site uptime and scalability.
- Dedicated Servers: your website is stored all by itself on one server that you rent. You do not share resources with any other websites. You also have complete control over the server and are responsible for all the maintenance of the hardware. This is best for enterprise-level sites or resource-demanding websites such as gaming sites, casinos, streaming services, and marketplaces.
- Colocation Services: your site is stored on a server that you own. However, you rent the space that the server is in and rely on the colocation hosting company to maintain a secure server environment. This is best for those that want to own and control every aspect of their own server.
- WordPress Hosting: your website is hosted on servers that are optimized for the WordPress content management system (CMS) in terms of speed and security. You also have access to expert WordPress support. This is best for those with WordPress powered websites of all sizes.
- Reseller Hosting: you rent hosting space from a company and sell that space to others for their websites. This is best for website agencies that manage client websites and offer white labeled hosting services.
What is the Cheapest Web Hosting Available?
Prices for web hosting vary depending on the type of hosting and features offered. That said, most startups and small businesses are looking for a similar feature set:
- Fast servers
- User-friendly interface
- eCommerce functionality
- Helpful support
- Affordable pricing
Luckily, there are many reputable web hosting providers in the market that offer plenty of features, meet the needs of most website owners, and have prices ranging from $2.95 to $9.95 per month.
The cheapest WordPress hosting available in the market today is shared hosting services. Because your website is stored on a server alongside multiple other website owners, and resources are shared, the savings are passed along to the customer and result in cheap web hosting.
If you need more resources than a shared hosting environment provides, the next most affordable type of web hosting is VPS hosting. Though your website is stored on a server alongside other websites, the resources you are given are yours and yours alone to use.
What is Bandwidth and How Much Do I Need?
Bandwidth is how much data is accessed when someone views your website. In other words, the measurement of data that is accessed when someone clicks on your website is bandwidth.
Usually, images, video content, and audio files are higher in bandwidth than written text. Plus, the more people that visit your website on a daily basis, the more bandwidth you will need. Some web hosts offer unlimited bandwidth, while others have limits.
Here’s an easy way to determine how much bandwidth you need:
Bandwidth = average daily visitors x average pageviews x average page size x days in a month x redundant factor*
*Average redundant factor is between 1.3 and 1.8
What Kind of Web Hosting Do I Need?
Choosing the right type of web hosting can be tough, especially for those just starting out. That’s why it’s important you ask yourself these questions before making a decision:
- What type of website will I have?
- How big will my website be?
- How much traffic will my site get each month?
- Do I need a Linux or Windows environment?
- How much extra support will I need to succeed or troubleshoot problems?
- What is my current skill level when it comes to website design, development, and maintenance?
- How big is my web hosting budget?
- What features are most important to me (cost, support, security, performance)?
- Do I need specific add-ons or software to run my site successfully?
Top Web Hosting Providers
Here's a look at the top three web host providers in the market right now to help you get started:
Bluehost is officially recommended by WordPress.org. It's also one of the largest and most affordable web hosting providers around. Some of its best features include a free domain name, an easy to use WordPress optimized control panel, WordPress staging environments, and free SSL certificates. Get started with Bluehost here or check out our detailed Bluehost review.
SiteGround is a managed WordPress hosting provider that prides itself in providing stellar 24/7 customer service. It also focuses on offering high speed services such as tiered caching, free email services to match your brand, automatic updates, and daily site backups. Get started with SiteGround here or check out our detailed SiteGround review.
HostGator is one of the oldest web hosts available and makes running a website a cinch. With it, you have access to the free website builder, one-click WordPress installations, a 99.9% uptime guarantee, and the familiar and easy to use cPanel for managing your hosting account and websites. Get started with HostGator here or check out our detailed HostGator review.
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Hosting companies are home for web-based projects and make them accessible on the internet. This includes setting up the hardware, ensuring a stable environment, storing client data, and many more complimentary services.
Depending on their server and network setup, web hosts can provide:
– Shared hosting
– VPS servers
– Cloud hosting
– Dedicated servers
– Colocation services
– Reseller hosting
Some hosts also offer domain names, but that is just another hosting service. There are licensed domain registrars that normally handle domain registrations.
While some hosting providers are inclined to assist with basic development and design tips, the actual website building is left in the hands of the client. As long as they don’t breach the terms of service, webmasters can manage their sites any way they please.
American hosting providers like to say:
“We are the service provider but not the service manager.”
There are a few distinct hosting niches, depending of the size and needs of your online project.
Shared hosting is for entry-level users and small-to-mid-sized businesses. Many customers share a single server.
VPS hosting has a similar setup to shared, but there are significantly fewer accounts on one machine.
Dedicated server hosting entails renting an entire server by one user. It is suitable for enterprise-level sites or other resource-demanding projects like online gaming pages, casinos, streaming services, marketplaces, etc.
Cloud hosting is a relatively new technology and includes spreading your website across multiple interconnected servers to ensure better performance and security.
Opting for Reseller hosting means you can get services from a web host and sell them as your own to end-users.
Prices for hosting services can vary greatly. Entering the industry is extremely easy so you can find all kinds of low or even free offers. But startups and small businesses have specific needs that can’t be met by just any provider. Namely:
– Fast servers
– User-friendly environment
– Ecommerce features
– Room for growth
– Helpful support
– Affordable price
The best choice for novice entrepreneurs is to find a premium provider that best balances these essential factors. New hosting clients often get lucrative discounts, so you can expect anything between $2.95 and $9.95 per month.
It’s good to also keep an eye for the renewal rates so you’re not taken by surprise once the initial deal expires.
The web server is your connection to the World Wide Web. It relies on the HyperText Transfer Protocol (HTTP) to pass the user requests from the web browser to the server itself and to sand back the requested resources (web pages composed of HTML, PHP, and JS or a video stream, for example).
A server can typically store one or multiple websites and all their data, components, and applications. This makes it an essential, or rather, the most essential part of web hosting services.
Computer servers need solid hardware to function. On top of it, the web server setup typically includes operating systems, network connectivity suites, firewalls, security and performance tools.
Hosting providers can split a web server so multiple clients can utilize its resources (shared hosting), or they can rent an entire server to a single user (dedicated services).
Shared and VPS hosting have one thing in common – one server is divided into portions and split between multiple users. The key difference is that the residents of the virtual private server are much fewer compared to the clients on a shared machine. This carries a few obvious benefits.
Fewer clients grant more resources for each individual user which helps achieve better speeds and overall performance.
VPS users are isolated in a way that neighboring accounts can’t harm other projects.
Virtual servers are more scalable and offer greater control and customization options.
Still, the shared environment is often much cheaper and the majority of hosting clients use this type of service.
Choosing the right hosting package is no easy task and should not be taken lightly. Instead of rushing into a decision, you’d better figure out a few answers by yourself:
Do you need a Linux or Windows environment?
How big is your website (going to be)?
How much do you know about hosting, i.e. how much extra support you might need?
Do you need any particular add-ons or software to run your project smoothly?
How much is your monthly hosting budget?
If you have the answers to all those questions you can safely contact potential hosts and check which one best meets your website requirements.
Bandwidth is one of the key elements of web hosting. It represents the maximum data transfer rate of a network connection. The more bandwidth your host allows – the more traffic your website can handle.
While some companies put caps on this resource, many of the best web hosting providers prefer to offer unlimited or unmetered bandwidth. This might seem perfect, but in reality such hosts often limit other assets so you will run into a wall long before you exhaust your allocated traffic.
Here is a simple way to approximately determine your bandwidth needs:
Bandwidth = Average daily visitors x Average pageviews x Average page size x Days in a month x Redundant factor*
*Average redundant factor is between 1.3 and 1.8.