Web Hosting Basics- How Web Hosting Works-

Getting web hosting is a crucial part of having a website live on the internet. The “hosting” aspect of web hosting is a service that companies offer where they’ll store your website’s files, which can then be accessed by a web browser.

These files are essentially stored on a giant computer, known as a server.

If that sounds a little complex, don’t worry; by the end of this post you’ll have a better understanding.

Below you’ll learn about web hosting basics, the benefits of using web hosting, the different kinds of hosting available, and finally, the things you should look for when choosing a web hosting company.

What Is Website Hosting?

When you purchase a web hosting service you’re essentially buying yourself space to store your website’s files. These files can then be accessed by a web browser, in order for your website to be live on the internet.

Web hosting is offered by various service providers who have the necessary technology to properly store your site’s files. By signing up for a hosting service you’re essentially renting space on a server that their web hosting companies own and manage.

Since most people or even businesses don’t have servers of their own, they rent out server space from a third-party web hosting company.

A server is a physical computer that runs 24/7, so your site’s files can always be accessed without interruption in service. These servers are loaded with the necessary hardware and software that your website needs to function.

Your web host is responsible for things like server maintenance, security, and running the right software, so the files on the server can be readily accessed by a website browser, like Google Chrome or Firefox.

How Does Web Hosting Work?

Your website is just a collection of different files. When you create a website you need a place to store all of these files. That place is your hosting company’s server.

On this server, you’ll store your website’s media, files, databases, and anything else required to properly render your website. Exactly how much storage you have will depend on the hosting plan you choose (more on this below).

If you’re just getting started online, then you’ll probably just be renting a portion of a server that you’re sharing with other websites. As your storage and traffic needs increase, then you may need to scale up to renting an entire physical server—or at least using the resources of one, with a cloud or VPS server.

When you sign up for a web hosting package you’ll usually get access to the server via a solution like cPanel. This makes it easy to upload your files to the server. Or, you can install a CMS like WordPress to easily build out your site.

In order to have a fully functioning website, you’ll also need  to register a domain name. Once you purchase this you’ll point it towards your server, which lets the web browser know that this is where your files are located.

Then, when a person types in your domain name or clicks on a link to your site, the web browser gets the files from the server and displays them for the viewer. All of this should happen in a few seconds or less. If this process takes too long, then you either need to speed up your website or consider switching hosts entirely.

Web Hosting and Datacenters

Web hosting and datacenters get confused a lot. They’re kind of the same thing. But, technically, they’re different. The term web hosting refers to the service you pay for that hosts your website’s files, so they can be displayed on the internet.

The most crucial element of a datacenter is the network of servers. A server is actually kind of similar to the desktop computer you might have sitting on your desk, only they’re more powerful.

The term “datacenter” refers to the actual technical infrastructure used by the hosting company to provide the hosting service. Beyond servers, this will typically include things like backup supplies, security measures, connection devices, air-cooling systems, and a lot more.

Different Kinds of Web Hosting

Most web hosts will offer various forms of hosting packages. Each type of hosting will cater to different website needs. For example, a site that gets millions of visitors per month will have different requirements than a site that was built a few weeks ago.

Here’s a breakdown of the most common forms of web hosting packages out there today:

Shared Hosting

Shared hosting is easily the most common form of hosting. It’s also probably the most suitable style of hosting for a lot of website owners. With a shared hosting plan, you’re sharing the physical server environment with dozens to hundreds of other websites. And sometimes even more.

However, the server is partitioned, so your site is secure from other websites using the same server. Since you’re effectively splitting server resources with other users of the same server your costs will be very low.

Websites that have low to moderate traffic levels will be fine using a shared host. Since this is the most beginner-friendly option you’ll be able to manage your hosting environment, install a CMS, setup email, and a lot more, all without any technical skills.

VPS Hosting

Do you know what VPS hosting services are? VPS stands for Virtual Private Server. This style of hosting relies upon something called “virtualization”. This allows you to use the resources of multiple different servers, but it all acts like it’s a single server. So, essentially you can tap an entire network of servers and scale those resources up or down as your needs change.

A VPS server acts like a dedicated server, but you’ll still be using servers that are shared with other users.

VPS hosting can be great for website owners who want the resources of a dedicated server, but don’t have the budget for one. VPS hosting can be cheaper and more flexible.

Cloud Hosting

Cloud hosting is a relatively newer form of hosting. However, it’s risen quickly to become one of the premier forms of hosting available today. In case you don’t know what cloud hosting is, it’s when your website is hosted on multiple different servers simultaneously.

The physical servers are partitioned into cloud clusters. This is beneficial because if one of the servers becomes overloaded, then the traffic will be automatically routed to another cloud server within the cluster.

With cloud hosting, you get an extremely reliable form of hosting. Plus, it’s very flexible and can be scaled up or down in real-time, so you only pay for the server resources you’re currently using.

Dedicated Server Hosting

Dedicated hosting is exactly like it sounds.You’ll get access to the resources of an entire physical server. Dedicated hosting is generally the most expensive as you’re not splitting server costs with other websites (as you do with shared hosting).

This style of hosting is usually reserved for websites that either receive a very large volume of traffic or require a unique server configuration. Since you have access to the entire server you’ll be able to run whatever software configuration your website requires.

With dedicated hosting, you’ll get incredible performance and enhanced security. However, you might need the technical skills, or the team behind you, to effectively manage your server environment.

Beyond dedicated hosting, you also have the option of managed hosting. Where you can have the hosting team help to manage and optimize your server for you.

WordPress Hosting

If you run a WordPress site, then you’ve probably come across WordPress hosting. You can easily run your WordPress site on multiple types of hosting environments. But, you also have the option of WordPress managed hosting, which is completely custom-tailored to the WordPress platform.

If you have a pretty small site and you’re not getting much traffic, then you probably won’t notice a difference in performance. But, if your traffic levels are increasing and your site only continues to grow, then you could see a decent improvement in performance.

Even if you are sharing web server space you’ll be sharing that space with other WordPress sites, so the server will be uniquely configured to get the most out of it.

Beyond improved performance and server optimization, this type of web hosting is also important for your overall security. By only running WordPress it’s much easier to protect against attacks that specifically target the WordPress platform. Not only that you’ll have a team of skilled experts behind you who are working to optimize your site, and the servers it runs on.

Why Do I Need Hosting?

You might be thinking: if website hosting is just a collection of servers (which is essentially a computer), couldn’t I just host my own website?

Technically, you could. But, unless you’re an experienced webmaster whose just using their own server for personal projects, it’s more of a headache than it’s worth.

Here are a few reasons you don’t want to self-host your own website:

  • You’re responsible for power outages. If the power goes out in your neighborhood due to weather or a fallen tree, then your website will go down as well.
  • Your internet probably isn’t fast enough. When you pay for internet the speeds are usually measured by the download speed. But, when you’re hosting a website your biggest concern is upload speed. Even if you have super high download speed, your upload speed probably won’t be fast enough.
  • Regular maintenance can be a hassle. Running servers is no joke. Most hosting companies have massive IT teams that tend to server issues, both on a hardware and software level. If you’re running your own server and it breaks, then you’ll have to diagnose the issue, order any parts, and fix it yourself. All the while, your website will be offline.
  • Your IP address isn’t stable. Your home internet connection probably uses a dynamic IP address, which means that it changes over time. You want a static IP address, so the IP address always remains constant. This is usually only something your hosting company can provide.

Here’s how a web hosting company solves all of the above issues:

  • They have power backups. The power supplies at web hosting companies are not only always on, but they have backup generators to ensure your site stays online, even if power is cut to the main datacenter.
  • Incredible speeds. Web hosts are equipped to handle millions of concurrent visitors across their server network.
  • A dedicated maintenance staff. Maintaining a network of servers is no joke. Most web hosts have a dedicated team whose sole job is to keep the servers running with the latest hardware and software components.
  • Finally, you have a static IP address. This means that your IP address will remain the same for the length of time you use the same hosting company.

As you can see, you need a web hosting service if you want your life to be easier, and you want higher performance and safety for your website.

What to Look for in a Web Host

Every web host isn’t created equal. The host you choose will have a dramatic impact on how your site performs, its uptime, and your overall site management experience.

Here are some of the factors you’ll want to look for when choosing a web host.

For starters, you’ll want a host that actually offers the kind of hosting you need, and is within your budget. Sure, you might want to opt for the highest level of WordPress hosting available, but if you’re just building out your first site, then a general shared host will be fine.

Beyond that, here are some specific features to look for:

  • Bandwidth/Traffic – Your bandwidth is the amount of traffic you receive each month, along with the number of pages each person views. You’ll typically want to select a web hosting plan that can support your maximum bandwidth needs.
  • Storage – Website files are generally pretty small, but if you’re storing a lot of user data, videos, or other media, then you’ll need to make sure the provided storage is sufficient.
  • Uptime – Most hosting providers will list their uptime as a percentage. It’s typical to have 99.9% uptime. But, some websites might require 100% uptime.
  • Email accounts – Usually, your web hosting provider will allow you to create a domain associated email address. Some hosts will provide this for free, while others will charge you.
  • FTP – FTP lets you upload files directly from your computer to your server. You might not require this function, but some users will demand it.
  • Support – It’s always good to know that a support team has your back. Look for a quality support staff that goes the extra mile to ensure any issues are solved in a timely manner.

Closing Thoughts

Hopefully, by now, you have a better understanding of what web hosting actually is, how it works, and why you need it. So next time you ask yourself why web hosting is important, refer to this article and think about all of these benefits. The best part is you don’t have to understand all the intricacies of a web hosting package to actually use it.

All you need to do is decide on your hosting provider, pick a web hosting plan, and start building your website. The more time you spend in the backend of your web server, the more your knowledge will improve, and the topics above will start to come to life.

Kevin Wood writes about technology and human potential. You can find him at his virtual homes Wooden Writing and Counter Culturist.