What is Web Hosting? The Beginner-Friendly Explanation
Every day, more and more of the world’s commerce is conducted online. People sell software products, video training, physical products, and everything in between. An essential part of online commerce, no matter which form it takes, is a working website.
There are many moving pieces when it comes to getting a website online. A domain needs to be purchased, hosting needs to be arranged, the website should be designed and built, and marketing commences. This guide will focus on one piece of the puzzle – web hosting.
Web hosting is often confused with other things like domain registration, website builders, etc. While those platforms may also offer web hosting, they’re different things. Web hosting is a service that stores your website files on a server and allows you to publish your content online and under your control. Website owners rent this space for months or years and the hosting company takes care of most configuration settings related to keeping the website operating optimally.
How Does Web Hosting Work?
The process of hosting a website is complex to implement and get right but it’s straightforward to understand. As mentioned earlier, a web host is a company or service that stores your files and allows website browsers to access them via the internet.
After signing up for a web host, you can install software and upload your files to their servers. These servers are powerful physical computing devices which have been preconfigured with the necessary code and settings to display your website files. When a browser types your website’s URL or clicks on a link, their computer connects to the server hosting your website files. Once the connection is complete, the necessary files are sent from the server to your visitor’s browser and displayed for them to interact with. Even though all web hosting works in more or less the same manner, there are multiple types of hosting that will impact site performance and what company you choose to work with.
Types of Web Hosting
Not all web hosting is created equally and not all web hosting services are the same. Some are ideal for smaller websites and others are designed for large websites getting a million visitors a month. Others are best for software applications and a few are perfect for running content management systems like WordPress or Joomla. Keep in mind that there is no such thing as the best type of hosting, only hosting that fits your needs.
Shared hosting is the entry-level hosting plan and is best for smaller sites that don’t have advanced needs or use large amounts of resources. Platforms like HostGator offer generous shared hosting plans that don’t require much technical knowledge.
As the name implies, your website is hosted on a server with multiple websites. All of the server resources are shared and no website is supposed to consume more than a certain percentage of resources (this varies by the host) for an extended period of time.
Shared hosting is beneficial because it reduces the cost of hosting a smaller website and allows you to get online with minimal upfront costs. Its major drawback is that if you have a spike in traffic or your website grows rapidly then performance and speed will go down a proportional amount. If one of the other websites on the server grows in the same way then it can also impact your website’s performance. This is known as the bad neighbor effect.
There are no hard and fast rules about how much traffic a shared hosting service can handle. For example, IONOS has shared hosting plans that can handle up to 500 visitors a minute. HostGator has unmetered bandwidth. As a rule of thumb, if a website gets less than 25,000 visitors a month then shared hosting should work well.
VPS hosting (virtual private server)
VPS hosting is similar to shared hosting because multiple websites are using server resources. The difference is that there are fewer websites sharing the same server. The server is also partitioned so that each website has a dedicated amount of computing resources. This prevents the growth of one website from negatively impacting the performance of other sites.
In addition to the virtual partitioning, VPS gives more control over how the server is configured. It’s possible to install more software applications or run custom scripts. Many VPS are preconfigured but if you have technical experience or access to the right people then configuring it yourself can be a clear advantage. Like shared hosting, there is no hard and fast rule about when you should switch but it’s ideal for sites getting 40,000 – 100,000 visitors a month or if you have a larger hosting budget and want to avoid the bad neighbor effect.
Dedicated hosting is one of the most powerful and expensive types of hosting. Instead of sharing resources with other websites, a single server is dedicated to your website. This improves speed and performance drastically. You can configure the server to your needs and ensure it runs at optimal efficiency more often.
It’s important to note that a dedicated server takes more time and energy to maintain. The hosting company will allow you to make changes to the server to your heart’s content – as long as those changes aren’t malicious. You’ll be the one to install updates, handle bugs, sort out glitches, etc. It’s not something that should be taken on if you or someone on your team doesn’t have experience with it. Like the other types of hosting options, there are no hard and fast rules when it comes to making the switch. With that being said, you should have at least 100,000 monthly visitors – usually more – before the expense is justifiable.
Cloud hosting is relatively new on the scene and flips the old hosting paradigm on its head. Instead of sharing a single server amongst multiple sites, cloud hosting shares multiple servers for a single site. Each remote server may support a different service for your website.
This allows you to adjust your resource utilization up and down as needed. If there’s a spike in traffic from being featured on CNN then you can adjust resources up. If the spike passes then you can adjust the resource usage down.
Another benefit of cloud hosting is inherent security. Since your website is hosted across multiple servers and you can provision or remove resources almost instantly then if one server is compromised, it’ll be difficult to knock your website offline because there are multiple backup servers. Cloud hosting can be used for websites of all sizes because you can scale up or down at will. One of the challenges users experience is opaque pricing. You’re often billed by the minute or for data transfer so it’s difficult to know your exact monthly bill beforehand.
WordPress is the most popular content management system in the world. Because so many websites use it, hosting companies like Web.com have created services that are optimized for WordPress installations. It can be shared or managed hosting but both of them will perform better than their counterpart that’s not specific to WordPress.
WordPress hosting can be scaled to accommodate sites of any size. The advantage is that the servers have been configured to run WordPress at peak performance. It also helps you keep the necessary scripts up to date and it adapts to updates from the WordPress team much faster than standard hosting companies.
There are many web hosting companies out there that offer different services. This guide has gone through what hosting is, how it works, the major types of hosting, and who it’s ideal for. If you’re not interested in sifting through multiple types of hosting to determine the one that’s best for you, consider using a managed service like Squarespace or Wix. With those platforms, it’s much easier to get started with hosting a site. If you do have the time and energy to sift through the types of hosting to make the best choice for your situation, consider using a host like IONOS, HostGator, or Web.com.