What is Web Hosting? A Complete Beginners Guide

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What is web hosting and why do you need a host in order to have a website? First, a website is simply a collection of files and images on a computer. When you visit a website you’re making a “request” for that data to be delivered to your device.

But if the computer where you’re making the request to is turned off or broken, you won’t be able to access the website. Because of this technical problem, web hosting companies emerged as a way to provide fast and reliable hosting for companies and individuals by allowing you to rent space on an industrial strength computer that is on 24/7.

Web hosting companies have been very helpful to the growth of the internet by reducing the technical costs and management of getting a website online. You need a web host because the alternative is for you to run and manage your own server which is costly and complicated.

Web Hosting Terms Explained

In the web hosting industry there is a lot of terminology we forget beginners don’t know or understand. So here are the most common web hosting terms you will encounter when looking to purchase web hosting.

Server

A server is an industrial strength computer that stores the files for your website and is connected to the Internet 24/7. It also serves requests for data when people try to visit your website. Think of it like a flash drive. When you plug that flash drive into a USB port on your computer and open a file you’re making a request for that data from the flash drive.

With a server, it’s much the same with a server except on a much more complex scale. Your server has the websites files, a fixed IP address, and name servers defining that server. At the domain registrar where you registered your site, you simply define the name servers to that of your server.

So now when anyone goes to the IP address of your website or the name of your website a request will be made to the server where you files are and content will be delivered.

Disk Space

It’s like your hard drive. How much space do you have on your computer now? 100 GB of space? 200? Disk space is the same deal.

If you’re looking to build a simple site for your physical business, then you don’t need that much. If you’re looking to host movies and music then you need a lot more.

Bandwidth

Also known as bit rate. Data, regardless of wireless or wired travels in units called bits. The channel capacity of a device like a server determines the speed of the bit rate (ie how fast and how much bits you can access when making a request).

This is why it takes time to download a song rather than being instantaneous. Bandwidth is the measure of bits consumed per second.

MySQL Database

All you need to understand is that it’s database management software. It’s required to run things like WordPress, forums, and scripts.

SSL/TLS Certificate

Used to encrypt data (bits) during communication transfer. Think of like accessing this site. The data traveling from my server to your computer is not encrypted, it does not need to be as it’s not sensitive information.

Now think of inputting your credit card information to buy something. THAT information transfer you want and need encrypted. SSL and the newer TLS certificate are used for this purpose primarily by business.

Most hosts totday offer a free SSL certificate BUT you need to tell your host to activate it for you. Otherwise your site will simply be http instead of the more secure https.

Cpanel

C stands for control,  it’s software to help you manage your account on your server with an intuitive, visual interface.

Plesk

Plesk is an alternative to Cpanel. I recommend Cpanel for it’s ease of use. Why? Because it makes transferring your site easy if you ever decided to switch web hosts.

WHM

This stands for “Web Host Manager.” It’s software designed to manage multiple Cpanel (or Plesk) accounts on a server. You get WHM typical when you get hosting at the VPS level or above. In other words, when you have your own server, or virtual server you will typically have multiple websites (each with their own Cpanel account). WHM helps you manage these multiple accounts.

Domains Allowed

This term refers to how many domain names you can host on your account. Typically this feature is listed as “unlimited” for all but the most basic plans.

Types of Web Hosting

Now that you have a good understanding of the terminology associated with web hosting, let’s get into the different types of hosting you can purchase. In general, there are only a options when getting a web hosting account. Here are the most common you will see:

  • Shared hosting
  • Cloud hosting
  • Virtual Private Server (VPS)
  • Reseller hosting
  • Dedicated server

Shared hosting

Cheap affordable (and reliable) hosting. Perfect for someone starting out, or someone wanting to build 1 or 2 new websites. Shared hosting means that you share your hosting with hundreds of other websites on ONE server.

The costs are low because multiple websites (all of which get minimal amounts of traffic) are on one machine.Shared hosting is perfect if you’re launching a new website.

You have low amounts of traffic so it makes no sense to spend money on resources you’re not going to use. Also, you can always scale up as your website grows. For a more technical explanation for those who want to nerd out on shared hosting, check out the Wikipedia page.

Pros:

  • Shared hosting is perfect if you’re just starting out online and have no web traffic.
  • It has a low cost that allows for a low barrier of entry when creating a website.
  • It can accommodate a few websites and a couple of thousand visitors a month.
  • You can always scale up as your website becomes more popular.

Cons:

  • You have little control over your hosting account beyond the most basic functions (which is fine if you’re just starting out from scratch).
  • You’re sharing a server with hundreds of other websites. If one of those websites goes viral and gets tens of thousands of visitors it could affect the performance of your website.
  • You have limited control over what scripts you can install. Scripts are programs that software that automate tasks or add additional features like forums.
  •  Your web hosting account can get suspended if your website gets an excessive amount of traffic or uses a heavy amount of scripts. Ideally if your site goes viral because of Facebook, Twitter, or StumbleUpon you want your site to live. But if it’s hosted on a shared account your web host may pull the plug on your site.

Cloud hosting

When you purchase a cloud hosting plan what you’re buying are virtual resources that are spread across multiple computers that are acting as one. Cloud hosting has a lot of flexibility as your files and content are not one machine.

If more resources are needed because of a high traffic spike cloud hosting is great. It also has redundancy protection as multiple copies of your site are on multiple machines. So if there is a problem with one machine in the network, your content can easily be migrated to another machine.

In a nut shell, that’s cloud hosting.

Cloud hosting is very different and is typically the best option for new websites in my opinion. Where with other types of hosting like share hosting, all associated files are on one single machine that shares resources with other websites, cloud hosting however has your files spread across multiple computers.

Because of this, cloud hosting tends to be fast and reliable where a shared hosting account may be a bit less reliable (though cheaper).

Pros:

  • Cloud hosting is a little bit more expensive than shared hosting, but the performance is a whole lot better.
  • Excellent up-time. Where a shared hosting package might be slow because a site on the server got a spike in traffic or perhaps there was some tech issue. On a cloud host, sites are simply migrated to another machine.
  • Cloud hosting beats shared hosting in every way. Better speed, better performance, more secure.
  • Managed WordPress cloud hosting is available and is much better than a share hosting package. Managed means the hosting company takes care of all the technical upgrades and software on the back end. So your package functions like a shared hosting package where you have limited controls ( a good thing if you don’t know what you’re doing).

Cons:

If you do get a true cloud hosting package, you’re going to have to learn and develop some IT knowledge because you’ll be in complete control and also completely responsible for your virtual machine. It’s sort of like being given a motorcycle when you’ve have no idea how to even ride a bicycle. New software to learn, you’ll need to manage resources, updates and upgrade. This is what make a shared hosting account still a great option because it’s a “get it and forget it” option.

If you’re going to use a managed WordPress cloud hosting package you’ll be limited to what scripts and plug-ins you can use. Most managed WordPress plans will also restrict you to only using WordPress. So other scripts like forum software, Joomla or Drupal won’t be allowed.

Virtual Private Server

A virtual private server (VPS) is like shared hosting but on a much bigger scale. Instead of sharing a server with hundreds other websites like you do on a shared account, your website and your hosting account is but one of maybe 4-6 other hosting accounts on a server. Because of this, you get greater resources to your websites, you’re able to handle larger amounts of traffic, and you have more account control on the back end.

A VPS is the middle ground when you need more resources than the highest level shared account, but not quite the resources (and the cost) of a full on server. A rule of thumb is to get a VPS when your website is doing over 250,000 pageviews.

Keep in mind though, this is not always the case. E-commerce stores for example tend to need to scale up more quickly than a simple content driven website. Your web host will inform you when your website is starting to take up resources beyond your current account and what options you should begin looking at.

Managed VPS vs VPS

If you have no idea how to manage a VPS, get a “managed VPS” package. Managed means your web host takes care of the updates and security for your hosting account so all you have to do is manage your websites. If you just go out and get a non managed VPS on you’re own and it’s up to you to take care of security and updates. It’s more technical, so if that sound like something you would rather not do, get a managed VPS.

Overall, you should get a VPS as soon as you can afford it in my opinion. You can afford it when your websites are making $500+ a month. Again, for those who want to nerd out and learn more about a VPS here is a more technical explanation here.

Pros:

  • You are guaranteed a certain level of resources because you own a certain percentage of a server.
  • You’re account won’t be suspended like it can be on a shared hosting account that gets too much traffic.
  • You have almost complete control over your partition of the server.
  • VPS hosting is very powerful and can handle thousands of visitors a day,
  • You can resell a VPS hosting if you want to help pay for costs
  • You can get managed VPS hosting where a company manages your VPS for you by taking care of software upgrades.

Cons:

  • VPS is overwhelming for new users. If you’ve never managed a website before and have no experience; getting a VPS is a lot like getting a 1000 CC motorcycle that you have no idea how to ride.
  • New software like WHM to learn. It’s best to start with reseller hosting or shared hosting as a rookie because it gives you time to get comfortable with WordPress and Cpanel before moving onto more complicated setups where you have more control (not a good thing if you don’t know what you’re doing).
  • You need to configure your own nameservers. You do this buy buying a domain name and setting that domain name as your nameserver. With shared hosting or reseller hosting you’re given a nameserver.
  • VPS costs more.

Reseller hosting

Reseller hosting costs roughly the same as a VPS and is designed for you to resell the hosting to clients you work with. Say you’re making websites for clients – you could package a hosting account along with your design services.

Why would I do this instead of affiliate marketing for a web host?

It’s a great way for creative professionals to build recursive monthly income. Instead of getting one big commission, you instead get a small monthly fee from your clients. Functionally you’re building your own mini side business around providing web hosting.

As most reseller accounts start around $30, all you need to do is get enough paying clients to pay for that cost and some profit. If you got 30 clients to give you $12 each for a hosting account that would be $360 a month or $330 in pure profit in this example.

Why would anyone do this or need such an option?

It”s designed for professionals like web designers, programmers etc to be able to offer an added service to their own services. It’s also ideal for anyone who wants to undertake the difficult task of building a web hosting business by reselling the services of an already established web hosting company.

Can I just use reller hosting for my own websites?

Yes, you don’t have to resell the hosting but if you’re just going to host your own websites then it’s better to get a more cost effective hosting solution.

Dedicated Server

A dedicated server is simply a large, powerful computer you can rent from a web hosting company. It’s ideal if you have a high traffic website or websites (a million+ of visitors a month with a tremendous amount of bandwidth usage).

Is a dedicated server right for you when starting out? NO WAY. This is designed for business that are getting traffic and making money and can justify the cost of spending $90 or more on a dedicated server.

Pros:

  • A dedicated server is the most expensive and powerful level of hosting for all but the most popular of websites.
  • You get 100% of the resources dedicated to only you.
  • You have nearly complete control of your server. It’s your machine and you can do whatever you want.
  • Strong enough to handle tens of thousands of visitors a day.
  • You can resell hosting to others.

Cons:

  • Not for novice users. There is a big learning curve with using a dedicated server.
  • You need to setup nameservers.
  • Expensive, BUT if your needs are as such, you should be pulling in more than enough money online to cover all associated costs.

Dedicated serves come with WHM (web hosting management). Same as a VPS. It’s a program that is designed to give you control over your whole entire server including various cpanel accounts and what not.

In that order. I don’t want to have to fuss around with learning how to manage a dedicated server. Now, if you have a team of people running a website. Maybe you built a massive website and now have a dedicated tech guy, then sure. Perhaps a standard server makes sense, for most though a managed server is the headache free solution.

What is Web Hosting Conclusion

Hopefully this beginners guide to web hosting was helpful. By now you should have a broad understanding as to what web hosting is, the different types of web hosting you can purchase and why. As well as specific terminology you need to know when making a purchase decision. If you’re looking for a web host, checkout or best WordPress web hosting guide.