What is web hosting and why do you need it?

June 6, 2021

Web hosting is a service that makes your site or web application accessible on the internet. It’s also one of the most essential elements to consider when building a website. 

Web hosting is typically provided by web hosts, which are businesses that maintain, configure, and run physical servers that house websites. 

If you purchase a hosting plan from a web hosting service provider, it means that you rent their server space to store your website data, such as HTML and CSS files, media content, and other documents.

While web hosting might seem like a difficult topic to tackle, this article will help you better grasp its concepts and intricacies.

We’ll start by taking a closer look at how web hosting works. Then, we’ll overview some common types of web hosting and a few aspects to look for in a web hosting service. 

How does web hosting work?

As mentioned earlier, web hosting is offered by web hosts that rent out their computing servers. These companies also provide the software, services, and connectivity needed for a website to go live.

A server is a computer that stores and makes your web files available on the world wide web.

Although it’s possible to use any computer connected to the internet as a server, the configuration process can be complicated for most users. That’s why many website owners and businesses prefer to use a web host’s server space instead of having an in-house dedicated server

Just purchasing website hosting is not enough to make your site accessible to visitors, however. For people to find your website, you’ll need to acquire a domain name.

Domain names

(Image credit: Shutterstock)

Domain hosting

Domain hosting is a service that hosts and manages domain names. It’s provided by domain hosts, also known as domain name registrars.  

A domain name itself is the address of your website. Users type a website’s domain name in the address bar of their web browser to visit that site. 

A domain host uses domain name system (DNS) records to connect your domain with your site’s internet protocol (IP) address – a unique address assigned to a physical server, which usually looks like this: 168.221.236.204.

IP addresses help computers identify each other online, but it’s challenging for humans to remember and use these numbers to access a website. Thanks to DNS, people can load a site on their browser without knowing its associated IP address. 

Aside from acting as a website address, a domain name can also be a tool to support a site’s branding – it’s the first element that people see when visiting a website. Thus, it’s crucial to spend some time picking a domain name that suits your project or business.

Here are a few tips for choosing the right domain name for a website:

  • Pick a short name that is easy to remember
  • Ensure a domain is easy to spell and pronounce
  • Stick with a popular top-level domain (TLD) like .com
  • Refrain from using numbers and hyphens
  • Utilize domain name generators to get more domain name ideas

It’s also possible to buy a domain name from web hosts that also offer domain registration services, such as Hostinger, Bluehost, and GoDaddy. You can look up already existing domains using search tools provided by ICANN or WHOIS.

Purchasing a domain name from your web hosting company lets you manage both services under one account. Thus, there is no need to worry about changing the nameserver settings for your domain.

Why is web hosting important?

Web hosting companies are responsible for maintaining and keeping their servers running 24/7, ensuring great performance for the websites they host. For online business owners, having a site with outstanding uptime can help maximize sales and improve user experience.

Additionally, using a web hosting service can improve a site’s search engine optimization (SEO). The web host you choose can affect your site speed, one of the critical factors when search engines like Google rank web pages. 

Purchasing a web hosting plan is also more efficient than having an in-house dedicated server – website owners won’t need to spend time maintaining physical hardware or spend money to hire a developer.

Many web hosting providers also offer an intuitive control panel. This tool lets website owners easily control their site and hosting service, manage domain names, install applications, and upload website files.

Types of web hosting

There are various types of hosting services available, including shared, VPS, cloud, reseller, WordPress, and dedicated hosting.

Each hosting type caters to different needs and choosing one will depend on several factors such as the type of your site, technical knowledge, and budget.

To find which hosting service is the best choice for your website, let’s look at the overview of the most common hosting types.

Shared Hosting

Shared hosting is a type of hosting where a single computing server hosts numerous websites. This service is a popular option for starter websites since it usually offers cost-effective hosting solutions coupled and is relatively easy to use.

The number of sites that a single shared server can host might range from dozens to hundreds. These websites share the same server resources, including disk space, random access memory (RAM), and central processing unit (CPU) power. 

Users will also share the same main directory – a folder that stores web content and other files – but they won’t see each other’s data since they have no root access to the server. 

Not having root access, however, means that a website owner will be restricted from performing specific tasks, such as modifying the server-wide configuration files or installing software they need for a particular project.

A shared hosting solution usually provides many features, including a site builder, databases, FTP accounts, and other additional tools included by the web hosting provider.

Also, shared web hosting providers will take care of your server configuration and handle server tasks like updating software and security tools. This helps you to focus on building and growing your site rather than maintaining it. 

This type of hosting is simple and straightforward to set up, so it won’t take much time to get started.

With this service, website owners can also install and host multiple sites on a single account, which is excellent for handling numerous site projects. However, the number of websites they can manage on each account will depend on the web hosting service provider and plan they choose.

Here are some other reasons to consider a shared web hosting service: 

  • Low maintenance – the web host will take care of basic server maintenance tasks and monitoring activities so that website owners won’t need to worry about the technical side of hosting.
  • Cost-effective – since multiple users utilize the resources on a single web server, server maintenance fees will also be equally distributed. That’s the reason why most shared hosting plans have relatively low costs.
  • Support dynamic websites – a shared web server can run programming languages such as PHP, Perl, and Python to create dynamic websites. Some examples of dynamic websites include eCommerce stores and social media platforms. 

There are also a few negative aspects to consider before purchasing a shared hosting plan, such as:

  • Vulnerable to security issues – website owners will share both resources and vulnerabilities to hacking attempts when using this type of hosting. If a hacker takes down the entire server, all websites on that same server will be affected.
  • Unstable site performance – high traffic surges on the other websites you share a server with can also slow down your site.

If you plan to build a blog or a small business website, you should consider choosing this hosting type. This service typically comes at affordable prices and is very beginner-friendly.

VPS Hosting

Virtual private server (VPS) hosting is a type of web hosting service that hosts several accounts on a single server but provides dedicated resources for each of the users. 

With a VPS, website owners can deploy their own operating system (OS) and software. This is because VPS hosting service providers use a hypervisor to install a virtual layer on top of their server’s OS, splitting the server into multiple partitions.

There are two types of VPS hosting – unmanaged and managed.   

Using an unmanaged VPS means you’re responsible for configuring and maintaining the server yourself. You also need to perform various tasks such as monitoring security threats, installing and upgrading software, and backing up services. 

For instance, if you want to build a WordPress website, you also need to install server-side technologies like Apache or LiteSpeed.

Since using unmanaged VPS requires users to run and maintain a server themselves, it’s a good choice for web developers or website owners with a technical background.

As for those with no technical knowledge, a managed VPS plan will be more beneficial – the web host will be the one who maintains and keeps the virtual server running. 

However, managed VPS plans usually cost higher than unmanaged VPS solutions. 

Regardless of the VPS hosting type, consider this service if you want a more reliable service than shared web hosting.

With VPS hosting, website performance won’t be affected by the activities of others on the same server. Since each account will have its own server space and storage allocated, users won’t compete for computing power.

These are other reasons why you should consider using a VPS:

  • Root access – users will have access to their root environment, meaning they can modify the server and install any software that suits their hosting needs.
  • Highly scalable – it’s easy to scale a VPS web hosting plan up and down without interfering with the functioning of the server. 
  • Secure – website owners have more control in securing their server, such as adding additional security tools and putting up firewalls. Using a VPS also minimizes the risk of a site being impacted by hacking attempts intended for another user on the same server.

You should also consider these negatives before getting a VPS hosting plan:

  • More expensive – this service costs more than shared hosting as it offers better performance and more flexibility over your resource limits.
  • Requires technical knowledge – running a VPS is more complex compared to shared hosting – it demands a technical understanding of server management and command lines.

VPS hosting is an excellent service for those that require total control over their server environment and do not want to rely on other users.  

If you want to use a VPS but have no technical knowledge, consider hiring a developer to keep the website running smoothly.

Cloud Hosting

Cloud hosting is a type of hosting that utilizes multiple web servers to ensure maximum performance and uptime. 

Compared to the other types of web hosting plans, this service offers exceptional availability as it is capable of distributing web files across several virtual servers. Cloud web hosting also handles traffic surges much better by using the other web servers for untapped resources.

Many cloud web hosting services include simple server management, allowing users to quickly scale and keep track of the hosting metrics such as data transfer, disk usage activity, and CPU utilization.

There are more advantages to using cloud hosting, such as:

  • Safe from physical server issues – when using a dedicated server, your website can go down immediately if there is a sudden increase in traffic, a hacking attempt, or hardware failure. With cloud hosting, however, if one physical server stops working, another server will automatically start hosting your website, keeping it up.
  • Backup and disaster recovery – cloud web hosting can automatically back up web files, reducing data loss risk.
  • Scalable – this service can grow your resources to fit your current needs without being limited by physical hardware. 

There are also some negatives to consider with cloud web hosting:

  • High cost – cloud hosting plans are more expensive than shared and VPS web hosting services. Many web hosts offer cost-effective cloud web hosting plans.
  • Confusing prices – some cloud web hosting service providers let customers pay for only the resources they end up using. However, this makes it hard to estimate the actual costs of using this service. 

Cloud hosting is a suitable option for medium to large-sized businesses that demand high performance, bandwidth, and uptime. 

This service is also excellent for website owners who receive huge traffic volumes, which tend to slow down their websites.

What to look for in a web hosting service

Before purchasing any of the hosting services, it’s also essential to look for a web host that offers the best features for your site. 

Here are the key aspects to consider when choosing a website hosting provider:

Speed

Site speed can affect user experience – around 40% of visitors expect a website to load in no more than three seconds and leave the site if it takes longer than that. 

Make sure to choose hosting companies that offer fast servers, which can increase your website speed. 

GCP Ping

(Image credit: GCP Ping)

Also, look for hosting service providers with data center locations close to your visitors since it will help make your web pages load faster for them. Check out tools such as GCP Ping to measure how distance impacts loading speed.

Performance

Pick a reliable web host that comes with an uptime guarantee, promising that the provider will keep your site accessible online for a certain percentage of time. Many companies in the web hosting industry offer 99.9% uptime.

Also, look for a hosting option with uptime monitor tools that can alert website owners in the case of downtime.

Security

Site owners should choose a web host that provides the necessary security features to keep their websites safe. 

Keep in mind that the security tools needed will also depend on the type of your website. For example, if you create a WordPress site, it can be helpful to have a spam prevention tool to remove unwanted comments on your page.

Make sure your hosting service provider offers SSL certificates to protect data and visitors’ personal information. 

Add-ons

Sometimes a website needs additional tools or services to improve its functionality. 

Thus, choose a web host that offers a wide range of add-ons such as antivirus software, email accounts, content delivery networks (CDN), or extra bandwidth and storage.

Support

For beginners who have no web development experience, opt for hosting service providers with 24/7 support. This allows website owners to get assistance from experts when a technical difficulty arises.

A web host should also offer an extensive knowledge base or educational blog to help users learn about different web-related topics. 

Cost

Remember that hosting is an ongoing cost, so it’s essential to spend time researching a service that offers the best value for your money.

If you’re still unsure about purchasing a hosting service, try to find a web host that comes with a money-back guarantee. This gives you a chance to test the web host’s performance and ask for a refund if you’re dissatisfied with the service.

The web hosting provider you choose should also offer room to grow, allowing you to upgrade to a plan with more resources without affecting your site performance.

Frequently asked questions about web hosting

After getting to know several important aspects of web hosting services, let’s look at some commonly asked questions about website hosting.

Do I really need web hosting?

You need web hosting to store your web files and make your website available on the internet. In addition to that, purchasing a dedicated server is expensive and impractical. 

Hosting your website on the web host’s servers lets you focus on more important matters, like producing great content and driving traffic to your website.

How much does web hosting cost?

The prices of web hosting services depend on the provider and the type of hosting you choose. 

For instance, if you plan to create a blog, then a shared hosting plan should suffice. The average price of shared hosting plans ranges from $2 to $7/month.

Which web hosting is best?

The best web hosting for you relies on your budget, skill set, and the type of website you aim to build. For example, a large online store with thousands of visitors per month has different hosting needs than a portfolio website with less than a hundred visits.

Let’s see which web hosting is the best for you to get started with:

Web hosting is a must for any website

Anyone who wants to build a website needs web hosting to store their website’s files and make them accessible for visitors worldwide. 

There are different types of hosting to choose from, and the right option for your project relies on your budget and preferences.

Here’s a quick recap of the three common types of web hosting:

  • Shared hosting – it’s easy to manage and has cost-effective plans, making it an excellent choice for beginner and personal websites.
  • VPS hosting – offers dedicated resources for each user. It’s an excellent option for small to medium-sized businesses that have outgrown the resources of a shared hosting plan.
  • Cloud hosting – it’s suitable for fast-growing business websites that expect consistent performance.

Since there are so many web hosting service providers out there, make sure to look for a hosting company that comes with fast servers, an uptime guarantee, security tools, a variety of add-ons, 24/7 support, and reasonable prices.

We hope this article has helped you better your understanding of what web hosting is and why you need it. 

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