The Various Forms Of Website Hosting Explained [Technology Explained]

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what is web hostingEvery website on the Internet needs to be stored somewhere, and that’s what we refer to as “hosting“ – but what exactly does that mean? With so many different ways of hosting your site, it’s easy to get lost in the internet tubes. Let me guide you through some of the many ways you can host your own website, as well as how much it’s likely to cost (if anything), and the advantages and disadvantages of each.

If you’ve been meaning to start a blog, but find the choices overwhelming and the jargon mind-boggling – or maybe you just want to satisfy your technological curiosity about how the Internet works – then read on.

What Is Web Hosting Anyway?

A website host is really just a computer that is on all the time and connected to the Internet. When you visit a website, you’re downloading some files from the machine that stores that particular website. The truth is that any computer can be used to host a website, even the one you are using now – but the computers used by professional hosting companies are incredibly powerful with lots of hard disks and memory, highly optimized to deliver the website files to thousands of readers simultaneously. The machines are stacked up high, and there are no keyboards, mice or monitors to be seen.

So – You Need A Website Host?

There are various ways of hosting your website, so let’s take a look.

Hosted Services

The first and simplest kind of hosting is creating a sub-website within a larger site, usually for a specific application like a blog. There are so many hosted services on the Internet, but here are some specific blog examples, all free:

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WordPress.com – Free, but your blog will be hosted at a URL such as myblog.wordpress.com (unless you pay a premium for your own domain). You will get to choose from a restricted set of blog themes and plugins, and generally can’t do anything beyond the basic setup.

Blogger.com – owned by Google, Blogger gives you a little more flexibility with regards to writing your own theme code, but the plugin selection is limited and the Blogger branding is everywhere. Frankly, there is a reason WordPress is top – but it’s good to have a choice anyway.

Advantages:

  • Simple to set up and get started.
  • Generally good speeds as the company is specialised and good at what they do.

Disadvantages:

  • Very little control over the technical side of things. Non-approved plugins not supported, although Blogger is a little more flexible.
  • Portability: If your blog does get popular and you have a subdomain from a free hosted service, then moving to your own host later becomes difficult and you’re liable to lose some of the fans you’ve built up when the domain changes.

what is web hosting

Self-Hosted

If you want to go the DIY free route, then it is in fact entirely possible to host your own website at home, on your own Internet connection – but you should be aware that most ISPs don’t approve of this and it may be in violation of your terms of service, so do check first.

We’ve written a few guides before on how to self host a website on a spare computer, or even within Windows on your main computer.

Advantages:

  • As much computing power as you have to throw at it.
  • The ultimate in freedom to do whatever you want with your site.
  • Free.

Disadvantages:

  • A fairly high level of technical knowledge, or the patience to learn.
  • The speed of your website will depend upon the upload speed of your internet connection, which is both slow and very limited. Bear in mind that any upload traffic you use to host your site will also count toward your ISP’s monthly quota, if they have one.

Shared Hosting:

So called because you share a hosting server with thousands of other websites that are also stored on the same computer. Shared hosting is the budget option – prices and packages vary greatly – most will come will a free domain name registration and so called “unlimited bandwidth and storage”, but don’t be fooled. Shared hosts rarely allow anything other than basic web files – so you can’t use that unlimited storage to backup your computer, for instance.

Perhaps the most famous budget shared host is GoDaddy, with plans starting at $3 a month. There are also lots of free shared webhosts, but you really do get what you pay for.

Advantages:

  • Budget, and a great way to start out with your own custom domain.
  • Easy install options for popular blogging and forum web apps that mean you don’t need a lot of technical knowledge.

Disadvantages:

  • Incredibly slow.
  • Anything beyond a basic blog will get warnings from your host regarding CPU and memory overusage.

what is a web hosting company

Virtual Private Server & Dedicated Servers:

These are the top 2 levels of website hosting, and mean you get the whole server to yourself. The difference between Virtual Private Server (VPS) and Dedicated Server is that a Dedicated Server is a single, physical system which you essentially “rent” inside of a data center. A VPS is a single, virtual machine – similar to the way you can use Parallels to run a virtual machine inside of your OSX install. MakeUseOf is hosted on a dedicated server.

My personal recommendation for a VPS or Dedicated server is Media Temple. Their VPS starts from $50 a month, while dedicated servers start at $750 (yes, you did just read that right).

Advantages:

  • (Nearly) Unlimited domain hosting.
  • The fastest hosting available (just to illustrate, I recently moved my iPadBoardGames site from shared hosting to a VPS, and the page load time dropped from an appalling 10 seconds to under 2.5 seconds).

Disadvantages:

  • High level of technical knowledge required.
  • Expensive.

what is web hosting

Starting Out

If you’re serious about starting a blog, I really suggest you skip the free route and head straight to a shared hosting account. Yes, it may cost a little, but it will save you so many headaches down the line – and there is a psychological effect that if you’re actually paying for it, you’re going to put more effort in. When the time comes to upgrade – then you can easily migrate to more a more professional solution. The learning process is one hell of a ride, so what are you waiting for?

Image Credits: Shutterstock 1 and Shutterstock 2

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