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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 How To Build A Linux Web Server With An Old Computer [Part 1] How To Build A Linux Web Server With An Old Computer [Part 1] Read More , or even within Windows on your main computer How To Set Up Your Own WampServer How To Set Up Your Own WampServer Read More .

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 Top 7 Easy and Free Web Hosting Services Top 7 Easy and Free Web Hosting Services Read More , 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 Run Windows Faster On Your Mac With Parallels Desktop 6 [Giveaway] Run Windows Faster On Your Mac With Parallels Desktop 6 [Giveaway] Read More . 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

  1. Liveforfood
    March 21, 2011 at 1:36 pm

    is this about a website or a blog? the article flips back and forth throughout. I'm looking to get up a website, not a blog. not sure how much of an overlap there is between what is required and needed for each.
    That being said, without wanting to be overly whiny, great job of defining basic terms and outline strengths/weaknesses of various categories of web hosting. In this, main, area - you've done a great job and thanks for that.

    • James Bruce
      March 21, 2011 at 1:49 pm

      Hi liveforfood, thanks for the comment and it's a very good point you bring up. In fact, I would argue though that the boundaries between a "blog" and a "website" as such are increasingly blurred. For instance, WordPress is rapidly becoming a full-blown content management system but remains seen as only for blogs. Looking at it like that, I think there is technically no difference between WordPress and any other "website". The sites are develop for clients all now run on a wordpress backend, but we customize them to the point that they are no longer recognizable as any kind of blog, and the content is mostly static.

      I added in a quick note about Blogger because of an editors request to include another free service in the article, so inevitably blogger was the first service to come to mind. To be honest, I think if you are looking to develop a non-blog website, then you wont be interested in free services anyway.

  2. Very Discount Code
    March 2, 2011 at 8:00 am

    Hey, it’s interesting article. You’re starting a blog, head straight to a shared hosting account. It may cost a little, but it will save you so many headaches down the line

  3. James Bruce
    February 17, 2011 at 4:23 pm

    Good point Curious, I'll bear that in mind for a future article. This was meant as a "Technology Explained" article, which means we explain tech and internet concepts rather than give a hands-on how-to.

    I think we might have covered budgets hosts before, actually.

    Certainly, for beginners and hobbyists who just want to have a go at website building, GoDaddy is a more than suitable option. I hosted my sites there for about a year, and before that I was using Siteground shared hosting for a few years before that.

    But I stand by what I said that beyond a very basic level, a VPS is a much better option. For someone like me who owns about 20 low-traffic sites, a VPS is really the only option.

  4. Randy Dickey
    February 16, 2011 at 3:40 pm

    Shared hosting comes in a wide range of flavours, the most frequently seen (and marketed) variety being those who offer 'unlimited' everything for a few bucks a month. Clealy the business model is to simply amass volume, which is where you end up with thousands of sites on a single server and get 10 second wait times. There are shared hosting models that are still very affordable but are actually managed to ensure no one server is allowed to be overallocated. Unless you site is merely a hobby, avoid unlimited hosting sites and find someone who actually balances the load by placing appropriate restrictions on how many sites are going to be shared on a single shared service. You can then attain reasonble response times and still keep the costs affordable, until such time that you truly require the investment needed to get a dedicated server. If you choose the right host, they can also easlily help you make that transition when the time comes...

    • Curious
      February 17, 2011 at 3:01 pm

      In theory, it would be great if you could easily distinguish between the terrible shared hosts who cram every possible site onto as few resources as possible and the responsible hosts who do meaningful load balancing. But if you simply ask the vendor, they'll all tell you they do load balancing. You also can't go by the raw number of sites on a host--I'd rather be on a server with 100 shared sites that only generate 1 hit per month than on a server with 3 shared sites each commanding a million hits per month. ... The other big factor in this whole discussion is that there are a LOT of people who are building VERY low-volume sites (for families, schools, hobbies, even brochure-ware for small or SOHO businesses). I would assert that more than 90% of sites fit into this category. For those people, paying $50 a month is ridiculous. With a monthly bandwidth measured in M-bytes, you'd like to find a hosting company that won't yank your chain, that provides maybe a cPanel of some kind, and for very little cash outlay. It's fashionable to beat up on Godaddy, but for small sites and vanity domains ... it might fit the bill perfectly. I'm not saying it's perfect for everyone, but I am saying that the small-site builder got short-shrift in this article. ... Frankly, the sysadmins who are building sites at the level of makeuseof should be WAY beyond the advice in this article (although it was certainly interesting to hear what is used here). But for the DIY faithful, I was hoping for a bit more "HOW TO" for the lower end of the Web site world. Like a list of quality hosting lists, or a list of favorite hosts, or a forum that can be relied upon to give quality assessments or reviews, or even a strategy for quizzing the vendor or finding info on the Web hosting service. (Just my 2 cents)

      • James Bruce
        February 17, 2011 at 3:23 pm

        Good point Curious, I'll bear that in mind for a future article. This was meant as a "Technology Explained" article, which means we explain tech and internet concepts rather than give a hands-on how-to.

        I think we might have covered budgets hosts before, actually.

        Certainly, for beginners and hobbyists who just want to have a go at website building, GoDaddy is a more than suitable option. I hosted my sites there for about a year, and before that I was using Siteground shared hosting for a few years before that.

        But I stand by what I said that beyond a very basic level, a VPS is a much better option. For someone like me who owns about 20 low-traffic sites, a VPS is really the only option.

  5. Eobinyan
    February 14, 2011 at 4:02 pm

    Paid hositng is fairly affordable for anyone who is really serious. A host like Godaddy comes to about $6.00 a month ( or two cups of coffee). Butit will do you well to have a 24/7 customer service when you have technical issues as a novice. Also, most paid hosting companies have few clicks to install most content management systems such as wordpress and joomla or even ready made html templates and shopping carts as well. If you are technically challenged and not that web savvy a paid service will yield you much benefit down the line .

  6. Eobinyan
    February 14, 2011 at 5:02 pm

    Paid hositng is fairly affordable for anyone who is really serious. A host like Godaddy comes to about $6.00 a month ( or two cups of coffee). Butit will do you well to have a 24/7 customer service when you have technical issues as a novice. Also, most paid hosting companies have few clicks to install most content management systems such as wordpress and joomla or even ready made html templates and shopping carts as well. If you are technically challenged and not that web savvy a paid service will yield you much benefit down the line .

  7. atonnet
    February 12, 2011 at 12:01 pm

    What about a hosted service like SquareSpace? Looks like they provide decent flexibility and could be a good starting point for someone who's not very tech savvy.

    • James Bruce
      February 15, 2011 at 2:28 pm

      Yes, SquareSpace is also hosted and scaleable to deal with traffic spikes, but we decided not to include it as it isn't free (unlike bogger and wordpress). I agree it's a good service for non-tech savvy, but with the free alternatives it is hard to justify the added expense.

  8. Perez Studios
    February 7, 2011 at 6:51 pm

    I have been using dot5hosting for some time now and havent had any real big problems. I have them hosting my WordPress site and I do all the work on it. All they do is collect the payment every two or three years. I have run into a problem last year when I upgraded my blog and completely wiped out everything. Good thing I had saved the posts locally so all I had to do was reupload them.

  9. Billy
    February 7, 2011 at 9:00 am

    Very clear explanation. I agree with starting out with at least shared hosting. However, IMO 10 second load times will lose you more subscribers than being a subdomain.

    • James Bruce
      February 7, 2011 at 9:31 am

      Very good point, I suspect it did lose me many subscribers.

  10. James Bruce
    February 7, 2011 at 10:34 am

    Hmm, I'm not convinced. Like I said, best to skip the free route and get a service that actually works and allows you to expand. If someone literally just wants to practice and has no intention of taking it anywhere, then WordPress.com would be fine. You can be sure that your ISP won't you host much more than static HTML files (though I must admit, I've never even considered the idea).

    In fact, if my ISP is advertising "free 10mb webspace!", then I would probably discount them altogether!

  11. Andrei
    February 7, 2011 at 7:45 am

    I see nothing about AWS. Would that qualify as a Virtual Private Server?

    • James Bruce
      February 7, 2011 at 9:30 am

      It would indeed, but bear in mind that Amazon are not a specific "hosting" company, and hence give you little in the way of tools and control panels (such as plesk) to set up sites - you will literally just get a virtual computer, which you must install your own webserver OS onto. So, not recommended. Best to leave Amazon to handle your content-delivery (images, javascript files) when the site grows.

  12. Mrclose
    February 6, 2011 at 9:08 pm

    I would recommend that anyone starting out should look to their ISP's.

    You are usually alloted 'at least' 10 to 20 megs of website hosting space to use as you please.

    For instance .. Verizon allots 10 megs of webspace if you are one of their dsl subscribers and I'm almost sure that other providers do the same.

    Plenty of space to practice on.

    • Aibek
      February 7, 2011 at 5:29 am

      10 megs is way too little considering the average size of a decent looking screenshot/photo is about 100 KBs. Not really sure how someone can make use of those 10MBs :?

    • James Bruce
      February 7, 2011 at 9:34 am

      Hmm, I'm not convinced. Like I said, best to skip the free route and get a service that actually works and allows you to expand. If someone literally just wants to practice and has no intention of taking it anywhere, then WordPress.com would be fine. You can be sure that your ISP won't you host much more than static HTML files (though I must admit, I've never even considered the idea).

      In fact, if my ISP is advertising "free 10mb webspace!", then I would probably discount them altogether!

  13. Mrclose
    February 6, 2011 at 10:08 pm

    I would recommend that anyone starting out should look to their ISP's.

    You are usually alloted 'at least' 10 to 20 megs of website hosting space to use as you please.

    For instance .. Verizon allots 10 megs of webspace if you are one of their dsl subscribers and I'm almost sure that other providers do the same.

    Plenty of space to practice on.

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