What is web hosting?
I am often asked ‘what is web hosting?’, so I’ve put together this simple guide to explain. I hope you find it useful.
Every website is made from series of files (code). When someone puts a website address into a browser, these files are downloaded and converted into the web page they see. These files need to be stored somewhere, so people browsing the internet can see the website, and this place a called a server.
Web hosting is when a business provides the technologies and space on their server for these files to be stored. The website owner pays a fee to the web hosting provider, usually monthly or yearly, and this fee will vary based on different server specs, features and services offered.
(Note: this is not the same buying a domain name, which can confuse some people, so here is a post about buying domain names, but read on to discover more about web hosting!)
The features of web hosting
There are lots of features you can look for when choosing a web hosting provider or plan, here are some of the options you should think about.
- Operating system – There are two types of server you can run a website on Linux (most popular) or Windows Server. This will depend on which programming language your site is built-in
- Disk space, memory, bandwidth – Your requirements for these specs will depend on the size of your site, features your site has or number of visitors at any one time
- The number of websites – This is the number of separate websites you can host on your account.
- Email – Look out for how many email accounts you can have and mailbox size and is anti-spam offered. We find using a separate email solution better, like Google G-Suite or Office 365 Business
- Free Migration – If you are moving your website from one hosting provider to another, some hosts will move the site for you, saving a lot of hassle and cost.
- Uptime – This is the time during which a server is operational. This time is sometimes measured in percentage.
- Support – Don’t underestimate good helpful support, it’s priceless. Having to wait for 24hrs for email-only support or 30 mins on hold when your website is broken is frustrating.
- Security – No one wants their website/emails hacked, so security is important. See what they offer, SSL certificates, PCI compliance, Malware Scans, password protection etc
- Backup – Problems do happen, so If your site gets hacked, human error or CMS/plugin updates break your site, check they do daily backups and how far back you can go.
- Scalability – If you suddenly have a spike in traffic or your business grows fast, it’s worth knowing if you can easily scale up the size of your server or have a power boost when needed.
What are web hosting features?
Now we’ve answered the question ‘What is web hosting?’, we can look at the types of hosting out there. There are many types, but we will go through the three main ones: Shared, VPS and Dedicated Servers.
Shared hosting is entry-level hosting and is simply a server that is shared by many websites. The number of websites on the server will depend on the hosting provider and costs. To keep prices low, hosts may have up to 1000 websites on one server. Think of it as the ‘McDonalds’ of hosting.
- Cheap as chips, you can pay as little £1 a month.
- Can be good for beginners who don’t need anything complex.
- The server is managed for you, so the host ais responsible for any server updates and patches
- If someone else’s website is hogging all the server shared resources (RAM, CPU), then all the other websites suffer.
- Shared hosting servers may have weaker security, because of delays in updates and patching.
- Limited features: disk space, email accounts etc.
- Poor support: as the monthly fee is so low, providers don’t really have much motivation to fix your problem straight away. You’re expendable!
I would avoid shared hosting if possible, as you get what you pay for. But if you have a static site that has low traffic and uptime is not a problem, this is maybe for you.
VPS (Virtual private server) hosting
VPS hosting is mid-level hosting between shared and dedicated. VPS server is basically a server running within a server. Your website still shares space with other websites on the same server, but it cannot exceed the resources it is allocated. Therefore, it is not affected by other websites on the same server go down.
- More reliable and stable than shared hosting.
- Better security than shared hosting – you’re not affected by other people sharing your server.
- Faster than shared hosting – this creates better engagement with customers and saves you time when making updates.
- Unique IP address – If one of your neighbours is a spam site or an adult site, this could mean having your websites google ranking pushed down or blacklisted.
- The server is managed for you, they are responsible for the server updates and patches.
- Lower cost than a dedicated server.
- Usually only 10-20 websites on the server, rather than 1000!
- Allows you to be more flexible with the customization of the server.
- Pricier than Share hosting, but worth it for reliability, speed and features.
We recommend VPS hosting for all our clients, it’s more expensive than shared, but well-worth it to make sure you have a fast, reliable and usable website. Here is an example of a site we built for Rosa’s Thai Cafe that has high traffic volumes, but really good download speed.
Put simply, dedicated hosting is when you have a server all to yourself. It is usually for high-traffic and resource-heavy websites.
- Most of the benefits of the VPS hosting.
- You don’t have to share any resources with other websites.
- Flexibility: you have total control to do what you want.
- NO security risks from other shared websites.
- Even more reliable and secure than VPS hosting.
- Unlimited Administrative Access.
- Better Performance.
- They cost a lot more than Shared and VPS
- There can be a steep learning curve compared to the others.
- If you have an unmanaged server, you are responsible for the server updates and patches, this can be dangerous if you don’t know what you’re doing!
- You need more technical knowledge
I would not recommend getting dedicated hosting unless it’s managed by your hosting company or you know what you’re doing. There are many benefits from them, but the cost can make it prohibitive. Our hosting services do include support for dedicated hosting where we manage the server for you. Contact us to find out more.
Hopefully, you now have a better understanding of web hosting.
Each type of hosting has its pros and cons, a lot of the time it comes down to:
- Your budget.
- Your website requirements, spec and features.
- Your level of expertise.
- How well you want your site to perform.
- Security and support.
As I mentioned before, I would go for VPS hosting if you can afford it. If you’re driving a Ferrari, you won’t be getting the best out of it, if you’re driving it on a dirt track and that’s the same website hosting. You spend a lot of money on getting your shiny website built, but you buy cheap shared hosting that slows your website down. We all know that fast websites mean happy users, they are more likely to stay on your website longer and engage with you.
It’s also important to think about how your business will be affected if your website is down for an extended period of time, but also how quickly your site is as well. Also, think about the other features/services hosting companies offer, we’ve found great support is a lifesaver at times, don’t underestimate it.