Why do you need web hosting?
If you’re new to the whole process of running your own website, it might not be clear why you need to have a domain name and web hosting to get your site online. We’ll try to cover some of the questions about web hosting that you might have as a beginner in this guide:
Why do you need web hosting?
When you register your own domain name this doesn’t automatically include all the features needed to put your own website online. Your domain registration may include some free services like the ability to create a free email address or forwarder, but to use your domain name to put a website online you’ll need web hosting.
Websites and webpages are made up from a collection of files that work collectively to create documents that you can view using a web browser, computer or mobile device. To get a website online, you need to have a computer connected to the internet to store the files that make up the pages of the site. This computer is referred to as a web server, as it functions to serve webpages over the internet. Some websites will also store information in databases and require a connection to a database server as well as a web server.
Whilst it’s possible to put a website online using your own computer equipment and home internet connection - it’s usually not practical to do so. Due to the hardware, software, network and other technical requirements to reliably host a website it will usually make sense to use a web hosting provider to host your site.
What is web hosting?
Web hosting is the service of making websites always available online to many potential visitors. This service will provide access to upload webpages and other files to a space on an internet connected computer (web server) – this is often referred to as webspace. This service also allows you to link your own domain name to a webspace, to make your website and uploaded files available to access over the internet.
Features of a web hosting service
Most web hosting services will provide other features in addition to webspace. This could include: email services, access to website building applications and various other add-on features that can come in handy for creating and managing your website. We’ll cover some of the features and terminology you might encounter when comparing the features of different web hosting services here:
- Amount of Webspace
- Email Addresses
- Data transfer
- Application installers
- PHP / Perl / CGI
- Databases and MySQL
This defines the amount of disk space allocated for you to store your website files on a web-server. This will usually be defined in either MB (Megabytes) or GB (Gigabytes).
Web hosting services will often include the ability to create email addresses using your own domain name. The number of email addresses you can create and the amount of disk space allocated for each mailbox will vary between different web hosting plans.
Data transfer refers to the amount of data that can be transferred to visitors accessing your websites on the internet. Some web hosting services will put a daily or monthly limit on the amount of data that can be transferred from a website – this could result in a site being unavailable after receiving a lot of traffic.
Many hosting services will include one-click installation options for applications used for creating web content. This could include popular web design platforms like WordPress.org and Joomla, or other applications like shopping carts, wiki or forum applications. The application installer will publish all the files needed to run the application to the webspace for a domain and automatically carry out the setup and installation of the application.
FTP (file-transfer-protocol) is the protocol used to transfer files to an online server. Web hosting services will usually provide FTP login details to allow for websites to be published to a web server and to facilitate downloading backups of website files.
SSL (secure-sockets-layer) is the protocol used to access websites securely with an encrypted connection over HTTPS. This allows for a padlock icon to be displayed alongside the address bar in a web browser when accessing a website.
PHP, Perl and CGI are types of programming language used to add dynamic elements to webpages. These languages allow for programs to be executed on the web-server for a site – this is often referred to as server-side-scripting. Programming languages like PHP allow for websites to be connected to databases and add other functionality that isn’t supported with static HTML pages – like the ability to send an email from a contact form on a webpage for example.
Web applications will often require a connection to a database to store the data required for the features of a dynamic website to function. Applications like WordPress use databases to store posts and page contents, comments and settings. MySQL is a type of open-source database system that is commonly used with web applications.
Different types of web hosting
There are various types of web-hosting services, we’ll cover some of the different types of hosting service below. If you are running an online business; your web-hosting requirements are likely to grow as your site starts to become more popular and generate more traffic. It’s important to understand how this might affect the performance of your site and the costs associated with hosting of the website.
Shared hosting means that your website is hosted on a server shared by many other websites. Whilst it means that you won’t have full access to manage the configuration of the web server, this is usually the perfect solution when starting out, as your site won’t need the full resources of a web server and you can take advantage of the lower costs of hosting a website in a shared environment.
Virtual server (VPS) and Cloud hosting
Virtualisation technology allows for one powerful web server to host multiple virtual servers that share the same physical hardware. If your website has started to outgrow shared hosting, this is usually the next step to increase the server resources available to your site.
VPS (virtual private server) hosting services will usually provide root access (full admin privileges) to the operating system of a virtual server. This allows for the web server to be customised as required and provides access to install software that may not be supported in a shared hosting environment.
Cloud hosting services also use virtualisation, but rather than relying on a single physical machine, cloud hosting involves the use of multiple networked or clustered physical servers to run virtual server instances. The benefit being that if hardware components fail, it won’t result in a failure of the hosted virtual servers, as the virtual servers can continue to use resources from the pool of remaining physical servers.
Dedicated Server hosting
Dedicated server hosting is a service where a client leases an entire server that is not shared with anyone else. The hosting provider would be responsible for maintaining the hardware and network connectivity for the server whilst the administration of the server would usually be the responsibility of the client – the exception to this would be with managed server hosting services where the host provider also offers system administration as a service in addition to leasing of the server hardware.
That’s it, you should now have a basic understanding of what web hosting is, why it’s required and the different types of web-hosting and some of the features they may include.