Web hosting. Image credit: Flickr
Web hosting. Image credit: Flickr

Also called hosting, web hosting is taking a website or web page online so that the general public can see it. There are several aspects to creating a fully-functional, active website and web hosting is one of them. The other aspects are domain name registration and designing the site itself. Firms offering web hosting services are called web hosts and they host websites on special computers known as servers, which are stored in data centers.

Web Hosting Elements

There are several aspects to web hosting which includes servers, bandwidth, CPU, disk space, software, data transfer, support, security, etc. Most importantly, a web page should have a unique domain name or a registered web address. A server stores all the hosted website files (text, images, videos, etc.). The server is maintained by the host in a data center, which is a physical space that provides a safe and secure environment for servers.

Disk space is the space for storing a website’s files. Bandwidth is basically the maximum data that could be transferred at any given time. Data transfer is the amount of information that can be transferred during a given period. If bandwidth is a road, data transfer is the number of vehicles using the road in a day. More bandwidth means a wider road, which means more vehicles can move by.

The lower the bandwidth, the slower the website loading speeds. Even visitors who use a high-speed Internet connection would not be able to load websites with low bandwidth any quicker. Generally, most hosting plans offer unlimited bandwidth. But if a plan offers limited bandwidth and if the limited resource gets exhausted quickly, the website may go offline.    

FTP Connection

The web pages or files are sent and stored on the server using file transfer protocol or FTP connections. Getting a website live or hosting it on a server requires an active FTP connection, which helps transfer the website’s files from the site owner’s computer to the web host’s server.

Once these files are transferred to the server, the website or web page is ready to be viewed online. When a website is launched on a computer using a web browser, the computer connects to this special server and delivers the website via the browser. FTP can also be used to download web files from the host server to backup website files.

Types of Web Hosting

  • Free Web Hosting

Free web hosting, as the name suggests, is a free hosting service that’s ideal for personal, smaller websites. Free hosting costs money to the web host, who recovers it and also manages to make a profit by displaying advertisements on the hosted website(s).

  • Shared Hosting

Shared hosting entails a particular physical server getting shared by different websites. It’s inexpensive and the most popular way to host a website. Most sites on the Internet are on the shared hosting plan, and almost all sites start on shared hosting. The hosting plan suits small sites or blogs that have fairly limited number of visitors per day.

  • Dedicated Hosting

Also called dedicated server, dedicated hosting is the holy-grail of web hosting. It’s the most powerful option and ideal for well-established web properties or sites that see several thousand users on a daily basis. For all the power and reliability, dedicated hosting is expensive – probably the most expensive of all hosting options.

  • Cloud Hosting

Instead of one physical server, a cloud hosting setup depends on multiple physical servers that are connected to each other through the cloud. The various interconnected physical servers work as one powerful virtual server.

  • Virtual Private Server Hosting

Also called virtual dedicated server, virtual private server (VPS) hosting is a type of hosting that lies between dedicated and shared hosting. VPS hosting entails sharing a dedicated server, but the number of users sharing the server is much lesser compared to traditional shared hosting. In other words, a much bigger server portion is offered to each site.

  • Colocation Hosting

Colocation hosting is for businesses that want their own servers positioned in a third-party data center for increased safety and enhanced performance of the servers.

Choosing a Web Host

Not all web hosting services are the same. They may differ in their quality of servers, web technologies incorporated, security measures, customer support, etc. Fortunately, there are more than a handful of web hosts. But picking a host should not be based just on the service provider’s reputation. Individual hosting requirements should be considered too. That said, there are a few key things that should be looked into when zeroing in on a host.

  • Uptime

Uptime indicates the time a website is up and running, or accessible whenever it’s being accessed through a browser. Usually, most reputed web hosts provide at least 99.99 percent uptime guarantee. The remaining 0.01 percent represents server downtime whenever maintenance work is carried out. It also accounts possibility of power outages and accidents.

  • Disk Space

Disk space is the space allocated by a web host to store a particular site’s information. The total disk space a website needs cannot be determined right off the bat. News websites or sites updated daily would need more disk space than sites updated weekly or monthly. The type of data also matters. Plain text would require little space. Images, video and audio files would need more space. For a small website, disk space more than 15 GB should suffice.

  • Bandwidth

If a site is mostly text-based, then 1 GB of bandwidth should be fine as texts don’t take up lot of space. A site that also has images uploaded would need 2 to 4 GB. It’s recommended to opt for unmetered bandwidth where the web host doesn’t charge extra for every additional byte used over the limit or denies visitors access to the hosted site once the set bandwidth has been exhausted. Hosting plans that penalize sites for exceeding the allotted bandwidth should be avoided at all costs.

  • Backup

Servers are no different from regular computers. Probably, the only difference is they are much larger in function and capacity. This means even servers could get hacked, experience disk failures, etc. leading to loss of data. A web host should offer database and file backup service. Some host firms do backups every 24 hours.

  • Customer Support

Good hosts don’t just offer quality service and support in their adverts but also in practice. They should be accessible through different modes. Contacting the web host on the provided contacts before signing on the dotted line could give an idea on how good the customer support team is and save a great deal of pain later.

  • Customer Feedback

A good web host should predominantly have happy or content past/existing customers. These are people who can potentially offer insights based on personal experiences. Such real customers are easy to find on online forums. Some may even come up with detailed write-ups about their experience with a particular host. That said, it’s important to keep an eye out for individuals who may be paid to praise a web host or come down way too hard on a particular web host.

  • Other Aspects

Some of the other important aspects of a good hosting plan are scalability, refund policies, etc. The ability to upgrade the hosting plan whenever a site becomes popular and sees more traffic than before is referred to as scalability. Certain growing online businesses would also need an extra domain or subdomain or more with time. Hosting individual domains separately can be cumbersome and also expensive. A web host must ideally offer the ability to host multiple domains with a single hosting account.

Things Not to Consider When Looking for a Web Host

There are quite a few things that do not signify a lot or could be misleading about hosting plans. When shopping for web hosting, the following should be given least credence:

  • Price

Price should never be the major determinant when shopping for web hosting. A cheap hosting plan is not necessarily sub-par in quality and service. Similarly, an expensive hosting plan is not always equivalent to top-notch quality. If pricing is misleading, it’s best to choose plans offered by highly-rated and well-reviewed companies. Once the hosting options shortlisted are reliable and trustworthy, picking the most inexpensive of the lot is fine. If saving a few dollars is imperative, looking for plans that can be couponed-down is recommended.

  • TV Adverts

Adverts have invariably always been misleading, and the advent of the Internet has made ad networks even more encompassing and vicious. Of all types of advertising, TV ads are the most expensive and time-consuming to make. Web hosts that advertise through TV commercials cannot realistically offer an inexpensive hosting plan as their costs would be higher. But if such web hosts still come up with cheap hosting plans, it’s most likely they didn’t invest much in hosting technology and/or customer support.

  • Freebies

Quite a few web hosts try to up the attractiveness quotient of their plans by bundling in free software that most people won’t use. And if one or two turn out handy enough, those could be trial versions. There is nothing bad about a hosting firm promoting freeware, but since most of them aren’t useful tools, it is important not to choose a plan purely based on the freebies on offer.

Is Self-Hosting an Option?

Generally, when people talk about web hosting, they’re invariably referring to hosting a site on a third-party server. The server is usually taken up on rent. There is also the option to buy the server and host it in an external data center. Though rare, some buy their own servers and position them on their own premises. Though possible, this is not the most sensible thing to do.

Self-hosting a site requires robust infrastructure and good amount of tech knowledge. The infrastructure would entail server computers, 24/7 security and maintenance, seamless power supply, etc. And to set up such an infrastructure, it costs serious money. If an individual or business is not planning to start a web hosting business of its own, a third-party web host is always the best way to host a site.