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Web Hosting Tutorials and Reviews
Everything you need to host a website, from choosing a web host company to managing your control planel and making your site live. Learn all about hosting before you buy!
How Do I Host My Website?
If you wish to start your own website, the first thing you need to do is get it on the web. How do you do this? By hosting it. But what exactly does this mean?
The Internet is simply millions of computers around the world, all connected to each other. When you retrieve a web page or your email, you are actually accessing a computer somewhere in the world. So, in order to create a website to show up on the Internet, you will need to have it on a computer that’s connected to the web, using special software designed to host a website.
You can actually use your own computer to connect to the Internet. However, this is technical, as you not only need to know how to configure the server software on your computer, you have to maintain it, make sure it’s secure and on all the time. On top of that, your site will likely be slower because people will access your website based on your Internet connection.
Instead, it makes much more sense to have somebody else host it. There’s hundreds of web hosting companies out there, and all you have to do is sign up for an account. The company takes care of all server details, power, security and connection infrastructure (which will usually be several times faster than a typical home connection.)
Once you’ve signed up, you’re live! You now have several options, which will be discussed in other articles – you can buy a domain name for people to find and type in, and you can either build your site by learning html (the computer language used to create a website page) or installing a program that will let you simply type text into a box and click “Publish” (like WordPress.)
Note that you don’t need a web host to publish on the web. You can also create an account at one of numerous companies and publish pages there. Companies such as Blogger (owned by Google) and WordPress allows you to create an entire site for free. Other sites, such as Flickr, allow you to publish images for friends and family to view.
It’s all up to you, and your budget. If you want a distinctive domain name and your own website, sign up for a web host. If you simply wish to publish your thoughts or experiences (a blog) or your images, you can sign up for free at one of several online companies.
The Basics of Web Hosting
So, you’re looking for a web host, but you’re not sure what you need. That’s okay, some of the terms are confusing at best, and misleading at worst. We’ll take you through the basics of web hosting, some of the most popular types of hosting plans, and help you decide which is best for you.
We’ll start from least expensive to most. The plan at the lowest price point may not be the best for you, so find out exactly what you will need.
Without a doubt, shared hosting is the most popular type of plan, by far. What this means is that a web hosting business rents out a portion of their computer’s hard drive and resources for you to use. You pay only a couple bucks a month for quality hosting. The trade off is that you share your site’s storage space and bandwidth with many others.
Because shared hosting is the most popular type of hosting plan, every web hosting company wants your business. This is where some misleading advertising can take place, so research the company first to make sure you’re getting what you pay for. This mainly has to do with so-called “unlimited” hosting space and bandwidth.
In actuality, space and bandwidth is so cheap that 99% of websites will never have a problem, so you’ll likely never have to worry about your plan’s usage. However, if you have a very popular site (we’re talking about hundreds of thousands of visitors a month), the “unlimited” aspect may suddenly become a phone call from the hosting company politely informing you that your usage is higher than average.
If the hosting company has good customer service, they’ll simply offer you a “business” shared hosting plan. Companies with less than stellar service will simply cut you off.
Some companies will have “business” plans, which is basically shared hosting with more features, a larger share of hard drive space, bandwidth and speed. You will (should) also get priority support if your site goes down, since you are a business (and being on the web equals making money.)
Some companies will differentiate themselves by offering cluster hosting. What this means is that instead of your website, email and database residing on one computer, it resides on several machines linked together. Theoretically, this should allow for faster speed and less chance of failure due to one computer.
For larger websites, dedicated is likely the way to go. Instead of sharing a single hosting computer with dozens (or even hundreds or thousands) of other websites, only you are on it. All space, resources, speed and bandwidth is yours. Of course, the cost will be substantially more.
There are actually two types of dedicated hosting: managed and unmanaged. Managed dedicated hosting means that the hosting company is responsible for all server security, upgrades and maintenance. Unmanaged is if you have an employee who can remotely handle all this.
Virtual Private Server (VPS)
Between shared and dedicated hosting is VPS. This is special hosting software that takes one physical computer and divides it into several closed hosting accounts. This way, you own a small chunk of web storage, resources and bandwidth, but you can act as if you control the entire computer. This is great for a medium sized business who does not need nor have the budget of several hundred dollars a month for dedicated hosting
You actually buy your own web server, and give it to a hosting company to connect. You are basically renting server space without having to worry about the security and infrastructure needed to have a 24/7 host. It’s similar to dedicated hosting except that you own the computer. You are also able to configure the computer any way you like, upgrade hard drives, memory, etc. You also have to maintain it. The hosting company only provides reliable power, air conditioning, the connection, security, etc.
Whether you just wish to have a website for your family’s picture or you’re a huge multi-national corporation, there’s a hosting plan right for you. Now that you know, it’s time to set up your website!
What is Web Hosting?
The Internet is nothing but a vast connection of computers located all over the world. These computers are mainly banks of web servers in a secure building, and are owned by web hosting companies. These companies (like Hostgator, Bluehost, Network Solutions and Rackspace) then rent space on their servers to you, the customer. At the same time, they will also sell you their bandwidth, which is the information that flows from one connection to another (think of it as traffic on a highway – this highway needs to be maintained – thus the costs of bandwidth is factored into the price.)
Along with web hosting companies, private individuals (like yourself!) can set up a server as well, for all the world to see. However, along with the technical knowledge of doing so, you are also responsible for security and maintenance. Large companies, as well, will have in-house teams of server specialists to house their website and networks.
You likely do not wish to host your website at home, nor do you wish the expense of having a dedicated team (such a specialist makes well over $100,000/year … perhaps I should have gone into that business!) You likely wish to have another company host your site, so the only thing you have to think about is updating your content and nothing else. This is what most people and small businesses do.
Not all Hosting Companies are the Same
Now that you know what a web host is, who do you go with? There’s hundreds of companies out there vying for your attention, and to make matters worse, thousands more are resellers – that is, they actually rent large chunks of space from one company and pass it off as their own company – not a horrible thing, but I myself would like to know exactly which company actually owns the web servers.
Here’s what to look for when shopping for a web host:
Do they own their own servers? Though it’s not a given, the company’s About Us and Contact Us page should give some indication where they and their servers are located. Do they have technical staff? A phone number?
Are they a reseller? There’s nothing wrong going with a reseller (heck, I’m one!) – these are people who have a more expensive hosting plan, and sell it to clients. In my case, instead of sending my web design clients packing to find a host, I offer to host it on my reseller plan. That way, I can easily update their site and do any server maintenance that happens from time to time. However, I let them know what the actual company is (in Canada, I use Cartika Hosting, and in the US, I use Hostgator or Liquidweb.)
Potential problems can arise if a reseller makes himself look like a large web hosting company. This happened to me years ago before I knew the concept. I had six clients with what I thought was a solid hosting company, when it turned out to be some teenager who signed up with a reseller package. Either he became bored or couldn’t pay his bills, but he let his reseller package lapse. Instantly, all six sites disappeared off the Internet. I never did find out what happened with this guy, but I very quickly learned what a reseller was!
So, make sure you do your due diligence and research.
In another article, I’ll talk about different types of packages for your website. You have the choice of sharing space on an individual server with several others, renting an entire server for yourself, or actually buying a server and physically giving it to a hosting company for them to maintain. There’s other types (the esoteric sounding “cloud hosting” which involves your site actually being on several locations at once), as well as becoming a reseller.