Web Hosting 101

Web Hosting 101Before you can find the right web hosting company that would be a good home for your website, it would be helpful to at least have a basic understanding of the commonly used terms and in the hosting industry. So if you're wondering about things such as...
  • What does "bandwidth" mean?
  • Do I need a dedicated server?
  • What's the difference between shared hosting and VPS hosting?
...then you may want to review the information below for a brief crash course in web hosting.

Web Hosting

A web hosting company (or simply “web host”) is a type of internet service provider which enables individuals and organizations to make their websites accessible to all other internet connected computers via the world wide web.

For a fee, hosting companies provide space to clients on a server (a computer which “serves” websites). In most cases, the server is owned by the hosting provider, but can be physically located anywhere in the world. The web host also provides internet connectivity via a data center where the server is housed. A host may also provide an interface or control panel for managing a web server and website programs.

Most hosting companies will provide a home to any website that offers content that is considered legal in the jurisdiction where the web host is based. Some web hosts specialize in certain software or services such as ecommerce hosting, blog hosting, or WordPress website hosting.

Web Server

A web server is an internet connected computer that handles client requests for web pages. Web servers typically run software (such as Apache) to provide services. The term “web server” can also refer to a software program that handles requests and provides access to different facilities. The two most popular software web servers are Apache and Microsoft Internet Information Server (IIS).

Disk Space

Disk space is the amount of storage space offered by your hosting account provider for stored data such as web pages, images, audio, video, email etc. The amount of disk space varies with hosting plans and hosting companies. Many web hosts now offer plans with unlimited storage space.

Bandwidth

Bandwidth is the amount of data or “network throughput” that can be transferred from one point to another in a given time period (usually one month). This data can include html files, images, audio/video, emails, and any other files that are stored in your web hosting account.

The higher your bandwidth, the larger amount of traffic (visitors, or requests) your site can handle at one time. Bandwidth will affect your page load time. If your hosting account is low bandwidth, your website page loading time will suffer during high traffic times. Web hosting plans usually have a specific bandwidth transfer limit. If you need more bandwidth, you may be able to simply upgrade to the next plan offering more bandwidth.

Domain Name

A domain name is a unique, human-friendly alphanumeric internet site identifier that can be converted into an IP address by the domain name system (DNS). Domain names are used to identify one or more IP addresses. Domain names are used in URLs to identify particular web pages. For example, in the URL http://WebHostingCheapskate.com/web-hosting-101, the domain name is WebHostingCheapskate.com.

Domain names are not case sensitive. WebHostingCheapskate.com is the same thing as webhostingcheapskate.com (However, the file names after the domain name ARE case sensitive.) Every domain name has a unique suffix (such as “.com” or “.net) indicating the top level domain (TLD) to which it belongs.

Domain names are registered by companies known as domain name registrars. When you want to acquire a new domain name, you can either do it through a domain name registrar, or directly through your web hosting company when setting up your hosting account (when available). In some cases, a web host will offer one or more free domain names as an incentive to sign up with them for a new hosting account.

IP Address

An IP address (or “IP number” or simply “IP” ) is short for “internet protocol address.” An IP is a a unique string of numbers and dots that identifies each individual computer connected to the internet. Here’s an example of an IP address: 208.80.152.201

Very often, web sites on the same web server will share an IP address as it is cheaper to host a site using a shared IP address. However, as a website grows in size and popularity, it is usually a good idea to obtain a dedicated IP address for that website.

Operating System (OS)

An operating system (OS) is software that manages computer hardware and software resources and provides common services for computer programs. The operating system is an essential component of the system software in a computer system. Application programs usually require an operating system to function.

There are different types of operating systems. The two most popular for web hosting plans are Windows or Linux. Linux is the most popular operating system for web servers and offers more features that web designers and programmers expect and require. Unless you have websites or applications which require the Windows operating system, Linux is recommended.

Control Panel

A control panel is web-based software provided by your web hosting company that helps you manage and monitor your hosted sites. Windows servers and Linux servers use different kinds of control panels. Popular control panels include:

  • cPanel – Available on Linux-based hosting plans, such as shared, VPS, reseller, VPS and dedicated Servers
  • WHM – Web Host Manager is available on Linux reseller, VPS and dedicated servers
  • Plesk – Available on Windows shared and dedicated servers

SSL Certificate

SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) is a standard security technology for establishing an encrypted link between a server and a client — typically a web server (website) and a browser. SSL allows sensitive information (e.g., credit card numbers) to be transmitted securely.

SSL certificates are small data files that digitally bind a cryptographic key to an organization’s details. When installed on a web server, it activates the padlock and the https protocol (over port 443) and allows secure connections from a web server to a browser. The SSL certificate helps protect your website and your visitors’ information from malware, theft and hackers. 

Many web hosting packages come with either a shared or private SSL certificate for the website, and is usually an option if it is not included. SSL is a good idea for any website, but critical for ecommerce sites and any site that requires visitors to enter personal information.

Hosting Uptime

Uptime refers to the amount of time, as a percentage, that a server is online, operational and functioning properly. Uptime is never 100% due to a variety of factors that can potentially disrupt the flow of bits from the server to a your visitor’s browser. However, despite this, most reliable hosting companies are able to maintain a 99.9% uptime.

Many web hosting companies advertise an uptime guarantee to make their service appear better. But in many cases, this is a false sense of security as uptime is difficult to track and prove.

Live Chat Support

Web hosting companies offer customer support via one or more of the following:

  • Telephone
  • Email
  • Live chat

Live chat support is a customer service feature where you can reach a web company’s customer service via a text dialog box over the internet in real-time. The participants of the chat session type in the questions and responses, and the messages appear on the screens of the participants. Chat is useful because it is quick, links can be shared, and the conversation can be saved for later reference.

Money Back Guarantee

Many web hosting companies offer a “satisfaction guarantee” or “money back guarantee.” This is a guarantee from the hosting company that if you are not satisfied with their service, they will return what you have already paid and cancel your account.

Some companies have a 100% money back guarantee that only applies to hosting charges, or for shared accounts. Domain name fees are not usually refundable. Fees paid on dedicated plans are usually subject to a different refund policy than those paid on a shared plan. Time periods also vary, usually from 30-90 days.

Please remember to read the fine print before you sign up for any hosting account.

Web Hosting Coupon Code

Web hosting companies occasionally provide online discount coupon or “promo” codes as incentives for new customers to try their services. These coupon codes are typically valid for a limited time and for specific hosting plans. WebHostingCheapskate.com is updated daily with the latest web hosting coupons.

Database

A database is simply a document or system that archives and records sets of data and information. In web hosting terms, the data is in a structured format stored on a web server. The most popular type of database is a relational database. The most common query (information retrieval request) language for a relational database is SQL. Linux-based hosts typically include a MySQL database, and Windows NT-based hosts usually include Access or MS SQL databases

MySQL

MySQL is the most popular open source database for web sites and online applications. It offers cost-effective delivery of reliable, high-performance and scalable web-based applications, including all five of the top five websites. In addition, MySQL users are able to benefit from its advanced features and sophisticated management tools, enabling developers to easily deploy and manage MySQL applications.

Subdomain

A subdomain is a domain that is part of a larger domain, and is used in cases where you want to organize your site structure into sections with short, easy to remember names. Larger websites frequently use subdomains to point to another server to help reduce the load on the main “www” website. For example, for this website:

http://www.WebHostingCheapskate.com

…if the “coupons” section is normally located at http://www.WebHostingCheapskate.com/coupons, we could set up the site using a subdomain for this section here:

http://coupons.WebHostingCheapskate.com

Hosting packages may or may not include the ability to use subdomains. The number of subdomains per hosting account may vary as well.

Shopping Cart

A shopping cart is a web-based software program that allows web site visitors to select and purchase products from an online catalog. Upon checkout, the software typically calculates a total for the order, including shipping and handling charges and any taxes. Many web hosts with ecommerce plans offer pre-installed shopping carts. But in most cases, you will have the option to install and use the shopping cart system of your choice.

SSD – Solid State Disk Drives

Traditional disk drives need to spin around their platters to locate data before it can be read or modified. But Solid State Disk drives use non-volatile memory to store information. This means the data isn’t lost when power is disconnected, and “seek times” — the amount of time it takes to locate data on a disk drive — are significantly faster.

Standard hard drives can only perform hundreds of input/output (I/O) operations per second. But SSDs can perform thousands of I/O operations per second. With no moving parts, web servers utilizing highly reliable SSDs are able to provide hosting customers with the biggest speed boost possible.

HTML

HTML stands for HyperText Markup Language, the standardized language for tagging text files to achieve font, color, graphic, and hyperlink effects on World Wide Web pages. HTML allows web servers and client browsers use to communicate with each other. All server-side functions (such as database processing), although they may be performed in another language, must eventually be output back to the user in HTML.

Website Back-up

This is an automatically generated copy of your data that is created as a precaution in the event your original data is lost or becomes unusable or unavailable due to circumstances such as hardware crash, disk failure, website hack, etc. While most hosting companies include a back-up system as part of their hosting package, some charge extra for this important feature.

Content Management System (CMS)

A “content management system” (CMS) is simply a fancy term for the software you use that makes it easy to build, manage and add content to your website without any special technical knowledge. There are many CMS solutions available, including WordPress, Joomla, Blogger, Typepad, and others. WordPress is the most popular. Some web hosting plans come with a CMS already built in when you create your account.

WordPress

WordPress is a free, open-source content management system (CMS) based on PHP and MySQL. It was first released in 2003, and now powers nearly one quarter of the top 10 million websites as of January 2015. It is the most popular blogging system in use, currently being used as the CMS for more than 60 million websites.

WordPress can be used to power anything from simple blogs and personal websites, to complex ecommerce stores and corporate intranets. Thousands of “plug-ins” and themes are available enabling users to easily customize and grow their WordPress websites. Because of its soaring popularity, many web hosting companies now make it easy to set-up a WordPress website via a simple “one-click” installation process (for more – see: WordPress Hosting).

Service Level Agreement (SLA)

A service level agreement (SLA) is a contractual agreement between two parties: the service provider (web host) and the service recipient (you). This agreement establishes the terms of the agreement, covering things such as length of service, requirements, limitations, etc.

The SLA itself defines the basis of understanding between the two parties for delivery of the service itself. The document can be quite complex, and sometimes underpins a formal contract. Generally, an SLA should contain clauses that define a specified level of service, support options, incentive awards for service levels exceeded and/or penalty provisions for services not provided.

Be sure to read a potential web host’s SLA to see what’s included with your service, what’s not included, and what you need to do (or don’t do – e.g., host adult content) to ensure a mutually beneficial relationship.

FTP

The File Transfer Protocol (FTP) is a standard network protocol used to transfer computer files from one host to another host over the internet. FTP allows remote users and web servers to exchange files. FTP works using two separate channels to transfer data, while SFTP (“Safe” FTP) transfers information via a single connection using a secure shell protocol. FTP enables you to connect to and upload files to your web hosting server, and is a standard feature with all paid hosting services.

Shared Hosting

Sometimes referred to as discount hosting or virtual hosting, shared hosting is a web hosting option where you rent space on an internet-connected server (computer) from a hosting service provider so you don’t have to purchase and maintain your own server and connections to the internet. With shared web hosting, the provider is responsible for all server maintenance and software upgrades.

On a shared web hosting plan, you are one of many (sometimes hundreds or thousands) customers sharing the same web server. Each site has its own partition, or section the server, which keeps it separate from the other sites and accounts. Each account owner is allotted a certain amount of bandwidth, disk space and features that can be controlled via a control panel.

Shared web hosting is the most economical web hosting option, as many people share the overall cost of server maintenance. However, although shared hosting is the least expensive way to create a web presence for your website, it is something you may quickly outgrow as your traffic and website grow. Busier sites usually require a VPS or dedicated server.

VPS Hosting

Also known as OS virtualization, is a Virtual Private Server (VPS) is a hybrid of shared hosting and dedicated hosting.

A VPS setup is created dividing a single server into multiple servers, called “virtual environments.” It is partitioned so that it has its own operating system, disc space, and bandwidth. The VPS account owner only has access to their virtual environment and can reboot their server or use it as if it was their own dedicated server.

Many hosting customers have a preference for VPS hosting because it gives them more control over their hosting environment than a traditional shared hosting plan. Because the VPS acts as a dedicated server, this is a good interim solution for website owners who think they may need a dedicated server in the future, but aren’t quite ready for the responsibility of running a dedicated machine.

Dedicated Hosting

A dedicated server refers to the rental and exclusive use of a web server (computer), related software, and connection to the internet. In this hosting scenario, you lease the entire server, rather than having to share the space and resources with other website owners.

If your dedicated server is managed by a hosting company, it is located at the hosting company’s data center and the provider is responsible for all hardware and network administration. This type of web hosting enables customers to lease pre-configured, dedicated equipment and internet connectivity from the hosting provider.

Dedicated hosting packages provide greater flexibility than shared or VPS hosting since the customer retains control over the hosting environment. Dedicated hosting is a good choice for those who:

  • Run busy websites
  • Want to improve speed and performance
  • Don’t want to share their server’s resources with others

Dedicated hosting requires a significant investment in terms of both time and money. Before proceeding with a dedicated hosting solution, whoever is responsible for the hosting account and website should have competency in IT and server administration.

Managed Hosting

Managed hosting is a more advanced type of dedicated server hosting. In a managed hosting environment, the hosting provider owns and manages the data center, network, server and other devices, and is responsible for deploying, maintaining and monitoring them. However, the managed hosting customer retains full control of their operating systems and applications. This allows for increased levels of security, scalability and uptime that far exceed “standard” dedicated hosting or other hosting options such as VPS and shared hosting.

WordPress Hosting

WordPress is a free, open-source content management system (CMS) that was first released in 2003. Today, powers nearly one quarter of the top 10 million websites. It is the most popular blogging system in use, currently being used as the CMS for more than 60 million websites.

As the world’s most popular website building tool, the booming popularity of WordPress has resulted in the creation of a new niche within the web hosting industry catering exclusively to people with WordPress powered websites.

Plans advertised as “WordPress Hosting” or  “Managed WordPress Hosting” vary among hosting companies, but usually include features such as:

  • Greater Performance: Servers configured especially for WordPress make your website load faster than on a non-WordPress host. Some include built-in caching for an additional speed boost.
  • Enhanced Security: WordPress hosts will automatically scan your site for malware and troublesome plug-ins, some offering advanced security features to prevent hackers from disabling your site. Some managed WordPress hosting providers will even fix your WordPress if it is hacked, for no additional charge.
  • Specialized Spport: Their customer support techs will frequently be WordPress ninjas, ready to tackle any WordPress related question or issue.
  • Automatic Updates: WordPress hosting companies usually will test WordPress updates before installing them on your server. You’ll never have to worry about breaking your site due to a bad WordPress upgrade or update.

Bottom Line: If you’re looking for a home for your WordPress site, consider a company that specializes in WordPress hosting.

Cloud Hosting

Cloud hosting is based on the most innovative cloud computing technologies that allow an unlimited number of machines to act as one system. Hosting services that are provided to customers via multiple connected servers that comprise a “cloud,” while other hosting solutions (such as shared hosting or dedicated hosting) depend on one machine only.

While the most frequently cited concerns relating to cloud hosting are security and a lack of full control over the data, the benefits of cloud hosting include:

  • Increased reliability and accessibility
  • Seamless scalability
  • Cost efficiency

Cloud hosting is also known as:

  • Server on-demand hosting
  • Cloud server hosting
  • Cluster server hosting

Reseller Hosting

Reseller hosting is a web hosting business model where the account owner has the ability to use their allotted hard drive space and bandwidth to host websites on behalf of third parties. Reseller hosting enables non-hosting internet companies (e.g., website design) to offer web hosting services for other companies. The reseller purchases the host’s services wholesale and then resells them to customers at a profit.

Windows Hosting

There are different types of operating systems. The two most popular for web hosting plans are Windows or Linux. Linux is the most popular operating system for web servers and offers more features that web designers and programmers expect and require. It’s important to remember that you don’t need Windows hosting to host a website that was created on a PC running Windows. Unless you have websites or applications which require the Windows operating system, Linux is recommended.

Green Hosting

Green technology is the environmentally responsible use of computers and related resources. Green hosting or “eco-friendly” hosting is a type of web hosting which involves “green” technologies in an effort to reduce environmental impact.

Ideally, green hosting would utilize a green data center, which is a repository for the storage, management, and dissemination of data in which the mechanical, lighting, electrical and computer systems are designed for maximum energy efficiency and minimum environmental impact. The construction and operation of a green data center should include advanced technologies and strategies, such as:

  • The implementation of energy-efficient central processing units (CPUs)
  • Servers and peripherals
  • Reduced resource consumption
  • Proper disposal of electronic waste (“e-waste”)

How much storage space do I need for my website?

Probably not as much as you might think.

First, storage space is actually dirt cheap for a hosting company. That’s why so many of them offer hosting plans with unlimited data storage (but be sure to read the fine print, as “unlimited” usually does have some kind of a limit).

Unless you need to host/store an excessive amount of data files such as images and videos, then in most cases, a web host’s beginner or starter plan should suffice. When and if you need more space, you can easily order more or upgrade to the next plan which will give you more.

How much will it cost to host my website?

Most hosting companies offer plans that are tiered based on cost and features. Once you outgrow a plan, they’ll have another plan that you can step into based on your needs.

For small, starter websites, a shared hosting plan should suffice. There are good beginner hosting plans that average $5-$10/month. You may have to sign-up for at least one year in order to get the best deal.

Next up the ladder, you’ll find the “webmaster” or “professional” hosting plans. Priced in the $15-$30/month range, these plans will give you additional features such as:

  • More storage space and bandwidth
  • A dedicated IP address
  • The ability to host multiple websites/domains
  • Premium telephone support

Beyond this, you’ll find the VPS, managed and dedicated hosting plans. These will give you more/better:

  • Control over the server
  • Premium support
  • Server resources

These type of hosting plans usually start in the area of $50/month, going up t0 $200-$400/month for a dedicated server, depending on the features and specifications you require.

Do I need a company that specializes in “WordPress Hosting” to host my WordPress site?

Not necessarily. Almost any web host can host a WordPress website. However, there are some web hosts that specialize in WordPress hosting. These companies offer services and features that are custom tailored to meet the needs of WordPress website owners, such as:

  • Greater Performance: Servers configured especially for WordPress make your website load faster than on a non-WordPress host. Some include built-in caching for an additional speed boost.
  • Enhanced Security: WordPress hosts will automatically scan your site for malware and troublesome plug-ins, some offering advanced security features to prevent hackers from disabling your site. Some managed WordPress hosting providers will even fix your WordPress if it is hacked, for no additional charge.
  • Specialized Spport: Their customer support techs will frequently be WordPress ninjas, ready to tackle any WordPress related question or issue.
  • Automatic Updates: WordPress hosting companies usually will test WordPress updates before installing them on your server. You’ll never have to worry about breaking your site due to a bad WordPress upgrade or update.

If you’re looking for a home for your WordPress site, first take a look at our WordPress hosting reviews and recommendations.

Where is the best place to host my blog?

If you’re just getting started, then any beginner hosting plan from one of the top web hosting companies should be able to meet your blog hosting needs. There is no one hosting company that’s perfect for every person, business or website. To help you find the web host that’s right for you, we recommend you start here:

If you plan to use WordPress for your website, then keep in mind that almost any web host can host a WordPress website or blog. However, there are some web hosts that specialize in WordPress hosting which are worth considering if you plan to take your WordPress blog seriously.

How do I build my website?

Since WordPress is the content management system that powers nearly one quarter of the top 10 million websites in the world, we recommend you use it to develop your site. Look for a good web host that offers “one-click” WordPress installation. We recommend A2 Hosting, SiteGround or WP Engine. Just follow their simple directions for installing WordPress. Add and customize a theme, as well as a few plugins, and you’re good to go!

But if you’re too busy or not interested in creating your own website yourself, then we may be able to help. Check out our Cheapskate Site Builder Special for more information on how we might be able to create a new website for you in the next 24 hours.

Do I have to sign a long-term contract with a hosting company?

Every hosting company is different. Some require a minimum of one year (e.g., BlueHost), while many will let you sign up on a month-to-month basis. In cases where you can go monthly, you may find that it is cheaper if you do commit for at least one year. And if you’re concerned about investing one or two year’s of payments up front, keep in mind that all hosts featured here offer a money back guarantee. (Please review their terms prior to signing up.)

Does it matter where my web hosting company is located?

Yes, it does. However, what’s most important is where your hosting company’s data center is located. This is where their servers are housed and connected to the internet. Generally speaking, having your server physically located as close as possible to your target audience will result in a better experience (e.g., faster page load times) for your website visitors.

For example: If your target audience is in the US, it wouldn’t be optimal for you to host your website with a web hosting company whose data center is in Singapore. You would want to host your website with a company that has a data center in the US.

Many hosting companies now offer a choice of data center location when you sign up. When reading through our hosting reviews, be sure to look at the “Company Snapshot” section for information on the location of their data center(s).

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