Web Hosting is an important service provided by thousands of companies around the world. It is essentially the renting out of data storage space and bandwidth to people who have websites to publish. The web host provides powerful computers (servers) on which the web pages are stored, and from which anyone surfing the internet can download pages from any website hosted there. You as a website publisher are in effect paying the web host to use their computer disc space to store your website on, and for their bandwidth so that visitors to your site can download pages, images, etc.
All websites must be hosted somewhere and there are an enormous amount of web hosting companies to choose from, offering a huge range of options from free hosting to plans costing hundreds of dollars a month. Why the big difference? Because what is on offer varies enormously. If you run a business with a website that has many hundreds of pages and thousands of visitors a day, you will need a host that can provide a lot of storage and bandwidth and one which is very robust and reliable. This inevitably costs money.
There are free hosting options available, which can be fine for experimenting or for a small family and friends type site, but these are never going to be appropriate for even the smallest business or a remotely serious webmaster. Apart from limitations on the size and appearance of your site, you are not likely to have your own domain name and will have little or no ability to influence any of the features of your site that should lead to it showing up well in search engine results.
Definition of Web Hosting – Reliability
One of the great things about websites is that they can be accessed 24 hours a day, seven days a week. This is only true if your web host ensures that the servers hosting your site are fully operational and online all the time. Some web hosting companies are far less than satisfactory in this respect, and it is important to be able to check this out before committing to a hosting plan.
Most web hosts will offer a 99.9% uptime guarantee, meaning that they promise to keep your site online and accessible for 99.9% of the time. This is the least you should expect, so treat with caution any host that does not offer this. However, you should check whether the hosting company has managed to keep this promise. Some of the most reliable ones will show you their uptime history as monitored by a third party. Once you have a website up and running, organisations such as InternetSeer provide a free service that monitors your site every hour to check that it is accessible. They will then email you if there is a problem, and send you regular reports.
Definition of Web Hosting – Disk Space and Bandwidth
When you are looking at the various plans offered by web hosting companies, two of the most important things to consider are disk space and bandwidth. These are vital considerations because if you do not select a hosting plan with appropriate bandwidth and disc space for your website, you could find that your site is taken offline for exceeding one of these limits. Disk space relates directly to the size of your website. It refers to how much space your site can occupy on the server storage disks, so relates to how many pages you have, the size of these pages, the number of image files, etc. Bandwidth is about the traffic your site gets, and is a measure of how much information (data) is downloaded from your site over a period of time. This data transfer is usually measured in Gigabytes (GB) per month. If you exceed your monthly bandwidth limit your site could be taken offline without notice.
Many web hosting companies will offer hosting plans which give you ‘unlimited’ disk space and bandwidth. While this sounds perfect in theory, it is worth checking what their definition of unlimited is. Providing disk space and bandwidth costs the host money, so they are not going to be happy for it to be genuinely unlimited. What they usually mean is unlimited for a typical website in the category of plan you are choosing. The usual exceptions would be for sites that involve gaming, video/music streaming or storing thousands of large image files.
Definition of Web Hosting – Types of Server
The vast majority of websites are hosted on shared servers. In other words, your website is stored on the same computers as many other websites. By doing this web hosts are able to keep their costs reasonable and there are rarely problems that arise from this.
The alternative to shared hosting is dedicated hosting, which means that your website has its own server. It is unlikely that you will need dedicated hosting unless you have a substantial business involving a very busy website. Dedicated hosting generally gives you the ability to specify the level of disc storage and bandwidth that your site requires, and should involve a higher level of support. It may also be an appropriate choice if there are customised options you require for your website.