Web Hosting 101: The Definitive Guide

It can be pretty difficult for some users to choose a hosting provider. There are dozens of options out there and picking one can often be very tricky. You now don’t have to worry about having to go from one provider to another. We have done all the hard work for you. This guide contains all that you need to know about web hosting, from the best options out there to what to consider when picking one.
Jeremy Kendell Jeremy Kendell
21 Aug, 2019

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CHAPTER #1 Intro to Hosting Intro to Hosting-CHAPTER #1 Despite there being 644 million active websites out there, some users are still not fully aware of hosting or what it entails. Let’s understand the concept in simple words.
Intro to Hosting

What is Hosting?

In order to understand hosting, you first need to understand what a website is. A site is basically your address on the internet where people can know about you in the form of written text, videos, images, etc. This content is there for all to see and it has to be uploaded somewhere. You can't just keep it on your computer and expect people to access it. This content is uploaded on a hosting who keeps your data and allows users to access it according to the contract between you and the provider (bandwidth, size, etc.).

How Does Web Hosting Work?

It’s same as putting all your file on your computer and letting users access it. The only difference is that the computer does not belong to you. It belongs to a company, the hosting provider, who lends out a limited amount of space in their house (server) for you to host your data. Users can access the files uploaded on the server by typing down the link. If they have the required permissions they will be able to access the content.

How Does Web Hosting Work?

How Does Web Hosting Work?

It’s same as putting all your file on your computer and letting users access it. The only difference is that the computer does not belong to you. It belongs to a company, the hosting provider, who lends out a limited amount of space in their house (server) for you to host your data. Users can access the files uploaded on the server by typing down the link. If they have the required permissions they will be able to access the content.

Differences Between Web Hosting and Data Center

Users often get confused by the two terms as they both are related to data but they're not the same. Web hosting refers to the server that hosts your data. On the other hand, a data center is a facility where the server is located.

A data center could be a basement, a small room, or an entire building with the required physical structure that includes power, backup power, hard drives, and environmental control tools such as air conditioning and fire suppression.

In some words, your website is hosted on a server that’s kept in the data center. The server is present in a physical form and needs space and other tools to remain working and safe. These tools are provided to the server at the data center where a number of servers come together.

Why Do I Need Hosting?

Hosting is an expense hence you need to think several times before choosing one. The first question most people ask is: “Why do I have to buy hosting or space on someone else’s server when I have my own computer at home?”

If you ask experts they’d tell you that it is indeed possible to host your website on your own computer and use it as a server. However, it is not a good or reliable idea to do so.

A website has to be available 24/7. It is accessed by thousands of people. This is why the hardware needs to be perfect. Hosting your site on your own server means you will have to take care of the required hardware and software as well. This can be a lot more difficult than it sounds on paper.

Why Do I Need Hosting?

A website has to be available 24/7. It is accessed by thousands of people. This is why the hardware needs to be perfect. Hosting your site on your own server means you will have to take care of the required hardware and software as well. This can be a lot more difficult than it sounds on paper.

Self-Hosting

Power outages are common. This means your website will not always be available.

Traffic can cause the server to go slow, resulting in lags and other such problems.

Your website will have a dynamic IP address that can make your website less reliable and also open to threats.

It will be your responsibility to take care of the required hardware and software. This can add a lot to the cost.

You will have to create the right kind of environment, i.e: your computer must run 24/7. This can cause the device to heat up hence it must be provided with air conditioning and other such facilities.

Running your computer 24/7 can add to the cost as it will cause a spike in your energy consumption.

Your website will go down if your server crashes for any reason. Managing backup on your own can be quite a pain.

Professional Web Hosting

You do not have to worry about the environment as it is the responsibility of the company to take care of the servers. These are kept in data centers.

Companies take care of backup and most even guarantee 99% uptime.

Web hosting companies offer static IP addresses. This adds more security and ensures your data remains protected.

It is the duty of the company to take care of the increasing hardware and software requirements.

Professional hosting is more affordable in the long-run as you get to enjoy customized services and you only pay for what you need.

Types of Hosting-CHAPTER #2
CHAPTER #2 Types of Hosting Types of Hosting-CHAPTER #2 When you go out to buy a web hosting plan, you will be given a choice of different types of hosting options. It is important to know the difference between each so that you can pick the right option according to your needs.

Shared Hosting

Shared hosting is common among individuals and small businesses as it is one of the most affordable hosting plans. In fact, many popular websites also use basic hosting plans. It's a plan where multiple websites (mostly belonging to different owners) are hosted on a single server.

Since the resources are shared the overall cost of hosting is very low when compared to other options. This hosting plan is suitable for websites that get about 30k or lower monthly visitors. You can host almost all kinds of sites on shared hosting, from WordPress to Joomla to HTML sites.

Pros

Very cheap.

Perfect when you’re just starting out.

Can host all kinds of websites.

Easy to set up and manage.

Comes with unlimited bandwidth options.

Cons:

Cannot handle high traffic (above 30k visitors).

No root access.

The performance of your site can get affected by other websites hosted on the server.

Shared Hosting
Pros

Very cheap.

Perfect when you’re just starting out.

Can host all kinds of websites.

Easy to set up and manage.

Comes with unlimited bandwidth options.

Cons:

Cannot handle high traffic (above 30k visitors).

No root access.

The performance of your site can get affected by other websites hosted on the server.

How Much to Spend:

It’s among the most affordable options and can be bought for as low as $1 per month. You should never purchase a shared hosting plan for more than $10 per month.

Recommended Shared Hosting Services:

BlueHost, SiteGround, A2 Hosting, GreenGeeks, Hostinger.

VPS Hosting

Shortened for Virtual Private Server, VPS hosting involves renting a portion of available computer resources. You can buy as much space, RAM, power as you need. In VPS resources, a number of computers are connected together and act as a single resource.

Pros

Dedicated IP address.

Offer customization.

You only pay for what you need.

Perfect for all kinds of websites.

Cons:

Can be a bit difficult to set up.

Other sites hosted on the same server can still affect the performance of your site.

Pros

Dedicated IP address.

Offer customization.

You only pay for what you need.

Perfect for all kinds of websites.

Cons:

Can be a bit difficult to set up.

Other sites hosted on the same server can still affect the performance of your site.

How Much to Spend:

It can be bought for as low as $15. Nonetheless, most packages cost about $20-$60 per month based on customization options.

Recommended Shared Hosting Services:

DigitalOcean, InMotion, GreenGeeks, A2 Hosting, SiteGround.

Dedicated Hosting

As the name suggests, dedicated hosting involves dedicating a server to a single site. As a result, all the resources are focused on your site. This option is suitable for big corporations as it is quite expensive but guarantees good speed and high uptime.

Pros

Suitable for big websites (>300k visitors/mo).

Easy to set up and manage.

Highly secure.

Multiple dedicated IPs.

Cons:

Can be very expensive for some users.

Pros

Suitable for big websites (>300k visitors/mo).

Easy to set up and manage.

Highly secure.

Multiple dedicated IPs.

Cons:

Can be very expensive for some users.

How Much to Spend:

Dedicated hosting can cost about $80/month; the price, however, depends on specifications and add-ons purchased.

Recommended Shared Hosting Services:

LiquidWeb, InMotion, Bluehost, A2 Hosting, SiteGround.
CHAPTER #3 Choosing a Domain Choosing a Domain-CHAPTER #3 It can be hard to choose a domain name with most famous names already gone. Ideally, you should pick a domain that goes well with your brand. It can be the name of your brand or something that tells users what you’re all about. Other than this, the extension has to be kept in mind as well. Let’s get to know more about choosing a domain name.
Choosing a Domain

What Is a Domain Name?

It is the name of your site. Visitors would need an address or a name to visit your website. Just like humans have names, websites have names as well.

Domain names appear like this: name.extension. Some examples include: harvard.edu, sos.state.co.us, bbc.com, google.co.uk, and gatesfoundation.org.

Top Level Domains (TLDs)

Look at our examples above: harvard.edu, and gatesfoundation.org. Both of these websites have unique extensions (.edu and .org). These extensions are called Top Level Domains (TLDs).

They are used to help identify a website. For example, .org is used by organizations and .edu is used by educational institutions. While some TLDs are open for one and all, you may be required to submit verification documents to register certain TLDs. For example, you must prove that you’re the owner of the said institution when you register a .org website.

Top Level Domains

Country Code Top Level Domain

Similarly, Country Code Top Level Domains have a country-specific extension, as seen in our examples: sos.state.co.us, google.co.uk. The first one (.co.us) belongs to the US and the other one (.co.uk) belongs to the UK.

These domains can also be registered easily but you may need to provide documents verifying you live in the country you wish to register for.

There are over 300 special extensions available. While .com is still the most common one, TLDs are also becoming extremely popular now and in some cases may be more expensive than generic extensions.

Domain vs Subdomain

This can be a bit complicated to understand. A domain is basically your address and a subdomain is the way to your room.

For example, www.google.com is a domain name that will take you to the homepage of Google!. You can opt to go where you wish to go from there. Let's say you want to check your emails. You may click on Mail and it will take you to the Mail page that is mail.google.com.

This is now a subdomain that is a part of Google but serves a specific purpose, i.e: shows emails.

The interesting bit, however, is that search engines may consider subdomains as a different domain.

This means if you search for Google Mail, Google will show you mail.google.com and not www.google.com. This is why it is important to choose subdomains carefully.

Website Domain
google.com
mail.google.com
news.google.com
google.co.uk
Name
Google
Google
Google
Google
Subdomain
-
mail
news
TLD
.com
.com
.com
сcTLD
.co.uk
Domain & Web Hosting Aren`t The Same

Domain & Web Hosting Aren`t The Same

As explained in our articles on web domain: “The two often get complicated. Think from a practical perspective. Your domain name is the URL or name of your site.


For example, cnn.com but the content that appears on CNN has to be kept somewhere, i.e: the host.


You will have to purchase hosting separately to ensure you can keep the content up as well. A domain name is useless if you have no hosting and vice versa.”

Domain Name Registration Process

  • 1.

    Think of a domain name and choose a registrar.

  • 2.

    Go to the registrar and make sure the domain you want is available. If it is not, look for an available option.

  • 3.

    Choose the URL and make payment. Most registrars like GoDaddy accept various payment methods like PayPal and credit cards.

  • 4.

    It will cost you about $10 for a .com domain. The cost may be more if you buy a premium domain or a specific TLD.

  • 5.

    The website will verify payment and send you an email with your login details and you’re done.

Domain Name Registration Process

Governing Domain Registration Process

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, more popularly known as ICANN, is the body that governs domain names.

It's a global regulator that has defined best practices for not only registrars but also for clients and web hosts. It requires that all customers provide true information regarding their background or business.

We suggest you opt for an ICANN-registered company when choosing a domain name.

Regulations On ccTLDs

You can buy a country-specific extension only if you are the resident of the country. For example, if you wish to buy a .co.uk domain then you must provide documents confirming you are a UK resident.

Most companies will ask you to provide such information during the registration phase. If you fail to provide the required documents then you will not be able to register a ccTLD under your own name.

WHOIS Data

When you register a domain name you will be required to submit information including your name, email address, contact number, and mailing address. This is known as a WhoIs record and is generally available to the public.

A quick WhoIs Search can help you find out who owns a domain name, when it’s set to expire, and who is the registrar of the domain. You can, however, opt for private registration and choose to hide some of our private information such as phone number.

Domain Name Privacy

This service is for users who want to keep their private information secure. When you choose domain name privacy, you replace your WhoIs information with the information of a proxy server that acts as a forwarding agent for you.

This is important to prevent your personal information from reaching out. Many companies use this information to send spam emails with the intention to steal money or information from the website owner. This is why it may be a good option to opt for privacy. Some companies offer privacy for free and some may charge a small fee for such services.

Domain Name Privacy

Useful Domain Tips Before You Get Started

Stick to .com

We suggest that you stick to a .com domain as it is still the most popular option out there. If you tell someone your website is abc, they’d automatically assume it’s abc.com. You can opt for TLDs or ccTLDs if it's suitable for your business. For example, .org may be a better option than .com if you run a charitable organization.

Do Not Include Trademarks

Avoid adding brand names or trademarks in the name. First of all, it can be difficult to rank on Google if your domain name includes a brand name as the brand would typically be the first on the result page. Secondly, there’s also the risk of legal issues. So avoid it altogether unless you own the trademark.

Do Not Use Strange Spellings

Stick to proper spellings. For example, if you are making an iPhone review site, then avoid using spellings such as ‘eyephone’ or ‘ayephone’. Users will have a bit of trouble in remembering such spellings.

Avoid Numbers or Dashes

It is possible to use numbers or dashes in the name but it’s better to avoid using ‘em altogether.

Choose a domain name keeping all these points in mind. The most important thing is to select a brandable name. Pick something that’s easy on the lips, simple to spell, and not very long so that users have no trouble in remembering it.

Choosing a Web Hosting-CHAPTER #4
CHAPTER #4 Choosing a Web Hosting Choosing a Web Hosting It is important to be careful when choosing a hosting provider as the quality of service can affect the performance of your website. Let’s have a look at what all to consider when choosing a web host.

Web Hosting Type
(Shared, VPS/Cloud, Dedicated)

We covered different types of web hosting earlier in this guide. The right hosting plan depends on a number of factor. If you have a small website then you can opt for shared hosting, which is among the most affordable options out there. However, if you have a big site and you want advanced features then dedicated hosting may be the best option for you.

Most popular hosting providers offer all types of hosting but some may specialize in specific niches. For example, some companies offer special hosting for WordPress sites. If you intend to start a WP blog then it may be a good option.

Shared Hosting Shared Hosting
VPS/Cloud hosting VPS/Cloud hosting
Dedicated Hosting Dedicated Hosting

Uptime & Load Time
(Quality of Service)

Uptime means the time your website is up and running. Google requires that your website is 100% Up of the time but since that may not always be a possibility, most known companies promise 99.9% uptime.

Since your website is hosted on a server, things can go wrong anytime. Quality providers ensure there’s backup. Pay special attention to this factor when selecting a website as being down cannot only hurt your search engine ranking but also impact your goodwill.

Another factor to remember is the load time, i.e: how long it takes to load a site. While this depends on how heavy a website is. The quality of the server it is hosted on also impacts.

Uptime & Load Time

Anything above 10 seconds is bad since users today have no time to wait for a page to load. In fact, about 47% users expect a page to load within 2 seconds.

Price Tricks

It is common for hosting providers to offer a special price for first time customers. Make sure to pay special attention to the price and to look at the renewal price when choosing a provider as this is what you will pay when you decide to renew your site.

Other than this, you may be able to get a discount if you register a site for a longer period of time. This also protects you against future increases in price but remember that the amount paid is usually not refundable.

Main Features & Reliability

Bandwidth / Traffic

This factor determines how much load your website can handle, i.e: how much data it can transfer to users. You store data on a server and everyone who visits the site eats up the bandwidth. The amount of bandwidth you require depend on the kind of content you have and the number of visitors you receive.

Disk Space (SSD/HDD)

Imagine going to buy a house. You must pick one that can accomodate your all family members. When it comes to site, the space is your house and the content that you put up is family members. The more content you upload the more space you will need. The cost of a hosting package depends largely on the space that you have.

CPUs & RAM

Pay attention to this factor when choosing a hosting company. This is of huge importance when it comes to VPS or dedicated hosting. Most hosting providers list down the number of CPUs available for each package. The more CPUs you have the faster will be the server.

SSL Certificate

It is important that your website has a valid SSL Certificate. Many browsers, like Chrome, will not open a site if it does not have the secure connection as the certificate is important to ensure safety and security of data. Many hosting providers offer free SSL (Let's Encrypt) Certificates, especially when you buy a premium hosting plan. However, some would charge a separate fee for it. They cost about $27 per year.

Free Domain Name

It is pretty easy to buy a domain name. You can get one for as low as $10 and if you’re lucky you may even opt for lower prices, $1 for first year. Plus, some hosting companies may even offer a free domain name if you sign up for one of the hosting packages so do consider this option as well.

Dedicated IP

The main benefit comes in the form of improved stability and reduced downtime. Plus, some reports suggest that websites that have a dedicated IP address also rank well on Google. If you are serious about your project then we suggest you opt for a company who offers a dedicated IP.

BackUps

It does not matter how reliable a provider is, no company can guarantee 100% uptime. Things can go wrong, especially now that cyber attacks are so common. This is why we suggest you choose a company that promises backups and lets you also download backups whenever you wish, so you have no trouble later on.

Migration Service

It is common for users to change web hosting providers as websites grow. This is why we suggest to choose a company that makes it easy to migrate from one provider to another. Some companies are customer friendly and would even help you with the process but some can be quite a pain to deal with.

Extra Security Add-ons

Cyber crimes are on the rise. In fact, the cost of data breach is expected to hit $150 million by 2020. Many hosting providers have realized the importance of added security and some even offer extra security add-ons for a fee. This helps protect your server and website against threats. We suggest you opt for these add-ons especially if you store a lot of private data, such as customer information, on your site.

Customer Service (Support)

Choose a company that is known to offer excellent customer support. Most big companies now offer different mediums of communication including live chat, phone calls, emails, and tickets. You should pick a provider that’s serious about solving your problems and is quick to respond, too.

Provider Trustworthy

There are many hosting providers out there and while they all promise to be the best, they’re not made equal. You need to be careful when picking one and choose a company that's trustworthy and not selling false promises.

Customer Service

There are many hosting providers out there and while they all promise to be the best, they’re not made equal. You need to be careful when picking one and choose a company that's trustworthy and not selling false promises.

Name Server & DNS-CHAPTER #5
CHAPTER #5 Name Server & DNS Name Server & DNS Merely having a host or domain name is not enough. You must be able to link the two. For this purpose you must know about name server and DNS. Let’s get into the details.

What is DNS And Why It's Important

What is DNS And Why It's Important

DNS (Domain Name System) is a system that connects a domain name to a physical IP address. For example, when you type yahoo.com, the DNS server connects you to the IP address where Yahoo! is hosted.

DNS is important because it's hard to remember IP addresses. You need names that are memorable so you have no trouble in reaching the site. Plus, it also allows website owners to switch from one provider to another without having to find a new name.

What is Name Server?

A name server keeps record of your website's DNS entries. Each website has two nameservers, primary and secondary. If the primary server is dead then the secondary server helps keep the site alive.

A name server keeps record of your website's DNS entries. Each website has two nameservers, primary and secondary. If the primary server is dead then the secondary server helps keep the site alive.

Changing Name Servers

There was a time when managing nameservers was a complicated process. However, now it's quite easy. The process depends on your hosting provider but in most cases, once you login into your account you will be able to go to the Nameservers section and change details as required.

The only time you will have to do this is when you make a new site, change your hosting provider, or when your current hosting company makes changes to the nameservers.

Record Types

A (Address) Record

Address records connect a domain to its IP address. You need these records to convert your domain name into an IP address. Most companies will convert a www version of domain name as well.

MX (Mail Exchange) Record

Mail Exchange (MX) records are linked to mail servers. They specify the server that's responsible for sending and receiving emails on behalf of a domain. You can put a number of servers so that if one fails, the system can try another one.

CNAME (Canonical Name) Record

Canonical Name records attach one or more names to a server. They basically play the role of an alias for the domain that's found in the A record. In simple words, they help redirect domains.

TXT Record

A TXT record is a popular DNS resource record type that's commonly used to decide if an email is trustworthy or not. The record verified the originating point of an email. This helps prevent hacks via email spoofing, which is a common techniques used by hackers to access data.

What is TTL?

TTL, shortened for Time to Live, tells you the lifetime of cached data found on a DNS server. However, if you're talking from the perspective of web hosting then TTL is the time it takes for nameserver changes to take place.

The figure is usually measured in seconds. For example, if the TTL is 86400 then it will take 24 hours for nameserver changes to take place. Most DNS services have limitations on minimum TTL to reduce server load.

CHAPTER #6 Software Option Software Option-CHAPTER #6 Web hosting is not only about buying space on a server. It is about management, too. You must know how to upload and edit files, how to use different features, and how to read analytics. Software options differ from provider to provider. Some offer basic features while some provide advances software for an additional fee. Let’s get to know more.
Software Option

Linux or Windows for Web Hosting

You may choose to host your website on Windows or Linux. Most famous providers offer both options. The right server changes from person to person and depends on several factors such as the nature of work you wish to perform on the site.

Remember that the OS on your own computer has nothing to do with the OS on the server. The two are not interlinked at all, i.e: you do not need a Linux computer to choose a Linux server.

Believe it or not, most users opt for Linux servers. They're said to be more customer friendly and hence are easier to use. Windows, despite being a more commonly used OS, is not very popular when it comes to web hosting.

You can use a Linux server even if you have not used it before. You do not need to know how to operate it as most web hosting providers offer simple user interface that makes it a breeze to use the server.

Linux Hosting

Linux is a good option if you intend to use PHP, Ruby, MYSQL, or Python in your site. It offers ready-to-use tools that make it easy to get your site up and running. In fact, most Linux servers even offer message boards, blogging platforms, ecommerce tools, management systems, and open source tools.

You can install WordPress and other such platforms with just a single click. This makes it easy to maintain your site and manage content as well. Most work on Linux servers is performed via web interfaces or FTP programs. This means you will not have to worry about having to operate Linux machines.

Linux Hosting

Windows Hosting

Windows Hosting

You will need Windows hosting in very few occurrences. It turns out to be more expensive than Linux hosting as a large number of software that are available on Linux for free have to be bought on Windows. It can be a good option only if you intend to use ASP.NET or ASP on your website.

Control Panels (cPanel / Plesk / vDeck)

The control panel is the heart of any hosting provider. It is usually presented as a graphical interface and offers a bunch of automation tools designed to make it easy to develop and maintain your website. Some basic features you will find include databases, website files, emails, and DNS.

Almost all web hosting plans will give you access to a hosting cPanel. However, the features available differ from company to company or plan to plan.

The panel can be in the form of cPanel, Plesk or vDeck. cPanel is preferred for Linux servers and Plesk is said to be more suitable for Windows servers. They offer similar functionalities but appear different.

On the other hand, vDeck is a web-based control panel that was recently upgraded and offers similar features as Plesk and cPanel but is not as popular as them.

Since all three control panels typically do the same thing and are easy to use, this should not be much of a concern. For as long as you have access to a control panel, you’ll be good.

Control Panels

Ease-of-Use

It is quite easy to build your own website thanks to control panels that offer even site builders. However, this is not all that’s important. When it comes to choosing a web host you should think of the overall ease.

Consider how easy it is to finalize your site. See what kind of payment methods the company accepts and if it’s willing to provide help when needed.

Some companies have detailed guides and manuals and some are not very customer friendly. This can be a difference maker if this is your first time toying with a web host.

Now It's Your Turn

This is all that you needed to know about web hosting. If you are thinking of getting a website then waste no time. Start by selecting a domain, register it, pick a host, and start building your site today.

Let us know the hosting provider you picked and help us determine the #1 hosting company of the year. Comment below!

Now It's Your Turn