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Basic Guide to Web Hosting

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What is a Web Host?

A web host is a specialized company who will upload your website to their own computers. Generally these are much like your own computer only much larger and are designed specifically for the purpose of storing websites. These computers are known as servers and are connected to the internet, allowing anyone browsing the World Wide Web to view your site.

Web hosts will have extremely fast internet connection speeds and will host websites for several hundred thousand customers on many servers. The web host is basically renting out some space on their server to allow you to place your site on the web.

Most of the larger web hosting companies will operate their own datacenters. This is a building containing many servers. Other smaller web hosts will lease server space from the larger companies, subletting it to their own customers for a profit. This smaller company will, however, still be in charge of your account.

The picture below shows a fully operational data center. You can see the many servers contained within it, each of which has a high-speed connection to the internet. There is a high level of security at each of these data centers and many safety precautions are in place, such as specialized backup equipment in the event of power failures. Some web hosting providers don’t have their own datacenters, instead of renting server space from another datacenter.

datacenter

There are several thousand web hosting providers to choose from and these are located all over the world. Each one will have their own particular hosting plans and subscription charges. If you are new to all this, searching through all the information provided can be confusing and you may not understand what the different terms mean. However, there are some features which are common to all web hosting plans.

Server Type

This is the type of software that the web hosting company use. Common examples are Windows 2000, Unix and Linux. If you just want a simple website hosted then it won’t make a difference which server the provider operates but if your website is more complex it may matter. You might require one which provides dynamic pages or specific database functions.

Disk Space Allowance

This is the amount of space the web hosting provider will rent to you to store your website. Generally this figure is measured in Gigabytes (GB.) Some plans offer unlimited server space.

Bandwidth

This is the amount of traffic that can pass through your website and is measured per month. Each time someone visits your site, the pages are downloaded from the server to the visitor’s browser. The amount of transferred data is the bandwidth and this will sometimes have an upper limit, although with some web hosts an unlimited amount is allowed. The average website won’t require a lot of bandwidth but well known favourites such as Google or Yahoo will need a massive allowance.

Email Accounts

Each web hosting plan will allow you to have a specified amount of email addresses to use with your website.

Naming your Website

All websites have a name and this can be typed into a web browser to view the pages. The name makes it easy for web users to find the site but in actuality every site is located by numbers known as an IP address rather than the specified name. Each IP address is unique and points to where the site is located on a server. It contains a set of figures and looks something like this: 208. 34. 108. 87. The title you give your website is called the domain name but this is just used as a pointer to the real address – the IP address.

When you purchase your web hosting plan, all you need to do is tell the hosting provider the name you wish to call your website, such as www.mynewwebsite.com and they will handle everything else concerning the IP address. Once your account is set up, anyone typing in the name you have chosen will be automatically directed to the IP address where your site is stored. There are so many domain names already taken that you may not get your first preference but you can use a domain registration checker to see if the one you want is available.

If you already own a website and domain name, you will need to transfer it to your new hosting provider. The domain records will have to be set so that the name of your site points to the new server. Your new hosting provider will usually deal with this but if you want to do it yourself it will mean contacting whoever your domain is registered with and giving them the Nameserver address of the hosting provider. You will get this information from you web host.

You will probably have your website built before purchasing a hosting plan but it’s a good idea to have the domain name already bought just in case someone else snaps it up. The company you buy the domain name from will normally park it on their server in the meantime.

Types of Web Hosting

There are several types of web hosting and the one you choose will depend upon your requirements and your budget. Below is a general description of what each type of hosting means.

Free Web Hosting

There are many types of free web hosting available. These are ideal for a small personal website that doesn’t require much server space and that won’t have a vast amount of traffic. Usually with free web hosting you will have to display a banner advertisement at the top of each page. Some companies will allow you to use your own domain name but the majority will mean having your website name as a sub-domain of the hosting provider. For example if you choose to host your site with a company called ‘Free Hosts’ who have the domain www.freewebhosts.com your website will be found at the following address www.website.freehosts.com. This is known as free sub-domain hosting.

Web hosting for a very small site can work out extremely inexpensive and may be ideal for you if you agree with the points listed below.

· You don’t mind placing banner advertisements on each page of your website.
· You don’t mind if the speed, performance and reliability of your site isn’t that great.
· You won’t mind having no customer service or technical support.
· Your website is quite small and you don’t intend on developing it.

Shared Hosting

Shared hosting is the most popular of all web hosting types and usually comes at a low budget price. With this type of hosting, known as virtual hosting, you pay a monthly subscription to your hosting provider and rent a space on their server. Some of the very cheap deals might mean having to put up with little bandwidth and storage allowances but this shouldn’t affect the majority of websites. Normally with cheap virtual hosting your site will be just one of many, perhaps even hundreds, stored on the same server and this may mean problems with reliability. If this is the case you may like to choose a slightly higher priced plan in order to get less downtime.

Dedicated Hosting

With this type of web hosting you will pay a premium price in order to have a server all to yourself. This means you have a lot more freedom to do as you like and can even run as many websites as you choose – even hundreds if you want! With dedicated hosting you will normally be able to access the server just like you can access your own home computer. This type of hosting will generally only be used by larger well-known e-commerce companies or websites that have several thousands visiting each day. Sometimes dedicated hosting is purchased by smaller companies, operating their own hosting plans who wish to sublet the server space to their own customers. The upside of dedicated web hosting is that it is far more reliable than virtual hosting but you should expect to pay a much higher price each month. Rates are normally over $100 compared with under $20 for virtual hosting.

Colocated Hosting

This type of hosting is somewhat similar to dedicated hosting with the main difference being you actually own the server rather than renting it from a hosting company. The server is still located in a data center and you still benefit from the host’s high-speed internet connection but you pay an agreed rate for bandwidth and maintenance fees.

Which Hosting Plan is Right for You?

With so many hosting providers to choose from, making a final decision certainly won’t be easy. Determining your specific needs and requirements is essential before even looking for a web hosting company. Many people opt for plans that offer just about everything but if you don’t actually need the features that are included then there isn’t really much point in this. Spend some time working out exactly what you do need and then use this website to match your requirements with a hosting provider at a price that suits your budget.

Establishing Your Needs

· Storage Allowance

Most html web pages are quite small – on average they are around 40 or 50kb. Therefore you will get an awful lot of pages onto a relatively small amount of storage or disk space. If you have a lot of images on your site they will require more room but as long as you don’t have a large database driven website, it’s probable that the total amount of disk space you require will be quite small. You may already be familiar with the storage terms shown below.

Storage Terms

1 Byte – 1 single character.
1 KB – 1000 Bytes
1 MB – 1000 KB
1 GB – 1000 MB

Hard drives are relatively inexpensive these days and the majority of hosting providers allow huge amounts of disk space. Having a bit more than you need is fine, particularly if you intend to develop your site but for most users around 20MB will be more than sufficient.

· Bandwidth

This will be shown on the hosting plan as a monthly allowance and is measured in MB or GB. This figure is the total amount of data that can be transferred to the computer of the person visiting your site from the server in the host’s datacenter. Once this limit is reached your website will either go offline or you will have to pay an additional fee to keep it up and running. The more visitors or traffic to your website, the more bandwidth you will use.

Some hosting providers advertise unlimited bandwidth and while this may seem ideal the truth may be somewhat different. Bandwidth costs the host money so to allow you a limitless amount would mean they could in effect be out an extortionate amount of money. This isn’t going to happen, so when you see this advertised, ignore it. What they really mean is that you won’t use very much bandwidth and they are prepared to cover this amount. Try using a massive amount and you’ll soon find your website will become unavailable.

The majority of websites will only use around 2GB of bandwidth each month, so you don’t need a plan offering a lot more than this. However, if you plan to have software, audio or video downloads on your site you will require a far greater amount of bandwidth – possibly as much as 50GB. Adult websites use a high amount of bandwidth and music download sites even more but generally the allowance doesn’t need to be all that much.

· Email accounts

Work out how many email accounts you reckon you will need for your website. Ten is generally sufficient for most people’s requirements but if you think you require more than this, you need to find a provider offering a greater amount.

· Customer support

What you will require here will depend a lot upon your level of skill and expertise with computing. Will email assistance be sufficient or would you rather speak to someone on the phone? Will you need a 24/7 service? Unless you’re earning your entire living from your website, you probably won’t require round the clock support or even live phone assistance. Running technical support and customer service help lines cost the web hosting company a lot of money in employee salaries and ultimately this is passed on to you in your monthly subscription, so if you don’t really need it, don’t choose a plan that offers it.

· Type of server

For a personal webpage or a small website you won’t need to worry about the type of server the host uses. Linux based systems are generally cheaper than Windows 2000 servers. However, if you plan on using an SQL database or MS Active Pages, you will have to choose a Windows 2000 server. If this all sounds like double-dutch to you, it won’t matter which one you choose as you won’t be needing a specific type!

· Additional features

Web host providers have a habit of offering a plethora of features along with their hosting plans, most of which won’t even be needed by the majority of users. The problem with this is it ends up confusing potential customers, who don’t even understand what most of the terms mean. In general you don’t need to pay too much attention to these extra features as they are designed for the more technically minded users, who will already know exactly what they need. Typical features here include MySQL, PHP, ColdFusion, and ASP. However, if you want to run a discussion forum on your site, you will probably require a MySQL database.

Choosing The Right Web Hosting Plan For You

The purpose of this website is to help you find the right web hosting plan for you – one that meets all your requirements.

A quick search on the web brings up many web hosting directories, most of them claiming to be excellent resources. In general they are good resources but only for hosting providers, not website owners. These directories are used mainly to advertise and generate revenue from the companies listed. They won’t contain impartial information so they are pretty much useless as a means of finding a provider. Treat them as you would junk mail, all they contain are lists of recommendations, top ten lists and such, and have no relevance to your search. Avoid them at all costs and never believe anything you read on them.

Read reviews and rating from other users, evaluate reliability, look at providers websites and compare the different plans together.

If there any terms you don’t understand, use our glossary to get up to speed.

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