The Basics of Web Hosting

If you own a business, odds are that you’re going to need a website. It might be your e-commerce site or your business’ home site to inform customers about who you are or a blog to relay tips and tricks alongside your own views. Whatever the purpose, you’ll have a site of some type. But to take that site live, out of the design and build stages, to a live site that the public can view and access you’ll need Web hosting.

Web hosting is a term for what is essentially real estate for your site. To bring in a building analogy, your website is like the house – think pre-fab, even. You can build it, but you can’t actually use it until it has a lot to sit on; web hosting is like that lot. It gives your site an address so that people can find it and the space to actually reside on – only in web hosting, you get to choose your address (also known as your domain name). In more technical terms, web hosting means that a company leases out its server space to clients.

The following video (by InMotion Hosting) explains the concept of web hosting.

Servers in and of themselves are expensive and then some – not to mention that they require quite a bit of technical expertise to not only set up, but maintain. Servers also require regular maintenance and upgrades, not to mention have someone to constantly defend them against cyber threats. The cost and complexities are why web hosting is what it is today and why so few actually run their own server environments.

That said, not everyone has the same needs or requirements, which is why there are actually several different hosting configurations available. Not all hosts provide all of these configurations, but all provide at least some.

Psssst: Looking for a web host?

This article is part of our learning resources. It’s written for education purposes, not shopping guide. If you are looking for a web host, you should check out our hosting comparison section where we compare the best five hosting companies in details.

The Various Types of Web Hosting

Google data center - where the Internet lives (credit: Google)

Google data center – where the Internet lives (credit: Google)

Shared Web Hosting Service

Think of shared hosting like an apartment building – you lease subdivided space from someone to secure your own abode. Much like the apartment building, in shared hosting, you will share server space with other organizations.

Typically, all of the domains (or sites) sharing that server space will also share common server resources, such as RAM and CPU.

As a benefit, because there are multiple users on the same server, and because the server must be maintained by just one organization or person, shared hosting environments include someone to administer and service the server(s) – this means that you don’t need a server administrator or high-level technical logic of your own. The downside of shared hosting is that the features included and available to you can be quite basic and offer little flexibility in terms of software and updates.

If you are keen to read more, read pros & cons to shared hosting.

Companies that offer shared hosting services: GreenGeeks, iPage, and BlueHost.

Reseller Web Hosting

This type of hosting allows hosting service clients to become web hosts themselves by acting as a space administrator and allocator, if you will. Resellers use their own bandwidth and hard drive space to host sites on behalf of third parties, subdividing large quantities of server space that they purchase wholesale to clients who need smaller amounts of space in a shared hosting environment. They do on occasion work with dedicated servers as well as shared servers.

The benefit to the reseller is that they are able to drive a profit since they markup the wholesale prices that they paid and that they also get first dibs on the space. This works out particularly well for organizations such as web design or agencies, since they work with numerous clients and can then offer budget-friendly hosting to their clients, while also having the option to rent out remaining space to external organizations to recoup some of their own costs (read what it takes to become a web hosting reseller).

Reseller hosting typically does not require significant technical knowledge, as the main server provider still maintains the servers and manages any connectivity or network issues. However, some resellers do provide services nearly identical to their provider’s and provide the technical support services in-house.  In all cases, the reseller is responsible for client and management. It isn’t a particularly high-margin business, but it does have advantages.

Company that offer reseller hosting service: Hostgator.

Virtual Dedicated Server (VPS)

Also known as Virtual Private Servers (VPS), a virtual dedicated server divides physical server resources into virtual servers so that the provider can allocate server resources in a way that suits them and their clients’ needs without directly affecting the underlying hardware.

These virtualized servers are often reliant on services allocated from one physical server to several virtual dedicated servers. This virtualization occurs for many reasons, but one of the most popular is because it is possible to relocate a VPS container between various servers – this portability allows for flexibility and growth which benefits both the client and web host.

In virtual server environments, the users may have root access to their own space (though this is not always the case) and are sometimes responsible for patching and maintaining the server (read more at the pros and cons of VPS hosting).

Companies with VPS hosting service: A2 Hosting, Hostgator, and SiteGround.

Dedicated Hosting Service

In this type of hosting environment, the user receives their own web server, meaning that the server is reserved and used for that sole client’s purposes. The user has full access and control to that server, meaning that they get root access for Linux and administrator access for Windows, allowing for software selection among other customizations. However, in spite of the amount of control and dedicated space, the user does not own the server; it is a lease.

Some dedicated hosting services allow and require the user to self-manage their server; this type of dedicated hosting service is typically more affordable than other scenarios. It provides the user with full administrative access to the server, but without the high costs and risks associated with fully owning and managing their own server. It allows them access to their own bandwidth, space, and hardware selections to offer more flexibility and customization than one finds in shared server configurations, for example. However, it does require a bit more technical prowess and ability (learn further in this dedicated hosting faq section).

Companies offering dedicated hosting service: A2 Hosting, and SiteGround.

Cloud Hosting

In the hosting realm, cloud hosting is still a fairly new concept. In cloud hosting provides clients with powerful, scalable, and reliable hosting in a virtual environment with clustered load-balanced servers and utility billing. One of the significant benefits to cloud hosting is the enhanced accessibility.

With conventional hosting, servers can “go down” due to natural disasters or local power disruptions, for example – however, since cloud hosting is virtual, other computers in that same cloud can compensate if a single piece of hardware goes down – meaning that your site might still run even if something occurs locally.

Cloud hosting also differs from conventional hosting also in that conventional hosting plans charge clients a flat rate for the servers based on the client’s estimate of the resources they require. In cloud hosting, providers are able to charge clients for the specific resources that they consume in a given billing period.

The downside to cloud hosting is that users may have less control in selecting where their data is located since servers are decentralized. For many, this does not present an issue; however, it could be a problem for users with data security or privacy concerns. If this is the first time you are getting on cloud, we suggest you to read Google’s guide in cloud computing.

Companies offering dedicated hosting service: SiteGroundWP Engine (WordPress only web host), Rack Space.