What Is Web Hosting?
In order to understand web hosting, it's important to first understand the basics of the web. The internet is made up of a network of computers all connected together. When you visit a website, your computer sends a request to the server that hosts the website. A server is a computer that stores and shares files, data, and other resources over a network. The server then responds by sending the requested information back to your computer. This process happens extremely quickly and is undetectable to users.
Web hosting is simply the process of renting space on a server so that your website can be accessible to people on the internet. Servers are powerful computers that host multiple websites, making them much more stable than home computers. When you select a web hosting provider, you're essentially leasing a space on their servers. This provides you with a physical location for your website files and enables them to be accessed by anyone in the world.
What a Hosting Provider Does
There are different types of web hosting, which we'll discuss in more detail below. However, all web hosts provide the same basic services:
- A domain name (which is your website's address on the internet, i.e. www.nonprofit.org)
- Virtual storage to keep all of the files and data associated with your website, including HTML pages, images (such as logos), videos, or other media.
- An email address associated with your domain name (i.e. email@example.com)
- Support and security features to keep your website safe and running smoothly
At its core, web hosting is a technical process that allows your website to be accessible to anyone on the internet. However, in order to have a well-functioning website, it's important to understand the different types of hosts available and their respective features. Here are some ways in which hosting providers can differ:
Compatibility – Is your preferred web hosting option compatible with your website platform? This is especially important if you're using WordPress or another popular CMS (Content Management System). Some providers specialize in specific platforms, so it's important to check this first.
Reliability – Since your website is an essential part of your organization, you need to ensure that it's always online. Not every provider has a reputation for providing reliable and consistent service.
Cost – Web hosting can vary widely in price, depending on the features you need and the quality of your provider's services. Do some research and compare prices from different providers so you can find one that fits your needs.
Types of Web Hosting Services
Now that you know the basics of web hosting, let's take a more in-depth look at the different types of hosting services available.
As its name suggests, shared hosting is when you share a server with other websites. This is the most common and affordable type of web hosting, since the cost of maintaining the server is divided among all of the users. Shared hosting is perfect for small organizations that don't receive a lot of traffic.
However, one downside of shared hosting is that your website will be sharing resources with other sites on the same server. This means that if another site on your server experiences high traffic or a technical issue, it could potentially affect your own site as well.
Dedicated hosting is when you have an entire server to yourself. This means that you aren't sharing resources with other websites, and you'll have more control over the server's configuration. Dedicated hosting is ideal for very large organizations or websites with high traffic levels. It's the most expensive type of web hosting.
VPS (Virtual Private Server) hosting falls in between shared and dedicated hosting in terms of price and resources. With VPS hosting, you share a physical server with other users, but each user has their own virtual "slice" of the server. This gives you more control than shared hosting, but less than dedicated hosting. VPS hosting is a good choice for organizations that don't require a lot of resources.
Cloud hosting is a newer type of web hosting that uses a network of connected servers, known as a "cloud." This allows for more flexibility and resources than traditional hosting options. Cloud hosting is perfect for organizations that need to scale their resources quickly or frequently. However, cloud hosting can be more expensive than other options.
In addition to these key factors, there are several other things you should consider when choosing a web host, such as:
Support and security features – What type of support will you have if you encounter technical issues? Will your provider offer security features such as backups or malware protection?
Uptime guarantee – How often is your site unavailable due to server maintenance or technical problems? What is the provider's uptime guarantee, and will they compensate you if your site experiences downtime?
Whether a CDN or caching service is included in the hosting plan price – Content delivery networks (CDNs) help improve website performance by storing cached versions of content on servers around the world. Additionally, some providers offer free caching services that can be set up with just a few clicks.
The number of email accounts and storage space included in your plan – How many email accounts will you need, and how much storage space do you need for your website and associated files?
The Bottom Line
When choosing a web hosting provider, it's important to consider your needs and budget. Shared hosting is a good option for very small organizations that don't receive a lot of traffic, while dedicated hosting is ideal for extremely large organizations or websites with high traffic levels. VPS hosting falls in between these two options, and cloud hosting is a newer type of hosting that offers more flexibility and resources than VPS without being quite as expensive as dedicated hosting.
If you're still unsure about which type of hosting is right for you, most providers offer a free trial so you can test out different options before committing to a long-term plan.