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Imagine the following scenario: you're building your very first business website. You took the time to get the best domain name. You commissioned a great designer who's ready to make a highly-functional, responsive web page with a great layout. They discuss what you'll need and what your vision is for the finished product. At the end of the meeting, they ask you what hosting service you were planning on using for getting the site up and running. How do you respond?
If you went with, "What is a web hosting service?" you'll want to stick around for this next part.
Having a good web host is integral to having a site that is fast, reliable, and customers will want to keep visiting.
Unfortunately, what hosts actually do is lost upon a good majority of beginners trying their hands at their very first web venture. No worries, though, because today we're going to break down the basics and help you answer that oh-so-critical question.
Okay, So What Are Web Hosting Services?
From the name, you can infer that these are companies that provide web hosting to their clients.
"Great," you might be thinking, "but what is website hosting?" We're glad you asked. Many newbies get web hosting and domains confused, but the two concepts are actually different. Simply put, a domain just refers to an easy-to-remember name used to identify an IP Address (which in turn show the location of particular websites). Website hosting refers to the servers that house the information that comprises a given website.
An oft-used analogy is that of an apartment or house that holds all the "stuff" that makes up a home, while the Domain is the address that lets people know where to find you. A hosting service, using the same analogy is the bank or landlord who owns the property where you keep all your things. The stuff is yours, but the "building," so to speak, is theirs.
This, of course, is just a cursory definition and doesn't delve into the different varieties of hosting (which we will now cover). Generally speaking, there are three major kinds of web hosting that one would normally use, each with its own characteristics, advantages, and disadvantages. When asking yourself "what is a website host?" you have to be able to differentiate between the options. Here's a quick overview of the most common types:
Shared Hosting is when multiple sites and their files are housed together on the same server. Like an apartment building, they share some space and resources. This has the advantage of keeping costs lower and ease-of-use high. The disadvantages are just about everything else that matters.
Since everything is shared, high spikes in traffic on one site can slow down other sites on the same server. If the server is attacked or disabled, all sites will be affected. Furthermore, if one site on the server is engaging in bad behavior (the kind that search engines don't particularly care for) the rankings of all the shared server sites could be penalized.
You can look at VPS Hosting as a step up from shared hosting. The server is shared among several users, but each site is allocated their own resources. This enables a greater degree of security and some resistance to resource drain. The flip side is that VPS hosting can sometimes be more complicated and comes with an increased cost to each user.
Dedicated Hosting is the cream-of-the-crop. You get a completely independent server and plenty of resources all to yourself. You'll gain an advanced level of freedom, but with a much higher price tag. Setting up and maintaining a dedicated server generally requires an increased investment of time and technical know-how as well.
There are other kinds of hosting too, like cloud hosting, which leverages a network of interconnected physical servers to provide hosting resources to client websites. A reliable option for some, but not ideal in all cases, especially when dedicated servers provide you with the power you need.
There are managed hosting options for web builders looking for something tailored to the specific content management system they used to create a site, and even options depending on which operating system you'll need to run specific programs on a site (usually Linux or Windows).
How Do Hosting Services Differ?
Another critical component of our main query, "what is a web hosting service?" Not all hosting services provide the same features to their customers. Some offer a full range of hosting services. Others may specialize in shared or dedicated hosting only.
Web hosts vary with the plans that they offer their customers. Some will provide generous options with ample resources, and extras like managed site security, email accounts, and more. Other hosts are stingier, providing only scant resources, extras, and support.
Hosts can also differ in the kind of operating systems they use for their servers. We mentioned earlier that servers are often Linux or Windows based. Some hosts offer both; others will focus on one over the other.
How Do I Know If I'm Getting A Good Hosting Service?
Alternatively, "what is a web hosting provider that's worth my time?" You'll have to make sure that they can offer hosting that will work best for your site (shared v. VPS v. dedicated; Windows v. Linux, etc.). You'll then have to compare services. Who is giving you the best price? What additional features are included in the service? Is their customer support up to par?
A great source for answers are direct customer reviews. Marketing material and "official" review sources will give you part of the picture regarding a host's technical capabilities. Client reviews will give you an inside view of their business practices and how they treat consumers. Lots of complaints about customer service and shady billing practices? It might mean that the host in question engages in some behind-the-scenes trickery. Alternatively, glowing reviews about their service generally point to a web host that you can trust.
So, next time you're in a situation where you're asked "what is a web hosting site?" you'll be able to answer with an increased degree of confidence. There are a lot of intricacies to web hosting, so make sure you double up on your research of hosting choices and work with your team to track down which is going to be the best for you moving forward.