Untangling the web hosting knot

So you’ve decided that you are going to finally jump in full force and build your own website. Congrats! Maybe you’ve done a little tweaking of a WordPress.com theme, or you remember the days of customizing your myspace profile, or maybe you don’t know a damn thing about website hosting, but you’ve made a decision. You want a website to tweak and play with until your little heart’s content. What’s the first thing you need? Hosting!

This is a ‘for idiots’ site, so I am really getting down to the absolute basics of how websites work here…

What exactly is web hosting?

Web Hosts (or hosts) are basically places where you put all of your files that make up your website that is accessible by the world. A hosting provider is providing a service to you by owning, managing, and maintaining the computer / computers that are storing and serving up these files.

Why can’t I just save money and make my spare computer a host?

Well, you technically can, but it’s not a good idea. Basically any computer can serve as a website host, but if you plan on doing any routing of internet traffic to your computer in your house, plan on things getting messy. The first issue you will encounter is with your Internet Service Provider (ISP). That is comcast, AT&T, Verizon – basically whoever you pay for access to the internet. If you have a basic home internet package chances are it is against their TOS to run a public web server. If you want to do it legitimately you will have to buy a much more expensive internet package which will basically undo the “saving money” argument for hosting at home. On top of that, you will also need to get a static IP address from your ISP so that you can point your domain name to an IP address that will not change which also costs more money(otherwise you will have to change your DNS settings each time the IP address changes!). Finally, you have the issue of simply having lesser software options, lesser computer power, and lesser security against hackers. The small amount of money you pay to a hosting provider is well worth the money, time, and security that it would cost you to host from home.

So what are your hosting options?

There are a million ways to skin a cat (ew, I just realized I hate that saying). The type of hosting you will need will depend directly on the type of website or web application you want to build and what you plan on doing with it. I will outline the basics and what they mean for you.

Share web hosting is the most commonly used type of hosting among small businesses. It is a very affordable but mostly secure solution for businesses that want a website to show to the world that does not require a ton of resources. The basic idea is that they store a large number of websites on each server computer. This puts your website on a computer with hundreds or thousands of other websites so that they can charge less money to you.

The good: Its very affordable. As stated before, they are able to give very good prices because they put a bunch of people on one server. It offers a hands off approach to having space on a server for the website owner. As a website owner, you don’t have to really think about your web hosting at all. The hosting provider will manage it all for you and all you need to think about is building your website. Some of the larger companies also have 24/7 phone support that is relatively good, especially for beginners.

The bad: Because you are on a server with any number of other websites that are doing any number of things both legit and shady, you don’t really know what you are jumping in to. While your hosting account is completely partitioned from other users, and other users can not see anything you upload (and you can’t see theirs) you are still connected and hosted from the same machine. That means that if one account is doing some email spamming, or something else shady it will affect the performance of all sites hosted on it. Most quality hosts are able to pinpoint the offending account and freeze them until they find out what is going on, however. Also, a little less commonly, if an account has poor security on their own scripts, they could potentially open a backdoor to a hacker which could possibly take over an entire server and hack all accounts on it. This sounds a lot scarier than it is and could be easily remedied once the hosting provider notices it. This is one of the many good reasons for you to keep a current backup of your site on your local computer.

Virtual Private Server (VPS) is could be thought of sort of like a half step between a dedicated server and a shared hosting account. A VPS basically gives you an actual partition of a server. This means that one computer is essentially segmented into a few smaller computers. It is not like having a shared hosting account because a VPS will actually give you what is called “root” access. Root access to your server allows you finer tuned control of your server environment and will allow you to install server software whereas a shared account gives you zero access to server configuration.

The good: The ability to control your server’s environment could be a necessary option if the application or website you are building has specific server software requirements. For instance, if you want to stream a live video feed you may want to install the Red 5 media server

… to be continued


*If you have additional questions or want further explanation of things, ask away! 


About The_Idiot

Self made millionaire.. Oops I mean web developer.. who started out learning how to build websites with tables and dreamweaver, I now almost entirely focus on CMS-based development, usually WordPress. I love coding and designing and regularly switch between my left and right brains.

4 thoughts on “Untangling the web hosting knot

  1. Thank you so much Lindsay…I must say it is the best information I have ever got on hosting.

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  4. Such great info! Web hosting can be so complicated!

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