You've heard the term "web hosting" and you've seen advertisements promoting it. But what the heck is it?
Very simply, Web Hosting is a computer (server), typically in a secure location that is powered on 24 hours a day 365 days a year and has a fast connection to the internet. This computer's hard drive is loaded with the files that make up a website or websites. When someone wishes to view the website, the computer will access the necessary files and send them over the internet to the client computer. The user's computer will receive the files and display the page in the user's web browser.
Why can not I host my website on my home computer?
Actually, you can. There are several reasons that this is not the best thing to do however.
Is your internet connection fast enough? If you are going to host a website from your home computer, you must have a broadband internet connection. Also, if your web page gets very much traffic, your home internet will start to become slow for your personal use.
Does your ISP permit you to host a website? Before setting up hosting at home, you should check the contract you have with your internet provider to make sure it is allowed per their terms of service.
Do you know how to set up your computer as a secure web server? This is a complex topic. When you buy web hosting from a hosting company, they will take care of server security for you. If you host from home, you are the one responsible. Better start reading up on server security.
Will you be around if your home server fails? Web hosting companies have their servers located in data centers that have internet engineers on staff 24/7. This way, if a server or router fails for any reason, it can be quickly restored. If you want your site to be restored quickly after an equipment failure, you need someone available 24 hours a day … just in case.
Okay, so I need a web host for my site. How do I choose with so many options?
There are literally thousands of web hosts out there to choose from. If you are using a web designer or web design company to build a website, you should ask them where to host. Many web design companies also have a web hosting division to host the websites the company designs. There are differences in web server setups and your designer may be more familiar with a particular company. One example is the Windows scripting language asp.net. Linux based servers will be unable to run your site if it is built using asp. However, Linux based setups are typically cheaper due to the open source nature of the software.
After server compatibility with your website, undoubtedly the next most important aspect is customer service. If your site ever goes down, you want to be able to talk to someone fast. A potential client visiting your website will quickly move on to the next link if your site is down, costing you money. If you have friends or acquaintances that have a website, you should start my talking to them. After that, turn to Google and search for "web hosting review" and you will get a ton of information and reviews. One of my favorites is WebHostingStuff.com. It's worth checking out.
Another consideration is the uptime guarantee. You'll want to make sure that if your site is down for more than a few minutes a month you'll be getting a refund from your hosting company. The gold standard for uptime guarantees is 99.9% per month.
What about Unlimited Hosting Accounts?
The final consideration when comparing web hosts is the amount of disk space (quota) and bandwidth allowed for your account per month. Many companies are now offering "unlimited" disk space and bandwidth. Oftentimes however, this is an offer that is truly too good to be true. Unless you are paying big bucks for a dedicated server or a "Virtual Private Server", your site will be hosted on what's called a "shared hosting account". This means the web server will be hosting many sites at one time. This is done to save money. One problem with "unlimited" hosting accounts is that everyone else on your server also has an "unlimited" account. If your website neighbor starts getting a lot of web traffic, your site is also going to be affected. When customers attempt to navigate to your site while the server is under a high load, they will be met with an "Error 503 – Server Busy" message. Eventually, the host will need to suspend the other customers "unlimited" account for using too many server resources. You see, there really is no "unlimited hosting". It is really just a marketing ploy.
A better option is to choose a reputable host that has limits in place for all the accounts on the shared server, then purchase a plan that gives your site plenty of breathing room. This way, a "resource hog" from another customer does not affect you. Your web host can help you choose the size plan that's right for you. Most small business sites only need about 1GB of disk space and 4GB of bandwidth. As your site starts to gain traffic you can increase to a larger plan. If your site has video or large file downloads, you may need more.
I hope this article has given you a clear understanding of what web hosting is and why you need a host if you plan on having a successful website.