What is Web Hosting and How Does It Work?
A Beginner's Guide To Understanding Web Hosting

Dale McManus

Co-Founder & Web Developer

Jun. 20, 2018

Hey, my name is Dale! My partner Alex and I have helped tens of thousands of people build beautiful websites around the world. In this simple, step-by-step guide, I’ll explain what web hosting is, why it’s important, and how to set it up. Let’s dive in!

  • Level of Expertise:
    Beginner
  • Time To Complete:
    20 Minutes
  • What You Get:
    Working Knowledge

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What’s up, Internet!? Today we’re going to be answering the question of what is web hosting and going over a little bit about how it works.

As always, we have a video guide for this available on our YouTube Channel and below:

If you liked the video and want more tutorials on creating a professional website you can also subscribe to our YouTube channel!

We’ll let you know about some great places to sign up for web hosting in case you’re looking to start a website for your blog, portfolio, business, or whatever else you’re dreaming up.

Let’s hop into the article…

What is Web Hosting?

To help you understand what web hosting is, let’s walk through an example.

Imagine you just came up with a new business idea, say to sell blue widgets, and you want to open up a store somewhere in your town.

You can register store’s name, get a logo, even make a few widgets.

But none of that will matter unless you rent a physical space to set up your shop, and that’s what web hosting is all about.

Web hosting is just a service where you’re able to rent space on the internet, fill it with all your files and media (your digital “goods”), then open your doors by publishing your website live to the world.

When you start a website, all your text, videos, photos, buttons, etc. have to be stored physically somewhere on a web server – basically a commercial grade computer that’s connected to the internet 99.9% of the time (unlike your laptop, for example).

Web hosting companies have buildings filled with these servers and people to keep them running,

They’ll even provide you with design platforms, customer support, security, and all sorts of useful tools to make creating and sharing your website easy.

When learning about what it takes to start a website, be careful not to confuse buying web hosting with buying a domain name.

Basically, a domain name is just an address where your shop/website will be set up.

Web hosting is like the land and infrastructure that lets you set up that shop and make it accessible to anyone in the world.

And your website is like your actual shop, with all the goods you sell inside.

So if you get a domain name without hosting, you’ll just see a page that says “parked” – all you have is an address, but it doesn’t lead anywhere.

And if you buy hosting without a domain name, then you’ll have a place for people to go, but they won’t be able to find it.

We wrote a whole post that goes in-depth on domain names, how they work, and how to pick a good one for your website – if you’re interested check that out here.

Types of Web Hosting

When it comes to building websites, there are three different types of web hosting you’ll see, based on the kinds of web servers used.

These are:

  • Shared Hosting
  • Virtual Private Servers (VPS)
  • Dedicated Hosting

While all these types of servers will act as a storage center for your website – holding all your website code and data while letting the world access it – each offers a different amount of storage capacity, control, speed, and reliability.

When you’re starting out, you want to stick with shared hosting as it’s the lowest cost option and has everything a small starter site needs.

But as you grow, you’ll want to look into other types of hosting to be able to support increases in traffic, so let’s take a look at the different types of web hosting so you’ll know a bit about the benefits of each.

Shared Hosting

With shared hosting, your website is placed on one server with a bunch of other sites – from a few hundred to thousands of other sites.

All of these websites share the server’s resources, including memory and processing power, which leads to cost savings that the hosting company then passes on to you.

The disadvantage of this is that the server will struggle to keep websites that run a lot of code or get a lot of traffic online.

But as we said, when you’re starting out this won’t be an issue and the ease of setup and low cost are more than worth the tradeoffs.

Virtual Private Server (VPS) Hosting

Virtual private server hosting (VPS) uses technology to digitally divide one server into multiple “virtual” servers.

In this setup, your website code runs as if it’s on a separate physical server from any other website, though in reality, it’s actually sharing the physical resources (memory, processing power) with a few other websites (much fewer than shared hosting).

The benefit of this is that you can customize your website backend a lot more to better handle complex code and higher traffic.

But, taking advantage of this requires technical expertise and you’ll pay more for this.

As your website grows and you can afford to pay someone to help you with the coding stuff, this can be a helpful upgrade to maintain a great experience for your visitors (fast loading times, smooth functioning).

Dedicated Server Hosting

Dedicated server hosting offers maximum control over the server your website is stored on and run from – you’re exclusively renting an entire server, no other websites will be hosted on it.

This provides you maximum ability to optimize your website’s performance and handle a lot of traffic, but you’ll pay for it.

Website Hosting Costs

Web hosting is one of the many costs of starting a website.

Typically you’ll pay a monthly fee, with discounts for paying months in advance (sometimes up to 3 years).

Prices vary from host to host but here’s what you can typically expect to spend:

  • Shared Hosting: As little as $3.95/month to $10/month
  • Virtual Private Server: $20-60/month plus customization costs (assuming you pay someone to do that for you)
  • Dedicated Server: $80+/month including hosting and customization/maintenance costs.

As we mentioned above, shared hosting is more than enough to get started; as your website gets more traffic and holds more files, photos, etc. you’ll want to consider upgrading (but should be making more than enough money from the site to cover the additional costs).

Bonus Tip: You can actually host a simple website for free on Dropbox or Google Drive (this is mostly for fun, definitely not the way to create a pro website).

Best Web Hosting Companies

So now that you know the basics of web hosting and how much it costs, how do you choose the right hosting company for your website?

There are dozens of factors to consider when choosing the perfect web hosting company.

When you’re just starting out most of that will be confusing to figure out and the reality is most hosts will be fine for what you need.

If you really want to get into the details, check out our Definitive Guide to the Best Web Hosting Services!

If you don’t want to spend too much time on this (so you can get to building your website faster), here are a few of our favorite web hosts.

1&1

1&1 website hosting page

1&1 offers a wide range of hosting services including special services for e-commerce businesses and online marketing programs.

What really sets them apart is that they offer a first-year hosting price of just $0.99 a month – which is way lower than any other host out there (and, not surprisingly, that price goes up to more normal rates after the first year).

With good phone email, and chat tech support and a lot of hosting options you can take advantage of to increase performance as your traffic grows, 1&1 is a solid choice for starting and growing a website.

Bluehost

bluehost website hosting page

With over 2 million websites built on Bluehost, they’re a great company to work with for your first website. Bluehost sets itself apart in a few ways, including a free domain name when you sign up and daily backups of your site (even on their lowest-priced plans).

With great support and a solid track record, you’ll be just fine by choosing Bluehost as your first hosting provider. They also provide you with a free domain name and SSL certificate.

HostGator

hostgator website hosting page

While 1&1 and Bluehost are great, HostGator is definitely our favorite hosting service.

HostGator hosts over 8 million other domains and is a solid company for beginner websites with everything you need to get set up fast, including a one-click WordPress installer.

And with a 99.9% uptime guarantee and an industry-leading 45-day money back guarantee, you can trust you’ll be happy with their hosting service.

You can use our free tutorial to get started with HostGator or sign up for our free 5-Day eCourse on How to Create a Website!

There’s More to Creating a Pro Website than Hosting…

Hosting is an essential part of building a website and after reading this post you’ve got the basics under your belt.

But there’s still a lot more to learn!

So if you found this post valuable, go check out our Youtube Channel for more great tips on everything you need to know to create a pro website!

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