Understanding the different types of web hosting

If you want to build a website, open an online store, or start a blog, then you’ve probably already realised that you’re going to need a web hosting plan to do so. You might have even checked out a few hosting companies to see what you can expect to pay. 

You may also be very confused! With the sheer variety of hosting plans available, it can be hard to know what’s right for you.

Choosing the right web hosting plan for your website can be daunting, especially if you aren’t experienced. After all, you don’t want to be paying for more than what you need!

In this guide we aim to explain exactly what each type of web hosting is, how they work, and when you should use them.

What is web hosting?

First, let’s cover the basics and explain what web hosting actually is.

Web hosting is actually a fairly simple concept. When you visit a website in your internet browser like Chrome or Firefox, your browser is downloading a number of files from a server on the internet. These files contain lines of code which are then converted by your internet browser into something you can actually read – a web page.

The web server that you download can be located anywhere in the world, as long as it is connected to the internet. You’re accessing the website files just like you would access a normal file – except they’re from a remote location, rather than from your own local computer.

Web servers are essentially very powerful computers that are designed specifically for providing website content, so while they do contain the same components like CPU, memory, and operating system, they don’t typically include other things that you would see in a computer like a monitor or keyboard. 

These web servers are then usually rented out by people to website owners who will have access to a certain amount of the server’s storage, and resources. Think of it as each customer having a slice of a pie, with the whole pie being the web server. If you have a dedicated server or VPS, you’ll have the whole pie, but if you’re on standard or shared web hosting then you’ll just have a slice.

The process of providing this infrastructure to website owners is called web hosting, and the person who rents out this space is called a hosting provider.

Now that we’ve covered what web hosting is, let’s explain each type of web hosting and when you would need them.

Shared Hosting

By far the most common type of web hosting, that the overwhelming majority of websites use is shared hosting.

As you may have already guessed, shared hosting is where one primary web server is split into many different portions, where each customer has access to a portion of the web server’s resources such as processing power, storage space, and bandwidth. Each portion is called a hosting account. Shared hosting servers will typically have dozens, if not hundreds or even thousands, of hosting accounts.

With shared hosting, all of the server’s resources are shared between all of the hosting accounts residing on the server. This means that you’ll typically have stricter limits on storage space, bandwidth and memory usage, in order to prevent any one account from hogging too much resources. There are also tools like CloudLinux which keeps resources efficiently shared across all customers’ accounts on the server.

Typically shared hosting is the most affordable type of web hosting available. As hosting providers can accommodate so many hosting accounts in a single server, it costs the provider very little in running costs. This in turn means that shared hosting plans can be extremely affordable for website owners – with some providers even offering free hosting!

Shared hosting is also the easiest type of web hosting to get started with. Most hosting providers will include an easy-to-use control panel, so you can manage your files, databases, emails and everything else. Tools for installing platforms like WordPress are also common, as well as website builders.

The downside to using shared hosting is that the performance can sometimes be worse than you’d find on a private server or dedicated server. As resources are shared between all accounts on the server, surges in usage could potentially affect your website’s performance.

When should you use shared hosting?

Shared hosting will be suitable for most simple websites that don’t receive large amounts of traffic. Simple websites like WordPress blogs, portfolios, forums, or even small eCommerce stores will work fine with shared hosting. 

If your website is mission-critical and relies on a lot of resources, or your website often experiences large amount of traffic, then you’ll want to look at a different plan.

Virtual Private Server (VPS) Hosting

A VPS hosting plan is the next step up from shared hosting and is essentially halfway between a shared hosting plan, and a fully dedicated server.

VPS hosting is similar to shared hosting in that several VPS hosting accounts share the same one physical server. However, the difference here is that each VPS account acts as its own private server with its own operating system, control panel, and resources. This essentially acts as one server housing multiple virtual machines, hence the term Virtual Private Server.

While VPS hosting is somewhat similar to shared hosting in some aspects, it’s also quite different. For starters, the physical server which hosts the virtual machines is often more powerful than a shared hosting server, and is commonly equipped with Solid State Drives which some shared hosting plans might not have.

You’ll also find that there are far fewer virtual machines per physical machine, than there would be shared hosting accounts per physical machine. Essentially you’re sharing with less customers and therefore you’ll see better performance. Resources are also spread evenly with VPS hosting, so no one account can exceed it’s resource allowance and affect other websites.

Perhaps the biggest benefit of VPS hosting is the flexibility. Usually you can fully customise your environment including the operating system, control panel, and software. You simply won’t have this luxury with most shared hosting plans.

Scalability is also something that VPS plans accommodate very well – if you find yourself needing more resources, in most cases you can very easily add more resources to your plan.

When should you use VPS hosting?

VPS hosting is ideal for any website that’s receiving decent amounts of traffic, which a shared hosting plan wouldn’t be able to accommodate. As VPS hosting is the next step up from shared hosting, you’ll be able to take advantage of a much more generous allocation of resources like storage, CPU power, and memory.

If you’re running a high-traffic, demanding eCommerce website then VPS hosting is ideal. Similarly, if you have any mission-critical projects that need to stay online, VPS hosting may be perfect due to the high-availability features that many hosts provide.

Dedicated Server hosting

As you may have already guessed, the concept of dedicated hosting is pretty simple.

You have the whole physical server to yourself, not shared between any other customers, so you don’t have to worry about other websites hogging your resources like you might with a shared hosting plan or even a VPS.

The main reason many website owners choose dedicated hosting is the amount of control you have over the way your server is designed. Many hosting providers will allow you to customise many aspects of the server’s hardware and software, such as the processor, RAM, storage, and even the operating system. This makes it ideal for any kind of specialised application or project.

Performance is also a major selling point with dedicated servers. Since you’re not sharing resources with others, you’ll find that your website’s speed can drastically improve with proper optimisations. Resource-intensive websites or complicated projects often need dedicated servers for this reason.

The most noticeable downside to dedicated hosting is the cost. Typically you will find that dedicated servers cost considerably more than any other type of hosting plan. You are of course, paying extra for the exclusive use of the server, however it can be a turn off for some people.

Support can also be an issue with some hosting providers. While many hosting providers offer a managed service with technical support on standby, some hosting providers only offer ‘barebones’ servers with no included technical support – meaning you’ll need some technical knowledge if anything goes wrong.

When should you use dedicated server hosting?

If you have a website with very large amounts of traffic, or a website needing lots of resources, then a dedicated server is the best option for you. You may find a VPS suitable in some instances however a high spec dedicated server would be more powerful and facilitate better performance.

Similarly, if you have a specialised project or application that requires the dedicated hardware or a customised software setup, then you may also find that a dedicated server is the best option for you.

Reseller Hosting

Reseller hosting is a form of shared hosting where one main account, referred to as the Reseller, has access to a certain portion of a shared web hosting server. In this portion, they are able to create multiple individual hosting accounts which they can then provide to other customers. Essentially each hosting account would function the same as an account on a normal shared hosting server, except that the Reseller controls the resource limits, DNS settings and account status, rather than the hosting provider. This is why it’s referred to as Reseller hosting – because they are reselling the hosting provider’s solutions to other customers.

Reseller hosting plans allow resellers to create their own custom packages with specific resource limits and settings for their customers to use, so you can create your own branded service – with hosting providers often providing private nameservers and white-label branding. 

Reseller hosting also often comes with easy-to-use control panels, which makes managing your hosting accounts easy. Many resellers choose reseller hosting for this reason, as you don’t have to spend as much time configuring control panels or other options like you might with a dedicated server or a VPS.

The most noticeable downside is the performance – you can expect similar results from reseller hosting as shared hosting, since they are functionally the same. This will however depend on whether the shared hosting server uses SSD storage or traditional HDDs, amongst other factors.

When should you use Reseller hosting?

Reseller hosting is ideal in a number of scenarios. The most common use we see is for web developers who have a lot of clients, as the control panels make it easy to manage many hosting accounts in one place.

You could also start your own web hosting company with reseller hosting. Just bear in mind that you would be relying on the hosting provider’s hardware!

WordPress Hosting

WordPress hosting is a form of shared hosting that’s specifically designed for use with the WordPress content management system.

WordPress is the most popular content management system, with 34% of all websites on the internet using the platform. Originally introduced as a platform for hosting blogs, it’s grown to be much more, and you can now host nearly any kind of website on it from online stores to travel websites.

Functionally WordPress hosting is the same as shared hosting in that there’s one physical server shared between many different customers. The difference is that while shared hosting is designed to allow for any kind of platform, WordPress hosting is designed specifically for WordPress websites and as such, the servers are usually optimised specifically for WordPress websites. 

When should you use WordPress hosting?

As you may have guessed, WordPress hosting is ideal for anyone looking to host a WordPress website with the best performance possible, without shelling out for a VPS or dedicated server!

Website Builder hosting

For anyone new to the world of web hosting, Website Builder plans are an ideal choice.

Website builder hosting plans allow you to easily build a website with no prior experience. These plans are hosted the same as shared hosting plans, with many hosting plans residing on the same server. The main difference is that website builder plans usually come installed with a tool that allows users to build a website from the ground up, with simple tools and no complicated coding.

The downside of website builder hosting is that you may not have as much control over your hosting environment as you might find in other plans. Many hosting providers will offer only a specific environment tailored for the website hosting plan, with pre-configured software. Performance may also be less than ideal as website builder plans are usually on a shared hosting environment.

When should you use Website Builder hosting?

This type of web hosting is perfect for those looking to start a new website from scratch, without any previous experience of website design. Website builder plans will usually accommodate simple websites with small amounts of traffic. Larger websites requiring more resources would require a different type of plan.

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