What Is Web Hosting? (And Why Do I Need It?)
Registering a domain name is the first box you need to tick if you want to set up a website for your business. However, by itself, a domain name does not enable you to build a website. To build a website, you also need web hosting.
What is Web Hosting?
A web host is how and where your website lives. The way this works is your domain name gets assigned to a web hosting package which is actually server space. The server is owned by a hosting company who manages the server for you.
In other words, your web host provides your web hosting.
It’s important not to mix the two up, so here’s a distinction between the two:
- A web host is a business that provides the technologies and services needed for your website to be viewed on the Internet.
- Web hosting refers to the product of hosting itself, which is essentially rented space on a server in return for a monthly or annual fee.
It’s important to point out that you do not need a web host for web hosting. You can do it yourself with a server. However, because of a web host’s access to state-of-the-art hardware, the added value of support and massive uptime, and the fact you need no expertise to open a host account (versus configuring your own server and managing it) means web hosting is the best option for most people.
How Web Hosting Works
Web hosting is basically rented server space.
Rather than have your own physical server under your desk, you rent server space from a company who provides it as a service. This is true of all types of third-party hosting, which is an important point to make because in your search for web hosting, you’ll come across three main types:
- Dedicated hosting
- VPS (virtual private server) hosting
- Shared hosting
At UKHost4U, we provide options for all three of these, so we’ll explain the differences between these below.
Dedicated hosting gives you exclusive access to a single server for your website. This is the most powerful type of hosting because you get access to the server’s RAM, CPU and storage without the resources being split (as with a VPS which we’ll cover shortly). For websites that will require a lot of resources, this is the best choice.
- Highly configurable
- The most powerful choice for resource-heavy sites
- Won’t be affected by anyone else’s server
- Scalable architecture (depending on the hardware)
- Not really relevant to smaller websites
VPS hosting also utilises a server; however, the server’s resources are split to create a number of virtual private servers. In other words, it is one physical server that functions like several separate servers. The server uses software (a hypervisor) that gives each website its own private space which has its own resources. This is reserved just for you with guaranteed minimum resources. For smaller sites, VPS hosting is really all you need.
The downside to VPS hosting is it isn’t as powerful as dedicated hosting. The upside is it costs considerably less.
- You get your own private server space
- Cheaper than a dedicated server for most
- The performance is plenty for most websites
- Not as scalable as a dedicated server
- Not as configurable as a dedicated server
It’s easy to describe what shared hosting is with a comparison to VPS hosting. Whereas VPS hosting gives you your own virtual space with your own resources, with shared hosting your domain is not the only one in your virtual compartment. It means you have to share your resources like CPU, RAM, and storage with other website owners using that same server. The upside to this is cost-shared hosting is cheap. The downside is that as you scale, performance may become an issue.
- The cheapest option
- Absolutely fine for small sites (such as those on WordPress)
- Shared resources mean performance uncertainty
The Domain Name and Hosting Relationship
Now you know how web hosting works, let’s go back to domain names and discuss how a domain name and web hosting work together. The relationship between a domain name and web hosting is quite simple: your domain name is what people type into their web browser to visit your site. When someone types your domain name into a browser, your web host (server) receives that request and delivers your website to the browser. This happens in seconds.
Another way to think of it is this: imagine a house with a long path leading up to it. Your domain name is the path, your web hosting (server) is the house. Your website and files are the contents inside the house.
Creating the Link
As you may have grasped by now, domain names and web hosting are rather useless without each other. You cannot use a domain name without web hosting or vice versa. You need both to create a website for your business. Most people purchase the two together, but this isn’t necessary. You can purchase a domain from any domain registrar.
So, you might ask, “how do you link a domain with a hosting package?” The answer to this question is simple: nameservers.
A nameserver is a server permanently connected to the Internet. All web hosts have them. When you buy a domain name, you point the domain to these nameservers and the nameserver will create the connection so long as you have a hosting package. Once you’ve changed the nameservers, you need not do anything else!
What to Look for in a Web Hosting Provider
Let’s summarise everything we’ve learnt so far with two points:
- A web host is how and where your website lives
- Without anywhere to live, your website can’t exist
That’s why you need web hosting if you want to have your own website. So, let’s move on and talk about what to look for in a web hosting provider.
Uptime should be critical in your decision. It is a matter of reliability and your website being available for your customers. No host can guarantee 100% uptime because you cannot guarantee the unforeseen; however, an uptime of 99% is typical.
Good hosting runs like clockwork, but there’ll be times when you need to ask for a little help. A web host who is willing to pick up the phone and answer emails and support tickets quickly will be invaluable to your business.
cPanel Control Panel
cPanel puts everything you need to manage your website in one place. You may only need to use it once or twice a month, but when you do, you’ll be glad to have it because you can manage your files, email and domains using shortcuts.
Although many web hosts run backups as a matter of course, some don’t provide the service free of charge. Backups are important because they can restore your website back to a previous version should anything go wrong.
Whether you plan on launching one website or a small series of them, one-click install is useful because it enables you to install a CMS like WordPress without having to create any databases yourself. The process is automated.
When we say scalability, we are referring to your ability to upgrade and downgrade your hosting plan to suit your requirements. Your requirements could change at any time, so it’s quite useful if your web host will play ball.