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Hosting is quite a mysterious term – people who are not in any way connected with IT or web hosting rarely know what it means. Sometimes even people running their own websites don’t fully understand its meaning or differences between various hosting providers. Do you belong to any of those groups? Find out what web hosting is!
What is web hosting?
Almost every guide to setting up your own websites starts with the recommendation to get a domain and hosting. These are two key components of any website. A domain is the same as the address (name) of the website, while hosting is the server space where it resides. However, hosting is also referred to as a service that provides a portion of server space to publish a website on the Internet.
This dual meaning probably contributes in part to the fact that many people do not fully understand what hosting is. Essentially, however, it’s the same thing in each case – the use of server space. A user using web hosting can place any files on it and then decide to publish them. It’s hosting that makes it possible for anyone to go to a particular website and use the resources provided. Depending on the type and size of the server part gives different possibilities, so the choice of hosting is a very important issue for every website owner.
What is a server?
We still need to explain what a server is, since hosting allows you to rent part of its space. A server is a computer which:
- is continuously connected to the Internet,
- has certain parameters in terms of performance,
- has a certain space,
- meets specific security requirements.
The owner (administrator) of a server can share space on it with others. He can allocate a specific space and let any user use it. However, he still controls the parameters and operation of the server. He can also decide how to use the server and what tools to use – usually a dedicated user panel. This is what is called a hosting service. Hosting is usually designed to handle websites (web hosting), but it can also handle email. It’s also important to note that it’s the administrator’s responsibility to ensure that the server, and therefore any hosting accounts used, operate properly, continuously and stably.
It’s also possible to invest in your own server and use all of its space. This is an option with many advantages (more about them later in the text), but also with one serious disadvantage, which is the high cost. That is why most websites on the Internet use “shared hosting”, which is just a dedicated place on a shared server.
Hosting – Types of Servers
If you’re choosing web hosting, it’s also worth knowing the types of servers you can use. Each of them is intended for a slightly different audience, so the choice should not be a particular problem – even for someone who does not have specialized IT know-how. What types of servers are available and what possibilities do they offer?
Most websites use servers that offer shared hosting. This is the technology described above whereby a certain amount of space is allocated on a given server and assigned to individual users. Usually in this case all accounts are assigned to the same IP. This makes such hosting the least efficient and stable. Of course, this does not have to mean problems – a good shared hosting may only periodically (in moments of increased traffic) work a little less smoothly, causing, for example, slower loading of pages. Often, however, this is noticeable to a minimal degree.
The biggest advantage of shared hosting is the affordable price. This is the cheapest solution, although of course each server owner offers slightly different prices and payment plans. It’s also a good choice for people without specialized IT knowledge. The maintenance of the account and the website is usually done through an intuitive user panel, and all work related to the maintenance and upkeep of the server is carried out by the hosting company. Shared hosting is used basically by all smaller websites, including blogs.
VPS Servers (Virtual Private Servers)
VPS hosting (on a virtual private server) is slightly better in terms of stability or bandwidth. What does it mean? Hosting in this case is also a separate part of the server, but a separate virtual machine is created from it. This involves the designation of a separate IP address and clearly better performance, completely independent of other users. It’s possible to freely customize and organize the workspace. Such hosting also allows you to install any software.
However, remember that physically the hosting is still only separated from the server, which is used by many other accounts. Therefore, such a solution is not equivalent to the highest level of security. VPS server is more expensive than a shared server. Usually, using it also entitles you to additional services, such as the care of a dedicated consultant. It’s a solution designed for larger sites that care about stability and smoothness of operation. It’s used, for example, by game servers and large online stores.
A dedicated server can be called the “crème de la crème” of all hosting. This is the option of using your own individual physical server. One computer supports one account, which of course provides many benefits. First of all, it’s independence. Secondly, stability, even at times of heavy traffic. Thirdly, it’s the safest solution. Separating your site on a separate server significantly reduces the risk of cyber attacks and other similar problems. Fourthly, a dedicated server gives you complete freedom of action, software installation and so on. It’s not hard to guess that it’s the most expensive solution – the price difference in comparison to a shared server is huge. This is why only the biggest sites use it – e.g. e-mail servers, streaming services or popular Internet portals. A dedicated server also requires hiring professionals to operate it.
What Distinguishes Good Hosting?
Website owners and entities just planning to launch their own websites often look for “good hosting”. But what does it actually mean? Hosting is largely responsible for the performance of a website – primarily its fluidity or speed. Therefore, it’s important that:
- the hosting uses a high quality, stable server,
- the work of the server is constantly monitored by a technical team,
- the server is configured in such a way as to provide users with data security, protection against cyber attacks and other online threats
- the connection between the server and the Internet is stable (in case of a connection failure it should be automatically changed so that there are no disturbances).
For many people, server and hosting support will also be very important. It’s crucial that the equipment is supervised by specialists who know their job very well, and any unforeseen failures are removed as quickly as possible. No less important will be the customer service – technical support that allows you to consult both the problems that occur and the configuration of the site on the server or other activities.
Paid or Free Hosting?
There are both paid and free web hosts on the market. Some companies offer various hosting plans, including one that is completely free. But is it worth to opt for it? Not necessarily, if you’re thinking of creating a functional website from the real deal. Free web hosting may be tempting, but in many cases it just doesn’t work. Such service is usually distinguished by:
- limited disk space – which allows you to build only a very simple, small website;
- low, limited transfer – which can cause problems with displaying or loading the page;
- presence of advertisements – often quite intrusive and making it difficult to get to know the content of the site.
Moreover, choosing such a solution, you often have to reckon with crashes and other similar problems. Therefore, you should never use free hosting for websites that are supposed to represent any business activity. An inefficient, slow or ad-flooded website looks highly unprofessional and has a negative impact on the company’s image. Free hosting can be used instead, for example, when trying out new features or learning how to create, modify or maintain websites.
How to Choose Web Hosting?
So how to choose a web hosting? What parameters to pay attention to? If you already know what type of server you need, it’s time to start looking at specific offers. Before you decide on a particular hosting, be sure to check all the parameters mentioned above. Hosting providers often tempt with promotions and attractive fees e.g. for the first year, and after signing the agreement it turns out that after this time the cost of hosting increases dramatically. Sometimes it also happens that the server from the promotion simply “does not work”. How to avoid such mistakes? Be guided by hard data. Check out what to look at before signing a contract.
Uptime is a rather mysterious-sounding parameter that simply means availability. It determines how often the server is unavailable due to failures or other problems – that is, how often you have to reckon with a non-functioning website. It’s defined as a percentage. If you’re looking for good hosting, go for a company that boasts an uptime of at least 99%. Some service providers also provide compensation if the uptime falls below a certain level. This is a sign of customer care, as well as hard work on the stability and proper functioning of the server.
- Data transfer
Data transfer is another word for connection speed. It indicates how much data can be transferred per second between your website and the network. The speed of your internet connection determines how fast your website will load. Of course, it’s worth looking for the highest possible values. After all, few people have the patience to wait more than a second for a website to load. Slow performance is able to effectively discourage users getting acquainted with its content. It’s also good to check if the hosting is connected with any data limit. The best are, of course, unlimited offers.
Security is one of the most important issues. What is more, its importance is constantly growing. It’s up to the hosting company to provide an appropriate level of security that will protect the data of the website owner and its clients. Of course, the hosting should support a SSL certificate, which is already a standard, but it’s also worth checking if other security services are available. Among other things, it’s important how often accounts are backed up. You should also find out how long these copies are kept.
- Disk Space Limit
Every hosting service requires a certain amount of disk space. Depending on the complexity of your site, you will need more space. If you’re only going to create a business card website, a few hundred megabytes may be enough. However, most sites need more space. Remember that each new tab, image or graphic will require a certain amount of disk space. You can also attach an email box to your domain, which will take up more megabytes. This is why adjusting the space limit to your needs is so important.
It’s also worth finding out what the company’s policy is in case of exceeding the space limit or transfer limit. Sometimes it results in blocking the website. It’s advisable to choose a hosting provider that is more understanding and, for example, sends warnings about exceeding the limits, asking to modify the site or buy a higher package of services.
- Other Limitations
Depending on the type of account and hosting company, you may also encounter other limits imposed on users. The most restrictions are obviously connected with basic, cheapest accounts. Sometimes the number of databases may be limited, other times the number of administrator accounts, domains or subdomains. Think about what is important to you and how you want to run your site before you decide to buy hosting, especially the cheapest one.
- Technical Support
Everyone may find themselves in a situation where they need technical support. This is because problems with websites and their operation sometimes vary. They are usually unexpected and their quick removal is crucial. That’s why a good hosting service offers its clients 24/7, easily accessible and reliable support. Everyone should be able to get quick answers to their questions. It’s also a good idea to make sure about the communication of failure messages and the average time it takes to fix the problem. A good web host may even offer compensation related to the failure, ongoing repair or maintenance.
The price of the service is undoubtedly important. However, it’s important to consider not only the promotional price that is often offered to new customers (there are even hosts available for a full year for just one zloty), but also, and perhaps most importantly, the price for the next billing period. Extending the service with many hosting providers costs much more than creating an account and using it in the initial period. So it’s worth carefully analyzing the offers before you decide on the right one.
Choosing the right hosting can definitely be helped by reviews. There are plenty of hosting review sites on the Internet. However, it’s worth remembering that the entries posted there may not always be reliable. This is a competitive market, and both positive and negative word-of-mouth marketing are commonplace. Therefore, a much better idea may be to take advantage of your friends’ experience. You can also ask a question e.g. on a trusted facebook group or a closed forum. Then the chance to get reliable opinions is much greater.
- Trial Period
What is the best way to try out a particular hosting service? Of course through a trial period! Not every company offers such a possibility, but if it’s available, it’s definitely worth using. Usually it’s no more than 14 days, but for this time you can check in practice how the server works and how conveniently you use the hosting.
Hosting is an essential element for any website. Without it, the website cannot reach other web users. There are many hosting providers and many options for using them. Therefore, if you run a website or intend to set one up, you will definitely find the right option for you.
It’s worth mentioning that the speed of the website is one of the many factors that affect the positioning of websites in search engines. An efficient server in combination with proper optimization can noticeably improve the visibility of a given website in search results, which translates into greater audience interest.