Web Hosts: The Basics
Before you start searching for a web host, you must familiarize yourself with the terminology used in this field. The following terms are also considered key factors in deciding the suitable hosting plan that meets your requirements. You can start learning what does each term mean and how does it affect your selection.
A web host, also known as web server, is a computer connected to the internet. This computer is more powerful than normal PCs and is set up to serve up websites. Your website content will reside on this computer, which will give people who surf the internet a way to access your website.
Web hosts can be categorized into three main categories based on the price range and common features for each category:
1. Free Hosts: limited in space, bandwidth and other features. Suitable for personal websites or for temporary usage. Usually enforce pop-up, text or banner ads. They do not provide the best performance and/or reliability. They provide minimum or no customer support. If you register for a free host, your domain will be something like yourname.freehost.com or www.freehost.com/yourname.
2. Shared Hosts: most websites are using this type of hosting. Suitable for personal, small and medium businesses. Prices range from to about a month. Features also range from very limited space/bandwidth to semi-dedicated servers. Your website has its own top level domain (e.g. www.website-hostings.net) The number of websites on a server affects its performance and availability, more websites usually means less performance. Servers hosting less number of shared websites are more expensive, but more reliable. Some companies allow customers to host multiple websites with different domains under a single account.
3. Dedicated Hosts: A full server dedicated to a single customer. Usually used by large businesses and very active websites with thousands of daily visitors. The customer will have full control over the server, and can create as many websites as he likes. Customer can have his own hosting company run on a rented dedicated server. Prices depend on the specifications and services provided with the server, starting from about 0 up to about 0 dollars a month.
4. Colocated Hosts: very similar to dedicated hosts, but the customer owns the server hardware instead of renting it. The server will be housed in provider’s data center. Prices are a bit higher than dedicated servers.
5. Reseller Hosts: providers offer web server storage to customers, who then resell the web server storage to their customers. Providers usually offer resellers a discount price.
6. Other Hosts: there are few other types of hosts such as email hosts, media hosts, data hosts, etc but these are out of the scope of this article.
Space / Storage
The amount of web server’s disk space available for customer’s website files, images and databases. It can be as small as 5MB in some free hosts and as big as 300GB for some dedicated servers. Space prices reduced significantly during the last few years. Customer can find hosting plans offering 3GB of space for less than a month.
Bandwidth is the amount of data transferred from web server to clients’ internet browsers. Each time a person view a page data is transmitted from the server to that person’s PC. Audio, video and images contents consume much more bandwidth than text. Bandwidth can be as low as 100MB a month in some free web hosts and as high as 2000GB a month in some dedicated servers. Customer can find hosting plans offering 75GB of monthly data transfer for less than .
Usually means the operating system than runs the web server. Common types are Windows, Linux and UNIX. Server type determines the server side scripting and database types. Windows usually runs ASP and ASP.NET with Access or SQL Server databases. Linux/UNIX servers usually runs CGI, PHP or JSP with mySQL or Oracle databases. Windows servers are usually more expensive than Linux/UNIX servers.
As you have seen in server types, there are different types of databases. The most commonly used is mySQL because its an open source GPL (free) software and can serve a lot of online applications’ requirements such as forums, content management, mailing lists, etc. MySQL, however, has some limitations in its features. Complicated large business sites will need more powerful databases such as Oracle or SQL Server.
Server Side Scripting
Most new users prefer to use PHP as server side scripting. The reason is that there are hundreds of open source (GPL) PHP scripts that can meet a lot of webmaster’s requirements. Similar to mySQL, PHP has some limitations in features required by advanced websites, which makes some senior web developers prefer to use ASP.NET or JSP. Other developers still prefer to use Cold Fusion, CGI, ASP or PERL.
Most hosting plans include the feature of having some email accounts with customer’s domain (e.g. firstname.lastname@example.org). The number and size of email accounts depends on the hosting plan. Free plans do not usually have this feature, small plans give about 10 accounts where big plans do not limited the number. Those email accounts are usually web based and accessible through POP3 clients as well.
File Transfer Protocol (FTP)
A standard way of transferring files across the Internet. Most webmasters upload and download their websites contents using FTP. The upload or download processes are usually performed using FTP client software. To access their web servers, webmasters need FTP username and password. Some hosts give more than one FTP account to their customers. FTP can by anonymous as well, but its not recommended for security reasons.
Most web hosting companies provide their customers with a control panel, a web based application that helps in managing websites. Common functions in control panels are: managing email accounts, providing statistics, managing FTP accounts, managing domains and subdomains and managing databases. The most commonly used control panel application is cPanel. Some companies develop their own control panel application.
An important feature of web hosts is their uptime, which is usually measured in percentage. A server that goes down for an average of 30 minutes a day will have an uptime percentage of about 99.98%, which is acceptable for most small to medium business websites. Anything less than this percentage is not suitable for a business website. Mission critical sites cannot tolerate frequent outages, thus they may use web monitoring services to notify web administrators immediately when an outage happens.
With the wide range of options available for customers, the price is also ranges from 0 to 00 a month. Most personal, small and medium websites shouldn’t cost more than a month. It’s not recommended for business website owners to go for very cheap plans (less than ) because this price usually means a compromise in the quality of support and reliability of the server.
Abbas Alafoo is the creator of www.website-hostings.net, a collection of articles and tutorials about web hosting, design, development, promotion and administration.