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Web Hosting Basics

Posted by eric

So you're ready to have your own website?

Congratulations! Here's five easy steps to get started without wasting any time!

Step 1: How does it work?
In order for your website to be available to anyone at anytime, you need to host it with a web host (i-e a web server leased to you by a hosting company.

Also, in order for your visitor to easily access your site by name, you will need a domain name such as yourname.com.
Most hosting companies will offer you a package including a domain name with the hosting of your site.
Step 2: Which kind of web site do you want?
Basically, there are 2 kinds of web sites:

  • Static sites (simple sites): you will build one or more web pages (called HTML pages) with software like FrontPage or DreamWeaver on your computer. You will then upload the pages to your host's server using FTP software like FileZilla for example.
    Every time you will need to change something on your site, you will have to edit the pages on your computer and upload them again. The website never changes by itself. That's why it's called a "static" site.
  • Dynamic sites (blogs, forums, photo galleries...): you will install software (called a web application) on your web server. This software will let you add and edit content (text, pictures, videos...) at any time directly online without the need for any special tools on your computer. The software may also allow your visitors to leave comments or start discussions of their own if you let them.

    Note: If installing a web application sounds complicated, don't worry: we are a webhost that will automatically install the application of your choice for you. Our tech support should also be able to help you.

Step 3: Which hosting technology do you need?
While static HTML sites can be hosted on virtually ANY web server, when it comes to web applications, you need to be aware of the technology they are using. There are 2 main categories here:

  • Linux hosting: this is also referred to as LAMP as in Linux Apache MySQL PHP which are the main technologies here. b2evolution for example runs on LAMP servers.
  • Windows hosting: this is also referred to as ASP hosting. ASP is Microsoft's technology for web applications.

Note: even if you use Windows on your own computer, you will generally want to go with Linux hosting *unless* you specifically need ASP. Linux hosting is generally faster, cheaper and more flexible than Windows hosting and poses no compatibility problem at all (beyond ASP). For example, all Linux hosts will work fine with a site you designer on DreamWeaver on your PC/Windows.
Step 4: What hosting service level do you need?
There is a whole range of service levels in web hosting. These can roughly be broken down like this:

  • Free hosting ($0): this is like shared hosting below but overloaded with ads and generally very slow. You should only use this for small private sites that do not need to work reliably.
  • Shared hosting: this is the most common kind of hosting. A very large server will host the websites of several different clients. Each client has it's own account though and is isolated from other clients.
  • VPS (Virtual Private Servers): Again a large server will host several websites but this time, the sites are strongly isolated by each other as if they were actually on different servers. This is needed if you have high security constraints.
  • Dedicated Servers: Here you get a whole physical server for yourself. That is very comfortable, fast and secure!

Generally you will always want to start with shared hosting, knowing you can always upgrade later. Shared hosting gives you professional web hosting capabilities at the fraction of the price of a dedicated server.
Step 5: Choose a hosting company

Once you have settled on Linux vs Windows and Shared vs VPS vs Dedicated, you will still have many offers from many different companies...
A lot of companies will offer you incredible disk space and bandwidth to host your site. All hosting plans in the $5 to $10/month today offer more space and bandwidth than you could possibly need when starting a new site.
If you ask us, there are 3 things you want to look at when choosing between similar hosting offers:

  • Performance: how fast will your site be? The best way is to check out a website you know is already hosted by the company you have in mind.
  • Uptime: will your site be available 24x7 or will it be "down" from time to time... which can be very annoying? Reviews and user comments will give you an idea pretty quickly.
  • Customer service! This is the hardest part to evaluate. If service is important to you, read reviews and user comments very carefully. However, if you tend to figure out things by yourself anyway, you may as well go for the cheapest prices...