Before visitors can reach your website, you need to host it. This means contacting a hosting company and loading your website onto one of their servers, which are directly connected to the Internet via a high-speed connection.
What is hosting?
The Internet is a worldwide network of connected computers that share information. Some of these computers function as servers, offering a dedicated source of information that can be accessed by all web users. When you type in a web address, such as http://www.google.com, your request to access Google is sent to Google’s servers, which then return the actual website to you. Unless there’s a physical computer somewhere in the world that’s serving your website to users, your domain name will not work.
Hosting companies specialise in hosting websites, both for businesses and private individuals. They operate out of data centres, which house an array of hosting servers that provide access to all the websites they have agreed to host. Hosting companies offer a variety of packages that differ in terms of cost, flexibility, amount of resources provided and how much follow-up or monthly support is provided. If you buy your domain name through a company that also offers hosting, you may be able to get a special deal on shared hosting. See our guide to choosing an effective domain name for more information.
Speed, bandwidth and resources
Most hosting packages can be differentiated on factors such as speed and quality of hardware. The most important factors to consider are the speed of the connection to the Internet, the amount of RAM available and the bandwidth available to users of your site. Bandwidth is how much data can be consumed by users of your website, whilst RAM is how much physical memory the computer serving your site has.
Shared hosting allows web hosting companies to host several different sites on one computer; this is by far the cheapest option, but because you are sharing resources the performance can be lacking compared to other hosting options. Security can also be an issue because you’re sharing a system, however shared hosting is ideal for less important websites and start-ups that initially won’t receive much traffic.
Dedicated servers are the most expensive option but offer the most features. You receive an entire physical server dedicated to your own websites, typically with significantly more bandwidth and RAM than other hosting options, and a much faster direct connection to the Internet. You are able to set your own security requirements, add more hardware as you see fit, or install specific applications that may not be allowed on shared hosting packages
Virtual Private Servers
Virtual private servers provide all the functionality of a dedicated server but the architecture is virtual i.e. it’s built using software. VPS are cheaper than dedicated servers because several VPS are created on one physical server so the company has fewer overheads. Unlike shared hosting, VPS offer guaranteed bandwidth, RAM and connection speed that are not dependent on other websites.
Managed Vs unmanaged
Hosting companies offer both managed and unmanaged packages. Managed packages mean the hosting company provide constant support for your server, including keeping security credentials up to date, maintaining hardware and installing any applications you want installed. Unmanaged packages do not come with this server; you are personally responsible for the upkeep of the server.
Why can’t I use my home computer to host my website?
Technically, you can, but there are disadvantages. The computers used by hosting companies are optimised for hosting websites, and are housed in data centres that offer highly-reliable architecture to ensure a great degree of redundancy should a component fail. Finally, hosting companies have special, high-speed connections to the Internet that have many times the capacity of your normal home broadband line, ensuring speedy access for all users.