What is web hosting? A beginner’s guide

Get to grips with hosting

Want to launch a website but don’t know where to begin? You’re not alone. Getting to grips with the ins and outs of launching a site, especially the term ‘web hosting’ can be confusing for anyone.

If you’re new to the whole process, one of the most complicated parts is web hosting. With so many packages to choose from, it can be confusing. Should you go with shared hosting? Do I need a dedicated server? And what is a VPS?

In this guide, we’ll go through the basics of hosting to help you understand what you need to get your website online.

So what is web hosting anyway?

We take it for granted that websites are just there, waiting for us to visit and interact with them. We may not even think about all the processes involved in making a website appear in our browser.

But of course, all the files that make up a website have to exist somewhere, and that somewhere is a web server.

Think of a web server as a computer that is always on and always connected to the internet. Websites are stored, or hosted, on these servers. Hence, web hosting.

Think of a web server as a computer that is always on and always connected to the internet.

Now if you wanted to, you could go out and build your own web server and use it to store your website. But unless you’re a very large business, doing this would be expensive and inefficient.

That’s why web hosting companies like GoDaddy exist. We have a huge number of servers in our data centres, and we sell web hosting services that allow businesses and individuals to host their websites with us.

Of course, not all businesses are the same, so we offer a range of hosting packages to suit the needs and budget of everyone from individuals looking to build a basic site, to large companies expecting thousands of website visitors a day.

Let’s look at those packages and what they mean.

What are the different types of hosting?

If you’ve already had a look at the hosting packages out there and couldn’t workout which kind you needed, then this is the section for you.

Equally, if you’re just starting your hunt for a hosting package then this section will help you understand the various options you’ll encounter.

Shared hosting

Sometimes just referred to as web hosting, shared hosting gives you access to space on a server the resources of which are shared among a number of users.

This helps keep costs down, but don’t expect the same level of performance as you’d get with the more expensive options.

That said, most providers of shared hosting will offer you an option to host several websites through the same package, along with “unlimited bandwidth” which means you won’t get charged extra if there’s a sudden influx of visitors to your website.

WordPress hosting

As the name suggests, WordPress hosting is a form of hosting that is configured and optimized for the WordPress content management system.

It’s a great way to get up and running with WordPress if that’s the way you intend to build your site.

Virtual private server (VPS)

A VPS is a step up from shared hosting. In this case, the server is divided into a number of virtual machines, and each customer gets ones of these virtual machines to themselves. Because the server is still being shared, the costs are still lower than a dedicated server. And because each VPS has guaranteed resources, it’s an option with more power than standard shared hosting.

Dedicated server

The most expensive and most powerful option. As the name suggests, with a dedicated server you get a whole server all to yourself. This option suits high-traffic websites, or resource intensive sites/projects.

Business hosting

GoDaddy offers business hosting, which providers more power than standard shared hosting packages, but without the complexity of a dedicated server. It’s an excellent choice if you’re creating a large, complex website but don’t want to get bogged down with all the tech knowledge needed to run a dedicated server.

So which is the right hosting package for me?

Hopefully, you should now have a better idea of the kind of hosting you need for your project, but there are still a few things that you need to consider.

Let’s look at each of them in turn.

Storage space and bandwidth: How big will your website be and how many people will visit it? You need to make sure the option you pick won’t leave you high and dry. Too little storage space and you may not be able to create the site you want, too little bandwidth and a surge of visitors could see you paying out extra cash to your web host.

Resource usage: Will your site be just a few pages and a contact form, or will you need a fully-fledged ecommerce site? You don’t want to try to run a huge ecommerce site on shared hosting, it simply won’t work. But equally, you don’t want to run a small, simple website on a dedicated server – you’ll be wasting money. Remember, you can always start small and upgrade your hosting package in the future if you need to.

Technical support: Does the hosting provider offer 24/7 support in your primary language? If not, you may face problems putting things right if something goes wrong. If there’s no sign of any technical support, you should look elsewhere.

Uptime guarantee: Top notch web hosts should offer an uptime guarantee of either 99.5% or 99.9%. This guarantee means that your website will be up and running 99.5/99.9% of the time. (Of course, this guarantee doesn’t include downtime caused by problems outside of the web host’s control.) If the host doesn’t offer an uptime guarantee, look elsewhere.

Extras: Lots of hosting companies offer extras, such as a free domain name for a year, to encourage you to sign up. Take a look at these to see if there’s anything you’d find useful, but don’t let them be a major factor in your decision. A reputable, reliable web host is more important than a nice freebie or two.

Do I need technical skills to use a web hosting service?

Although you don’t need to be a tech genius to use a basic web hosting service, it does help if you do have some technical skills, or are at least willing to learn them. If the hosting option you’ve picked has a good control panel, you’ll find it’s pretty straightforward to install web applications like WordPress or Drupal. However, understanding how to upload files via FTP will help you get the most out of your hosting package.

You’ll also find you need greater technical knowledge to use more powerful hosting packages, and running a dedicated server can be very complex.

If you’re worried about the technical side of things, you should consider using a website builder like the one offered by GoDaddy. GoDaddy’s Website Builder includes hosting and lets you easily design a site without having to worry about the technical side of things.

Alternatively, you may want to ask a web designer to create and upload your website for you.

Summing up

Hopefully by now you should understand a bit more about web hosting and the kind of package that’s right for you. Getting to grips with building and hosting your own website can be really rewarding. But you don’t have to do everything by yourself. GoDaddy will be here to help you every step of the way.

Will Stevens
Will joined the GoDaddy EMEA team in 2017, following the acquisition of HEG. He covers all aspects of digital marketing, from SEO to email, for the GoDaddy UK blog. Previously, he has worked in online journalism and also conducted online marketing campaigns for a number of well-known brands.