Web hosting providers offer rentable space on computer servers to store and operate users’ websites as well as a connection to the internet so that websites are accessible by online visitors. Web hosting is used by organizations that desire server storage and internet connectivity but do not want to host or maintain servers on-premises at their place of business. Instead, website hosting providers maintain, configure, and frequently own servers in remote data centers, and offer a series of hosting plans to customers with varying levels of support, access, and pricing.
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What are Web Hosting Services?
Web hosting is the simple concept of making a website deliverable to visitors. Web hosting providers allow users access to servers in return for a rental fee. These companies offer a range of dedicated, shared, and virtual hosting services depending on their customers’ needs. Many also offer additional services such as content management and domain registration to give users more control over their site’s label and appearance.
The hosting providers take your HTML, CSS, and media files and connect them to the internet. They will allocate a certain amount of storage space for users to add information related to their site’s content and appearance. They will connect to a domain name server (DNS) and connect visitors to the site.
Web hosting customers will usually pay a monthly fee or subscribe to a pay-as-you-go model that scales with the storage and bandwidth your site uses. Storage refers to the number of files the provider is hosting, while bandwidth refers to the number of visitor requests connecting to your website. Some providers allow unlimited storage and bandwidth, but most users just pay for what they need.
These services are the backbone of thousands of sites ranging from global retailers to personal blogs. Small-business users and individuals can opt for cheaper, limited plans while large businesses may require an entire dedicated server. There is a wide range of hosting services available that can cater to each business’s individual needs.
We have discussed how the best web hosting providers can help you host and manage websites, but a successful web hosting provider can directly benefit your company in other ways as well. With web hosting services, you can:
- Ensure websites are maintained on reliable servers to reduce website downtime
- Integrate a variety of software and platforms into your website
- Reduce the costs associated with owning and maintaining servers on site
- Improve technical support for website administrators
- Host and manage several domain names and email accounts
Why Use Web Hosting Software?
There are endless uses for, and benefits to, creating a personal or business website. A growing business can’t thrive off newspaper ads or word-of-mouth communication alone. The digital transformation of business has ushered in an era when virtually all businesses in existence need a website if they want to grow and communicate effectively.
Creating a website — Creating a website can have thousands of unique benefits related to your specific business. An auto mechanic shop can advertise digitally and target locals to promote their services. A carpet store can promote its products and better understand its competitor’s sales or marketing practices. An individual can contact others and offer artistic and laborious services of all kinds. The variations are virtually endless since no two businesses or websites are the same.
Improving SEO — Separating your hosting provider, domain registration service, content management system, and content delivery network can drastically improve site performance. Some providers offer all of these services, but companies that can afford each individually will improve their site speed and customization capabilities. Third-party hosting providers as well as complimentary tools provide specific services with greater individual performance and user support.
Attract customers — Websites are commonly used to generate leads and expand reach. A digital web presence enables digital marketing and greater brand awareness. Companies can advertise to local clients if they offer an in-person service such as food sales or medical services. Others can target global users to sell shippable products or build an online community. Many different kinds of businesses can generate leads, increase sales, and grow using their website as a central point of contact for information, support, and purchasing.
Who Uses Web Hosting Software?
Virtually anyone who would like a website will use a web hosting company. These sites could range from full-scale business sites to hosted personal portfolios. There are millions of people searching for web hosting for any number of different purposes. These are a few examples of common uses for websites and the services required to host them.
General business site — Virtually every business, from a bakery to a bank, should have a website in today’s world. Wonderful solutions exist to help users find local businesses and services. Hosted sites can be used to provide a means of contact for customers, generate sales leads, provide information, and spread brand awareness.
E-commerce sites — E-commerce has, to some extent, taken over the brick-and-mortar sales industry. Small businesses can spread their reach across the globe and deliver goods to individuals in virtually any location. Hosting these sites using third-party services can save time building and deploying virtually any kind of e-commerce site. These sites can range from handmade artisanal stores made by an individual to enormous online retailers doing business in hundreds of countries every hour.
Blogs — Blogs are great resources for writers of all kinds. Web hosting can supply a simple medium for bloggers to write endless amounts of content. Blogs range from niche industries and research-focused solutions to travel writing or poetry sites. Users can spread their writing across targeted audiences or create a quiet outlet for personal expression.
Personal portfolios — Like blogs, personal portfolios are wonderful displays of artistic talents. Every kind of artist, from sculptors to graphic designers, can create a digital portfolio to show or sell their creations. These can be useful when applying for jobs or attempting to sell your work to a client. Hosting will allow individuals the ability to build, deploy and maintain their site without requiring the costly investments of hosting infrastructure.
Nonprofits — Nonprofits aren’t known for having endless cash to spend on marketing campaigns and promotional events. Web hosting can be fairly inexpensive and provide a medium for nonprofits such as religious, environmental, and health charities to spread awareness and engage potential donors. Fundraising tools can be easily implemented to add a digital gateway for these organizations to generate revenue.
Kinds of Web Hosting Services
Shared hosting — Store website content on a server shared by other websites. Server resources, such as CPU time, memory, and disk space, are shared by all accounts hosted on the server.
Shared hosting is traditionally seen as a less expensive and more convenient option than other hosting plans. It requires less on-site maintenance and infrastructure management, taking some work out of your business’ hands.
While shared hosting is often preferred for smaller businesses and users new to website hosting, it does come with potential downsides. Resource limitations will naturally arise without direct control since the hosting provider likely manages hundreds of sites using the same infrastructure. Security is also a concern, mostly because users can’t manage security tools such as server-side antivirus or firewalls.
Dedicated hosting — Lease and use a private server that is either managed or unmanaged. Users have access to all resources available on the machine, and resources are not shared with any other accounts.
Dedicated hosting services give users full control over an entire server. It’s more expensive than shared plans but allows significantly more options when choosing operating systems, hardware types, and other infrastructural components. Dedicated hosting is ideal for larger companies with available capital and high-volume website traffic.
Dedicated servers are offered with multiple levels of provider management. Fully managed services take a lot of work out of a company’s hands by monitoring performance, updating software, and implementing security protocols.
VPS hosting — Host an account on virtual servers where overall server resources are shared across all accounts, while some portions of those resources are reserved for each account.
Virtual private servers (VPS) hosting services function similarly to dedicated servers, but they’re software-defined isolated instances. They’re quicker to launch and don’t require the same hardware investment as a dedicated physical server.
VPS hosting comes with many benefits of both dedicated and shared hosting. While users don’t need to purchase the physical hardware, they remain in control of their resource allocation. VPS performs better overall and provides increased capabilities for scaling and security processes.
Colocation services — Own and manage a private server housed by the hosting provider. Maintain all aspects of the owned server(s), except infrastructures such as electricity, internet access, and storage facilities.
Colocation facilities are a type of data center with resources, equipment, or bandwidth available for rent. Companies can pick and choose the tools necessary for their specific purposes and have the ability to manage infrastructure hands-on.
Colocation rentals are typically more expensive than shared or managed hosting plans but give more control over physical equipment without actually purchasing it. These services can be good for growing companies since they can rent more space as they scale.
Web Hosting Software Features
Storage limits — Clear and predetermined storage limits are associated with a hosting plan, and storage limits can be expanded if normal site usage is exceeded.
Storage limits are a fairly cut-and-dry component of web hosting; the feature is traditionally designated within the terms of a contract. Storage levels range from unlimited storage space to a little more than a GB. Storage should not be confused with bandwidth, and refers to HTML files, images, scripts, and hosted email data.
Bandwidth allowance — Hosting providers outline the amount of data that you and your visitors can cumulatively upload and download over a given period. Pay for additional bandwidth as needed to accommodate web traffic.
Bandwidth refers to the volume of data being transferred between your hosted web services and online visitors. This can also include backup data and file downloads from visitors. Growth should be considered when deciding on hosting plans, so scalable bandwidth may be a necessary feature if you expect increased traffic.
Bandwidth — Manage email accounts associated with web domains through a built-in or third-party email interface. Support is provided for POP3 and IMAP email systems.
Email hosting is an additional hosted service, which can be provided alone or in addition to website hosting. Email hosting services may be hosted directly by your domain registrar or linked to third-party email clients.
Control panel integration — Integrate hosting plans with either open-source or proprietary web hosting control panels to use a graphical user interface (GUI) that facilitates access to additional web hosting management features.
CMS support — Providers allow a variety of content management systems to be used when managing websites. Support is offered for “one-click” or rapid installations of CMS tools.
Content management systems (CMS) are used to store text, audio, video, and other files to be used within a website. Some web content management solutions and website builders offer web hosting to simplify management while other web hosting providers will integrate with a CMS and host content.
Web framework support — The website hosting provider offers support for a variety of server-side coding languages, as well as multiple versions of web frameworks.
Web frameworks are used in the development of web applications. Some templates are geared toward certain programming languages, while others are used for specific types of web apps. They may shorten development time by providing various templates, libraries, or database access features.
E-commerce integration — Install e-commerce tools, such as shopping carts, into your website. Certain e-commerce integrations may incur an additional fee.
E-commerce integration is very important for online retailers as it facilitates online purchasing processes. Integrations may come in the form of a payment gateway, or integrate with a site in the form of a web application.
File management — Access and management of files through FTP, .htaccess, and shell access are provided to users.
File management is an important feature for users demanding high levels of customization. These files can be stored and accessed in a variety of ways. File transfer protocol (FTP) is a client-server model to separate file control from service providers. .htaccess is used for configuring site access, redirects, and other security practices. Shell access refers to a remote command line to access a server.
Database support — Support is provided for a variety of database types, including MySQL, PostgreSQL, SQL Server, and more. Choose from these and manage your database within the control panel associated with your hosting plan.
Databases can be used to power dynamic websites and web applications. Database support allows users to sync their company database and provide information to site visitors or application users.
Security tools — Site backup, spam detection, firewalls, malware detection tools, and other security features are offered within the hosting plan.
Security features can range from distributed denial of service (DDoS) protection to web security scanners. Some shared hosting services will limit your control over server-side security. Still, many sites will allow a variety of security features to choose from that fit your site’s needs.
Trends Related to Web Hosting
Website hosting in general has been trending toward increasing managed services and codeless web development. More and more, website builders and CMSs are offering hosting services to centralize and simplify the website creation process. Several recent technological and regulatory changes have forced the industry to evolve.
GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) — GDPR is a European regulation regarding data privacy, but it’s impacting sites across the globe. These regulations will force web hosting and managed services providers to meet a general standard level of security and risk prevention.
GDPR requires those in charge of server management to ensure their hardware and data transfer processes are secure. This means improved patch management and site maintenance as well as encryption for data in transfer. These guidelines will improve user data security but may increase prices due to increases in provider overhead.
Green hosting — The green, or eco-friendly, technology trend has given way to several providers to add green hosting options to reduce environmental impact. A handful of new website hosting companies market themselves specifically as environmentally friendly solutions.
Hosting services require a large amount of electricity because of both their processing power as well as the energy necessary to meet their heating and cooling needs. Data centers consume a large amount of energy and are now motivated by public opinion as well as tax credits to reduce their carbon footprints.
Potential Issues with Web Hosting
Scaling — Scalability goes hand in hand with pricing and the level of services agreed to in the initial contract. Each hosting plan offers differing advantages regarding the features it provides, including security, control, performance, and storage space. More advanced hosting options, such as hosting VPS and dedicated hosting, typically scale in price with the number of server resources allocated to the user. Website hosting providers often charge a lower price for new subscriptions than for renewals, with renewals costing up to 200% more than new subscriptions in some cases.
Be sure to investigate how prices change as your contract length grows or your website scales. Ultimately, if the price is a determining factor in your hosting decision, you should compare the cost of each hosting provider’s services and choose the one that offers the features you need at the most affordable price.
Management and control — When determining whether to use the website hosting services offered by a provider, you should consider the control panel software supported. This software operates as a user interface for hosting administrators through which you can manage databases, access website files, create add-on domains or subdomains, and complete other administrative operations for your site. Some website hosting providers offer support for third-party control panel software, while others only provide proprietary control panel interfaces.
When choosing a web hosting provider, you should consider the user-friendliness of the interface and research the control panel software they offer to users by reading user reviews. Each hosting plan offers differing advantages regarding the features it provides, including security, control, performance, and storage space. The website hosting plan you choose should suit your needs for each feature.
Availability — Any server downtime will interrupt your website service, potentially making your website inaccessible to visitors and potential customers. As a result, companies aim to maximize uptime and the availability of their content. If a provider is susceptible to server outages or downtime or if outages require an extensive amount of time to be addressed by the provider, then you should look to alternative hosting providers.
To ensure your website is available to visitors, the website hosting provider you select should operate on powerful server hardware with reliable internet connectivity to maximize uptime. The website hosting company you select should regularly demonstrate uptime scores above 99%, with anything below being unacceptable.
Support — Depending on your experience with website hosting and the type of website you intend to host, you may depend on the hosting provider’s technical support team to answer your questions which may include such topics as website migration or DNS management.
As such, you should understand your support needs as well as the type and quality of support offered by the provider. Some hosting providers limit their support to email, while others offer live chat or even 24/7 phone support. You should take care to select a website hosting company that provides the type and quality of support you need to ensure your hosting needs are met.
Software and Services Related to Web Hosting
Website builders — Every website has to be hosted or provided storage space and access through a server. A website builder can offer this service, or site developers can seek hosting from outside web hosting providers. A positive aspect of hosting your website within your website builder is that performance is less affected by sudden increases in traffic. A user has the support of their tool to ensure visitors are always receiving a quality experience on their site.
A positive of hosting your website on an outside server, meanwhile, is that if the website builder were ever to discontinue its services, your content would not be compromised. The latter is not a common occurrence but remains something to consider. Be sure you understand the hosting options that are available with your website-building tool. What kind of support comes with it? How does the provider address performance issues? Your website’s functionality is important.
Managed hosting providers — Managed hosting providers may offer website hosting as a component of their service. But managed hosting providers typically offer additional services such as load balancing, backups, and vulnerability scans, among other services.
Managed hosting providers, such as web hosting providers, supply rentable server space. But they configure and install software and infrastructure as well as maintenance and patch management for their customers. They can facilitate integrations, and software implementations and constantly monitor performance for users.
Web content management software — Web content management tools, often called content management systems (CMS), go hand in hand with website hosting. They are complementary tools to host audio, video, and text files. Many include templates for content creation and facilitate collaboration between their users.
A CMS can be plugged into third-party hosting providers to create management dashboards and simplify the processes necessary to add, update, or change site content. Some CMS solutions, such as managed WordPress hosting tools offer web hosting, but it is typically not their main offering.
Content delivery networks(CDN) — A CDN is one of the most common tools used by companies to deliver static content more quickly. As opposed to hosting images, per se, through a CMS, a CND can be used to improve delivery speed. They can be cheaper solutions than increasing the storage limits of a website hosting provider.
These are used by nearly thousands of websites to improve performance, standardize link structure, and scale the amount of content on a site. Since page loading time is a key factor for search engines, CDNs are ideal for improving site performance and, in effect, SERP ratings.
Domain registration providers — Domain registration providers register the site name to create labels for your website directory and site pages. Without a domain, web pages would simply display a numeric IP address; without hosting, site content would be labeled with designated URLs, but the content would not be deliverable to site visitors.
Domain registrars will prevent others from creating sites with your URL and allow you to host email services with your purchased domain. These email services do need to be registered with an email client for user access. But professional email addresses are fairly necessary in today’s world.