What is Web Hosting? | Tom’s Guide

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When it comes to building a website, certain things have to happen. First, you need to have an idea of ​​what it will be and what it will contain. Then you have to design and build it using one of the best website builders. Finally, you need to organize the best web hosting, so that everyone can access it. But what is web hosting?

Websites are made up of a series of different files. Some are images and videos that you may have taken yourself or made professionally, but most are special types of text documents that contain code. When you build a website, all of those files exist on someone’s computer, just like you might store Word documents or PDFs.

When you want the website to be accessible to the general public, you need a special type of computer called a web server. It’s basically another computer, but with higher specs than most personal computers, and with a dedicated high-speed link to the internet.

Below we explain what web hosting is and what you need to know.

IP, IP, IP, hooray

laptop computer on a desk near a monitor, with code displayed on the laptop screen

Web hosting connects websites and the internet (Image credit: Christopher Gower)

The dedicated link to the Internet is known as the IP (Static Internet Protocol) address. Most home Internet connections have dynamic IP addresses, which means they change periodically. For ordinary household use, this is not a problem. For a web server, however, this can cause downtime and make hosted websites inaccessible.

Static IP addresses avoid this risk and allow web servers to use File Transfer Protocol (FTP). This allows you to easily move files from one computer to another, for example when uploading files for a website from the computer they were created on to a web server.

Having a static IP address also means the server can have a Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) certificate, which we cover in our article on how you can assess and improve your website’s security.

The process of setting up static IP addresses and setting up computers as web servers is called web hosting. An entire industry has formed around the sale of web hosting services, which essentially amounts to renting disk space on these specially configured computers.

Web hosting is usually sold on a subscription basis, which also covers the cost of the power needed to run the computers and the bandwidth they use.

Computers with superpowers

a server rack with its security door unlocked in a data center

Server racks like these make up data centers, which host websites (Image credit: Timofeev Vladimir/Shutterstock)

Web servers are stored in large purpose-built structures called data centers, which are temperature controlled and extremely secure. A data center will have many rooms, filled with rows and rows of side-by-side computer towers. It is on these special computers that all the files that make up a website are stored.

As mentioned, a web server is similar to a home or business computer, but with more power and a faster internet connection. You can actually use your own personal computer to run a web server, but websites hosted from it are unlikely to be as fast as those stored on dedicated hosting computers.

It’s also not something we recommend for those who don’t have a lot of time to devote to the task. Running a web server is a complicated and time-consuming task that requires specialized knowledge. That’s why hosting companies have their own DevOps (software development and IT operations) specialists, who make sure web servers are always online, secure, and performing at their peak.

Website owners are better off focusing their efforts on site content and marketing and leaving hosting to companies that specialize in this area. Yes, you have to pay for web hosting, but it will save you time and money in the long run.

This is an adapted excerpt from an e-book titled “The Ultimate Guide to Web Hosting”, first published by Tech Radar Pro in association with Planet Hippopotamus.


Further Reading on Web Hosting and Website Builders

If you want to learn more about the differences between website builders and web hosting, and how WordPress differs from the two, read our comparison feature pitting web hosting against WordPress versus website builders .

Our articles describing how to choose a web hosting service, giving tips on buying a web hosting service, and what to avoid when choosing a web hosting provider will help you with the ‘Web hosting ; for website builders, find out how to build a website from scratch, how much it costs to build a website, and how to choose a domain name.

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