Perhaps the most underappreciated aspect of the World Wide Web is web hosting. Podcasts, memes, articles, tweets, websites, online gaming, and Netflix content all reside on a server that an individual or company pays to keep up and running so that you can access them. Web hosting is a seemingly insignificant but crucial aspect of the online experience.
If you're thinking about starting a website, for example, there are a few basic web hosting concepts you should understand before getting started. Although signing up and using a provider's provided website-building software to quickly create an attractive, functional front end is relatively simple, there are a lot of related terms and concepts to grasp. Some of it is confusing, if not outright contradictory, as you'll see. Here's what you should know about web hosting before you sign up for one.
Web Hosting Types
You've probably seen terms like shared, VPS, dedicated, cloud, WordPress, and reseller if you've spent any time on a web host's website. They represent the various types of web hosting, but not every web host provides all of them. Furthermore, the hosting types differ significantly from one another.
Almost every web host offers shared hosting, which is the most affordable type of web hosting. Your website shares a server and server resources with many other websites when you use shared hosting. Shared hosting is the way to go if you want to keep your web hosting budget low and don't expect a lot of traffic. You can expect to pay less for this type of web hosting. However, this level of hosting is best suited for small sites that don't require a lot of bandwidth. Because you're sharing resources with other sites, you should expect a temporary slowdown if one of them begins to attract a large number of visitors.
Larger companies with high traffic volumes should consider VPS or dedicated hosting, which both offer increasingly powerful server specs.
VPS hosting is similar to a more powerful version of shared hosting, with the exception that there are far fewer websites sharing a server's resources, which are also more segregated. Shared hosting is more expensive than VPS hosting. Dedicated hosting puts your website on its own server, allowing it to take advantage of all of the server's resources. This is the most costly hosting option.
Reseller hosting allows you to start your own branded web hosting company without having to worry about setting up the infrastructure from the ground up. WordPress hosting allows you to create a website in a setting that is optimized for the world's most popular content management system. And what about cloud hosting? Although not every web host supports it, this is a completely different beast that allows you to easily scale the power of your website across multiple servers.
Bandwidth & Data Transfer
Although the terms "bandwidth" and "data transfer" are often used interchangeably to describe the amount of data your website serves to visitors, their technical definitions are not the same. Data transfer is the actual amount of information that can be used over a given period of time—typically a month—while bandwidth is the total amount of data that can be transferred at one time.
If your website's monthly data transfer allowance is exceeded, your web host may slow down your site's data transfer speeds or charge you a fee as a penalty. It might even persuade you to upgrade to a higher level of web hosting. Before you run into situations like this, it's a good idea to understand your site's data limitations.
Unlimited Isn't Quite Unlimited
A web hosting company will entice you to sign up for their services by promising unlimited storage or monthly data transfers. In most cases, the deal isn't entirely truthful. The claims of "unlimited" storage or data transfers almost always come with restrictions that vary by company. Unlimited storage and data transfers are usually associated with shared or WordPress plans, which allow you to go wild...within reason. You'll be in good shape if your blog receives a steady stream of reasonable traffic.
To learn exactly what you can and cannot do within the scope of your plan's unlimited offering, consult a web host's terms of service or a customer service representative. On its website, DreamHost, for example, claims that it "doesn't track bandwidth or traffic, so you'll never have to worry about pesky overage fees."
If you sign up for shared web hosting, you'll most likely get space on an old-school hard disc drive (HDD) server. An HDD-based server has the advantage of being able to provide large amounts of storage for a low price. Web hosts will give you the option to build a site on a solid-state drive as you progress up the hosting ladder to more powerful offerings like VPS and dedicated (SSD).
Servers with solid-state drives (SSDs) are extremely fast storage devices. Because SSD technology is still relatively expensive, SSD-based servers typically have much lower storage capacities than HDD-based servers. You'll rarely see 1TB SSD servers, despite the fact that this is a common number in the HDD world.
Almost every web host makes Linux available as the operating system for their servers. You don't need to know anything about Linux to build a website, and you don't need to do any special work on the back end. Building websites is a breeze with website builders.
If your site requires the ASP or ASP.NET scripting frameworks, however, you'll need to use the Windows Server operating system. This is due to the fact that the script you write and the web pages you create will only work in a Windows environment.
There's another advantage: Microsoft apps like Office and Outlook are simple to integrate with the server. What's the drawback? Unless you do some tinkering, Windows servers are incompatible with Linux-based, open-source software.
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