What Is Web Hosting?

Here are 12 points to help you understand exactly what web hosting is:

  1. The reason for signing up for web hosting is to give your website a place to live.

    Your website has to live on a computer somewhere. Otherwise, it does not exist. The computer your website lives on is a computer owned by your web hosting company.

  2. Web hosting is basically a subscription service.

    Typically, you pay for web hosting by the month or by the year. Paying for the whole year up front will probably save you money.

  3. Some large websites -- such as Yahoo and Ebay -- do their own web hosting. This is the exception rather than the rule. Most organizations are content to let some other organization do their web hosting for them.

    Letting another organization do your web hosting for you is quite smart. Here are some of the reasons why:

    • Uptime. If your website goes down in the middle of the night due to a hardware failure, someone else takes care of the problem for you. If they take care of it quick enough, you will never know that the site was down.

      Most web hosting services claim 98% or better uptime.

    • Salary Expense. A computer that hosts websites needs someone with the job title, systems administrator. The cost of hiring a systems adminstrator only to host a single website is prohibitive for most organizations. When you let someone else do your web hosting, the cost of this highly skilled person is spread across many subscribers.

    • Security. A web hosting company is likely to have a lot of experience dealing with security issues -- such as people trying to bring your website down for the fun of it.

  4. The specific computer where a website lives is called a web server.

    Generally speaking, if the web server that your website is hosted on goes down, your website goes down.

  5. A web server typically hosts many websites.

    Just because your website is stored on a computer does not mean it is the only one there. In fact, thousands of websites can be stored on one web server.

    The economics of cheap web hosting require that many websites be stored on one web server.

  6. A typical web hosting company will own many web servers which in turn host many websites.

    Think of it as a hierarchy with your web hosting company at the top. The hierarchy is a triangle. Your hosting company is at the top of the triangle.

    The triangle has 3 levels: web hosting company, web servers, and websites.

    The top of the triangle is the web hosting company. The middle of the triangle is all the web servers the web hosting company owns. The bottom of the triangle is all the websites they host.

    The triangle becomes broader as you move towards its base. Likewise, your hosting company fans out to include many web servers. Each web server, in turn, fans out to include many websites.

    The bottom of the chart -- the base of the triangle and the widest part -- is the many websites that can be stored on any one web server (middle of the triangle) owned by the web hosting company (top of the triangle).

  7. In terms of absolute numbers, there are more websites than there are web servers.

  8. This is because -- in our triangle above -- it is possible for one web server to host thousands of small websites.

  9. In terms of absolute numbers, there are more web servers than there are web hosting companies

    This is because -- in our triangle above -- a web hosting company can own hundreds of web servers, which in turn, service thousands of websites.

  10. If you sign up with a web hosting company, your website will be assigned to one of their web servers and your domain name will be assigned to one of their name servers.

    The name server will connect your domain name (www.YourName.com) to the web server where your website lives.

  11. Your web hosting company utilizes a name server and a web server in tandem to get visitors to your website.

    It goes like this:

    • Your visitor types your domain name in his browser navigation window.

    • Based on authoritative information provided by your hosting company's name server, your website is found to live on a specific web server -- the web server it was originally assigned to by your web hosting company.

    • A single page of your website is sent to the visitor's browser by the web server.

    • The process repeats when your visitor goes to the next page of your website.

  12. Not all web hosting services are created equal.

    There are many to choose from. It's probably best to start with an inexpensive host. If you don't like the service, you can always move.

©Edward Abbott, 2003-2004. All rights reserved. Revised May 4, 2004.

Questions or comments? Email me at ed@WebSiteRepairGuy.com.