Web hosting is perhaps the most underrated element on the internet. Everything you love to be online (podcasts, memes, articles, tweets, websites, online games, Netflix content) resides on a server that an individual or business pays to maintain and run so you can access it. In short, web hosting is an invisible and essential part of the online experience.
If you are planning, for example, to start a website, you should familiarize yourself with several basic aspects of web hosting before starting the project. While it’s relatively easy to sign up and use vendor-provided website builder software to quickly build an attractive and functional front-end, there are many related terms and concepts to understand. As you will soon see, some of them are confusing, if not downright contradictory. Here’s what you need to know about web hosting before opening an account.
1. There is a big difference between the types of accommodation
If you’ve spent any time on a web host’s website, you’ve probably seen terms like shared, VPS, dedicated, cloud, WordPress, and reseller. They represent the different types of web hosting, but not all web hosts offer all of them. In addition, the types of accommodation differ from each other significantly.
Almost all web hosts offer shared hosting, the cheapest form of web hosting. With shared hosting, your website shares a server and server resources with many other sites. If you want to keep your web hosting budget small and don’t expect a lot of traffic, shared hosting is the way to go. You should expect to pay less than $ 10 per month for this type of web hosting. This level of hosting is really best suited for smaller sites that don’t need a huge amount of bandwidth, however. Since you share resources with other sites, you should be prepared for an occasional slowdown if one of your site mates starts getting a lot of visitors. Free web hosting is available if your budget is tight, but it comes with its own caveats (usually ads and extremely low server specs).
Large businesses that expect heavy traffic to their sites should choose a VPS or dedicated hosting, each offering increasingly powerful server specs. VPS hosting is like a powerful version of shared hosting, except that far fewer websites share a server’s resources, which are also a bit more separate. VPS hosting costs more than shared hosting, but you should pay less than $ 100 per month.
Dedicated hosting puts your site on a server all by itself, so it can take advantage of the full power of a server. It is the most expensive type of accommodation; you can end up paying $ 100 a month or more for this raw horsepower.
Reseller hosting allows you to start your own branded web hosting business without worrying about building the infrastructure from scratch. WordPress hosting allows you to build a site in an environment suited to the world’s most popular content management system. What about cloud hosting? It’s an entirely different beast that lets you easily extend the power of a website across multiple servers, although not all web hosts offer it. Still. Prices for these levels of accommodation are ubiquitous, so shopping around is essential.
Consult our various explanatory articles (linked to the paragraphs above) for a more in-depth dive into each type of accommodation.
2. Bandwidth is not the same as data transfer
“Bandwidth” and “data transfer” are frequently used interchangeably to define the amount of data that your website provides to visitors, but the terms, technically, do not have the same definitions.
Bandwidth is the total amount of data that can be transferred at one time, while data transfer is the throughput or the actual amount of information that can be used over a period of time, typically a month. Think of it like this: A web host might have a maximum bandwidth of 5 GB, but depending on your hosting plan, your site may only allow 1 GB of data transfers per month.
Note: If your website goes over its allocated monthly data transfers due to a Reddit call, for example, a web host may slow your site’s data transfer speeds or charge you a fee as a penalty. It may even prompt you to upgrade to a higher web hosting level. It is good to know the data limits of your site before you find yourself in such situations.
3. Unlimited is not quite unlimited
Web hosts will trick you into signing up for their web hosting plans by tempting you with the promise of unlimited storage or monthly data transfers. It is not usually a completely honest deal. Now, I won’t say that these web hosts are lying, but “unlimited” storage or data transfers almost always have limits which vary by company. FatCow, for example, offers “heaps” of disk space and states that there is no limit on a user’s content, as long as that person remains fully compliant with the company’s terms of service and uses storage “for the normal operation of your FatCow website.” It’s like the bottomless shrimp buffet: eventually a restaurant will cut you off, if they don’t run out of shrimp first.
Unlimited storage and data transfers are usually associated with shared or WordPress plans, and they let you go wild… within limits. If your blog receives a steady stream of reasonable traffic (whatever that might mean!), You’ll be in good standing. However, you shouldn’t expect to download or stream 50TB of data per day. The average joe doesn’t do what is probably engaging in questionable activities.
You should check the terms of service of a web host or customer service representative to find out exactly what you can and cannot do as part of your plan’s unlimited supply. For example, DreamHost states on its website that the company does not track “bandwidth or traffic, so you never have to worry about pesky overage charges.”
4. The hard disk / semiconductor disk compromise
If you want to sign up for shared web hosting, you will likely receive real estate on a traditional hard disk drive (HDD) server. The advantage of a hard drive based server is that it can offer large amounts of storage at a lower cost. As you move up through the hosting ranks to more powerful offerings, such as VPS and Dedicated, web hosts will give you the option to build a site on solid state drive (SSD).
SSD servers are lightning-fast storage units. SSD technology is still quite expensive, so your SSD servers typically have much smaller storage totals than hard drives. You will rarely see 1TB SSD servers, a common number in the hard drive business.
The SSD vs HDD discussion is long and is way beyond the scope of this article. I recommend reading Tom Brant’s excellent SSD vs HDD: what’s the difference?
5. A Linux server will do … most of the time
Almost all web hosts offer Linux as the operating system that powers their servers. In fact, I don’t think I reviewed a web host that didn’t have the free and open source operating system. Even if you are unfamiliar with Linux, you don’t need to do any special back-end work to build a website. Website builders make it easy to build sites.
That said, if your site needs the ASP or ASP.NET scripting frameworks, you will need to run it with the Windows Server operating system. This is because the script you write and the web pages you produce will only work in a Windows environment.
There is an added benefit: Microsoft applications, such as Office or Outlook, integrate easily with the server. The wrong side? Windows servers are incompatible with Linux-based open source software unless you tinker with it. Plus, Windows servers cost around $ 10 to $ 20 more than their Linux counterparts, but if you need Microsoft’s tools, that’s a little extra. Linux vs Windows: How to Choose the Best Server Operating System for Your Website describes everything you need to know about these operating systems.
For more tips on web hosting, check out The Best Courses To Learn How To Build Websites and 10 Simple But Powerful SEO Tips To Increase Traffic To Your Website.