The average internet user spends about six hours and 58 minutes online daily, but the behind-the-scenes action that keeps websites running is a mystery to many.
Whether you want to build a professional site or create one for someone else, answering the question, “What is website hosting?” is a critical first step.
However, you don’t have to understand the inner workings of the internet to create a website.
Setting up a site is easier and more accessible today than before.
We’ve put together this beginner’s guide to the basics of web hosting to show what it is and how it works.
What Is Web Hosting?
Web hosting is a service that offers you a platform for storing website files and making them accessible over the internet.
The service provider rents you server space to store site files, including CSS and HTML, media content, and other assets.
It ensures your website is accessible to anyone with an internet connection.
Web hosts are businesses providing hosting services by maintaining, configuring, and running physical servers that house websites.
How Does it Work?
You require a web host and purchase a plan to set up a website.
This plan gives you access to a server for storing all your site files.
The server is a powerful platform that holds all files critical for your website, including images and text.
You upload files to the server, and people can access your website by typing your Uniform Resource Locator (URL).
The server sends the files that make up your site to a computer browser, and visitors interact with the website.
Why Do You Need Web Hosting?
You can design a blog or e-commerce site from top to bottom and purchase a domain name, but it will not be accessible to anyone online until you put it up on a server.
A hosting package is a critical launch component if you want anyone to view your website.
So, if web hosting is essential to online businesses, you should know what it is and the benefits you stand to gain.
You pay the hosting provider a monthly or annual rate for the space to keep your site up and running.
It’s possible to purchase and maintain a private web server, but the expenses are beyond what most web owners can pay.
Web hosting servers require regular maintenance, advanced management skills, and proper climate control.
Further, the bandwidth required to host a site on your private server is far beyond what most internet plans allow for small to medium-sized businesses or individuals.
Bandwidth is an important consideration because it’s directly related to uptime and speed, and enough of it ensures your website is accessible to online visitors.
A web hosting company already has investments in the infrastructure required to host your site, including:
- State-of-the-art servers
- Physical space for servers
- Precaution to protect the servers from inclement weather or overheating
- Bandwidth to keep servers functioning fast and consistently
- Skilled professionals for maintenance and monitoring
Covering all the bases is part of the job for web hosting companies.
Doing the same on your own is a considerable inconvenience and expense.
Here are other reasons you need a web hosting service:
- Data storage: Hosting services allow you to store all your website data safely on a server.
- Reliable servers: Web hosts host your site at secure facilities with high-tech infrastructure to prevent downtime and mitigate threats. The servers also ensure your site is available at all times.
- Ease of use: A web host service makes getting started with your website effortless by including features most relevant to your requirements.
- Speed and performance: Web hosting companies use the latest and high-quality server hardware and software to ensure the best security and performance.
What’s the Difference Between a Web Hosting and a Domain Hosting?
Web hosting and domain hosting are closely related but two different services.
A web host service provides space for displaying your website’s content and doesn’t necessarily provide the address visitors use to reach the site.
A domain host provides a domain name, such as www.yournewdomain.com, that visitors use to find your online presence.
The domain name is like a street address directing people to your site’s location and is not the content people see.
Domain hosting companies store domain names you register with third-party providers.
What Are the Different Types of Web Hosting?
Different website owners have different requirements.
For example, a business that hosts media files and expects numerous visitors has more hosting requirements than a personal blog.
Web providers consider price, storage space, speed, and hosting type while designing their plans.
Here are the most popular types of web hosting.
1. Shared Hosting
Shared web hosting means you’re sharing server resources such as bandwidth and disk space with other sites.
However, other websites cannot see your internal data because no user can access the root or main directory.
This hosting type is the least expensive service.
All websites share the same physical memory, Apache server, and MYSQL server.
Shared hosting is a suitable option for:
- New and small businesses
- Personal websites and blogs
- Owner-operated and sole trader websites
2. Dedicated Hosting
Dedicated hosting gives you the most control over a server.
The plan involves renting an entire server, so you’re in charge of everything from choosing a preferred operating system to maintenance.
However, you can outsource the maintenance tasks and costs to a web hosting provider.
Dedicated hosting servers have more power because your site is not sharing any resources with other websites.
A dedicated web hosting plan is suitable for:
- Large businesses and enterprises that experience a lot of traffic
- Business owners managing multiple domains and websites
- Running complex web applications that require a significant amount of processing power
3. Virtual Private Servers (VPS)
VPS hosting is the middle ground between shared and dedicated hosting.
The VPS host provider offers a dedicated “virtual” server and complete control over the environment.
While your website shares a server with other sites, there are fewer than on a shared plan.
VPS hosting gives you access to a larger share of the server resources, such as processing power and memory.
VPS hosting is ideal for:
- Medium-sized businesses experiencing more traffic
- Complex websites that require installing business software on the server
4. Managed Hosting
Managed hosting offers you access to a dedicated server without the same administrative options.
The hosting company handles the server setup, administration, management, and support.
Management services vary from host to host but usually include patching, operating system (OS) updates, network infrastructure maintenance, security, and support.
Managed hosting is suitable for website owners who don’t have the time, technical knowledge, or resources to handle server maintenance tasks.
If you prefer WordPress, check out our list of the best options for managed WordPress hosting recommendations.
5. Cloud Hosting
Cloud hosting is a relatively new option using resource-sharing and scaling to reduce costs and the risk of service disruptions.
Unlike regular hosting, cloud hosting operates using virtualization.
Virtualization means data appears to be on a single server, but several storage devices share the capacity of the physical server.
This strategy means it’s easy to back up and retrieve data because it is in different locations.
Cloud hosting is also more flexible because adding storage space to your site is easy.
The provider can replicate your website files across several servers, so it routes your traffic to the fastest server available.
You have the option to choose shared, VPS, or dedicated cloud hosting plans—the differences are the underlying physical server management.
Cloud hosting is suitable for:
- Small to medium-sized businesses
- Complex web applications and e-commerce sites
- Non-governmental and government agencies
- Large enterprises running several domains
6. Reseller Hosting
Reseller hosting lets you sell web hosting to individuals and businesses.
Your clients know you as their web hosting provider while your provider manages the server.
You cover the support for your customers while they use your services.
Reseller hosting is an excellent idea to offer your customers full service, including designing their websites, building, and hosting.
You charge the clients each month for using your hosting solutions, making this option an excellent way to retain customers.
Reseller hosting plans are ideal for:
- Individuals and businesses who want to sell hosting
- Companies offering related digital services
7. WordPress Hosting
The hosting is a shared hosting option for WordPress users.
WordPress hosting servers are configured and optimized to run WordPress.
Many providers include built-in features, such as one-step installation, WP-toolkit, drag-and-drop builders, and pre-installed plugins.
8. E-Commerce Hosting
More hosting providers are now introducing e-commerce hosting plans on the market because of the prevalence of online shopping.
The hosting offers unique features tailored for businesses, including help to set up payment gateways, free SSL certificates, and additional security.
A common subtype of e-commerce hosting is WooCommerce hosting, which is an option if you’re interested in running a WooCommerce-powered online store.
9. Colocation Hosting
A colocation hosting option is an arrangement where you lease space from the colocation provider.
You provide the server, network, and storage equipment, and the provider offers cooling, physical security, and power.
The arrangement is beneficial for businesses running CPU, bandwidth-intensive web applications, or those looking to avoid the expenses of maintaining a data center.
10. Free Web Hosting
Searching online will reveal free platforms you can build your site on.
Such hosting makes sense if you’re starting a site for fun and are not too concerned about transforming it into something profitable or long-lasting.
However, free web hosts have fewer branding and customization options.
The options and features available with different free hosting companies vary, and there’s a good chance multiple limitations will apply.
Make sure you know what you’ll get before signing up.
What Are the Best Web Hosting Providers Available?
Here are the five best web hosting providers any individual or business owner can benefit from.
Check out our Hosting Finder tool for more details on these web hosting companies.
1. Hostinger: Best Overall
Hostinger boasts features that make it an excellent option for experts and beginners.
The provider offers fast and reliable hosting services, complete with a responsive customer support team.
Hostinger’s automated management and security tools ensure your site is functional, accessible, and safe.
Clients can choose between WordPress, shared, and VPS hosting packages.
All of them come with an impressive 99.99% uptime guarantee.
Low-cost pricing packages and money-back guarantees mean you can use the services without significant risk.
2. Dreamhost: Best Budget Pick
Dreamhost is a Linux-powered provider offering high-quality web hosting resources at reasonable prices.
The company offers clients unlimited bandwidth and storage, making it incredibly scalable for different applications.
A user-friendly dashboard and navigation ensure all levels of users find using the platform easy, while beginner-friendly automation makes web hosting accessible for everyone.
The Dreamhost pricing structure is simple and starts at $4.95 per month with a 97-day money-back guarantee that lets you assess their services for over three months.
Further, you get a 100% uptime guarantee, or the company will compensate you for any time your website is down.
3. InfinityFree: Best Free Hosting
InfinityFree is one of the few web hosting providers offering its services free.
The company has no hidden costs and promises to deliver its hosting service free for as long as it’s around.
InfinityFree boasts a 99.99% server uptime guarantee, fast hosting, and unlimited storage.
Customers also get an easy-to-use Cpanel for easy site management and maintenance.
Other freebies from InfinityFree include an extensive resource library and a reliable customer support team.
4. WP Engine: Best WordPress Host
WP Engine is the best web hosting provider for WordPress websites.
The platform offers multiple products and unbeatable features that help sites for businesses and individuals prosper.
WP Engine will help with the installation, updating, backing up, and customization of your WordPress website.
Multiple security insights and metrics enable keeping an eye on the security of your content and data, while advanced cyberattack security features rebuff hacking attempts.
The company uses Cloudflare CDN and SSD storage to ensure your website is running at full speed.
We recommend WP Engine if you’re new to WordPress web hosting, have a small to medium-sized business, or if security is important to you.
5. AWS: Best Cloud Hosting
Amazon Web Services (AWS) is the largest computing cloud in the world.
The host is a favorite for many high-traffic websites, offering unlimited computing power.
While the services are expensive, AWS offers a suite of services as part of the cloud infrastructure.
A pay-as-you-go pricing model means you only pay for the computing power you require at any time.
How To Choose Your Web Hosting Provider
There are many web hosts available, each with its unique features and pricing.
So how do you know a company is best for you?
Here are a few things to consider.
Server uptime is a critical factor for a seamless user experience.
After all, nobody can use your website if it is unavailable whenever visitors want something from it.
Downtime can cost your business massive losses in leads, customers, and revenue—something you don’t want to happen.
Always check the uptime scores of any web host to determine how stable their platform is.
Many hosts offer a 99.9% and more uptime guarantee.
The more you can get, the better it is for your website, customers, and business.
Look at the security levels your potential web host offers, especially at the server level.
Some security features to look for include:
- Installing and applying the latest OS patches to the server to prevent vulnerabilities.
- Installing server-level firewalls to filter out hackers and malicious traffic.
- Distributed Denial-of-Service (DDoS) protection to mitigate against potential attacks.
- A data processing agreement that covers critical items such as General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR).
Some hosts scan for malware and remove it at no extra cost.
If the provider you prefer doesn’t, additional services, such as Sucuri, can handle this at an extra cost.
Hosts provide different levels of backup services, so consider the following:
- Does the host back up your website?
- How often do they run scheduled backups?
- How long does the host retain the backup?
- Are backups accessible and downloadable?
- Can you run on-demand backup and restoration?
Google recommends each website should have a Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) certificate to reassure visitors that sensitive data, such as passwords and credit card details, are safe.
Check if the host offers:
- A free Let’s Encrypt SSL certificate;
- Or specialized SSL certificates such as Wildcard.
Bandwidth allowance measures a server’s capacity to transfer data in a specific time frame.
We express it in megabytes per second (MB/s) or gigabytes per second (GB/s).
Bandwidth determines how fast your website is because it measures the maximum data amount transmitted from a server to your readers.
Renting an entire server or one that shares resources with fewer sites gives you higher bandwidth.
However, you’ll pay more for a higher bandwidth since fewer users are splitting the cost of renting the server.
The hosting package you choose may have a set bandwidth amount per month.
Before selecting the plan, calculate how much bandwidth is needed for your site by estimating the number of visitors and website size.
Your online visitors expect the website to load in less than five seconds.
Site speed also affects SEO, but not all web hosting providers can guarantee fast speeds.
Fast web hosts employ various tactics to stand out by offering quick load times.
Some hosts build their products on Cloudflare and Google Cloud, which allows your site to run in an isolated software container with all the software required for running it.
An isolated software container ensures 100% privacy for each software.
Also, check if the host is using the latest server technology (software stack).
You want a company that moves with the times instead of using outdated tech that affects speed.
Some technologies that ensure fast performance include MariaDB, PHP 7.4, LXD containers, and Nginx.
Make sure the web host can meet the demands of:
- Seasonal up and down traffic trends
- Occasional traffic spikes
- Long-term traffic increases
6. Server Locations
The more server locations a web hosting provider has, the faster your site loads for visitors across the world.
Your website loads faster when the visitor is close to your server, so it’s beneficial to have multiple servers to select.
However, not all hosts let you choose the server location.
Other hosts include a free Content Delivery Network (CDN) in your hosting plan.
The CDN helps improve your website’s performance, which keeps visitors and search engines happy.
We’ve been focusing on the hardware and software capabilities of a host.
But how well do they perform in customer support?
You must know how fast a web host will pick up your issues and sort them.
Some hosts reply to support calls on live chat in under 30 seconds.
A reply to your call is the first step, so you need to find out how fast they resolve the issues you face.
For instance, is the support team member you’re speaking to on live chat capable of resolving a high-severity problem?
Some providers have a multi-level support system for passing on severe issues, which can take days before a solution is available.
The best web hosting companies offer multiple contact methods, including phone, live chat, email, and an online support ticketing system.
Ensure the host offers 24/7 support.
Some hosts have a proactive support system that includes:
- Frequent database optimization tasks to fine-tune your website’s MySQL database
- Scheduling and retaining copies of daily backups to keep your website running
- Applying the latest WordPress updates to keep the core application, themes, and plugins secure
- Self-healing technology that auto-starts any PHP services that stop working
- Applying the latest operating system security patches to prevent malware and hacker threats
8. Plans and Pricing
The budget can be a real limitation for many people, so it’s critical you’re realistic about the funds you can afford to invest in web hosting.
Get a balance by not overpaying for unnecessary add-ons and neglecting essential elements that help keep your site safe and functional.
Decide on what your budget limit is before searching for a host and plan.
Some options will cost you as little as $4 a month, while high-end hosting solutions can run into thousands of dollars each month.
Domain names also come at an extra annual cost, which you should factor in.
However, many hosts offer extremely low first-year prices to bring in clients before a sudden jump at renewal time.
For instance, a shared hosting plan that starts at $4 a month for the first year can shoot up to $12 monthly or more for subsequent years.
Watch out for hidden extras because the price you think you’re paying is not always what you pay.
For example, some hosts use monthly unique visits to charge you, but they reset what counts as unique after 24 hours, resulting in high hosting costs.
Also, check the host’s cancellation and refund policy because some companies may require forfeiting a refund if you exit early.
Take advantage of web hosting reviews and comparison tools and look at the details closely of each plan before choosing.
9. Optional Extras Worth Considering
Some optional extras are not suitable for everyone, but you might want to consider the following:
- Operating system: Most hosts run on Linux, but some services let you specify if you want Windows, depending on your needs.
- Migration services: Many companies are offering free fully-managed migration services, while others will provide software so you can migrate the site yourself.
- Developer options: Check if the host offers things like SSH, WP-CLI, Root Access, SFTP, and staging environments for your developers.
- Email: Some hosts include email in their services, and others don’t. A host may also include a webmail client or forward your emails to another client.
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are some common web hosting questions.
What is web hosting vs. domains?
Web hosting makes the files that comprise your website, including code and images, visible online.
A domain is an address that allows a visitor to find your website online easily.
You need both a domain and web hosting space to have a functioning site.
Do you have to pay to host a website?
You will need to pay for hosting if you want to launch a website.
However, you’ll notice many free web hosts, but these services don’t offer the service quality you want or need for most websites.
For instance, bandwidth is usually low with unreliable performance.
So, what is web hosting?
Web hosting is a service that offers you the technologies and services required to run your website online.
Hosting your site on a web host’s servers lets you focus on critical matters such as creating excellent content and driving traffic to the website.
But choosing the best hosting option can be overwhelming.
Instead, switch gears and invest more time studying user reviews before signing up with any web host.
If you’re uncertain about which host to pick, consider Hostinger, our top pick, or Dreamhost, our budget option.