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Web Hosting 101

What is web hosting?

Web hosting companies allot servers to clients and provide them with the necessary tools to upload web pages and files for viewing on the internet. Having a beautiful website without a reliable web host is comparable to having the greatest party idea of the century, but not having access to a venue that could adequately host it. Essentially, a web host is just that: a space to do things. While many hosting companies provide applications that you can install to dress up your website and options for you to sale products and services, hosting, strictly defined, is the unfurnished home in which your website lives. The décor comes afterwards, but without a hosting provider you can trust, you could quickly find that your belongings (website info) is not safe in the huge neighborhood we call the World Wide Web.
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What should I look for in a web host?

There is no clear-cut, definitive answer to this question, as hosting needs will vary depending on the said goals of your website. Are your objectives set for personal use? Are you looking for commercial solutions? Perhaps you're looking to set up an online store for your personal business? These are just a few questions you'll need to answer before consulting the plethora of web hosting companies out there. However, here are some general tips to consider when discerning whether a particular hosting option is better than good enough for anyone:

  • Customer Support: Whether you're a seasoned webmaster or a novice who's looking to host a website for the first time, you're bound to run into some bumps in the road. This is why good customer service/technical support is important. Does the web host at hand provide 24/7 support all year around? Just as with most things in life, you might find that digital mishaps occur at the most inopportune times, and knowing you'd have a customer rep to consult with at 4AM on a Sunday morning could alleviate a lot of stress on your part. Also, be sure to research the response times for support services. There's little good to come of a round the clock help desk if it takes days for someone to respond to your issue. Likewise, while automated responses and online knowledge bases could fix many common hosting issues and solve response time annoyances, a company's ability to provide real time, expert help adds credibility to its ability to meet customer needs.
  • Cost: Knowing your needs is just as important to your pockets as it is to managing a successful website in general. It's hardly the case that the most expensive option is always the best option, so shop around, and ultimately make sure that you're not paying for services that you won't be using. Perhaps a hosting option that allows for customizable solutions is best for sufficing this concern as opposed to the various companies only offering packaged options. Just as important, be sure that you're not overpaying for services that you do need. The best way to ensure this is by comparing companies that offer similar hosting services and weighing credibility based on research and user/expert reviews. Long contracts and steep cancellation fees are important to consider, too.
  • Uptime Guarantee: While it's difficult to ensure this on the customer's end, you should still favor hosting companies that guarantee an uptime of about 99%. If the guarantee falls lower, it might be wise to anticipate other incentives such as a money back guarantees. Bottom line - a website with trustworthy accessibility requires trustworthy servers that keep downtime to a minimum. Note that a good uptime also helps to ensure speedy access to your site, which is important to visitor experience.
  • Ease of Use: As noted, customer support is important, but you shouldn't need a help desk just to change your account password or add email accounts. Your ability to manage certain features of your website and navigate your control panel is usually contingent upon the level of expertise that the host caters to. For beginners, search for web hosts with a more user-friendly interface. This enables you to both grow your knowledge while growing your site and handle common maintenance as required.
  • Disk Space/Bandwidth:Many web hosts claim to offer unlimited disk space and/or unlimited bandwidth (data transfer). While you want to make sure that you are able to allocate enough of both to meet your goals, the term "unlimited," when it comes to hosting, is often conveniently defined and reflected in your costs in one way or another. Be sure to check out the terms under which the service is offered. Moreover, also be careful that you don't overestimate how much disk space and/or bandwidth you'll need. Especially if you're not planning on embedding video or music features on your website, an offering of 100GB of data might be breaking your pockets unnecessarily.
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How can I host my website for free?

There is an abundance of free hosting solutions on the internet, many of which allow you to create websites for free, as well. Weebly, Wix, Yola, Webs, and Jimdo are just a few website building companies that also allow free hosting. When considering this option, however, note that you might run into certain restrictions. For example, you might not be able to acquire unique domain names, leaving you stuck with a URL or similar. Also, considering that many free web hosts offer limited storage, you might eventually need to upgrade. This has the potential to be a very challenging process, often resulting in many visitors being lost during the move. With paid hosting, upgrades are generally more feasible and offer neater transitions. Other possible worries include unwanted ads on your website and lack of helpful support.
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Can I host my website myself?

Aside from the free hosting option (discussed above), Windows users also have the option of hosting websites on their home computers. This requires extra know-how, as you'll need to set up internet server software as well as find out if your internet service provider (ISP) grants you access to host a website. Note that this option is extremely limiting and only allows you to host low-traffic websites. You'd have to keep your computer on at all times and your site's pages would load significantly slower than if hosted on a traditional platform. Self-hosting also exposes you to security threats that your PC cannot adequately solve or prevent.
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If I use a hosting service, does the host own my site?

No, the content on your website belongs to you. The web host owns the server on which your website is housed.
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What is a domain name and how can I get one for free?

Much like people use phone numbers to communicate with each other, computers "talk" via IP addresses. When you visit a website, you are accessing IP addresses on a host's server, but in the more practical format of a domain name. In short, instead of typing in something like 132.455.7789 (an IP address), you'd type in (domain name). Note that a domain name is not the same as a URL. While your domain name is, essentially, the name of your website, the URL you'll see in your browser could contain any of the pages within the domain (

As far as free domain names, you should first consult with your hosting provider, as many companies include domains as part of their hosting packages. Bluehost and GoDaddy are two providers that offer domain registration. Alternately, there's the option of acquiring a sub-domain, which are usually included as a perk for signing up with a free web building service such as Wordpress or Weebly. Instead of owning a domain, you'd have something like
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What's the difference between disk space and bandwidth?

Sometimes referred to as "storage size," disk space refers to the amount of hard drive space your hosting provider allocates to your website's pages. This includes all rich media as well as documents that your website contains. The amount of disk space you receive will depend on your specific arrangements with your web host and, of course, will largely determine what type of site you're able to manage. Bandwidth, on the other hand, measures the amount of bytes transferred when a visitor access your site's files. You upload data onto your site whenever you add content to it and when a visitor links to your site, he or she is downloading this content. Bandwidth calculates both types of transfer. It is related to disk space in the sense that the data measured is in the form of files which are a part of your allocated disk space; bandwidth helps determine the speed at which a visitor can access these files.
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How much disk space and bandwidth do I need?

The answer to this will depend on what type of website you're running and the feasible arrangements you'd need to make in order to gear your site towards success. As far as disk space, a good measurement tool to use is your own local disk. See how much size your files take up on your local drive and use that as an estimate for how much hosting storage you'd need to purchase. Keep in mind, though, that you most likely will want to add content regularly at some point in the future. Anticipate these numbers and make sure to allot yourself some extra space when signing up for your hosting package.

Pre-noting the size of your files will also help with estimating the amount of bandwidth you'll need to run a successful website. This gives you a better understanding of how large your website's pages will be. You should also spend some time anticipating your daily and/or monthly traffic numbers. How many people do you plan will visit your site? Pitching all of this information to your prospective web host's customer support team should help you estimate the appropriate amount of bandwidth for your needs.
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How can I switch hosts once I already have my website set up on a server?

The first thing you need to do is back up your files and emails just in case something goes wrong with the transfer. Switching a web host can be very easy if done correctly, but anticipating the worst will help ensure that pivotal information is not lost in cyberspace. After back up, you should go ahead and perform all necessary setups for your new server, such as domain registration, security updates, and site optimization. It might be wise to contact your new hosting provider's customer support to get specific feedback on how you should proceed with transferring your old files onto your new server at this point, as procedures could vary depending on your host. When everything seems ready to go, make sure that you attain a temporary URL so that you can test out everything pertaining to your new site before directing traffic to it.
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If I downgrade my plan, what happens to my current website?

You should check with your hosting provider, as answers may vary. One thing to be aware of, though, is that if your current package involves advanced features that the downgraded option does not, there is a high probability that your website will not function properly. Consult with your provider before manually downgrading your plan to prevent the stress of figuring out what went wrong after the fact.
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What's the difference between Shared web hosting, VPS hosting, and Dedicated web hosting?

Shared Hosting refers to a very powerful server that is being rented out by many people and their websites. If a hosting server is how your website is housed, think of shared hosting as an apartment complex and your shared server as the swimming pool or laundry room that everyone in your complex uses. You might want to take advantage of this option if you're running a small website or are just looking to get your feet wet before considering other hosting options. For advanced needs, shared hosting might be too restricting of a plan, as bigger websites on your shared server could require a large portion of the allotted disk space/bandwidth for your package.

VPS Hosting refers to a virtual private server that exists on an even more powerful, hardwired machine. This is certainly a better option for those with higher storage/bandwidth needs, as all the resources are privatized. Even if other VPS servers exist on the same machine, the resources remain exclusive. This is great for the performance of your site, but with more freedom comes more responsibility. Those opting for a VPS server should be aware that they might not have access to the same support as someone with a shared hosting plan. Upon installing files on your VPS, make sure to back up all of your files in case of unforeseen mishaps. While the resources are exclusive, remember that you'd still be utilizing a shared physical location, so issues may still arise.

Dedicated HostingRefers to an entire server that a client leases for his or her hosting needs. Unlike with shared and VPS servers, dedicated servers allow you optimal control, including what operating system and hardware you wish to install. The host provides services such as security applications and IT support, but otherwise, dedicated hosting suits more seasoned webmasters. On that note, dedicated hosting will generally cost you much more than other hosting options, as well.
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