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How to Host a Website: Complete Beginner's Guide
Hosting a website simply means making sure that your website is accessible on the World Wide Web (WWW). This is usually done in two ways. You can pay for hosting with a service provider or host it yourself on your own server. This article explores both methods.
Video Summary: How to Host a Website
This is how web hosting works
How to host a site with a hosting provider
Using a service provider is the easiest way to host a website. You can pay a low monthly fee and rely on the service provider to take care of all of your equipment, infrastructure and related needs.
Advantages of hosting with a service provider
- Usually cheaper
- Support is often available immediately
- No hardware maintenance required
- Greater reliability
Disadvantages of hosting with a service provider
- Some service restrictions may apply
- Less choices in hosting locations
Here are the steps to hosting a website with a hosting service provider.
1. Decide what type of website you are building
There are two main types of websites. static and dynamic.
Simple static websites can be created with a WYSIWYG (What You See Is What You Get) application and then transferred to the hosting account.
Dynamic sites are primarily application driven and use scripts, databases, and other tools to generate parts of the site on the fly. WordPress and Joomla are examples of popular CMS (Content Management System) apps that are very popular today. Others like Magento and PrestaShop are used for ecommerce websites.
2. Compare the web hosting types
Much like there are many different categories of cars, there are websites hosting in different flavors too. For example, shared hosting is the cheapest and easiest to use - they resemble the small cars of the world.
As the type of web hosting increases, so does the type of web hosting, the associated costs and often the complexity of managing the hosting account. For example in VPS hosting you would not only have to manage the hosting details but also the environment in which it is hosted.
Three types of web host
In short, these are the most common types of hosting
- Shared hosting
- VPS / cloud hosting
- Dedicated server hosting
WordPress? Prestashop? Magento? WooCommerce hosting?
It is important to know that web applications and web hosting are not the same thing. Some web hosts offer packages like WordPress hosting, PrestaShop hosting, WooCommerce hosting, etc. These are not actual hosting types, but are intended to attract laypeople who may not be familiar with real web hosting terms. These hosting offers only lure users with the names of popular web applications.
For example, not many people know the difference in hosting types, but many are familiar with the term "WordPress".
The type of web hosting you need is usually defined by:
- The expected volume of traffic on your website or
- Any specific requirements your website may have.
Most websites that are just starting out tend to have low traffic (i.e. few visitors) and shared hosting accounts are fine for this. Most shared accounts also come with application installers (such as Softaculous), but to make sure your needs are met, ask the host if the application you want can be installed on that account.
Shared vs VPS / Cloud vs Dedicated Hosting
In terms of performance and management, each type of web hosting also has its own advantages and disadvantages.
3. Select and purchase a web hosting plan
Even within hosting types, service providers often have a variety of plans available. Often times, the main difference in these plans is in the amount of resources that each is given. The more resources your website has, the more visitors can handle it.
When it comes to web hosting resources, we usually refer to three core elements - processor (CPU), memory (RAM), and storage (HDD or SSD). However, these don't always result in good web host performance.
In the past, there was no easy way to measure a web host's performance. Most users have had to rely on ratings, which unfortunately usually only take snapshots of a host's performance and rarely update them. Try HostScore, a website that continuously evaluates web hosts' performance based on ongoing data collection. This means their web host performance reviews are much more accurate.
Also, keep an eye out for value-added features like free SSL, domain names, advertising credits, an included website builder, or anything else that can help you build or market your website.
After testing and reviewing 60+ hosting services in the past, I've been able to narrow down some of the best hosting options for different use cases.
Web host for newbies / simple websites
Business web host / growing websites
4. Buy the domain
If your web hosting is the actual space your website files are on, you need a domain name in order for users to access your website. The domain name behaves like your address in the WWW. Like real addresses, each one is unique.
Many web hosting plans today come with a free domain name. So make sure to check if this applies to the web hosting you are looking to buy. In this case, you can take care of the domain name at the same time as paying for your web hosting plan.
If not, you'll need to buy a domain name separately. This can either be done from the same location where you purchased the hosting plan or from a different service provider. If you need to buy the domain name separately, I highly recommend looking elsewhere.
Domain names are not fixed-price items and are often put on the market. Some vendors often have cheap domain name sales and, if you're lucky, they can pick one up for theft. Namecheap, for example, often had domain names on offer that were up to 98% cheaper.
The exception is if this is your first time website owner. In this case, it may be easier for you as a beginner to buy a domain name and hosting from the same service provider.
5. Move / create your website on the server
Once your domain name and web hosting plan are ready, the migration can begin. Site migration can be complex. So if this is your first time doing this, ask your new host for help. Some hosting service providers offer free website migrations.
If you created your website locally (on your own computer), simply transfer our files to your web server. To do this, you can either use the file manager in your web hosting control panel or perform the transfer with an FTP client.
The process is similar to copying files from one location to another on your own computer.
How to host a site locally
Hosting a website locally means that you are essentially using your own location to set up a web server from scratch. This means that you are responsible for everything from hardware and software to bandwidth provisioning and other infrastructure requirements.
Benefits of self-hosting
- Extreme control over your hosting environment
- Potential for faster service turnaround times
- Your choice of devices and service providers
Cons of Self-Hosting
- Can be very expensive
- Not always possible in residential areas
Warning: Hosting web servers locally is complex and can be very expensive. It is also often less reliable than hosting with a service provider.
1. Select Devices and Software
Basic server hardware can be very similar to the hardware on your own PC, with some slight differences. Technically, you can turn your own PC (or even laptop) into a home web server if you really want to.
The main difference is how reliable you want your web server to be and the volume of visitors it can handle. As with service providers, you need to keep an eye on the processor, memory, and storage space.
If you choose to use high-end server equipment such as rack servers, you must also ensure that the specific requirements of that equipment are met. This includes space, cooling and energy.
If you need a more reliable service, you also need to consider hardware redundancy. For example, you can run your storage drives in RAID and actively mirror backups to additional drives.
Your other infrastructure devices such as routers and modems must also be able to handle high traffic loads.
When it comes to software, in addition to your operating system, you also need to focus on your web server platform (Apache and Nginx are the most popular on the market right now). This also means that you are responsible not only for configuring the software, but also for licensing it.
2. Make sure there is sufficient bandwidth
Internet bandwidth is also critical to running your own server. In many cases, the standard internet bandwidth is fine for most of us because we have limited connections to the internet. Imagine 30 people trying to use your home Internet at the same time - and maybe more would like to help you.
Another thing to consider is your IP address. Most consumer Internet plans are assigned dynamic IP addresses. To operate a web server, you need a static IP. This can be done either from a service provider such as DynDNS or by purchasing the service from your Internet Service Provider (ISP).
Learn how to calculate the bandwidth you need.
3. Develop and deploy website
The next part is similar to the experience with a web hosting provider, except that you don't get any support. Your web files need to be moved to your web host in order for your site to work.
Which option is best for hosting your own website?
As you can probably tell from the two examples using a hosting provider or self-hosting a website, the latter can quickly get incredibly expensive and complex. In reality it is (believe me, I've done it before).
Aside from the satisfaction of having done so, there are few real benefits to it unless you are a company that has very specific needs for your site. Some of these can be, for example, legal or company-specific requirements.
Nowadays, however, web hosting service providers are very versatile and in many cases are open to discussing special needs with customers. However, in most cases, using a standard hosting plan is more than enough.
Manage your hosting resources
Hosting a website - especially if you choose to host it locally - is never a set up and forgotten job. Managing server resources becomes more and more important as your websites become more popular. This is especially true when multiple websites are hosted on the same server.
Some time ago we interviewed Marc Werne, employee of the Linux hosting provider, at Gigatux.com and asked for his advice on managing server resources. Here are some of his tips on how to make permanent use of your resources.
1. Choose a lightweight CMS
You may want to use Joomla or Mambo this badly, but if your hosting stroage is less than 500MB you may want to reconsider your choice.
WordPress or Drupal, for example, this would be a lightweight, flexible alternative that can save you MB of web disk and bandwidth. Often less is more and low weight is not necessarily less functional. Make a diagram of your alternatives and choose the CMS that best suits your needs and hosting plan.
2. For the forum - use miniBB instead of SMF
MiniBB only requires less than 2MB versus more than 10MB SMF, but it is a complete forum solution with an extensive repository of add-ons, extensions and plugins.
Not like MiniBB?
There are several alternatives to larger forum scripts. PunBB, FluxBB, and AEF to name a few. Also, plan the size of your forum before installing a solution: if you want to reach thousands of millions of users, your hosting plan may need to be upgraded. If you want the forum to be staffed only or to target a small number of users, by all means use the resources available to your advantage.
3. Use a third party newsletter provider
Installing newsletter software on your limited web hosting account will use up your hard drive and bandwidth. Unfortunately, there isn't much to do, and the smallest newsletter script available - OpenNewsletter - is still 640K in size, and you have to consider any memory issues too.
In comparison - MailChimp, a complete newsletter solution from zero cost if your target audience has less than 2,000 subscribers and you don't want to send more than 12,000 emails per month.
All templates can be customized so you don't have to host your own, and you can integrate the newsletter with Facebook.
Good alternatives to MailChimp are Constant Contact, whose only limit is set by subscription options - people can only register using your form.
4. Use a caching system
The majority of small and private website owners on a shoestring budget choose shared hosting plans to save upfront costs. Sometimes an upgrade is imperative to increase performance and reach a wider audience and associated traffic. However, if this is not possible, you can save server resources by using a caching system that does not overload your CPU.
WordPress Users Can Install Fast Performance However, if you are not using WordPress then you should try tweaking your website cache using the tools provided by your CMS provider. For example, Joomla can rely on Cache Cleaner or Jot Cache ;; Drupal also has several cache performance tools.
5. Empty spam content regularly
Get rid of spam in the form of emails, blog comments, pingback urls, and files that overload servers and database quotas.
Do this at least once a week to avoid memory problems (e.g. deleting WordPress comments only works up to 64MB of memory. After that, a fatal error occurs and you either need to check the memory size allowed in your PHP. INI file or in wp-config.php in your WordPress root directory).
6. Use external databases whenever possible
If your host allows a remote database link, be sure to use it. External databases make it easier to use your web disk quota because they store your content outside of your hosting account. Note, however, that remote databases can be very expensive and problematic for end users.
7. Use third party file hosting services
Host all things that can be downloaded through an external file hosting service such as Photobucket, Vimeo, Youtube, Giphy, and so on.
You shouldn't allow your visitors, customers, or readers to upload content to your servers if your resources are limited.
8. Download and delete log files regularly
Log files are created to keep you updated on the health of your website but are not used on the server. If you don't download and remove them at least once a week, they'll take up several megabytes per GB in size. This is especially true for two cPanel protocols:/ home / user / public_html / error_log
and/ home / users / tmp / awstats /
The error_log file usually contains dynamic errors such as PHP warnings, database errors (illegal collations, etc.) and spam comments that were not passed through. Check this file weekly for errors and warnings, and then remove it.
The / awstats / folder, on the other hand, contains all the access and statistics logs for your website. You should deactivate the AwStats software in your account to avoid an increase in web space usage, as the program automatically saves its statistics files. If you are unable to do this due to restricted permissions, contact your host and request that all analysis software be disabled.
Frequently asked questions about website hosting
Web hosting is more than just the space your website resides in. It also includes software needs and costs, as well as bandwidth and a host of other micro-requirements that need to be managed. For more details - I explained how a web host works in this guide.
Web hosting service providers have set up environments designed for hosting websites. They are optimized for this purpose, and since they do so in large quantities, they can often provide the service much cheaper than the self-hosting environment.
Yes, web hosting is one of the key components of running a website. To learn more - Here is a list of best web hosting companies I recommended.
A domain name is the address of your website. Without this option, your users will have no way of getting to your website unless they know the exact IP address. Learn more about How does the domain name work ?.
Yes, GoDaddy is a web service provider and one of their products is web hosting.
If your website is new, shared hosting is usually more than enough. The capacity of shared hosting varies from host to host. For example, some web hosts, A2 Hosting, have very strong plans also under shared hosting options.
There are four main types of web hosting: VPS, cloud, and dedicated hosting. Each offers a different level of performance, reliability, and security.
"Best" is relative - what is best for my site may not match yours. If you're new, shared hosting should usually be the “best” place to start. Dedicated servers are the most powerful hosting types, but also the most expensive (so not recommended for newbies).
Most web hosting service providers today allow you to install a variety of popular web applications. This usually includes WordPress, Drupal, Joomla, and many others. The best way to ensure that the application you want can be installed is to contact your service provider.
The speed of the website can depend on many factors. One of them is how well optimized your website is. Use a tool like WebPageTest or GT Metrix to learn what is affecting your website's performance. If you run a test here, it will break down the details of the load times so that you can identify points of lag in the load time of your site.
Hosting a website involves a web server that serves your website files to visitors over the World Wide Web. The most important components are your website's files, a web server, and a domain name that will be used to access your website.
As the name suggests, shared hosting accounts share the resources of a single server. In cloud hosting, several servers bundle their resources in a 'cloud' and these resources are then distributed to cloud hosting accounts.
Managed hosting is a type of web hosting where the service provider takes responsibility for maintaining the technical performance of your account. This usually includes technical and software updates.
Learn more about hosting a website
When creating a website
About Jerry Low
Founder of WebHostingSecretRevealed.net (WHSR) - a hosting review trusted and useful by 100,000 users. More than 15 years of experience in web hosting, affiliate marketing and SEO. Contributor to ProBlogger.net, Business.com, SocialMediaToday.com, and others.
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