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What is web hosting? A definitive guide

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When it comes to choosing how to make a website, secure and reliable hosting is a must. Otherwise, your site can be left vulnerable to malicious attacks and server downtime, all of which can affect your site’s performance.

Web hosting is the process by which your website, including its content and files (as well as its code and images), is delivered to the internet. When users need to access your site they make a request to the server, by typing a url into their browser. The browser then sends a request to the server, which sends back the necessary files and code to display your site.

In order to understand how essential secure web hosting is to making a website, and to your website infrastructure, we’re going to look at the main types of web hosting options available. We’ll also explore the difference between web hosting and domain names, and explain the features which make for reliable hosting.

What is web hosting?

Web hosting is the storage and delivery of your site’s files, elements and content to an internet browser. When a user types in a domain name, it’s translated into a series of specific IP numbers (also known as your site's IP address), which connects it to the server where your site is hosted. The server then delivers your site's content to the user according to their request, so when they arrive at your domain name, they will view your homepage.

You can think of web hosting as similar to renting a storage space. Inside is stored all of your site's elements and files. A server is a physical computer or virtual system that provides information and data over a network.

Where and how your site is hosted has an impact on its performance. So, you need to make sure that the web hosting service you choose is secure and reliable. When a server is unable to complete the request to display a site (also known as server down-time), it can be difficult—potentially impossible—for users to access your site. This can cost you repeat users, conversions and sales.

The main types of web hosting

There are several main types of web hosting. Which type of hosting you should choose for your website depends on its size and anticipated traffic numbers, as well your future need for scalability. Below we’ve outlined some of the most popular types of hosting, and included examples of when each type of hosting works best.

Shared hosting

Shared hosting involves multiple sites sharing one physical server. If you have a new, small site, with limited traffic, shared hosting is a good entry point. Historically, shared hosting is the cheapest type available.

However, there are disadvantages to this type of hosting. Shared servers are not always capable of coping with sudden traffic surges. For an eCommerce site that’s prone to holiday traffic surges, shared hosting is not the best option for this reason. In this case, your site needs a hosting type that can handle higher volumes of traffic, without interrupting your business.

Even if you don’t manage a site with sudden increases in traffic, if other websites on the same server as your site do, your website — and by extension, your business —could end up being affected by server downtime as well.

shared hosting: what is web hosting

VPS hosting

VPS hosting refers to one physical server, divided into multiple server units. Each one of these units hosts a separate website, dealing only with traffic requests to that site. One of the benefits of VPS hosting is that it allows for customization—your piece of the server is yours to configure as you want.

With VPS hosting comes the need for some degree of server management, which adds to the cost. Additionally, since with this type of hosting you still share one server with multiple sites, your own website is vulnerable to traffic surges.

vps hosting: what is web hosting

Cloud hosting

Once the new kid on the block, this type of hosting utilizes multiple virtual servers that run from the cloud. Cloud hosting is one of the most reliable forms of hosting available, and for several reasons.

The main benefit of using multiple cloud servers is that if one server is too busy with traffic requests, another one can step up and handle it. This allows the servers to respond effectively to sudden traffic increases without affecting website performance. Because of this, cloud hosting is the best choice for busy sites, who can’t afford sudden or prolonged downtime episodes.

Cloud hosting is also the best option for sites with significant international traffic. Virtual servers and CDNs (content display networks) can be placed in multiple geographical locations. This means that when a user enters a domain name for a specific website, cloud hosting delivers the site from a virtual server in the same region as that user. This has a positive impact on improved page load and speed, ensuring a consistent user experience across multiple locations.

But where cloud hosting really comes into its own is with scalability. It’s the perfect fit for sites looking to grow traffic, since as a hosting solution it can handle increasing traffic to sites without a subsequent drop in performance.

In the past, one of the main issues with cloud hosting has been its cost. This has changed however, and now many website creators—including Wix—include free cloud hosting with every site created. For a more in-depth look at cloud hosting vs. shared hosting, check out our guide.

Dedicated hosting

Dedicated hosting is when one site is hosted on a single server, and has been the go-to hosting choice for large sites with thousands of users a day. This form of web hosting is almost the same as having your own on-site server, and usually includes full management services. In addition to handling large amounts of traffic, the main benefit of dedicated web hosting is having complete control over how the server is configured and what operating software it uses.

On the down side, dedicated hosting is expensive and requires intensive management and maintenance. It also means that any issues with your specific server will impact your site until they are fixed. This is a disadvantage that, for example, cloud hosting bypasses since its multiple servers allow for more flexibility.

Reseller hosting

Used more as a source of revenue than a type of hosting, this form of hosting is unique. Reseller hosting occurs when a website owner buys server space, uses only some of it, and then rents out the rest to another site. The motivations for this can be revenue, and in some cases to utilize unused server space.

Reseller hosting has many of the same challenges as shared hosting, since it means splitting storage and bandwidth with multiple sites on one server.

Managed hosting

Managed hosting is not a specific type of hosting itself, but refers to a service provided to those who opt for cloud, dedicated or VPS hosting. The service covers all setup, configuration, troubleshooting and general management of the server and hosting arrangement.

Managed hosting is great for providing a comprehensive service, including data backup and full server and software management. For website owners, this often means peace of mind in terms of your site’s security and performance. Many web hosting providers, Wix included, will incorporate this as part of their service, regardless of the type of hosting (cloud, dedicated or VPS) customers opt for.

Web hosting vs domain name

Web hosting and domain names are two separate entities that work together to deliver your website to users. While web hosting deals with where and how a website is stored and delivered online, a domain name is its online address. A domain name is essential for visitors to find your site, and is what triggers your server to deliver content to them.

Both web hosting and domain names are necessary to create a website. While both can be purchased separately, many people prefer a website creation tool like Wix where free cloud hosting is standard and you can create a custom domain name using the same service.

Essential web hosting features

There are a number of key features that a reliable web hosting platform should include. Most important is that the web hosting you choose can scale with your site. As your website grows—both in terms of content and traffic—you’ll need increased storage space and bandwidth. Make sure your web hosting service is able to meet this growth, otherwise the performance and functionality of your site may suffer.

It’s also increasingly important that your web host can auto-scale. What does this mean? Let’s return to our eCommerce example. Online stores are more susceptible to seasonal traffic surges. This puts pressure on servers and can cause websites to go offline, preventing sales on what may be your businesses’ busiest day of the year.

With a web hosting service that scales hosting automatically, like Wix, it will prove stable and reliable no matter how busy your site or server gets—to the point where you don’t even have to think about it.

01. Security

Any individual or business should have an understanding of cybersecurity basics. Attacks on websites through servers, including DDoS (distributed denial-of-service) attacks, are devastating and difficult to recover from. Not only do you need assurance that your web hosting is secure enough to protect your site’s content, but to guard users’ data and privacy too.

With Wix, free web hosting includes 24/7 security monitoring, as well as HTTPS and SSL certificate protection. Combined with an extensive bug bounty program and specific DDoS protection, you can rest assured that your site is safe from server level threats. All Wix sites are also protected by Transport Layer Security (TLS) which secures communication between your browser and Wix servers. This eliminates the risk of website security breaches and protects your site from server downtime.

02. Server reliability

Server reliability is essential to your website, and ultimately running a smooth business, since downtime can have a detrimental impact on performance and your site’s usability. This will affect its ranking in search engines, and can also lead to search engine penalties. It can also prevent your site from functioning properly, and make it difficult for users to complete sales, or other calls-to-action.

To avoid this, choose a web hosting service with high uptime (Wix’s is 99.9%) that will ensure your site is always connected and accessible. It should be able to handle global traffic (with locally placed servers and CDNs) for optimum performance.

what is web hosting - reliable hosting quote

'If your website can go down for a day or two from time to time, your hosting is terrible. Even mediocre hosting doesn't (or shouldn't) do that. (Also, downtime from hosters makes me appreciate well-run platforms like @Wix & co. even more)' John Mueller, Google

Better yet— your web host should be proactive in monitoring traffic, and be able to preempt surges or outages that will affect a specific server. Constant monitoring of servers’ functionality is a crucial part of your host's reliability. In December 2021, an AWS (Amazon Server) outage led to servers and the sites hosted on them going dark across a large part of the USA’s East Coast. Despite running servers in the same region and with many sites reliant on AWS services, not a single Wix site went down.

03. Domain name hosting

While there are generally no issues with sourcing web hosting and domain name from different providers, the easiest way is to combine the two. Many website builders offer these services together, which means they can be instantly connected without the extra hassle. A Wix Premium Plan, for example, includes a free domain name for your site, allowing you to start your branding journey with a professional, customized domain name.

If domain and web hosting services come from different providers, you should check with the web host for direction on how to connect the two.With Wix, there are several simple steps to take in order to transfer an existing domain name to your new site.

04. Scalable bandwidth and storage

Bandwidth refers to the number of bytes needed to transfer a site to users from the web host. So, when choosing a web hosting provider, it's important to understand your storage and bandwidth requirements.

If you’re creating a content heavy site, you may need more storage and bandwidth than is initially provided by your web host. Sites with a large amount of videos and images are good examples. Some web hosting plans put a limit on bandwidth, and once you reach the threshold your traffic numbers can be restricted.

Keeping this in mind will help you choose the right website builder to ensure scalability for your site, no matter how large it gets. For example, when you build a site with Wix you automatically connect to free web hosting that includes 500MB of cloud storage and 500MB bandwidth. Upgrading to a Premium Plan will increase your storage capacity to 50GB with unlimited bandwidth.

05. Service support

Unless you’re a technical wizard, there is not much you should be doing to maintain or manage your web hosting, beyond opting for a secure and reliable option. A great website builder will manage all of this for you, and provide the professional technical support and customer care needed to help you manage your site.

06. Linked email accounts

Beyond security and reliability, it's also a good idea to opt for a web host that allows you to combine your site with business management. This can include hosting services, a domain name and linked email accounts that all share the same address.

Nothing elevates your business better than the alignment of all of your online assets. When it comes to building a site, linked custom email accounts are becoming an essential feature of web hosting alongside domain name generators.

Web hosting costs

Web hosting costs vary between providers, and according to the type of hosting you choose. With many web hosting providers, the more you pay, the more features you unlock. This is something to consider when choosing a type of hosting and provider since the cheapest option isn’t always the best.

For example, some shared web hosting plans start from as little as $1.39 per month, although this low price will typically involve a multi-year commitment plan. Low monthly payments often means you don’t have access to certain services—such as data backup—which may require an extra charge.

The more exclusive the type of hosting, the more expensive it gets. Dedicated hosting plans can cost up to several hundred dollars a month, but free web hosting is now an integral part of many website creation tools, and is also a good option.

How to host a website

Now that we’ve explained exactly what web hosting is and the main types available, here are four very simple steps to host a website:

01. Research the types of hosting available - including all of the potential hosted services available

02. Choose the right type of hosting for your site

03. Select your hosting platform or provider

(In 2021, Wix was named the world’s 3rd best web hosting provider, to learn more visit our web hosting center. )

04. Decide on and connect your domain name

By Rebecca Tomasis

Organic Growth Expert

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