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What is web hosting? A definitive guide

what is web hosting

If you're wondering how to make a website that's both well-designed and functional, one of the first things you'll need to consider is your website infrastructure. At the core of that infrastructure is secure and reliable web hosting. Rush this step, and you leave yourself vulnerable to malicious attacks and server downtime, both of which can take a toll on your website's performance.

So, what is web hosting? This guide will break down the main types of hosting options you can choose from, explain the difference between web hosting and domain names and provide tips on how to find a dependable hosting service.

Get free website hosting from Wix today.

What is web hosting?

Web hosting is the service that stores your website's files and makes them available on the internet. When someone types your website's domain name into their browser, they're actually reaching out to a specific server—your website's digital "storage unit." This server holds all your website's elements, from text and images to code and videos. It has a unique digital address called an IP address, which users can access by typing your domain name into their web browser.

How does hosting work?

When someone enters your website address into their browser or clicks a link that leads to your site, their computer reaches out to the server where your website is stored. This server, a physical computer or software that's always on, then sends back the files needed to display your web page on the visitor's computer or device. Opting for a website hosting service means you're essentially renting space on these ever-awake servers to store all your website's files and data.

shared hosting: what is web hosting

Why is hosting important?

Hosting is a cornerstone of your website's performance and accessibility. Think about it: when people visit your site, they expect quick loading times, high-quality images and a secure environment. Your hosting provider plays a key role in meeting these expectations. A reliable host ensures your website is available to visitors around the clock, so you don't miss out on potential customers, ad revenue or other opportunities.

Quality hosting providers also offer advanced security features to help protect your site from cyber threats. They often include backup services so you won't lose all your hard work in case something goes awry.

And let's not forget that website speed isn't just about user experience; it also affects your search engine ranking. Google and other search engines favor faster, reliable sites and a good hosting service can help you achieve those faster load times.

Web hosting versus domain name

Web hosting and domain names are two distinct but interconnected elements that make your website accessible to users. Web hosting focuses on storing your website's files on a server and delivering them over the internet. On the other hand, a domain name serves as your website's online address. It's the name people type into their browsers to find your site, and it signals your server to present your website's content to visitors.

Both elements are crucial for establishing an online presence. While you can acquire them separately, many opt for SaaS solutions like Wix, which offers free cloud hosting along with the option to create a custom domain name, simplifying the entire process.

Get a custom domain name from Wix today.

The main types of web hosting

Choosing the right type of web hosting for your website is a bit like picking the perfect home for your family—it depends on your specific needs and future plans. Factors like your website's size, anticipated traffic and scalability requirements will all play a role. In this section, we'll explore some of the most popular types of hosting and help you determine which might be the best fit for your website.

The types of web hosting are shared hosting, VPS hosting, cloud hosting, dedicated hosting, reseller hosting and managed hosting

Shared hosting

Shared hosting is like living in an apartment building where you share resources like water and electricity with your neighbors. In the digital world, this means your website is stored on the same server as multiple other websites. You all share the server's resources, such as storage space, bandwidth and processing power. It's an economical choice, especially for small websites or those just starting out, since the web hosting costs are spread among all the users.

However, the catch is that if one website on the server experiences a surge in traffic or has some other issue, it could affect the performance of all the other websites hosted on that server. Think of it like one apartment throwing a loud party; it could be disruptive for the whole building. For an eCommerce site that’s prone to holiday traffic surges, shared hosting is not the best option for this reason. That's why shared hosting is often best for smaller websites with less traffic, where high performance and speed are less critical.

VPS hosting

VPS hosting, or virtual private server hosting, is like living in a condo complex. You still share a building with other residents, but you own your own space and share fewer resources compared to apartment living, as in shared hosting. In the digital realm, this means you get a designated portion of a physical server, giving you more control and better performance.

With VPS hosting, you have your own set of resources like storage, bandwidth and processing power, separate from other users on the same server. This provides a boost in speed and reliability. It's particularly well-suited for websites that have outgrown shared hosting but aren't quite big enough to need their own dedicated server.

One of the biggest advantages is the ability to scale resources as needed. If your website starts getting more traffic, you can easily allocate more resources to handle the load. However, VPS hosting is generally more expensive than shared hosting and requires some degree of server management. It's a good option for businesses or websites that need more power, customization and flexibility.

vps hosting: what is web hosting

Cloud hosting

Similar to cloud storage and cloud communications, cloud hosting is like having a house that can magically expand or shrink based on how many people are staying with you. In the tech world, this translates to hosting your website on a network of virtual servers (“the cloud”) rather than on a single physical server. This gives you the ability to easily scale your resources up or down as your website needs change.

The major advantage of cloud hosting is its flexibility. Because your site is hosted on multiple servers, if one server fails, another can quickly take over, minimizing any disruptions. When considering the difference between cloud hosting and shared hosting, this is the biggest. As your website grows, cloud hosting can effortlessly adapt to handle increasing traffic without sacrificing performance.

Cloud hosting is 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 is one of many hosting choices you can make to avoid building a slow-loading website.

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.

Wix's multi-cloud hosting makes it one of the best web hosting services, even amongst other cloud hosting providers, because it offers a layer of redundancy; if one cloud service encounters issues, another can take over, ensuring that your website remains up and running with minimal disruption. For example, when a significant AWS outage in December 2021 disrupted millions of websites (including banks, airlines and streaming services), not a single Wix site went down. This approach enhances the overall uptime and performance of your site, which is crucial for maintaining your site's reliability and user satisfaction.

Dedicated hosting

Dedicated hosting is like having an exclusive piece of digital real estate: one website is hosted on a single, dedicated server. This is often the preferred choice for large websites attracting thousands of users per day. It offers an experience akin to owning your own on-site server and usually includes full management services.

The primary advantage of dedicated hosting lies in its total control. You have the freedom to configure the server any way you want, from its operating system to security protocols. This control allows you to optimize for your website's specific needs, offering a performance level that's hard to match. It's particularly effective for handling large volumes of traffic without breaking a sweat.

However, such luxury comes at a price—both literally and metaphorically. Dedicated hosting is typically the most expensive option on the hosting menu. It also demands a significant investment in management and maintenance, often requiring specialized technical expertise. Plus, should anything go awry with your specific server, your website will bear the brunt until the issue is resolved. This is a limitation that other hosting types like cloud hosting elegantly sidestep, thanks to their network of multiple servers that offer greater flexibility and redundancy.

Reseller hosting

Reseller hosting stands out as a unique blend of entrepreneurship and website hosting. Imagine you're leasing a large office building. Instead of using all the space yourself, you sublet individual offices to other businesses. That's reseller hosting in a nutshell. You purchase a significant amount of server space from a hosting provider, use a portion for your own website and then rent out the remaining space to other site owners. The primary motivation is often revenue generation, but it can also be a savvy way to make the most of server space that would otherwise go unused.

While this may sound like an attractive way to offset hosting costs or even turn a profit, reseller hosting has many of the same challenges as shared hosting. Just like tenants in an apartment complex share amenities like a gym or laundry room, websites on a reseller hosting plan share crucial server resources. This means storage and bandwidth are divided among multiple sites on the same server. Consequently, if one of your subtenants experiences a sudden surge in traffic, it could impact the performance and reliability of your own website as well as those of your other tenants. So, just as you would screen potential tenants for a rental property, it's wise to be selective about who you allow to share your server space.

cloud hosting

Managed hosting

Managed hosting is more of an add-on service than a standalone type of hosting. Picture it as a concierge service for your website. Whether you choose cloud, dedicated or VPS hosting, managed hosting takes care of the nitty-gritty details for you. This includes tasks like setting up the server, configuring software, troubleshooting issues and generally ensuring that everything runs smoothly.

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.

How to choose a web hosting service

When you're on the hunt for a web hosting provider, avoid simply picking the first one you come across. You have to play detective, investigating the features that each service offers. From security measures to performance capabilities, different hosting providers offer a variety of features that can either make your life easier or leave you with a bitter aftertaste. In this section, we'll explain how to choose a hosting provider, so you can make an informed choice that suits your needs.

01. Find out if its servers are reliable

Server reliability is a must-have for the smooth operation of your business and the performance of your website. When your site experiences downtime, it doesn't just frustrate visitors; it can also harm your search engine rankings and possibly incur penalties. This could derail transactions, disrupt sales and thwart other crucial interactions with your audience.

To get a sense of current issues that could affect you, it's wise to search Google News for recent instances of outages or security breaches. This can offer insight into how different hosting providers respond to and manage such events.

Choosing a web hosting provider with a strong track record of uptime is vital for ensuring your site is always connected and acceptable. Wix, for instance, boasts a 99.98% uptime. A reliable host should further offer globally distributed servers and CDNs to ensure your website performs well, no matter where your audience is located.

But don't stop at just uptime percentages; your hosting provider should also actively monitor traffic and server functionality. The goal is to anticipate and address any issues before they can cause problems.

02. Assess its security features

With risks like data breaches and cyberattacks on the rise, skimping on security features when choosing a web hosting provider is a gamble that you can't afford to take. Here are the cybersecurity basics you should look for when assessing web hosting providers:

  • TLS certificates: Transport layer security (TLS) certificates—which replaced SSL certificates as the go-to protocol—encrypt the data exchanged between your site and its visitors. In simpler terms, it makes sure prying eyes can't easily snatch sensitive information like passwords or credit cards. When a hosting provider offers TLS, it changes your website's address from HTTP to HTTPS. That little ‘S’ informs visitors that your site is secure. Beyond reassuring your site's visitors, HTTPS is also favored by search engines, giving your site a potential boost in rankings.

  • Firewalls and malware scanning: While a firewall keeps hackers and malicious software out, malware scanning takes care of any viruses, spyware or ransomware that may have slipped through the cracks.

  • Backups: Even if your hosting provider offers all the security features, it's basically impossible to make your site 100% secure. Choosing a hosting provider that offers regular, automated backups ensures that you’ll be able to restore your site if it does suffer a security breach.

  • DDoS protection: Distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks aim to overwhelm your website with traffic to make it unavailable. A good hosting provider should offer robust DDoS protection to ensure your site remains accessible even under such attacks.

Beyond these essential features, Wix hosting takes website security to the next level with 24/7 monitoring to spot issues before they become major problems. It also allows you to enable features like two-factor authentication and phishing protection.

To further fortify its security landscape, Wix even runs a bug bounty program, inviting skilled ethical hackers to identify and report any potential vulnerabilities. “With our bug bounty program, which includes tens of researchers who are constantly looking for ways to hack our environment, every new and existing feature is being given the necessary attention to ensure it’s secure,” explained Ifat Kooperli, Wix’s lead of vulnerability management, to HackerOne. “When we see the same vulnerability repeatedly, we examine the root cause and find out how it can be mitigated across the platform.”

03. Consider speed

When you're considering a web hosting provider, don't let speed fall by the wayside. Avoiding site speed mistakes (like overlooking caching and not implementing lazy loading) is crucial for keeping visitors engaged. And let's not forget, speed also plays a key role in your website’s search engine ranking. Heavy hitters like Google factor in page load time when they're deciding which sites to display in those prized top search results. A zippy website could be your ticket to the big leagues.

So, how can you tell if a hosting provider is up to speed? Peek at their server hardware specs; the more modern the hardware, the faster your website is likely to load. And don't skip over the mention of CDNs. A CDN stores snapshots of your website at various global locations, which makes your site load faster for people, regardless of where they are in the world.

With three data centers and over 200 CDN nodes across the U.S. and Europe, Wix ensures that your audience can access your content in a flash, regardless of where they’re located. Real-time monitoring of performance data ensures constant improvements, while automatic media adjustments on their servers promise fast downloads and optimal visual experience on any device. Plus, Wix’s single, unified tech stack means you instantly benefit from any updates or optimizations they roll out.

Learn more about how Wix’s performance can help your business.

04. Determine if it allows for easy scalability

When you suddenly find yourself in the internet spotlight, the last thing you want is for your site to slow to a crawl or, even worse, crash entirely. Those are peak moments when every visitor counts, and being prepared for rapid growth helps you make the most of these golden opportunities. That's why, when you're on the hunt for a web hosting provider, scalability should be high on your list of must-haves.

Opt for a hosting provider that offers a spectrum of plans, each with different resource allocations. This ensures that when your website starts hitting it big—whether in terms of visitor numbers or the sheer amount of content—you can effortlessly transition to a more robust plan. A provider that prioritizes easy scalability is essentially investing in your future success. They're not just handing you a one-size-fits-all package but offering a roadmap for growth.

Even if you aren’t aiming to attract millions to your site, underestimating the importance of scalability could come back to haunt you down the line. Over time, you might decide to add more features, images or videos. If your plan doesn’t accommodate the extra weight, your hosting provider could slow down your site, charge you overage fees or even take your website offline until you upgrade or remove some of that extra data.

Wix’s website hosting services cater to businesses ranging from solo ventures to large enterprises, making it versatile enough to handle whatever your site needs. The platform automatically adjusts your website's resources to manage traffic spikes or dips. While the 500MB of storage space that comes with the free plan is more than sufficient for basic blogs or portfolio sites, you can get anywhere from 2GB to unlimited storage space depending on the Premium plan you sign up for.

06. Review pricing plans

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 mean 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.

07. Test customer support

Unless you’re a technical wizard, you’re going to want to choose a hosting provider that handles the heavy lifting for you. That said, you still want to ensure that you’ll have access to expert technical support and customer care if questions or issues do arise. Look for a provider that has its customer care team readily available 24/7 and accessible over multiple methods of communication.

Wix’s customer care team is available 24/7 via live chat, email and phone. If you sign up for a business account, you even have a specialized support team. This means you not only get help whenever you need it but that help is tailored to the specific needs and challenges you might face as a business owner.

08. Look for extra features

Besides the essentials we've already discussed, some hosting providers sweeten the deal with additional features. Here are a few examples of features to look out for:

  • Custom email accounts: Imagine if Wix’s support team reached out to you from a Gmail address. You would correctly assume that you were receiving spam. A business email address that carries your domain name not only elevates your professional image but also makes it simpler for people to remember how to get in touch with you.

  • Ecommerce capabilities: If you're running or planning to run an online store, then you can't ignore eCommerce features. The basics include an SSL certificate for secure transactions and multiple payment gateways. Having a built-in shopping cart feature is a big plus too. The more seamless the online shopping experience you can provide, the better for your business.

  • Analytics: In the digital age, data is your best friend. Your hosting provider should offer analytical tools that track visitor behavior, site performance and other metrics. This valuable data can help you understand your audience better, fine-tune your site's content and ultimately improve your website's overall performance.

  • Migration support: If you're making a move from another hosting provider, the last thing you need is a complicated, messy transition. Make sure your new hosting provider offers migration support to ensure a smooth, error-free shift. This can save you hours of time and plenty of headaches.

As a website builder with all these features as well as a full suite of business solutions, Wix certainly fits the bill.

what is web hosting - reliable hosting tweet


How do I host a website?

Now that we’ve explained exactly what web hosting is and the main types available, here is how to host a website:

  1. Research the types of hosting available—including all of the potential hosted services available

  2. Choose the right type of hosting for your site

  3. Select your hosting platform or provider

  4. Decide on and connect your domain name

Does Wix host websites?

How much does it cost to host a website?

Can I host a website myself?

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