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What is Web Hosting?

A Definition of the Term

So what exactly is web hosting? It is the service that allows people and companies to share their website information with the rest of the world via the World Wide Web.

What hosting companies such as PhoenixNAP Global IT Services do is provide space that people pay in order to own or use, as well as connection to the Internet. If we try to describe it in more simple terms, we could probably compare a website to a house.

Hosting and Domain Names

What are the two characteristic features that every house has? And address and a piece of land it was built on. Now what about websites? Similarly, each and every website must have its domain name and web hosting. A domain name is just like the street address for the house. People simply cannot visit your website if they don’t know its domain name.

And the web hosting is the land where your house was built – in order for your website files to be accessible, they need to be stored somewhere. That storage place is the web server of your hosting company. And the hosting you have purchased is just a tiny bit of space occupied on that server.

Web hosting is such a wildly common and popular term in the world of computing, that it is often abbreviated to “hosting” for convenience. It is not to be confused with throwing parties and events for other people, though, so you have to be careful about the context in which the word is used.

Getting back to the importance of domains and hosting, it is really crucial to stress that there is no point in one existing without the other, or if we use the house/land analogy yet again, a domain name without hosting is like inviting people to a non-existent house. In the opposite scenario you might have built the tallest building in the world, but no one will be able to get there and see it.

DNS

So, basically, if you want people to see your information, a domain name AND web hosting will do the trick. Awesome, right? But how does that work?

What makes the magic happen is an established system of domain names and numbers, or the so-called DNS, which links domains to their associated hosting accounts.

It is by DNS that computers are able to locate and access website files on the internet.

What about Hosting?

Hosting is just an amount of free space on a web server, that doesn’t do anything until a web site is uploaded and “hosted” there. Usually, the process of uploading represents opening a File Transfer Protocol connection (FTP).

FTP connections are simply the way for two computers to communicate by exchanging files.

The exchange happens by your home computer, where you have created and stored your website files, and the hosting company’s web server, which is simply a computer with huge storage space.

Once your website files are transferred to the hosting account, you can access your site from the internet.

Displaying the correct site

As we already mentioned, your site is one of many on a server. How exactly do we make sure people access our site, instead of somebody else’s? Well, this is the DNS job, remember?

But how exactly does that happen?

A server application has all the information about sites, stored on the web server, together with their domain names and the location of their files. This application is responsible for parsing the incoming DNS requests. When a domain name has an associated web site on the server, the application picks that up and delivers its files to the requesting computer.

When, however, the application cannot match anything for a requested domain name and it appears, that no such site is stored on that particular web server, a 404 error is returned. It simply means that the website cannot be found at this location. Refreshing the page is not going to yield a result, until a valid request is submitted.

Different kinds of Web Hosting Services

Even though all hosting services have the purpose of storing your website information and making it available and accessible online, the scope and form of these services can vary greatly from company to company and client to client. Read more about hosting types here.

Both the random blogger, who needs single-website hosting, and a huge corporation will use the services of a hosting provider. The latter client, however, is going to need database support, application development platforms, e-mail management, content management, and SSL, to name a few.

Personal website hosting might cost nothing, close to nothing, or be advertisement-sponsored.

Business website hosting prices vary by provider, package type and site characteristics.