What is Web Hosting?

When getting involved with the nitty-gritty of how websites work, you’re likely to be confronted with several terms you’ve not heard before.  Web Hosting will doubtless be one of them.  If you’re uncertain about this bit of the net, then keep reading – this article written with the help of web hosting should help you.

What actually is it?

The easiest comparison to make is with the files and folders that are on your computer right now.  These files are stored on your hard drive, so that you can access them as and when you need to.  The same goes for web pages.  However, because web pages need to be viewed by the general public, they must be stored on a far higher specification PC than the one you’ve got, and must connect to the web using a seriously strong link.

A computer that stores web pages is called a web server (for more on web servers, visit the mighty wiki).  The job of storing these pages and making them available to the public is therefore called web hosting.  So when you pay for web hosting, you’re paying for someone to store your website for you.  Simples.

Why do you need web hosting?

Whilst you could plausibly connect your own PC to the web in order to serve the pages, it is extremely impractical for several reasons.  Firstly, most home-based internet connections (even the ridiculously quick ones) are not typically fast enough to make the powerful necessary connections.  Secondly, it would be essential for your computer to be on 24/7 even if it were capable of carrying out the task.  In other words, you’d need a huge budget to pay for both the necessary hardware and the electric bills to keep the site running.  Because web hosting packages can be found at very low prices (as little as a few dollars or pounds a month) it’s simply not sensible to take the DIY approach here.

Do web hosting packages vary?

The simple answer is yes!  Just as it takes far more space on your hard drive to store a full 1080p season of Game of Thrones than it does four pictures from your holiday last year, so you’ll need far more powerful web hosting to store a forty page site full of pictures and videos than you do a simple black and white newspaper-style blog.  YouTube, for instance, would require an absolutely monstrous server because of the sheer number of data stored on it.  (Only one person has ever seen their hosting bill, and his head exploded.  Probably.)

As well as the actual storage space you’re given as part of your hosting package, there are also a fair few other extra things to consider when you purchase.  You’ll normally be given a number of e-mail addresses with the site (if you choose to use them), but if you’ve got a large team (i.e. 20 plus), then it may cost you to add more of them.

The other main cost is bandwidth, which is the amount of data that your website is allowed to transmit.  To give an example, if a web page is around 10kb in size (which is around 1000 words of text, to give it some scale) and it’s viewed 10 times, then you’ll have used up 10kb worth of bandwidth.  Typically, bandwidth is measured monthly, and its usage is something you should always be aware of: the typical punishment for a site exceeding its bandwidth is for it to be taken down until costs have been restored!

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