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What is web hosting?


A domain name gives you an address on the Web; hosting gives you space to put your site. Hosting plans vary in many ways, but the basic things to be concerned with are the following:

  • Disk space - how much space you have for your Web site
  • File Transfer (Bandwidth) - how much traffic your site is allowed to have per month
  • Email accounts - how many email addresses ( do you get?
  • Windows or Linux - see below
  • Shared, dedicated, or managed - see below

First, disk space is important if you are going to have a lot of images, audio, or video. Text is very small compared to images. The old saying "a picture is worth a thousand words" takes on a new meaning in this context. A small site may only use 5MB or 10MB of disk space.

Second, file transfer (also called bandwidth, although incorrectly) is a measure of how much data your site will transfer per month. Every time someone visits your site your pages are downloaded onto their computer. Like disk space, your file transfer requirements will be higher if your site has lots of images, audio, and video. Images are the smallest, and video is the largest (at about 10MB per minute, depending on the quality and format).

Third, some hosts offer only five email addresses with their most basic accounts, while others offer 20 or 50. Make sure you get as many email addresses as you need. Also, email forwarders are good because the "catch" any email sent to an invalid address at your domain.

One mistake people make is thinking that because their own computer is a Windows computer, their hosting needs to also be a Windows server. In fact, the two are unrelated. Linux is actually very popular for hosting. That is because, by many accounts, it is faster, more stable, and has fewer security risks. However, there are certain proprietary Microsoft features that cannot run on non-Windows servers (MS FrontPage extensions are supported on Linux servers, however). Linux is known to be better for shared hosting plans.

Shared hosting is good for smaller Web sites, because you share the server with other Web sites who have purchased hosting from the same company. This is all taken care of behind the scenes, and the only real drawback is that you have less control over exactly how your server is configured. However, this is probably the best solution for most new sites.

Dedicated hosting means your Web site has its very own server. You can customize this server to act however you want, and run whatever software you wish. Support from the hosting company is minimal, however. Managed hosting is similar, but includes support from the hosting company (they can set things up for you).

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