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Your online journey begins today! Here at DreamHost, we want you to have all the information you need to make critical decisions for your business and web projects. That’s why we’ve compiled this series of helpful tutorials to help you get your big idea off the ground.

What Is Web Hosting?

A key element of all websites is that they require hosting services. This generally means they rely on a web hosting provider to give them space on a server. Whether you’re launching your first site or have a little more experience, it’s a good idea for all website owners to be fully informed about how hosting works. 

That’s why we put together this guide, to help you gain a deeper understanding of web hosting and its essential components. What’s more, knowing what types of hosting plans are out there will make it much easier to select the right option for your site.

In this article, we’ll explore everything you need to know about hosting services. We’ll also help you make an informed decision about your website’s hosting plan. Let’s get started! 

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What Is Web Hosting (And Why Do You Need It)?

All websites on the internet need hosting of one kind or another. While it’s possible to set up your own server, that’s an advanced (and often expensive) task. So it’s important to understand that to make your website available to internet users, you’ll need a hosting plan. 

When you sign up for web hosting, what you’re paying for is space on a web server to store all the files that make up your website. This might include Hypertext Markup Language (HTML) files, images, and other scripting files.

It’s also worth noting that a hosting plan and a domain name are not the same things. A domain name is the address for your website. User-friendly URLs like www.example.com are actually a front for a set of numbers called an Internet Protocol (IP) address. 

An IP is a series of numbers separated by dots that indicates where on the internet a computer is located. Since it’s a lot easier to remember example.com than 54.734.98.8, however, a domain name is a necessary (but separate) element for your website. 

Registering a domain name is a simple process, especially if your web host is also a domain registrar. For example, DreamHost users get a free domain when they sign up for an annual Shared Hosting or DreamPress plan.

How Web Hosting Works and What Hosting Companies Do

At this point, let’s take a look at how web hosting actually works. We’ll explore the different kinds of hosting later on, but to start out, it’s worth knowing that some hosts provide cloud technology, while others use physical servers to provide space for your site’s files. 

You can think of a web host like an old-fashioned card catalog at a library. The actual catalog with all of its drawers is the web host. The cards stored within are the contents of your website, which can be modified and retrieved as needed.

Each drawer also has an identifier. In the library, these are letters or numbers, while a web host identifies each site by its domain name. To access your website, a user enters its domain name into a browser. This opens a drawer in the card catalog (or host) where they can view the contents of your website.

The company you purchase your web hosting from (your “hosting provider”) offers the hardware and software necessary for you to add your site’s resources and data to a server. This server is then connected to the internet. Hosting companies also offer other helpful features — think security tools, website builder resources, and email accounts — that can help you manage a great website

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4 Different Types of Web Hosting 

Now that you know how web hosting works at a basic level, let’s take a look at four different kinds of hosting solutions you can choose from. The perfect fit for your website will depend largely on your individual needs and budget. 

1. Shared Hosting 

When you purchase this type of hosting, your website will share a server with many other sites. If we go back to our card catalog example, a shared hosting plan means you’re in the same drawer as other users.

Shared hosting is a great budget-friendly option if you’re just getting started. However, be sure to evaluate your security and bandwidth needs, and compare them to what your potential hosting provider offers. For example, our shared hosting plans don’t put any limits on your site’s traffic.

2. Virtual Private Servers (VPS)

This kind of hosting is similar to shared hosting in many ways. Multiple websites share a single physical or cloud server. However, there are virtual dividers that section off server space and resources for each individual site.

This is usually more expensive than shared hosting, but it is an excellent option for smaller e-commerce sites that want a more secure environment for their customers. VPS hosting is also highly scalable, and more resources can be allocated to your site as it grows.

3. Dedicated Hosting

Dedicated hosting typically involves a physical server that houses only your website or websites. This means no one else can purchase space on that particular server. This is a useful option for agencies that might want to offer hosting as an option with their services, along with those running large sites or networks that get massive amounts of traffic

Dedicated hosting means you won’t have to share your space with anyone else. Your resources are your own. You’ll have to be prepared to handle most of the hands-on work yourself, however. This is also by far the most expensive hosting option, so it’s usually best to start out with a smaller plan and only upgrade as needed.

4. Managed Hosting

Let’s call this final option “the works.” With managed hosting, you’ll have extra support from the hosting provider when it comes to keeping applications updated and security elements up to snuff on your site. If you don’t have the time, resources, or know-how to handle site maintenance on your own, this is an excellent option. 

Managed hosting plans can be shared, VPS, or dedicated. They simply provide an extra layer of service on top of server space and resources.

How to Pick a Web Host

Now that you know a little more about all the different types of hosting services and what they offer, it’s time to decide which web hosting package will work best for you. Since not all hosts and plans are created equal, you’ll want to review your needs carefully before jumping in. 

Before signing up for a web hosting account, keep these considerations in mind: 

  • Decide ahead of time how much technical support you will need. 
  • Make sure you are choosing a web hosting provider that can accommodate the level of traffic you expect, based on your market research.
  • Determine whether you want to be locked into a long-term contract or not.  
  • If you need a domain name, you may want to look for a plan that includes a free one. 
  • Security is an integral part of managing a website, so you’ll want to see if your host includes a free SSL certificate with its plans.

While changing web hosts later on is not impossible, it’s not something you want to do often. Since web hosting is a necessary part of launching a website, giving the decision enough weight is crucial. If you’re still not sure where to start, check out our affordable shared plans!

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If you have questions or just could use some help figuring some thing out, get in touch. Our team of web experts has been in the business for over 20 years and knows how to help you figure out the right next steps.