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What is hosting ?

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What is Hosting ?

Here we answer these common questions:

What is a host ?
What is web hosting ?
What is website hosting ?
These are all names for a service that makes a website available to the Internet. You upload your website to the hosting facility, and it is then made available to the web.

The web hosts have a computer centre, with high-bandwidth connections, and computers that have many websites loaded on them. These computers are the Internet-facing webservers that publish the website's pages and other resources to the Net.

You cannot do this, because your Internet connection is not fast enough, your Internet address may change without warning, and you do not have the training in software and security that is necessary in order to host websites successfully and safely. A server technician must be a Linux and Apache server or Windows server expert, very familiar with server-side code such as PHP or ASP, and good with databases such as MySQL and MS SQL Server. They must be able to patch and upgrade a Linux webserver, run backups, and solve a multitude of technical issues on a day-to-day basis. And perhaps more importantly, they must be able to set up a server so that it can resist the hundreds of bot probes and attacks it will get every day.

What is a server ?

What is a webserver ?
A server is simply a computer that holds websites. It is no different from your office PC except that it may be built to sit in a rack, and it may have top-quality hard disks and a lot of RAM memory. It has server software installed that allows it to publish your website to the Internet.

The server answers requests from other computers for its resources. If your PC asks it for a web page, the server finds it and presents it to your PC. Your browser, e.g. Firefox or Internet Explorer, is the program that handles this traffic and interaction for you.

A server can also be called a webserver, http server, or virtual server.

Ask how we can audit your server and improve your website results

What is in a server ?

A server is an ordinary small computer that may be identical to an office PC. A webserver  normally has a slightly higher spec though, much like a good home PC. It doesn't need any graphics capability but it must have fast, reliable hard disks and lots of RAM. It helps if it has a fast CPU, but too much emphasis is put on CPU speed anyway - high-quality components are always a better place to put your money. The disks need to be easily replaceable as they work hard and tend to fail before other components.

What is a hosting account ?

A hosting account is your contract with the webhost, and the website hosting facilities you receive. You need a hosting acount in order to run a website.

What is shared hosting ?

Most websites will start on shared hosting, where from 50 to 300 or perhaps more sites share a server. Costs run from £5 / $10 a year up to a maximum of £150 / $225 for the best quality of shared hosting with a low bandwidth (traffic allowance). Any cost over this would be wasted as high quality is available almost everywhere at this figure. High traffic must be paid for though. As visitor numbers rise above 1,000 per day, bandwidth and therefore cost increases.

Shared hosting suits almost all websites, of any type, until traffic reaches about 5,000 per day. At this time it may be worth looking at a dedicated server, because the funds should be there at this stage. It's faster and more secure.

What is dedicated hosting ?

What is a dedicated server ?
What is a dedibox ?
A dedicated server (ie dedicated hosting) suits those with high traffic or security issues that mean they need their own server, which is 'dedicated' to them alone. A slang term for this is a 'dedibox'. Dedicated hosting is of course much more expensive, since you have an entire computer to yourself. Dedicated servers are available from about £100 ($150) per month upward.

What is managed hosting ?

This refers to the type of dedicated server hosting. There are two types of dedicated hosting:

  • Managed dedicated server
  • Unmanaged dedicated server

Managed hosting means using a managed dedicated server. It refers simply to who will carry out the maintenance tasks on the server - patching it, upgrading it, maintaining security, and running data backups. Typical costs at the lower end of the scale are £100 / $150 unmanaged, £120 / $180 managed per month. As the cost of management is so low considering the input required, we always advise using managed servers.

A unmanaged server is maybe $30 a month cheaper but not for use except by experienced server techs, due to the security issues.

What is VPS hosting ?

VPS or virtual private servers are an arrangement where there are fewer sites sharing a server, and each has much more control over basic server settings and management. The server is partitioned (compartmentalised) and runs a separate server application in each space. It then appears to each website owner that they have their own server. The cost is much lower than a dedicated server, and typically only £30 / $50 per month and upward. The cost relates to how many sites (or site owners' spaces, more accurately) are on the server, and this can range from 2 to 10.

The main advantage to VPS hosting is that it can be used where the site needs extra non-standard server or ancillary software installed. This is impossible on shared hosting but since each VPS account is separate, it can be easily arranged.

The main disadvantage is that costs are often significantly under-presented by hosts' advertising. The reason is that the memory allocation (RAM) is likely to be too small, and therefore you will need to pay for more to prevent your site working like treacle in winter. That jacks up the cost, and it can even approach the cost of a dedibox.

Unless the site is low traffic and uses some form of additional software that requires its own slot on the server, we don't advise our clients to use VPS hosting as there are few advantages and several disadvantages. If a site has low traffic, that is to say average traffic for a start-up, then good-quality shared hosting will suit. If the site has over 5,000 visits a day then it is likely that a dedicated server can be afforded anyway.

What is reseller hosting ?

This is where a web agency, a web designer, or an SEO agency rent server space from a host and resell it. It has numerous advantages for the agency but none for the client. We don't use it.

What is free web hosting ?

Free hosting is where a host provides basic hosting services free, in the hope that you will upgrade. It is based on the same principle that free software is: if you like it, you upgrade with the same people. It is a good business model since it locks out your competitors. If you are lucky you will make a sale, if not, at least users may recommend your product. Your competitors are locked out either way.

Free webhosts cannot and do not offer the same standard of service as paid facilities. There are always restrictions, perhaps in webspace, bandwidth, or email. Therefore you will soon have to upgrade, but you will have had the chance to try out a provider first. We don't make use of these facilities except for the occasional trial.

What is webspace ?

What is disk space ?
'Webspace' is the amount of hard disk space that your host allocates to you on a shared hosting account, and therefore it is the same as disk space (which is probably a more accurate term). It is the size of the space on the hard disk in MB or GB that you can have for your web pages or application files, for example, 500MB or 1.5GB (which is roughly 1,500MB).

What is bandwidth ?

Bandwidth is the traffic volume. Again it is measured in GB, so that you might be allowed 5GB or 10GB per month for a small hosting account. For the average site 100 visitors per day = about 1GB per month of bandwidth. So 1,000 visitors per day will often equate to about 10 or 12GB a month.

What is email ?

Email is the electronic mail system that allows messages to be sent from computer to computer around the Net. You will normally get an allowance of 50 email addresses with a hosting account. Note that your email goes through your website server, not the domain registrar - so the webhosting has a major effect on your email.

How much webspace and bandwidth is good ?

  • A small start-up size webhosting account might give you 250MB of webspace, 3GB of traffic bandwidth, and 25 email addresses. This is enough for a small site and up to 300 visits per day.
  • A small hosting account may have 500MB webspace, 5GB traffic, and 50 email addresses. This will suit average CMS sites with up to 500 visits a day.
  • A medium account will give 1,000MB webspace (about 1GB), 10GB traffic, and 100 email addresses. This suits a good size of site, with up to 1,000 visits per day.
  • A medium-plus account may give 2GB webspace and 25GB traffic, equivalent to up to 2,500 visits per day for a plain-text website, or about 1,500 for a forum website (these use more bandwidth).
  • A large shared hosting account gives 4GB webspace and 50GB traffic. If you require more than this you will be able to afford a dedicated server.

How many databases are needed ?

All sites need two databases unless they are flat HTML sites and will have no web analytics. Not many new business sites are of that type now, so at least one DB is needed. Two are best, because putting more than one web application on a database is possible but not recommended. Assuming the site has a CMS, blog, wiki, or ecommerce application it will need one for the main website application. Another is needed for the web analytics. And if for example it is an ecommerce site, with a blog and web analytics, it will need three in total.

Larger sites tend to need more DBs, as the requirement for more of them grows with site size. It is best not to put more than one application on any one DB although it can be done, using what are called DB prefixes. In the old days, hosts used to limit the number of DBs you could have on shared hosting, so it was necessary to find hosts that would allow 3 as a minimum. Today, hosts that don't allow 10 DBs on a shared hosting account are probably not competent anyway, so best avoided.

Is SQL or SQLi better ?

Choose SQLi if you get the option: this is the improved version. It does not refer to 'lite' or something like that. You might have to choose the older plain SQL if you are importing old data or performing a similar task. Otherwise, always go for the better, faster SQLi option.

What is a LAMP server ?

A LAMP or LAMPP server is the standard, normal webserver. It is a normal small computer with Linux, Apache, MySQL, PHP, and Perl software installed, hence the LAMP acronym. This is all server software.

    L - Linux is used as the operating system on most servers, as it has some advantages over Windows for this purpose; the Linux version is often a specialist one just for servers, such as Red Hat Fedora or CentOS
    A - Apache is the actual server program that does the work
    M - MySQL is the database program for servers that holds any information required, and on a CMS or ecommerce site it is the core of the system
    P - PHP and Perl are code languages and programs that assist the server in its work

About 65% of the world's servers run on this reliable, time-tested open-source platform. It is recognised as the best system for shared hosting.

Some variations that are essentially the same thing are the use of Unix as the operating system instead of Linux; and other server applications instead of Apache, such as Lighttpd ('Lighty') and Nginx ('Engine-X'). These are considered better than Apache for dedicated servers running one website under heavy load.

What is a Windows server ?

What is an IIS server ?
What is Windows hosting ?
What is Windows 2003 ?
Microsoft-coded websites such as those using ASP or .NET code cannot run on a normal server, they need Windows hosting. This again is a normal small computer, but with Windows loaded instead of Linux.

However, just like a Linux server, it doesn't use the office or home flavour - it uses Windows Server 2003 or 2008. These are the Windows server operating systems, often shortened to Windows 2003, W2K3, W2K8 etc. Another term for this server is an IIS server, as that is the server manager program. So a server running a Microsoft codebase can be called a Windows server or an IIS server - it's the same thing.

What is a name server ?

A nameserver is the term for the computer run by the hosts, that answers requests from the central Internet computers for the exact local address of websites in the group. Your domain name is pointed at this server by your domain registrar.

The nameserver ties up the site's exact physical location, on a certain disk on a certain computer at the datacentre, with Internet requests for that site's resources.

What is DNS ?

The domain name system or service is the method by which friendly names for a resource (eg can be correctly linked to their real address, which is a numerical one also called an IP. It would be impossible for the Internet to function if the address for resources were 10 billion, so all real addresses are in the form of eg, which is far easier to manage. The human-readable names are matched up with and routed to ('mapped to') the real numeric resource by the DNS servers.

What is an IP ?

An IP, as seen above, is actually the slang term for an address. It is the precise numeric address of any resource on the network - either your office one or the Internet. The full name should be IP address, meaning Internet Protocol address.

What is IPv6 ?

What is IPv4 ?
These are the code format of IPs. IPv4 is the current spec, and IPv6 is the new specification now coming in. Internet IPs (addresses) are running out fast, because nobody anticipated that 20 billion of them would be needed, when the first IPs and websites were set up. The Internet as a whole has been an unpredicted phenomenon. The new IPv6 format will allow for a very large number of addresses and should last for many years.

The introduction of the new system will have many implications for websites, computers and routers, so don't plan on being on vacation on that day*. It will have a much greater real impact than the Y2K issue.
* It's already in limited use, and further implementation will be staged - but at some point, the issues will become much more apparent.

Examples of IPv4 and IPv6 IP addresses
This is an IPv4 IP address:
This is an IPv6 IP address: UE80:0000:0000:0001:0202:B3FF:FE1E:3759

What is a server address ?

The server's address is its IP on the network. If on a local network then it could be, and if on the Internet, the ISP (the broadband supplier) allocates the range of addresses from which the host will choose one.

What is a server log ?

The server logs are the records of activity on the server. Typically there are two, the access_log and the error_log. As might be expected, one records details of traffic, the other has details of fault conditions. The access log is the most used one, and it is core to web analytics programs that are installed on the server. Access logs are changed daily or monthly, and this normally has an effect on how the website statistics are managed - 'cron jobs' may be needed to dump the logs before they expire and are deleted.

What is a file server ?

A file server is a computer on your local network that has documents or resources that all need access to. For example if six people in the office all have a computer and are all connected to the local network, then it is likely that another computer will be connected and have files loaded to it that all need access to. A central database is a common requirement. A redundant PC can normally be used for this task as it is not onerous. The PC will need server software installed such as Novell or even simply XAMPP.

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