Web Hosting Explained

It’s worth understanding the internet. If you’re anything like me, you use it every single day! More importantly, if you want to create a web site, getting web hosting set up is the first step.

Infographic of the basics:

(inspired in part by “Kawaii Computer and Desk” by Kororoxx on deviantart)

Web Hosting Explained

(the text only version)
The computer that you use, (client computer), sends out a request for a website when you enter the URL (www.example-url.com) into your browser. A web page is really just a set of files or data (HTML, CSS, and sometimes other types). To find that data, your computer needs an IP address, just like you would need an address to find a location in real life. A special computer called a DNS (domain name server) tells your computer what IP address to send it’s request to. Your computer requests the data from this other computer, called a server, and that computer sends it to you. “Web Hosting” is what it’s called when a server houses and serves the data for a website. Finally, your browser displays the data in the form of a web page. All in the blink of an eye!

Getting your website online

You will need:

  1. A unique domain name (the URL). See what domain names are available!
  2. The HTML, CSS, and other files, (like javascript, PHP, image files, and other code snippets) that will determine the content, style, and functionality of your website. (See my Web Design Resources to learn more about creating these files.)
  3. Space on a web host server.

You can do the work of attaining these parts individually, or get a package deal that more or less takes care of everything. Let’s look at some options:

Website for Anyone:

Sign up at WordPress.com.
Yes, it’s really that simple.
Pros:

  • +Free
  • +No web knowledge needed!
  • +Wordpress.com takes care of all three steps for you in one easy form.

Cons:

  • -Limited choices of layout and domain names.
  • -Limited functionality, this type of site works best for blogs.
  • -Advertising appears on your blog.

Tips: If you’re not creating a blog, use a static home page on your wordpress.com site.

Web site for the Web Savvy:

Sign up with a web host (check some great website hosts here) and use cPanel to set up wordpress or another content management system.
Try a cPanel demo to see if this option is for you.
Pros:

  • +Low cost, as little as a couple dollars per month!
  • +Increased options for layout, even without knowing any HTML or CSS
  • +Some hosts will take care of all the details for you.

Cons:

  • -Limits may be set on your file space depending on your server.
  • -Limited choices for what systems to use when setting up your website.
  • -Your website may load slowly because of restrictions/sharing of server resources (CPU, memory, bandwidth, etc.)

Tips: For beginners, playing with the CSS/HTML in wordpress themes is a good way to learn. If you want to write the CSS/HTML files from scratch, try to set up a local webserver, so you can test the code before putting it on your live website.

Web site for the Web Wizard:

Some web hosts give you more freedom and customization. Examples include linode, slicehost, and tech coop.
Pros:

  • +Complete (or nearly complete) freedom to customize
  • +Allows the development of web applications

Cons:

  • -May cost more
  • -Requires serious systems administration qualifications to set up and manage.

Tips: Hey, if you’re a Web Wizard then I should be asking YOU for tips! : )

ACRONYM SOUP TIME

Clarifying terms:

URL
Uniform (or universal) Resource Locator. This is the thing that you type into the address bar of your web browser to request a certain web page.
DNS
Domain name server. This is the computer that keeps track of which IP address is matched to which Domain Name, or URL.
Hosting Server
The hosting server, also called “the server”, contains the files of a particular website and “serves” them to client computers.
Client Computer
Your computer is a client computer, also called a “user computer”. This word refers to the computers used by folks browsing the internet.
HTML
Hypertext Markup Language, a set of special code-words and symbols (tags) that tell the web browser what kind of information to display for a web page and how to display it.
CSS
Cascading Style Sheets, another set of special code words and symbols (tags) that are written to tell the web browser what style to use when displaying information on a web page.

Intrigued? Check out:

Coming Next Time:

  • Double Feature! A techy post and a fluffy post!
  • How is HTML like a cupcake?
  • And more!

Edited on 10/13/2012: Updated links for finding available domain names and hosting providers.

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