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Web Hosting 101: What is it and how does it work? - Swell Digital Space

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Web Hosting 101: What is it and how does it work?

Dec 14, 2021 | Hosting

What is web hosting?

The quick and simple answer, is that it’s the house for your website.

But let’s dive further… web hosting is a service provided by a Web Hosting Company, that lets you essentially buy space on their huge computers – that are connected to the internet – to house your website.

A website is just a collection of different types of files, including text, code, image, video, pdf etc. You might think of your website as a house and the all the files as rooms in that house.

These huge computers are called servers and sometimes your website files will share space on the server with hundreds of other website files and sometimes your website files will have a server all to their own. It depends on the type of hosting you have. You can think of the servers as the land that your house sits on.

The servers are fast, powerful and have specific software that allows them to ‘serve your website’ to people browsing the internet on their computers at home. So that when a person types a web address into their web browser, the server will find them the correct website.

Which brings us to domains. What the hell are domains and what does it have to do with your website and web hosting?

Well, if we continue the house analogy, you can think of a domain as the name of your house. For example, some houses have a name plate on the porch that says ‘Turner Cottage’. But just by telling someone that your house is at Turner Cottage and to come over, isn’t going to help them find it. They would need more than the name of your house. They would also need a street address. My website domain is swelldigitalspace.com, but without a ‘street address’, no one would find my website.

Just as you need a street address to find a house, the internet need an I.P address to find a website. An ip address is a string of numbers, to show the web browser request where to go to find your website. The ip address is the street address of your website on the web host’s server. We use domains because it’s much easier to remember than a string of numbers.

To help you understand all this, I’ve created an infographic showing a bunch of ‘websites’ sitting at their various ip addresses on a web server.

This is actually a depiction of shared hosting, which is where multiple websites sit on a server and share the available resources.

The other main types of web hosting are Virtual Private Servers and Dedicated Servers and these are represented in the infographic below.

Shared hosting is the most common type of hosting and the websites share the available resources on the server. If one house is infested by termites, then unfortunately it’s likely the the rest of the houses on that land estate will also be infested.

Virtual Private Server hosting is where websites have their own ‘virtual’ space or the house is surrounded by a large hedge for example. The houses shares some resources but will have slightly better protection if the house next door is attacked by termites.

Dedicated Server hosting is where a website is the only site on the server. So the house can use all the resources on the land estate for themselves and are much better protected in the event of infestation.

Naturally, Dedicated Servers are the most expensive as they have a whole server dedicated to their needs.

How do the pages from your website get to be displayed in someone’s web browser at home?

I touched on this briefly above, but if you’re up for more technical depth, then read on.

A person types swelldigitalspace.com/about into their web browser. This request is processed through your Internet Service Provider (ISP) via access to their multiple servers. They look up the DNS server to find a match for the domain name that is being carried by the request. The domain name server then uses the domain name system to get the numbered code or IP Address. Now it knows where on the internet it has to go to get the information that has been requested – ie: it knows where your house is.

The request goes for a journey, bouncing across the servers until it finds IP Address 64.736.335.243 or, your house. It searches the rooms of your house (the website files) to find the exact room or web page it needs. So for example, although the request knows your house is swelldigitalspace.com, it still then needs to find swelldigitalspace.com/about. It asks the house security officer for access to the room, who then hands over the file and the request takes it all the way back to the web browser for the user to see on their computer.

Hopefully I haven’t overdone the house analogy and it still makes sense!

What do you need from a web host?

Most of us want to make sure that the environment around our house is stable, secure and provides everything we need for a comfortable existence, and this is what a web host should do.

Most web hosts will offer a range of different packages or plans, and it will depend on what your needs are as to which package you choose. But before you even think about hosting plans, you should start with finding a good hosting company and then choose a plan from them.

Once you start researching web hosting companies, it can become confusing trying to sort through all the different factors. But when it comes down to it, there are really only a few key factors a good web hosting company should have.

At the very least, a good web hosting company should:

  • Have good technical support and customer service.
  • Have good quality servers
  • Can provide good page load scores
  • Have good security measures.
  • Have a good account interface that is easy to navigate.
  • Can support your chosen website platform
  • Offer regular backups.

I go into more detail on this, in my ‘How To Choose A Good Web Host’ e-booklet. If you want to know what to look for when find a new hosting company, then sign up to get some know-how delivered to your inbox for free.



Some common hosting terms you may have come across.

When you start browsing web host companies’ websites you’ll see a whole bunch of new terminology. I explain some of the most common ones below.

DNS: stands for Domain Name System and was created by Paul Mockapetris. It is a way of mapping a domain name to an IP address.
Domain: is the linguistic address, or name of a computer that is connected to the internet. It is always mapped to an IP address.

​​IP address: is a series of numbers that identifies a computer that is connected to the internet. The numbers are expressed in sets of 4, separated by a full stop. For example, An IP address is always mapped to a domain name.

C-Panel: stands for Control Panel and it is one of the most common pieces of software for people to manage their hosting accounts. The C-Panel lets you add email accounts, set up security certificates, change your dns settings, create backups, create subdomains and a whole lot of other things. Other popular interfaces include Plesk, hPanel and Webmin, though many hosting companies have created their own control panels.

MySql: is a database management system, that is open source. The Sql refers to Standard Query Language which is the coding language it uses to manipulate the database. MySql is used with other programs to help run applications, like WordPress for example.

In regards to WordPress, MySql holds the databases for WordPress. Ie: your blog posts, your user details, your blog post categories, your pages, your navigation setup etc.

PHP: is a coding language that is used in web development. It is open source.

In regards to WordPress, PHP is what instructs WordPress how to interact with the various databases.

SSL: stands for Secure Sockets Layer and refers to the security technology that keeps data safe when it is being communicated between two systems, such as between two servers or a web browser and a server. The data is encrypted or scrambled which prevents it from being accessed or read.

Good web hosts will provide you with free SSL certificates to place on your website. Free SSL certificates provide the same level of encryption as purchased SSL Certificates – the difference is that bought SSL will provide some kind of insurance or guarantee in the event of hacking and often give you a security seal icon to place on your site which helps with consumer confidence.

Open source: refers to software where its source or original code is freely available for anyone to use. WordPress is open source software.

There you have it! You’re now a full bottle on web hosting. I hope you enjoyed nerding out reading this, as much as I did writing this for you.

And who do I use for web hosting all my websites? Siteground. In my opinion and experience, the best web hosting company for the average website. Great technical support and a great account interface amongst many other factors. If you want to give them a try, use the link below:


Note that if you sign up to Siteground, I may receive a commission at no cost to you. These affiliate links help support me to provide more free content to you like this blog post.
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