A Basic yet Essential Tutorial on Web Hosting

Web Hosting is a term for the service of storing and serving up the files of a website. The service provider is referred to as a Web Host. Godaddy, Blue Host, and Hostgator are examples of website hosting service providers.

So how exactly does web hosting work?

Well it’s very simple. A website is a collection of files. These files need to be stored on a computer’s hard drive.

Not only does it store the files, it must process and present the files after a request for those files has been made. In other words, they’re stored in a way that allows access by the public through the web. This access is granted through an open port on the host providers server.

A website can be made up of various file types. These are specific for the web. In other words, a web browser like FireFox or Internet Explorer can process and display the files. These file types include HTML, JavaScript and Image files among many others.

Other software is needed for the processing of these files. This applies to PHP, ASP and other (server side) files. These may include the Apache Server, PHP Engine and the MYSQL Database Engine among others.

How to buy hosting

Hosting is very cheap and usually cost just a few dollars a month. There are monthly or yearly plans available from all major hosting companies. Buying the service and signing up as a member is done at the same time.

Payments can be made via a credit card, echeck, PayPal or other options if available. I usually setup auto billing for my hosting if I am on a month to month plan. This avoids any service blackouts in case a payment was missed.

When you sign up for this service, you are renting and there is no ownership of the providers server, files or anything required to run the site. I speak more in-depth about copyrights below.

How to setup your website (host your site)

Once you have purchased hosting, a username and password will be issued to you (or you entered this at registration). Use this information to access your account where you will be able to get the FTP information. This varies per Host, so please check with customer service for the right credentials.

FTP is a way to transfer files to and from the Host’s computer. This is very important. Your developer (or you) must know where to put files and where to go to retrieve files for editing or archiving. This is usually done using an FTP Client like FileZilla.

Once the files are setup on the server, you will need to update the DNS records of the Domain Name so it now “points” to the host’s computer. This is usually done at the same service providers website. Alternatively, the domain can be registered at another company.

Security of Hosts & Data

There is no server that is truly secure. So let’s just put that to rest. But of course you can make it almost impossible to break by the average guy. Hopefully your site does not attract this kind of attention.

Most Hosts do provide excellent security. Often it’s the software that has the weak links. If the software is not written with security in mind then it can be very messy.

On the other hand, if the server is compromised through no fault of yours, this can wipe the website clean out. If the site structure it self is not at risk, then of course the data in the database, uploaded files and other data files may be copied (stolen). It’s important that the company you choose has the infrastructure in place to handle this. In other words, don’t go with a smallie, go with the big fish.

Switching Hosts and or Domain Names

Often a website owner may need to change the Hosting provider. It could be for any reason including security and performance. This is not as difficult as it may seem. But if not done correctly, it could cause problems with getting the site re-setup. For one, the server environments of the current server and the new server must match as best as possible.

All the files of the website must be copied. The database must be exported in a format that allows easy re-importing.

And then the files must be uploaded to the new server in the same directory structure as it was on the previous server. Also import the database (if there is a db) and reconfigure the connection credentials.

Next, go to the Domain registrar and update the DNS records of the domain to the settings provided by the new hosting company. Within 48 hours the site will be pointing to the new server.

As for switching just the domain, meaning the host will still be employed, the process is much simpler. All that needs to be done is DNS configuration of the new Domain to point to the host. Yes you can have multiple domains pointing to the same host server.

If you do change the domain name of your site, please make sure to update all internal links. And if you can, try to update all inbound links (although this may not be possible).

Copyrights when hosting with third party.

When you host your site with a 3rd party like Hostgator or Godaddy, you are still the copyright owner of the website content and files. And it would be wise to have the latest copy of both the files and the database backed-up at a place you have access to.

If you fail to backup your website, and you fail to renew your hosting account, you may lose all of it. And the longer you take either to renew the hosting, or to contact the host for a backup of the site, the harder it will be to retrieve the website.

In many cases the host will ask for a payment in order to release those files. So, although you own the site, they have no obligation to release that information to you without sufficient payment.

Self Hosting

Well of course you can dodge all of the above and host the site on your own computers. But this requires even more responsibility to maintain the site.

For one, you will need to manage the server/s hosting the site. As the site grows you will need to expand your system. You will most likely have other computer related issues to resolve including software bugs and updates.

Managing servers is no easy tasks. Dealing with a downed site with no one but your IT guy to turn to is a very lonely place. I would not recommend this unless you are well capitalized (period) or experienced enough.

So chose your host provider wisely. Take a look at the features of the top web hosting companies before you make any decisions.

If you’ve found this post useful and think it can help someone else please share.


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