Web Hosting 101: Learning and Understanding the Basics

Kyung Y.
Kyung Y.
Web Hosting
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Some things in life are so integral that we take them for granted. We flip a switch and expect electricity; we hit the gas pedal and expect our car to move forward. The same can be said for websites – they are expected to appear when someone punches a URL into their browser. But what makes this seemingly magical experience possible?

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If you've ever wondered what web hosting is and how it works, you've come to the right place. We'll take a deep dive into everything you need to know about web hosting, from the basics of its inner workings to choosing the right hosting provider.

What Is Web Hosting?

In short, web hosting is the basis of any website's existence on the internet. It is a service that allows organizations and individuals to make their websites accessible via the World Wide Web (WWW). Without it, our browsing experience would be severely limited.

At its most fundamental level, web hosting is a combination of hardware and software that stores the contents of a website, including HTML files, documents, videos, images, and other content needed for visitors to view or access it. It also houses important components such as databases and mail servers.

All this information is hosted on web servers, which are powerful computers connected to high-speed networks and the internet. These web servers act as a bridge between the visitors' browsers and the websites by sending data across the internet.

Web Hosting

When someone types in a website URL into their browser, it sends a request to the relevant web server. The server then processes this request and gives back information about the requested content, allowing your site to be viewed on the visitor's device. The server's performance capacity determines the speed and quality at which the content is delivered.

Since the average Joe doesn't have the technical know-how or necessary hardware to operate a web server, they will usually opt to use a third-party hosting provider. These companies own and manage vast networks of web servers, allowing them to provide hosting services to their customers. They usually charge a fee for the rental space they provide in their server farms.

What Is a Control Panel?

As a customer, you need an interface to access and manage your website. This is where the control panel comes in. It's a graphical user interface (GUI) that allows you to easily interact with the server and carry out various tasks, from setting up databases to creating email accounts and much more.

Hosting providers usually offer a control panel and an intuitive way to manage your website. It allows you to configure various settings, install software, and troubleshoot issues with minimal technical knowledge.

It also provides easy-to-use tools for customers to keep track of their web hosting accounts and make necessary changes, such as upgrading or downgrading their hosting package. The most common control panel used by web hosting providers is cPanel, a Linux-based configuration tool.

cPanel Screenshot

cPanel Dashboard

About FTP Accounts

Within the web hosting service is another essential feature called FTP access. This stands for File Transfer Protocol, allowing you to transfer files from your computer to the web server. It's a quick and easy way to update or upload content for your website. You can now see how it all comes together.

You can create FTP accounts for yourself or other users using your control panel. You assign a unique username and password to each account, allowing them to access the server and transfer files securely. Once uploaded to the server, these files can then be displayed worldwide on the internet.

Web Hosting vs. Domain Names

The domain name is the last piece of this beginner's puzzle to web hosting. Internet servers traditionally come with IP addresses to identify them on the web. This is a series of numbers that looks like this:

This number can be difficult to remember for visitors. It makes it hard to differentiate one website from another, so domain names were created as an easier way for people to find a website. These are the unique addresses you've grown accustomed to typing into your browser, such as google.com or facebook.com. Nameservers are used to translate the domain name into an IP address so it can be routed correctly.

Although related, web hosting and domain names are two different services. Web hosting is the space you rent on a server for your website files, whereas the domain name is how people will find the site in their web browsers. You have to purchase a domain name from a domain registrar to use it online. Most hosting providers will also offer domain services, allowing you to buy and manage your domain name in one place. However, you can also purchase a domain name independently of your hosting service and connect it manually.

The 4 Different Types of Web Hosting

When the time comes to decide on a web host, you'll be met with a plethora of options. Each of the following hosting types offers its unique benefits and disadvantages. It's important to carefully review your needs and expectations before opting for one of them.

The 4 Main Types of Web Hosting.svg

1. Shared Hosting

Shared hosting is the most popular among small businesses and bloggers. As the name suggests, your website will share a single web server with other websites. It allows for more affordable prices due to the pooling of resources. For instance, let's say the server in question has 4GB of RAM – that resource will be shared among all websites hosted on the same device.

Overall, shared hosting is an excellent option for anyone just starting out or who doesn't require a lot of resources. It's affordable and easy to manage. Plus, most web hosts provide easy tools such as one-click software installations.

2. Dedicated Hosting

On the other hand, those who need more control, power, and resources for their website can opt for dedicated hosting. Instead of sharing one server with other websites, the customer receives an entire physical machine all to themselves. Using the example above, the server now has 4GB of RAM that customers can customize and use as they wish.

Dedicated hosting is the logical choice for businesses with a lot of traffic, who require maximum performance, and need a private server. It's also the go-to solution for websites with specific security requirements. The downside is that it requires more technical knowledge to manage and is much more expensive than shared hosting.

You can install proprietary software, and high-performance applications on a dedicated server, leverage advanced tools, and have the ability to monitor your website performance very closely.

3. Virtual Private Servers

VPS, or virtual private servers, are the middle ground between shared and dedicated hosting. It's like having a mini server within a shared environment. This provides many of the features from dedicated hosting.

VPS customers get their own chunk of disk space, bandwidth, and RAM to customize. Your "server neighbors" cannot affect your performance in any way, so you don't need to worry about that. The most significant benefit of VPS compared to a dedicated server is the price – it's usually much more affordable.

A virtual private server should suit websites with moderate traffic and resource requirements. It provides an outstanding balance between features, cost, and flexibilty.

4. Cloud Hosting

The newest entry in the hosting world is cloud hosting. The "cloud" consists of multiple servers connected together and running as one unified system. This provides many of the benefits of dedicated hosting but with much more scalability and flexibility.

The cloud lets you access resources on-demand, so you can scale up your website's performance when necessary without paying for more expensive hardware or software licenses. It's also very reliable since the cloud is distributed across multiple servers, so if one server goes down, the others can pick up the slack.

While it may not be yet as widespread or mature as the other types of hosting, cloud hosting is becoming increasingly popular due to its unique nature.

Managed Hosting

If you don't want to worry about the technical aspects of managing a server (mostly the case with dedicated hosting and VPS hosting), managed hosting is your best option. It's like having an IT team to manage your hosting for you. Web hosts will handle software updates, security patches, and performance optimization, so you don't have to do it yourself.

WordPress hosting, for example, is a type of managed hosting tailored specifically to the popular content management system. Managed hosting removes the headache of dealing with technical details so you can focus on running your business. The downside is that it tends to be more expensive than their plain types of hosting since you're paying for the labor and expertise included.

Reseller Hosting

As the name implies, reseller hosting allows customers to sell hosting services under their own brand. This is not another hosting type, it’s rather one of the 4 discussed earlier but sold through a middleman. For example, if you run an IT service business, you can use reseller hosting to offer web hosting services to your customers. You'll have access to all the same tools and features as any other hosting provider, but you can do it under your name and with your own pricing structure.

The downside is that reseller hosting is generally more expensive than buying straight from the source due to the added overhead. You might also not get the same level of technical support from your host since they're not directly responsible for any issues that may arise with customers.


The above are the main types of hosting, but there are also some other niche options. Colocation hosting, for example, is essentially renting space in a data center to store your servers. This can be useful if you have specific hardware requirements or want to keep your servers close to you.

Alternatively, cluster hosting connects multiple servers together in a single system, allowing for greater performance and scalability. It differs from cloud hosting because the resources are usually more localized, and the system is much less flexible.

Should You Self-Host or Choose a Web Hosting Service?

Note that there is an alternative to using a web host, and that is self-hosting. Nothing is stopping you from purchasing your own servers, setting up your network, and keeping your website running. This method has the advantage of complete control and zero fees for hosting services, besides the cost of the hardware and software.

However, self-hosting is not for everyone. It requires a lot of technical knowledge and resources to set up and maintain. If you don't have the time or expertise, you're much better off going with a web host that can take care of all the tedious details.

In addition, web hosting providers typically guarantee the following:


Uptime refers to the availability of your website. Good web hosts will guarantee 99.9% uptime on average, meaning there's a very small chance that your website will ever go down unexpectedly. It is a measure of reliability and stability that you should always look for in a host. By self-hosting, you won’t have any guarantee of uptime.

If you lose power at home or have another network issue, your website could be offline for an unknown period. As such, it's best to go with a web host that can guarantee around-the-clock uptime if you want your website to stay online and run smoothly.


Security is another important factor when choosing a web host. These companies typically have very secure systems to protect your data from malicious attacks. They also have teams of security professionals who monitor their systems 24/7 and are always on the lookout for any potential threats.

When it comes to self-hosting, you don't get that same level of protection unless you hire a team.

Troubleshooting and Support

Finally, one of the biggest advantages of going with a web host is that they provide technical support and troubleshooting. If something ever goes wrong with your website, you can contact them directly, and they'll be able to help you get it fixed as quickly as possible. With self-hosting, you're on your own when dealing with any issues.

How to Choose a Web Hosting Service

Congrats on learning the basics of web hosting! But that was the easy part, now comes the hard part - actually choosing a web host. There are literally thousands of web hosting companies out there, so it can be overwhelming to narrow down the list. This is also the reason why we perform a yearly analysis of the best web hosting services, so people like you can make a more informed decision. Feel free to check it out.

To make things easier, here are some important factors to consider when selecting a web host:

Start by Defining Your Business Goals

There is no sense in overpaying for hosting if you don't need it. Start by defining your business needs and then work your way to finding the right hosting service that meets those requirements. For example, a shared hosting plan may be more than enough if you are looking to host a simple blog or website with low traffic.

However, if you don’t mind spending a few extra dollars and expect a lot of traffic or need more resources in general, you may want to go with cloud hosting right away. Otherwise, you risk your website crashing whenever it gets too busy. It's crucial to be honest with yourself about what you need. Don't fall victim to marketing gimmicks that promise you the world. Remember that you can upgrade your plan later if your hosting isn't up to snuff.

Compare the Features of Different Hosting Plans

The next step is to compare the features of different hosting plans. Look for things like bandwidth, disk space, backups, and other features that are important to you.

Keep in mind that some hosting companies may offer features such as an included domain, email hosting, or unlimited bandwidth, but these usually come at an additional cost or have their catch. For a quick overview, you can use our Comparison Tool to compare (only) the most important features of providers.

Consider Your Budget

Another important factor to consider is your budget. Some hosting companies offer discounts for long-term commitments, so it might be a good idea to sign up for one if you can afford it. Make sure you are aware of any hidden fees or other charges associated with certain hosting plans.

We all hate it but remember to read the terms carefully before signing up with a web host. Some hosting companies may increase prices after the initial period or have other restrictions. This is often the case for a "free included domain,” which is mostly not so free after the first year. Be aware of all these details before entering a contract.

Put the Customer Service to the Test

Since you'll be relying on the hosting company to keep your website running properly, ensuring their customer service is good can become a true stress relief. Reach out to them and ask any questions you have about the service. Look for telltale signs such as fast response times, helpful and friendly customer service agents.

Doing your research and testing out the customer service can save you a lot of headaches down the line.


As the number of websites on the internet continues to proliferate, it's clear that web hosting and web hosting providers are here to stay. These services make up an integral part of the web, allowing businesses and individuals to host their websites with reliable and secure infrastructure.

While it may seem intimidating at first, understanding the basics of web hosting is vital for any online business or presence.

At Softailed, we understand how important it is to make an informed decision. That's why we've also put together the Best Picks for web hosting to help you discover the best web hosts on the planet backed by thousands of hours of research and testing. And if you want to get there right away, use our Finder Tool to instantly find the right web host for your needs.


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Software engineer with a weakness for collecting too much data. I live for web hosting and cloud computing. If I’m not online, I like to go fishing and create weird things with my 3D printer.