NR Hosting Blog

How Web Hosting Companies Work

Web hosting companies provide space to businesses and individuals on their servers to host the files that make up your website. They also provide internet connections to those customers as well. This is so other computers can see your website as well.   Many people don’t realize the behind the scenes of a website or know that every website you go to on the internet is made of a collection of files, images, videos and other things that all linked together create your website.  To get your website live and online, a server is needed with a high-speed connection. Hosting companies provide these servers.

There is a difference between web hosting and data center.  Web hosting is the servers that host your website or it can be the company that you pay to “rent” the server space you need. A data center is the facility that houses all of the servers for a particular company or companies.  These are usually quite large and can handle the tens of thousands of customers that some hosting companies have.  Of course data centers are not always huge; they can be anything from a single room to a huge building with thousands of square feet.

Typically the more well know hosting companies have at least one gigantic data center, but many have more than one to handle the growth of customers that are commonplace for a good company that keeps a great reputation.  The large buildings may have back up power supplies, back up data communications connections, air conditioning for climate control, fire suppression for protection and also strict security devices to keep their servers and their customers’ personal information safe.

There are four different types of hosting:

  • Shared
  • VPS (virtual private server)
  • Dedicated
  • Cloud Hosting

All four types will act as a storage center for your site, but each one has a different amount of storage capacity, server speed, technical knowledge requirement, reliability and control. Outlined below are the four types so you can see which one is a better fit for you.

Shared – Shared hosting means that your website in on the same server as a lot of other sites. The number of sites on a shared server can be in the hundreds of thousands depending on the company.  All the domains may also share RAM and the CPU as well.  The cost of shared hosting is very low and this type of hosting can handle websites with moderate traffic levels and that are running standard software.  It doesn’t require a large amount of technical knowledge so it is a great entry level hosting option.  This would be a good choice for individuals wanting personal sites.  The disadvantages to shared hosting can include the limited ability the servers have to handle high level traffic or traffic spikes and your site’s performance can be affected by other sites on the same server.

VPS (Virtual Private Server) – With a VPS, the server is divided into “virtual” servers and each website is virtually hosted on their own dedicated server. In actuality, they’re sharing a server with a few other users.  The users who choose VPS may have root access to their own piece of virtual server real estate and have better secured hosting.  If your website needs greater control at the server level but cost is a factor, VPS may be the right choice for you. The disadvantages to using a VPS are that your site may still have issues handling traffic spikes and can still be affected by other sites on the same server.

Dedicated Server – The most expensive of the hosting options, a dedicated server is just that…a server that is dedicated to your site only and yours is the only site hosted on that server. This option gives you the most control over the server your site is stored on.  Disadvantages to using a dedicated server are the expense mainly.  Dedicated servers are really only needed or recommended when you need the maximum control and the better server performance they provide.  A business that has a high traffic count on a daily basis may like the protection that a dedicated server will give them.

Cloud Hosting – This type of hosting takes all the worry out of high traffic or traffic spikes. A group of servers work together to host a group of websites; this means that several computers work together to handle your high traffic or the traffic spikes your site may experience.  Disadvantages include higher cost and you may not have root access to your server because many cloud hosting set ups don’t offer it.


Common Web Hosting Terminology


  • Add On Domain – a website that is included in your account but that is still separate. It shares the resources of whatever plan you have.
  • Auto Responder – automatically sends emails in response to a request from the person emailing.  These are often used for emails lists that businesses offer their customers for things such as newsletters, etc. The autoresponders will send the newsletters out automatically to whoever is on the email list.
  • Bandwidth – This is the amount of data transfer that your specific website uses. Each time you have a visitor to your site, if an email is sent or received, or you download or upload files, this is data transfer.
  • Blog – Blogs are hugely popular, “journal” type websites where people of all kinds, including businesses and celebrities talk about their personal lives, post links, talk about news, add pictures, videos and more.  Blog posts are often used to drive traffic to a website because they are easier to get indexed in the search engines due to the fact that blog posts are given greater weight than other types of posts.
  • Catch All – The term used for an email address that will receive all the mail that is sent to your account that doesn’t have an assigned email address.
  • CMS – also known as Content Management System, this is how to organize and manage the content of a website so it’s displayed in a professional manner but remains easy to modify.
  • Control Panel – This is the “engine” of your website. The control panel is where you can modify and control all aspects of the web hosting including adding subdomains and adding new domains, installing server applications and uploading the web pages to the internet.
  • Dedicated hosting – a private server that is dedicated to one website. This is an expensive form of hosting, but the benefit is that all resources are directed to one website.
  • Dedicated IP – This is an IP address that is only used by your website.  Dedicated IPs will be used if you’re using SSL to accept payments on your website.
  • Disk Space – The amount of space that you have for your files, pages, emails and other website related things.  Each hosting customer will have their own allocated amount of disk space and it will vary from company to company.
  • Error Pages – Every time a person tries to access a web page on your site (or any site) that is not available due to a server issue or some other reason, this is the page they will get that will alert them to the fact that the page is not available.
  • Fantastico– a large script library that can automate web app installations. Includes things like WordPress, and a host of other applications
  • Forum – A message board where users can post questions or problems and get help from other users who may have dealt with the same problem. The host or moderators of the board may step in to help answer questions as well.
  • FTP – also known as File Transfer Protocol. This is a way to upload or download files.  Most hosting companies offer this and some even have an added feature called an anonymous FTP and also allows the user to assign accounts so the files can be transferred by others.
  • Guestbook – a way for site visitors to leave their comments about the website, request more information or just give their contact information.  The main reason web page designers add guestbooks to their sites is to get feedback from the visitors.
  • .htaccess – This allows parameters to be set on certain files. It’s used for permissions to determine the level of access that a particular file is allowed.
  • IMAP – also known as Internet Message Access Protocol.  This is a way to receive your mail.  It will leave a copy of the email on your server until it is deleted for good. For users who have multiple emails (work and home, for example) and who use multiple computers.
  • Language Support – The most common programming language that you should make sure you have is Perl and PHP. Language support is the types of programming languages that will work along with your hosting account.
  • Linux Server – Linux is a free open source operating system that is used by shared and free web hosting companies. A Linux server is a server that uses Linux.
  • Mailing List – a list of people who have chosen to receive emails from you. Mailing lists are used often by businesses to send newsletters or updates to clients or customers.
  • MySQL – MySQL is a data system included in most hosting packages.  It’s used with a lot of different applications.
  • Parked Domain – This is a separate domain that can point to the same account.
  • Pop 3 – this is an email protocol that allows emails to be retrieved from the server.
  • Server – a super computer that delivers information to other computers.
  • Shared hosting –  When a website is on a server that is shared with many other websites.  The system resources are shared between all of the sites on the server.  Great for personal websites.
  • SMTP – This is an email term that enables you to send emails. Some ISPs will require you to use your servers using the ISP’s service instead of your own webhost.
  • Spam – Mail that is sent unsolicited that is usually trying to sell something to the recipient.  Most hosting companies offer spam filters as part of their package.
  • SSH – Stands for Secure Shell.  Many hosting companies don’t allow this type of file transfer but if it’s something you need, there are a few that offer it.
  • SSL–  Stands for Secure Socket Layer which is a means of website encryption for those sites that take credit cards.  This protects your customer’s credit card information.
  • Uptime – The time that the server is up and working properly. The higher the percentage of uptime the less worry you will have about your site going down.
  • VPS Hosting – a server that is separated into sections and each section acts as a separate server.  It’s less expensive to go this route than to use dedicated servers and has more functionality than shared servers.
  • Webmail – a way to check and send emails on the internet. Your email can be checked and sent from anywhere using webmail.
  • Windows Server – servers that use Windows OS are called Windows Servers. It’s more expensive to use this type of server but sometimes it is necessary to use certain types of applications. Not every hosting company offers Windows Servers.


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