Web Hosting Glossary: The Beginners’ Guide to Hosting

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If you're not an expert in the web hosting niche, choosing a web hosting provider or a suitable hosting type might be really confusing. What hosting type should you choose? What performance, security, and reliability features you should pay attention to?

This glossary compiled by our hosting experts explains the most common terms and answers burning questions about web hosting.

Different Web Hosting Types

When it comes to web hosting, one doesn’t fit all. A huge website with millions of weekly visitors will need much more, performance, and storage than a personal blog with several hundred readers.

Currently, there are 4 the most popular hosting types that hosting providers offer: shared hosting, virtual private server hosting (VPS), dedicated server hosting, and cloud hosting.

Let’s take a detailed look at each of them.

What is Shared Hosting?

shared_hostingIn the simplest terms - shared hosting is a type of hosting when one physical server hosts many websites. Shared hosting is the most popular type of web hosting and is perfect for website hosting beginners.

If you host your site on a shared hosting service, you’re sharing the resources (disc space, bandwidth, RAM and CPU) with hundreds (or even thousands) of other websites on that server. With shared hosting, you usually have a limited amount of resources for your website.

Shared hosting is like owning one room in a huge house - you have your space but still have to share the amenities (in web hosting’s case - the resources) with other residents of that house.

Because of its communal approach and the shared resources, shared hosting is the cheapest type of hosting. The cost of the server upkeeping is divided between all the website owners on that server. Shared hosting is most suitable for personal websites, low-traffic blogs, and other small websites.

Shared hosting is a great entry-level pick, but keep in mind that if your website gains traction, you will need to upgrade your hosting to a VPS or a dedicated server for more resources.

What is a Virtual Private Server (VPS)?

A virtual private server (VPS) is one step above shared hosting. VPS acts like a server dedicated just for your website but it still exists on a shared server that is divided virtually into multiple private areas. So, each website gets its own private server environment instead of the shared one.

If we compared shared hosting to a single room in a big house, a VPS could be an apartment in an apartment building.

While you still share the building with others, you have your own private apartment, or in the hosting terms, a private virtual compartment for your website.

The biggest advantage of VPS, when compared to shared hosting, is the dedicated resources. VPS users share the same physical location (server) but use completely dedicated resources. Therefore, a VPS is a faster and more reliable pick.

A VPS is an in-betweener between shared hosting and a dedicated server. While it tends to cost more than shared hosting, it’s a cheaper and less powerful version of an expensive dedicated server.

Upgrading from shared hosting to a VPS is the next logical step when your website starts to grow and attract more traffic. VPS is also recommended for small-to-medium sized e-commerce websites since business transactions require more stability and reliability that shared hosting doesn't usually provide.

What is Dedicated Server Hosting?

dedicated_hostingWith dedicated hosting, a single user rents the whole server for their website(s) without sharing it with other users. All the resources on the dedicated server are exclusively used by a single client.  Therefore, a dedicated server is much more powerful than shared and VPS hosting.

This type of hosting also gives the website owner full control of the server: the user gets full root and admin access.

With this access, it’s possible to customize the server’s configuration to match the specific requirements, tweak the settings, install/change the software.

If we continue the housing analogies, the dedicated server is not like an apartment or a room - it’s a private house. You’re in charge of it and don’t have to share with anyone.

While dedicated server pricing will depend on the amount of required resources, dedicated servers are usually the most expensive type of hosting. Because dedicated servers offer maximum resources, they are a great choice for medium-to-large businesses or websites with high traffic load and high-performance requirements.

What is Cloud Hosting?

cloud_hostingIn general, the Cloud is a technology that could be applied to both shared hosting and VPS. Cloud hosting uses a cluster of interconnected virtual servers to store data.

With traditional shared, dedicated, or VPS hosting all your data is stored in one physical server.

But with cloud hosting - your encrypted files are scattered across many servers that constantly share the data with each other.

Why is that useful? The biggest advantages of this division are flexible resources, reliability, and scalability. If your website gets a spike in traffic, it won’t crash or slow down like with shared hosting.

As the traffic and the need for resources spike, cloud hosting automatically pulls more resources from the pool of other connected servers. Additionally, if one server crashes, it won’t have any effect on the hosted website - the servers will gather the needed resources from other interconnected servers. In other words, you get the needed resources on demand.

Because of its great resource scalability, cloud hosting is a great pick for both personal and business medium-to-large websites.

What is a Content Management System (CMS)?

In web hosting, Content Management System (often abbreviated to CMS) is software that helps to administrate, produce, and manage content on a website.

In other words, CMS is a tool that allows the website owner to build a site without having to write any code.

CMS handles all the basic infrastructure and powers the website.

A CMS may include a wide range of individualized functionalities, including collaborative website authoring, document management, content archiving, and lots more.

A CMS is an absolutely crucial part of many websites, primarily because it allows non-programmers to modify and publish content on the website without the need for coding expertise.

What are the Most Popular CMS Choices?

By far, WordPress remains the largest (and possibly most influential) CMS available to both large and small user groups. In fact, current estimates show that WordPress’ CMS runs on more than 30% of all websites online today – a truly staggering figure.

Much of this continued popularity descends from it being open-source and completely free to use as well as having a very dedicated and active support community. Additionally, WordPress with the WooCommerce plugin could even be used for creating e-commerce websites.

provider cmsWordPress isn’t alone though. Several more popular general use CMS used today include Joomla! and Drupal.

There are also a great number of e-commerce focused content management systems available today, each of which offers specialized tools and plugins for the easy online transaction of goods and services. Several popular e-commerce CMS include Magento and PrestaShop.

Hosting providers usually offer one-click CMS installations that could be found in the control panel. So, most of the time, you won't need to download and install any software yourself.

Reliability & Security

Any web administrator seeking out a new web host should have top-quality security at the top of their priority list. From firewalls to SSL certificates, a fully-fledged security system provided by a host should ensure that your website’s content and customers remain just as you intend them to be – safe.

What is SLA?

SLAA service-level agreement (SLA) is, in simple terms, the service contract signed by both a service provider (like a web host) and a client (that’s you).

This agreement sets out the terms of service between the two parties, including the quality level of service, customer support availability, and responsibilities of individuals covered by the agreement.

SLAs go a long way towards setting out what a client should expect in terms of reliability.

Be sure to read this agreement carefully, as you would any important legal document. So you fully understand how quickly and through what channels the service provider can support your website and CMS.

What are DNS and DNS Records?

DNSA domain name system (DNS) is a directory that points traffic traveling from your domain (such as “scottpilgrim.com”) towards its IP address (a string of numbers pinpointing your website’s digital “location”). DNS eliminates the need for users to know complicated IP addresses to access a page - knowing a domain is enough.

In other words, a DNS is like your phone's contact list that matches a name (in this case - a domain name) with the telephone number (IP address).

DNS records are the archived information about a domain. There are many different DNS record types that archive different information. For instance, Address Mapping record stores a domain name and a corresponding IP address, Certificate record stores encryption certificates and so on.

These records should be updated when you're changing hosts. The best way to updated DNS records is by using an integrated migration tool, provided by your new web host.

What is Uptime/Downtime? Why is Uptime Important?

uptime_downtimeAs the name suggests, website uptime is the amount of time in which visitors can access your website over a given time. In other words, it's how much time your website is 'live' and accessible to users.

Downtime is just the opposite, representing how much time a website spends “offline” (unavailable to reach for users) for maintenance, updating or server troubles.

Although 100% uptime is the pinnacle of availability, most hosts offer 99% or 99.99% uptime claims when taking into account unexpected outages and system-wide software updates. If hosting provider claims that it offers 100% uptime - it's just an advertising trick.

Good uptime is a very important metric that you should consider when picking a web host. If your website experiences downtime often, you will definitely lose visitors and customers (if you're running an online shop). Google and other search engines might mark your site as unreliable - which can hurt your SEO rank.

What is a Dedicated IP?

dedicated IPA dedicated IP is a unique address that's exclusive to only one hosting account. Meaning that you don't have to share the address with any other domain names.

You cannot get a dedicated IP on a shared hosting server - all server users share the server's IP. Sharing IP addresses has been common due to the internet’s expansion, causing the need to share digital “real estate”.

Not all websites need dedicated IPs - it's recommended for high-traffic websites and websites that need regular FTP access. If you own a small-to-medium sized website, shared IP will do just fine.

Many web hosts offer dedicated IP address at a higher, business-focused rate. Primarily, they serve the needs of those groups who don’t want to share digital space with an outside group for risk of security breaches, volume overflow, and other resources.

What is an SSL/TLS Certificate? Does SSL protect a website and its visitors?

SSL_certificateTraditionally, a Secure Sockets Layer certificate (SSL) has been the standard protocol used to transfer secret or sensitive information over the internet, such as credit card information or login credentials.

The main goal of SSL is to encrypt sensitive information between a website and a browser. For example, if you're submitting a password on a website, SSL certificate makes sure that only that single website can access the information.

However, the Transport Security Protocol  (TLS) is an updated version of SSL technology that allows for even better security through encryption. Read more about SSL vs TLS differences in our extended comparison here.

An SSL/TLS certificate is an absolute must for websites transmitting sensitive data through its servers, so be sure that your web host provides one for every domain you use. Not having  SSL/TLS certificate poses serious security risks and might turn your site users away.

A browser shows if your website is secure - if there's a "Not Secure" tag next to your domain, do you think users will want to put in their credit card credentials? Probably not. Additionally, Google takes SSL certificates seriously, so if you want to rank high - you need one.

Hosting providers almost always offer SSL certificates with their hosting packages. Usually, with more expensive packages, you get the certificate for free but with budget picks - you may have to pay an installation fee. However, you can install a SSL/TLS certificate completely free of charge yourself - here's how.

What is a Firewall?

FirewallIn computer security terms, a firewall is a type of software that runs passively to block out undesirable website traffic based on pre-determined guidelines. There are many different types of specialized firewalls, each of which performs a unique job in protecting your website from malicious digital actors.

Most web hosts provide firewalls by default, though some CMSs require you to specifically install and update desired firewalls in order to combat ongoing threats.

What are Backups? Are Daily Backups Necessary?

backupsA backup is a process of copying files or data and having it stored in case the original data is lost or destroyed. So, a backup is just a copy of the information that's on your website.

You never know when your website might be struck by a crippling cyber-attack. As such, backups are essential to prevent a catastrophic loss of data.

Some web hosts run backups daily, in order to persistently protect you against unforeseen loss.

And with backups - the more often, the better. So, if your host offers daily backups, that's a good quality sign. After all, backups function like your website's insurance.

However, you may be required to manually set up a backup system on your own, through your CMS. While this system can be automated to run as often as daily, you should be fully aware that these backups usually only store data, rather than a working, bootable copy of your website.

Power & Performance

Finding a reliable web host that offers security, great uptime, and enough resources for a reasonable price might be tough. Here's what you should know when selecting a web host if you want a fast website. But just in case you want to skip this part, you can find a list of best web hosting providers here - a list of hand-selected providers that truly offer peak performance at a reasonable price.

What is Bandwidth?

what is bandwidthIn web hosting, bandwidth refers to how much data can pass within a time period.

However, a more user-friendly way to think about bandwidth is that it represents how much “water” can pass through your website’s digital “pipes” at any given moment or over a period of time.

Often, you will see that when you buy a cheaper shared hosting package,  the provider offers a fixed amount of bandwidth (such as 100GB/month).

Usually, unlimited bandwidth is offered with VPS or Cloud hosting packs.

How much Bandwidth Do I Need for My Website?

The volume of bandwidth you need depends heavily on what you are using your website for, what kind of content you are hosting, and how much traffic you expect to frequent your website. The best way to calculate how much you need is by using a simple formula, described below:

Visitors per month x Page size (MB) x Views per visitor=Bandwidth Needed

Let's assume the average page size is 1MB, your site gets 10,000 a month and each visitor, on average, visits 2 pages. So, 10,000 visitors x 1MB x 2 pages per visit=20GB of bandwidth.

This amount should give you a rough estimate of how much bandwidth you’ll need to efficiently transfer all data to all users without exceeding your cap or slowing down connection speeds.

Do I Need Unlimited Bandwidth?

While unlimited bandwidth plans sound exceptionally desirable in order to forgo the above calculation, keep in mind that nearly nothing advertised as “unlimited” is truly without a recognizable limit. While some web hosts cap “high speed” bandwidth at a certain volume and leaves you struggling with congested transfer lanes, others simply don’t provide the right kind of server hardware with which to take advantage of unlimited bandwidth.

What is CPU?

CPUCentral process unit (often referred to as “CPU”) is a measurement of how fast your computer hardware (or in this case - a server) can perform a task or operation.

Much of this processing power is based on the computer’s internal processing components, which interpret and complete tasks in accordance with the system clock speed.

Like with bandwidth and RAM, an optimal level of computing power depends heavily on your specific website and content production needs.

In a shared hosting environment, CPU resources are shared by everyone on the server.

If you operate a high-traffic or large in size website, VPS and dedicated hosting will offer a higher capacity of CPU needed to perform the tasks.

What is RAM? What is the optimal amount of RAM needed?

RAMIn hosting, random access memory (or RAM for short) is a temporary data storage that stores data when your website runs several processes at the same time.

Data stored on RAM is far, far quicker to access when the system processes call for it, making it the most efficient “harbor” for critical information to be stored.

Different size websites will need different amounts of RAM.  High traffic websites, websites that run on a CMS, and dynamic sites require much more RAM.

So the golden rule - if your website is large, go with the hosting package that offers the most RAM. One of the best ways to lower the RAM usage is to use caching on your website (more on that down below).

What is Caching? Why is It Important?

cachingCaching is a process used by computers to save important data locally in order to quickly access and load the content.

Caching involves a computer’s RAM, where compressed copies of important data are held for a period of time before being copied over for new important data.

For websites and computers alike, caching is an important process because it increases data retrieval and overall performance speeds.

Frequent visitors of a website will truly benefit from caching as it allows each successive visits they make to be marginally faster when it comes to individual page load times.

What is SSD and HDD Storage? How do They Differ and Which One is Better?

ssd hostingA solid-state drive (SSD) and hard disk drive (HDD) are both types of hard drives implemented in computers in order to store data and information.

Though there are many differences between the two in terms of performance and implementation, an SSD uses integrated circuits to store information while an HHD uses a spinning physical disk to read and write computer data for long-term storage.

You should opt for SSD storage for your website - the main reason for this is that SSD storage offers better performance and faster loading. 

SSDs store information using any moving physical parts. That results in better performance and faster loading and as SSD storage can process information faster, and have fewer physical parts that can fail.

Many hosting providers offer SSD hosting solutions for smoother performance.

Databases

databaseWhile a database refers to specific hardware and server to store data, a database in a general sense is a collection of information (often digital) that is organized using specialized protocols making it easy to access.

In simpler terms, a database is a systematic compilation of data.

Databases are used to store important files, including sales transactions, product catalogs, and customer profiles.

What is MySQL? What are other options for databases?

mysqlMySQL is a widely-used, open source database management system. Many database-driven CMSs make use of MySQL in order to keep their user data stored and easily managed, including Drupal, Joomla, and WordPress. Major websites also use MySQL’s framework, including Facebook, Twitter, and Flickr.

MySQL incorporates a specialized coding language (called SQL) that works to interface efficiently with a database.

For the most part, individual web administrators do not need to know how to manipulate MySQL. Like an engine in a car, they should have a basic understanding of its function in order to diagnose problems that may cause it to malfunction.

There are some alternatives to MySQL, though they are far more rarely implemented and compatible with websites and CMSs. Some noteworthy entries include Microsoft SQL Server, Firebird, Amazon RDS, and PostgreSQL.

How many MySQL (or other) databases do I need?

Simply put, you likely only need one MySQL database in order to run your website. However, if you are planning to add “partitioned” sections of your website, like a store or forums, you may consider adding another database to better catalog each section’s key data.

Domains

DomainLike the sign hanging outside a store, a domain is a name by which a website is known and requested in an internet browser.

A domain – such as “ramonaflowers.com” – points to a specific IP address, which in turn leads to your website.

Domains must be registered with a proper domain registrar, though most web hosts offer domain registering services next to hosting.

What is a Subdomain?

Subdomains are additional parts that are added to the domain name. Subdomains help to organize and navigate different parts of your website.

For example, “store.romanaflowers.com” would act as a subdomain to a primary website, allowing the store to exist in a separate section of while still being hosted under the same domain.

What is a Parked Domain?

Domain parking is a domain registration practice used by individuals and brands in order to reserve specific domain names for future development or to prevent them from being used by other people. Usually, the domain is registered via a domain registrar but is not associated with any websites or emails. So, it's "parked" for future use.

Some people will often park domains for their name, in order to save it for personal professional use at a later point in time. Brands will usually park domains with the same domain name just with a different domain extension. For example, brand.com might park brand.net, brand.xyz, brand.in domains and so on.

Is it Possible to Transfer a Domain?

Yes, domain transfers are common and not difficult to do. The domain transferring practice has, in fact, become more common now that there is considerable competition in the web hosting and domain registry business. You are rarely (if ever) locked into a given domain registrar, so always be on the lookout for a better option that provides you features that you desire.

One may choose to transfer from a given domain register for a variety of reasons, including high prices and poor service. If you are looking to transfer your domain to a new register, check with your new registrar in order to learn their specific procedures for precipitating a seamless transfer.

An experienced content professional with a creative mind. If I'm not writing, you can probably find me in the backyard playing with dogs or at some weird art show.
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