Knowing the basics of web hosting terminology is essential for every website owner. The terms used in web hosting can sometimes sound like another language. This guide will explain the most important web hosting jargon in simple terms to help you better understand how web hosting works. With the right knowledge, you can make informed decisions when choosing a hosting provider, managing your website, and troubleshooting any issues that come up.
A domain name is the address that identifies your website on the internet and allows visitors to find your site. For example, “example.com” is a domain name. You can register a domain through a domain registrar like GoDaddy, Namecheap, or Google Domains. When registering a domain, you are essentially leasing the rights to use that web address for a period of time, usually annually. Oftentimes, web hosting providers offer domain registration along with hosting plans.
Domains consist of two or more parts separated by dots. The part furthest to the right is the top-level domain or TLD. Common TLDs include .com, .net, .org, and country-specific domains like .ca or .co.uk. The part to the left of the TLD is the second-level domain, which is the main, customizable part of the domain name that identifies your site, like “example” in example.com.
Web hosting provides the foundation for your website. Hosting gives your site space on a server to store all the files that make up your web pages so that the site can be accessible on the internet. Web hosts maintain large networks of servers that host thousands of websites.
When you sign up for hosting, you are essentially renting space on one of the provider’s servers. This rented server space is known as “web space” or “storage space”. The cost of web hosting varies depending on the amount of server resources your site needs. Basic shared hosting plans start at a few dollars per month while managed plans for larger sites can cost hundreds per month.
Shared hosting is the most common and budget-friendly hosting option. With shared hosting, your website shares space on a server with hundreds or thousands of other sites. Resources like bandwidth, memory, and CPU are allocated across the accounts on each server. Shared hosting works well for personal sites and small businesses that don’t require many server resources. The main downside is that the performance of your site may be impacted by traffic spikes from other sites on your shared server.
VPS (virtual private server) hosting provides more resources and better performance compared to shared hosting. With VPS hosting, a physical server is partitioned into separate virtual servers. Each virtual server operates independently, giving account holders guaranteed resources and fewer performance issues. VPS hosting is ideal for growing sites that need greater control over their hosting environment compared to shared hosting.
Dedicated hosting gives you an entire physical server fully dedicated just for your website. This provides maximum performance, control, and ability to customize but at a higher cost. Dedicated hosting is ideal for large, resource-intensive websites that need immense computing power and disk space. Compared to VPS and shared hosting, dedicated hosting requires more technical expertise to manage the server.
Cloud hosting is a modern hosting solution that utilizes a network of servers spread across multiple data centers. Websites hosted in the cloud are allocated flexible computing resources that can easily scale up or down to meet changing traffic demands. Cloud hosting is ideal for sites with unpredictable traffic spikes. Popular cloud hosting platforms include AWS, Microsoft Azure, and Google Cloud.
Managed vs Unmanaged Hosting
Managed hosting providers manage and maintain server infrastructure, software updates, and security patches for your site. This allows you to focus on your website while they handle technical administration. Unmanaged hosting puts you in charge of server management. This provides more control but requires strong technical skills. New website owners typically opt for fully managed hosting until their site grows large enough to warrant unmanaged dedicated or cloud servers.
Control panels are software dashboards that provide an interface to manage hosting accounts, websites, domains, billing and more through an intuitive graphical user interface. Common control panels include:
cPanel is the most popular control panel used by shared and VPS hosting providers. It allows you to manage files, databases, email accounts, DNS records, and more for your site through a centralized dashboard accessible from your web browser. cPanel offers an easy way to administer sites without needing to use command line server management tools.
Plesk is another widely used control panel with functionally similar to cPanel. It provides intuitive tools for managing hosted accounts, domains, webmail, and operating FTP file transfer servers.
WHM (WebHost Manager) is not used by account holders directly. It is utilized by hosting companies to manage Linux and cPanel/WHM hosting servers. Companies use WHM for tasks like creating and managing accounts, monitoring server resources, and installing security patches.
DirectAdmin is an alternative to cPanel and Plesk control panels. It has a more basic interface and limited features unless additional modules are installed. DirectAdmin caters more towards administrators of hosting servers compared to end-user website owners.
Uptime & Reliability
The uptime of a web host refers to the percentage of time your website is available online. Reliable hosting providers aim for 99.9% uptime or higher, equal to less than nine hours of downtime annually. Uptime is important for consistent website availability and business operations. Too much downtime damages site traffic, reputation, and revenue.
Redundant servers, regular maintenance, and prompt issue resolution help minimize downtime. Uptime metrics should be prominently displayed by reputable hosts. Guaranteed uptime most often ranges from 99.9% to 99.99% in their service level agreements (SLAs).
Scalability refers to the ability to adjust hosting resources up or down to accommodate changes in traffic and growth. Shared hosting offers limited scalability because your site shares fixed server resources. VPS, cloud, and dedicated hosting is highly scalable, allowing seamless upgrading to more compute power, bandwidth, and storage as your site grows. Choosing a scalable platform prevents having to constantly migrate to new hosting plans every few months.
Server performance impacts your website loading times and ability to handle traffic spikes. Factors like network bandwidth, computing power, physical memory (RAM), and storage capabilities determine performance. Shared hosting can hamper performance when overloaded. VPS, cloud, and dedicated servers maintain optimal performance through dedicated resources.
The level of customer and technical support a web host provides is crucial. Issues like server problems, hacked accounts, DNS errors, or website migration can arise, so access to 24/7 support through live chat, phone, tickets, and documentation is essential. Response time and competence of support staff vary greatly among hosts, so research reviews before choosing.
Website security is vital for protecting your site against hackers, malware, phishing scams, DDoS attacks, and other threats. Reputable hosts implement firewalls, intrusion detection/prevention systems, secure networks, SSL certificates, VPN access, and 24/7 monitoring across their infrastructure. Some offer free SSL certificates, anti-spam/malware apps, and dedicated IP addresses for better security.
Backup & Restore
Unplanned events like hardware failure, natural disasters, or human errors can damage websites. Solid backup and restore capabilities minimize downtime and prevent losing data or files. Reliable web hosts perform automated backups daily or weekly and allow restoring your site to a previous snapshot if issues occur. Look for hosts providing easy backup and one-click restore features.
Most hosting plans provide email hosting in the form of webmail accounts using cPanel, Roundcube, SquirrelMail, or other interfaces. You get fully functional email addresses using your domain name. Features like auto-responders, forwarding, aliases, and mailing lists allow managing your domain’s email like a professional. Seek unlimited email accounts, adequate storage per account, and secure IMAP/POP3 access.
CDN & Caching
A content delivery network (CDN) distributes cached copies of your website globally to speed up loading times. CDNs help sites handle spikes in traffic and deliver content faster to visitors. Server caching also stores static page elements to reduce server strain. Using a well-connected CDN and server caching can dramatically improve site performance. Some hosts include basic CDNs or offer them as add-ons.
Websites built on content management systems (CMSs) like WordPress and Joomla require databases for dynamic functionality. Hosting plans typically provide MySQL and PostgreSQL database hosting for popular applications like these. Ensure your host provides adequate database capacity and management tools for the apps your site relies on.
FTP (file transfer protocol) allows uploading files from your computer to your hosting account for managing your site. Most hosts provide FTP access credentials for your server. FTP client software like FileZilla can be used to upload web pages, images, videos, and other content to your hosting space quickly and easily.
Domain Name Servers (DNS)
DNS is what directs traffic from domain names to the correct web hosting server. When registering a domain, you assign your domain name to use your hosting provider’s DNS servers to connect your domain to your site. Web hosts provide tools in cPanel or similar interfaces to manage DNS records for redirecting traffic, enabling email, and configuring other functions.
A subdomain branches off from your primary domain name to another area of your website. For example, if your domain is example.com, a subdomain could be login.example.com or blog.example.com. Subdomains allow dividing up sections of your site while keeping a consistent brand identity through your main domain name. Most hosts allow creating unlimited subdomains for free.
A staging environment acts as a copy of your live website files used for testing updates safely. Once tested on the staging copy, changes can be deployed to the production site with reduced risk of issues. Staging avoids the hazards of making changes directly on live sites that can cause downtime. Managed WordPress hosts often provide free staging sites.
Version control systems track changes in site files and allow reverting back to previous versions. If you make a mistake while updating your site, version control lets you roll back changes and restore working files from before the error. Version control integrates with git repositories and is commonly used during web development.
When switching hosting providers, you need to migrate your site and data from one host to another with minimal downtime. This process can be complex and is best handled by hosts that offer professional migration assistance. They will move your files and databases securely so that your site retains full functionality.
Server Operating Systems
The server operating system manages the software and hardware resources powering a hosting server. Most servers run on Linux or Windows.
Linux hosting is popular because the open-source Linux OS is free to use. Linux includes cPanel for easy account and site management. It also supports a wide range of open-source web apps. However, few commercial software programs are designed for Linux.
Windows hosting costs more due to the paid Windows Server OS license. But Windows supports a broader range of proprietary software like ASP.NET and MS SQL for sites built on Microsoft frameworks. So if your site relies on Microsoft products, Windows hosting is usually required.
The server-side programming language a hosting account supports determines the web frameworks and applications it can run. Most hosts support:
- PHP – Used by WordPress, Drupal, Joomla, Wikipedia, and more. Very common for shared hosting.
- ASP.NET – For Microsoft software like .NET. Supported on Windows hosting plans.
- Node.js – Ideal for real-time applications like chat apps and streaming media.
- Ruby – Commonly used for Ruby on Rails sites and apps.
- Python – General purpose language suitable for a wide range of web apps.
The programming languages supported varies among hosts, so confirm which languages you require are compatible.
Following the web hosting terminology and concepts outlined in this guide will help you make smart hosting decisions. Do your research to find a provider that offers the right server resources, tools, support, and technologies for your unique website needs. Take time to understand the various types of hosting, features, and factors involved so there are no surprises down the road.