The Basics of Website Hosting (in Plain English)

The Basics of Website Hosting

Website hosting is one of those things you probably know you need but don’t exactly know why. Kind of like a modern-day Tickle Me Elmo, albeit with less red fur and incessant cackling. Without hosting, your website simply wouldn’t be visible to the world.

But before diving into the basics of website hosting, it’s important to first understand how websites are displayed.

How Displaying a Website Works

Every website is made up of a collection of files. Some of these files dictate the look of your site. Others make your website function in a certain way. Still, others include the images that load on your website.

These files are stored in folders, much like a collection of Word documents on your computer. When someone types your website address into their browser, your computer sends a request for these files as well as other pieces of information required to load your site. Once your computer has all of the files and info associated with your website, it reads them and displays your website in the way you’ve specified.

What Is Hosting?

Hosting refers to the space these website files and pieces of information are stored. All of these files are stored on a computer (called a server) somewhere around the world. When we talk about hosting, we’re simply referring to the server that houses all of your website files and info.

Further Technical Considerations

Like most things in the tech world, hosting can get pretty complex and outright geeky. But here are a few of the most common technical considerations, explained in plain English.

Disk Space

Disk space refers to the amount of room allotted for all of your website files. Just like you’ve probably experienced with your computer’s hard drive, your hosting may have a specified amount of disk space available for you to use. However, most websites are surprisingly small.

As a point of reference, we’ve developed a number of sites that take up under 100 megabytes (1/10 of one gigabyte) and our own site takes up a little under 500 megabytes at the time of this writing.

Unless you have a behemoth of a site, most hosting plans will offer more than enough disk space.

Bandwidth

Bandwidth is the amount of data your server allows you to transfer over a specified period of time. Whenever a visitor is sending or receiving data from your server, that falls under your allotted bandwidth. Typically bandwidth limits are outlined as a certain amount of data transferred per month.

I actually think it’s easier to understand via an example. Let’s say for a visitor to collect all of the necessary files to display your homepage they need to gather 1 megabyte of data from your server. If 100 unique visitors hit your homepage in a month, that will require you to have a transfer limit above 100 megabytes per month.

Bandwidth also includes uploading files to your server. So if users are submitting photos via your website, these uploads will count against your bandwidth limit as well.

It’s best to discuss bandwidth with your hosting provider and monitor your monthly bandwidth usage to determine the amount that’s right for your website.

Sharing Hosting Space with Other Websites

As the name implies, a shared hosting space means you are sharing your server and its resources (such as disk space, ram and processor) with other websites. It’s definitely worth asking your hosting provider if you’re on a shared hosting plan. If you are, it’ll likely be cheaper, but you’ll be sharing a server with other websites, which puts you at risk.

If your server neighbors engage in any unsavory practices such as spamming people or their website is hacked, you could get dragged down with them. Even if your neighbors are upstanding citizens, you could still run into performance problems. Since you are sharing resources, if their site gets an influx of traffic (and thus requires more resources), your website could significantly slow down.

If consistent performance is crucial to your website, talk to your hosting provider about these concerns and ask what alternatives they offer to shared hosting environments.

Managed vs. Unmanaged Plans

A managed hosting plan means that someone is maintaining the hardware and software on your server, installing security and performance updates as they’re released. As stands to reason, an unmanaged plan means you’re running the show and are left to optimize and update your server settings yourself.

Unless you’re into server administration (in which case you probably aren’t still reading this article), you probably want to go for a managed hosting plan.

There’s a lot more technical stuff that goes into hosting, but we’ll spare you. Hopefully, this post helps clarify how websites are displayed and what website hosting actually is. If you have any further questions, please let us know in the comments below. And if you’d rather not worry about hosting at all, be sure to check out our all-inclusive website platform for nonprofits!