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So you want to create your own website - that's great! But where do you start, and what are you supposed to purchase exactly? How do you go from nothing, to a fully functional webpage complete with your URL of choice? Moreover when shopping for web hosting, you're inundated with various terminologies that may not have been clearly defined.
This short tutorial will serve as a 101 crash course in the basics of web hosting so that you are able to intelligently make a decision about what you want to buy and from whom.
A domain name is nothing but a stripped down URL of your website minus the starting extensions "http://", "https://", and www. For example, the domain name of this website is webhostinghero.com.
As you can see, it's almost the same as the URL you see in the address bar of your browser. Each website has a distinct domain name that doesn't change as long as you stay on the same site.
Buying a domain name gives you the legal rights to use it for your own websites. It's like purchasing a trademark or logo. Companies which sell domain names are called Domain Name Registrars.
Just as merely registering a company doesn't automatically grant you office space in a city, merely purchasing a domain name isn't enough to bring your website into existence. To do that, your site has to be hosted on an actual machine somewhere called a Web server. This server will provide you with hard disk space to keep all your pages and images, and bandwidth so that users can access your website.
Renting space on a Web server is known as Web Hosting. When you're getting started, you can most often purchase the domain name as well as web hosting services from the same company since most web hosting companies are also domain name registrars. But there's nothing stopping you from buying a domain name from one company and hosting your website on the servers of another.
Web Hosting Terminology
A control panel allows you to manage your web hosting service. Via the GUI interface, you can create and delete databases, install software on the server, manage your files to configure SSH access and much more. There are two very commonly used control panels:
For Linux-based Web servers, this is the most commonly used control panel. Because cPanel is so widely used, finding help and tutorials about how to perform various actions is easy.
Plesk is the control panel of choice for Windows-based Web servers. cPanel used to have a Windows compatible version, but that's been long abandoned.
Most web hosts give you easy ways to install software on your server. For example, Fantastico is a popular script library that provides "One Click" installations for many popular applications such as WordPress, Drupal, MediaWiki etc. It's a great way for you to quickly get started with installing applications on your Web server without too many hassles. Other popular software installers include Softaculous and cPanel Site Software.
When deciding which web hosting company to go with, try and find out where their servers are located. Why is this important? The reason is that data transfers are not instantaneous. So if your target audience is located in a country far away from the actual physical location of the servers, they will experience slower loading times compared to users located closer to them.
For this reason, many large web hosting companies have subsidiaries in individual countries with their own servers targeted towards the local audience. Make sure you know who is visiting and from where.
Remember the "Disk Space" and "Bandwidth Usage" terminologies I described above? Well these days, many web hosting companies are offering "Unlimited" plans at a pittance. But don't be fooled! If your site grows too large, it will start consuming an inordinate amount of CPU and disk I/O resources. This will result in your site becoming unacceptably slow, or even shutting down.
In the web hosting world, "Unlimited" doesn't really mean what it says. Think about it – if a hosting plan was truly "Unlimited", wouldn't every major company be able to run off it? Heck, Google can just give up its vast infrastructure and run out of your $7/month hosting plan!
This is the big one. No matter how smoothly your site seems to run at first, there will come a time when something goes wrong. Trust me on this – it's going to happen sooner or later. Whether your site encounters strange errors, or your server is unreachable, or you accidentally messed up something in a database, sometimes the only way to fix it is by getting in touch with technical support.
Most general web hosting services won't help you out with application-specific problems. So if you have a corrupted .htaccess file on your WordPress installation, you have to most likely fix that yourself unless you have a WordPress focused web hosting plan. So keep that in mind if all you're interested in is running a single application – you might be better off with a specialized web hosting service instead.
But specific applications aside, your web host needs to be responsive and reachable in a variety of ways including live chat and email. Having a nonfunctioning website can be nerve-racking and when you want help now, they'd better be there for you.
As mentioned on the sticker, many web hosts provide "Moneyback Guarantees" within a certain timeframe for specific plans. For example, you may have a two-month moneyback guarantee for a shared hosting plan. Dedicated and VPS servers tend to have shorter moneyback guarantees since they are much more resource intensive.
Keep in mind that this doesn't apply to any transactional fees such as domain registration or site migration costs you may have signed up for. But as far as such things go, it's a great way to test out a web hosting service before committing to it full-time.