Everybody has to live somewhere.
Some people live in houses. Some live in apartment buildings. Some people move from place to place, while others stay put for a long time.
Websites, like people, need somewhere to live, and there are many kinds of living arrangements. If you go to your friend’s for the evening, they are your hosts. If you are staying with relatives for a week, they are your hosts. If you live with your parents, they are your hosts. If you live in your own house or apartment, you are your own host — you are “self hosted”.
Where people live in different kinds of buildings, websites live in computers. We call those computers “hosts” because, just like human hosts, they are giving your website someplace to stay. Some websites live all by themselves on a single computer. Others live in giant computers along with thousands of other websites. Some websites live in the same place all the time. Others move around from one computer — one “web host” — to another.
People live in lots of kinds of buildings. Some are very expensive, elaborate, and have lots of space and all kinds of appliances that take care of a lot of things for you. Others are small and very simple. The kind of building you live in makes a difference in what you are able to do. A large family generally does better in a larger house. Same with computers. They run from small and simple to expensive and elaborate, and the kind of computer your site is living with makes a difference in whether it can perform what it needs to do. Bigger websites need more room and more power. Smaller ones can make do with much less.
Common Web Hosting Arrangements
- Shared Hosting — This is like websites living in a boarding house. Every website has it’s own room on the computer, but it has to share a lot of things with other websites, the way boarding house guests have to share a bathroom, the kitchen, dining room and living room. Depending on how the boarding house is set up, it can be easy for people to get in each other’s way — and even break into each other’s rooms. Same with shared hosting. Depending on how the host computer or computers are set up and how many other websites are living there and sharing the resources, things can get cramped and security can become an issue. Like anything, you get what you pay for. Dirt cheap shared hosting gets a roof over your website’s head and gives it a place to stay, but you may get frustrated with the limitations pretty quickly. On the other hand, just as there are some very nice boarding houses, there are very nice, well-run and secure shared hosting options out there, if you’re willing to pay a little more.
- Virtual Private Server (VPS) Hosting — This is more like living in a Condo. There are other websites living on the same machine, but everyone gets their own complete living space, and you can rent a larger or smaller condo in the same building depending on your needs. You still might have to share a few things, the way condo dwellers share lawn maintenance and a driveway. But you can still choose which dishwasher you want to install without having to consult everyone else in the building. And for security, you have your own locks and keys. With more independence, though, you have to do more of your own maintenance. While the overall building is taken care of, you have to arrange your own furniture. On a VPS Host, someone else takes care of keeping the power and lights on, but you install and configure your own software inside your space.
- Dedicated Hosting — This is where you own your own stand-alone home. On the one hand, you can do pretty much whatever you want with it, but in the end you’re the one who has to take care of everything, inside and out.
- Cloud Hosting — In the last few years, this kind of arrangement has become more and more common. And here’s where the comparison with physical buildings breaks down a little. Cloud hosting is (almost always) a bunch of computers working together to house your website. One way to picture it is like a college campus. You have a dorm room in one building, but you go to another building to get to the dining hall, and you can go to the library to look up things you need to study. You can use as many buildings on the campus as you need, but you don’t always need all of them. Or, you might think of it like a house in the cartoons where a lot of people go running into a house and it stretches out like an accordion, then when all the people run out of the house, it shrinks back to it’s original size. If a website has to have a large library of information, but only needs it once in a while, or if a website has to grow rapidly, a cloud hosting arrangement makes it possible for the website’s home take advantage of additional resources or to expand and shrink like that cartoon house.
What Kind of Hosting Do You Need?
Well, that depends. Since you’re reading this, I’ll assume you’re a beginner and your site is starting off small. A good shared hosting plan will probably suffice to begin. Beware the bottom-of-the-barrel plans, but there are many great shared hosts to choose from. Shop around. Don’t be afraid to contact a potential web host’s customer service to ask questions. Like buying a house or renting an apartment, find the place you’re most comfortable for the price that fits your budget. And like buying or renting a home, it’s the people you’ll be working with to make it your website’s home that will make the difference between a nightmare on Elm Street or loving your new online digs.