hosting

What is web hosting and what do I need it for?

question-markWhether companies or private persons – Webhosting is interesting for everyone who would like to build and operate his own homepage. Thanks to practical homepage construction kits like the ASTRA WordPress Theme, even small entrepreneurs without programming and IT skills can quickly and easily create their own website or a small, but professional looking online shop. But hardly any private person or small company has its own server to host the website.

Anyone who wants to create and operate a website has to deal not only with content management systems or homepage construction kits, but also with web hosting.

What does the term "web hosting" mean?

Of course, most people know that “web hosting” has something to do with the Internet – but very few people know exactly what is behind it. This is partly due to the fact that there is no uniform definition so far.

Of course, Internet pages do not buzz around self-sustainingly in a sphere called the Internet. One can imagine a website as a comprehensive Word document. Of course, this must be stored somewhere and connected to the Internet. 

If someone wants to read this document, he must call it with the specific IP (or URL). Web hosting describes the location of this document and the program with which the webmaster, the administrator of the homepage, can edit this document.

Web hosting is generally understood to mean the provision of web space, i.e. capacity on the World Wide Web, and the hosting of websites on the web server of an Internet Service Provider (ISP). This provider is therefore also called a web host. 

It makes its resources available. These are usually:

  • Host computer, or host for short
  • Web space
  • Permanent network connection

The web hosting provider finances itself either through invoicing or – in the case of free web hosting services – through advertising, which it places on the websites of its customers.

Simply put, web hosting provides the storage space and infrastructure you need to run your website. In this space, customers upload and store the files and content of their website with all HTML commands, text, images and videos. 

By networking all content with a content management system (CMS), this results in the complete design of a website that visitors can call up by entering the corresponding domain. A permanent network connection ensures that the website is accessible to visitors in the World Wide Web at all times.

What's wrong with hosting yourself?

The webhoster offers customers the IT infrastructure they need to access their website online. Of course, he does not offer this service without consideration. Therefore the question is justified whether it wouldn’t make more sense to host one’s own website, i.e. to take care of the corresponding server capacities and to purchase one’s own server.

Of course, every website operator is completely free to purchase his own server and maintain it. But he will quickly notice that this is anything but cheap and easy

Every webmaster should ask himself the following questions before purchasing his own server:

  • Do I have sufficient financial means to purchase the high-priced infrastructure and maintain it including all consequential costs (electricity, Internet, operating system, software, fans)?
  • Is or will the web project be so extensive and successful that the purchase and operation will pay for itself in the foreseeable future
  • Do I have sufficient IT knowledge to guarantee a permanent and fail-safe operation of the server?

Most webmasters do not have the necessary programming knowledge.The setup of the server is by far not enough. Regular maintenance and the avoidance of longer breakdowns due to the ability to fix problems quickly should quickly overtax any hobby host.

For whom is web hosting worth it?

Web hosting ultimately appeals to all those who want to operate a website for private or commercial purposes, but do not have the capacity or the knowledge to take care of the operation of a server themselves. 

  • Web Hosting Customers:
    do not need to acquire programming skills or hire a person who has them,
    they do not have to purchase their own hardware and IT infrastructure,
  • save space because no physical server is required,
  • save power for the operation of the server,
  • enjoy full service from a single source for server setup, maintenance and administration,
  • have to expect at most minimal downtimes and benefit from professional security measures and backups of their data.

Ultimately, it doesn’t matter how extensive a customer’s web project is, the market of available web hosting models has the right solution in the right dimension for every need. Of course, web hosting is not the same as web hosting: there are different concepts that are suitable for different demand groups.

What types of web hosting are there?

web hostingThere are a variety of different hosting models. You will quickly recognize this if you take a look at the portfolio of services offered by one of the hosters in the test. Basically, the offer can be divided into four different categories.

These are:

  • Shared hosting
  • Virtual Private Server or vServer Hosting
  • Dedicated server hosting
  • Cloud hosting

Common to all models is that they draw their capacity from physical servers located in the hosters own data centres or in data centres rented by them. The differences primarily relate to storage capacity, the prior knowledge the customer must have, available speed and reliability.

Shared-Hosting

Shared-hosting is especially suitable for beginners. It is the most cost-effective and at the same time the most popular form of web hosting. Your website project is located here on a single server with numerous other websites of other customers. 

Accordingly, your project shares the available power and capacity of this server, i.e. CPU, data transfer volume and RAM, with those of other hosting customers. You share the costs with the other customers for provisioning and maintaining this server. This means that shared hosting is usually much less expensive than other hosting options.

Despite the shared hardware, thanks to partitioning of the hard disk storage, largely shielded projects of different customers can be operated. As a rule, you book a certain hard disk capacity at a fixed price. This capacity is then exclusively available to you and your project. 

However, if your project grows, it may not be scalable. Short contract periods and notice periods or the possibility to upgrade to a larger service package are therefore recommended.

There is no possibility of root access (access with administrator authorization), which allows you to make adjustments and settings on the server yourself. The freedom of action is limited accordingly, the capacity is not flexibly scalable. 

Access to your own website is of course always possible in this variant as well. Sometimes it can happen, however, that the project of a customer, with whom you share your server, temporarily takes up a lot of capacity, and your website is accordingly less available.

The advantages of shared hosting summarized:

  • Cost-effective
  • Does not require technical know-how
  • Webhoster takes care of maintenance, repair and updates

The disadvantages compared to other hosting variants:

  • No root access
  • Rather unsuitable for heavily frequented websites
  • Performance degradation when visitors from other customer Web sites burden the server
  • Limited management and setting options

This solution is therefore particularly suitable for beginners who have only rudimentary IT knowledge. However, it should be noted that even professional websites with a moderate number of visitors can be reliably and easily hosted with this solution.

Virtual-Private-Server-Hosting (VPS)

As with shared hosting, you share a physical server system with other customers when hosting on a virtual private server, VPS or virtual server or vServer for short. These solutions are on the advance and are gradually replacing the traditional shared hosting variants.

In this model, multiple virtual operating systems or CPU instances run in parallel on one server. Your data is distributed to all or at least some of these instances. So you get a dedicated area on the server that you don’t have to share with other people. Another part of the server remains “common property”. These capacities are flexibly allocated to the projects you need. 

However, in this model, fewer customers share a server than in the shared hosting model. This means that all resources, i.e. bandwidth, computing time and RAM, are always distributed flexibly and fairly among all customers. The virtual servers are encapsulated and act independently of each other like several independent root servers. This allows you flexible and individual settings and increases security.

The advantages of virtual server hosting:

  • Assured computing power and consistent performance
  • Webhoster takes over server maintenance
  • Root access and thus own setting options
  • Flexible allocation of resources

Of course, this variant is not free of disadvantages either:

  • Settings and updates have to be done by the customer himself
  • Incorrect settings can damage security and the system
  • More expensive than shared hosting
  • Minimum level of technical know-how required

This hosting variant is suitable for you if you want more control over the system and settings and want to maintain consistent performance. It is an intermediate level to dedicated server hosting because it requires some technical knowledge, but not as much as hosting with dedicated servers.  This hosting variant is best suited for medium-sized website projects and variable visitor peaks as well as online shops.

managed wordpress hosting

Dedicated-Server-Hosting

Dedicated server hosting is the professional version of web hosting services. Hosting on dedicated servers allows you maximum freedom and flexibility when setting up and designing the server. 

You do not share the capacity of the server with other customers; instead, the physical machine, including all access rights and setting options, is at your disposal. You have full control over the server system and are solely responsible for security. All resources are exclusively intended for your web project.

There are two different models of dedicated server hosting:

  • Managed Server: Maintenance and security of the server are in the hands of the host, but the user has full root access.
  • Root server: The customer takes care of all administrative tasks and has full root access.

The advantages of this model are numerous:

  • Maximum flexibility
  • Full capacity for a project without resource sharing
  • Server software of your choice
  • Full administration rights
  • Safety standards can be defined in-house

However, there are also some disadvantages:

  • Most cost-intensive hosting variant
  • Updates must be carried out by the customer himself
  • Time consuming setup
  • Customer needs expert knowledge to operate the system safely

Long-term commitment to a hosting providerThe rental of a dedicated server therefore needs to be carefully considered and is not worthwhile for the operation of small websites or medium-sized online shops. 

It is only when you have an online shop with a monthly turnover of several thousand Dollars or when the success of your web project depends largely on extremely short loading times that it is worth thinking about this solution. The support of such a server requires competent staff.
Dedicated servers are also used in the gaming sector as they ensure a direct and permanent connection to the Internet.

Cloud-Hosting

cloud computingCloud hosting has been gaining in popularity in recent years. The data and applications are not located on a single physical server, but on several server systems connected in series. This means that practically unlimited resources are available that can handle high traffic peaks and large visitor volumes without any problems. 

Cloud hosting therefore always offers sufficient resources to avoid performance losses. Spot technical failures of a server no longer play a role in cloud hosting. Anyone who attaches increased importance to the continuous availability of their web presence is well advised to use this model. 

This method can also score points with maximum scalability: If your Internet project grows, the server capacity grows with it. The invoice is based on actual use. Cloud hosting accordingly raises the principle of virtual servers to the next level.

The advantages are:

  • Unlimited resources available
  • Performance flexibly adapted to demand
  • Price model according to actual demand
  • Maximum reliability
  • Easy restore of backups
  • Server is quickly up and running

But here, too, there are disadvantages:

  • No or only limited root access for configuration
  • More expensive than simpler models
  • Data security doubtful, as storage locations are sometimes abroad
  • Dependent on large data centers

Cloud hosting is a worthwhile alternative for fast growing and large website projects where maximum availability is a must. Above all, online shops and websites with high and fluctuating visitor numbers benefit from the scalable and flexible performance. 

However, care must be taken with regard to data security. You should check in advance where the data centers that house the servers that make up the cloud structure are located. At best, all servers are located in your country or at least continent.

What is important when choosing a webhoster?

question hostingAnyone wishing to take advantage of a web hosting service can choose not only from a wide range of providers, but also from the various tariff packages that are offered. So it is hardly surprising that choosing a service is anything but easy.

1. Where is the server located?

A data center located in your country means not only security with regard to data protection, but also a higher speed of data delivery. It is advisable to check the ping, i.e. the response time of the provider’s Internet connection, and the loading time of a website in advance. The response time of the server should be less than 200 milliseconds. Note that short response times have a positive effect on the search engine ranking of your website.

2. What security measures and updates are included?

The hosting plan should include separate, isolated accounts, firewalls, an integrated backup feature and, unless you choose a dedicated hosting plan, automatic content management system updates.

3. How good is the support?

A reliable, fast and competent support is very important for a service like webhosting. An at least English speaking support should be available. If the operator of a hobby site is still able to cope with the fact that he has to wait some time for the solution of his problem in case of a malfunction, this means a catastrophe for tradesmen, because angry customers and loss of turnover threaten. 

Since problems are rarely based on office hours, the hoster should offer 24/7 support. It is highly recommended to contact support with a question before signing a contract and test it in this way.

4. Is the data transfer volume limited?

The web hosting price should absolutely include a traffic flat rate, so that there is no restriction regarding the data transfer volume. This is the only way to reliably calculate the upcoming costs in advance. With most providers, a flat rate is already included in the cheapest rates.

5. Traffic

Traffic in the context of web hosting does not mean the number of visitors to a website. In this context, it refers to the volume of data that is transferred when a website is accessed. It should be noted that the amount of data varies depending on the element. For example, a picture or a video generates more traffic than a text page.

6. How high is the server uptime?

Webhosters advertise all their tariffs with very high availability figures. Of course, the higher the availability, the better.

If you want to set up a profitable e-commerce business, you can hardly afford any downtime. If an availability of 99.9 percent seems convincing, it should be borne in mind that this already means a downtime of 10.1 minutes per week, 43.2 minutes per month and an impressive 8.76 hours per year. 

Even an availability of 99.99 percent means that the server cannot be reached for about one minute a week, 4.32 minutes a month and 52.56 minutes a year. So don’t be blinded: Between 99 and 99.999 percent lie numerous hours in reality.

7. What’s in it and what’s possible?

Of course, there are a number of other aspects that are important or less important depending on the size and nature of the web project and the webmaster’s personal preferences.

The following questions may need to be asked:

  • How much web space is included and how much do I need?
  • How many domains and subdomains are included?
  • Which programming languages are supported?
  • How many databases (mySQL) are available?
  • How many e-mail inboxes and which transfer protocols are there?
  • Is the number of installed programs limited?
  • What about the contract period and notice period?
  • Is the tariff extendable?
  • Are e-commerce services for creating an online shop included?
  • Which CRMs or which homepage construction kits are included?
  • Which payment methods does the hoster accept?

If you want to publish long blog texts on your homepage, you naturally have completely different demands on the scope of a web hosting service than a medium-sized e-commerce company. 

However, every web hosting package should meet the following minimum requirements:

  • One gigabyte of web space
  • A domain
  • PHP capability
  • At least one MySQL database
  • Minimum 99.9 percent availability
  • Traffic flatrate
  • FTP access
  • Reliable service

Which additional features should be available?

After the registration and the conclusion of the contract, you will receive the necessary access codes to log in via the website of the host and to edit your web space. 

There are several ways to access the web space:

  • Web browser access
  • Access via WebFTP
  • Various FTP clients
  • WebDAV Interface

The web space contains various software components, settings options, and content management systems or homepage construction kits that you can use to design your website.

1. Content Management Systems (CMS)

Who does not want to operate with a homepage construction kit or exclusively with SQL databases, gets in his web space on the rented server usually access to common content management systems (CMS). 

These make it possible to equip a website with text and multimedia content. With the CMS, even inexperienced users without programming or HTML knowledge can easily design their own website.

Among the best known CMS belong:

  • WordPress
  • Joomla
  • Typo3
  • Drupal

2. Can it be any simpler? Homepage building kits, or Theme

Homepage kits are a special form of Web CMS. In contrast to conventional CMS, they offer a particularly intuitive and user-friendly interface, where users can usually add prefabricated elements to their website via drag-and-drop.

Online shop systems are a special form of homepage construction kits. With them, the functional scope is only extended by special shop functions. This includes, among other things, creating product selections and prices, setting up a shopping basket, designing the payment page and implementing a search and filter function.

3. Simply more professional: e-mail hosting

Anyone who has become the proud owner of a domain with the web hosting package can usually create a personalized e-mail address. This is done by the mail host who provides the storage space for e-mails. 

Especially for operators of online shops, but also for other contact offers, personalized e-mail addresses are a real benefit. They appear more professional, more serious and more trustworthy. Free hosting offers do not include this feature.

4. Additional storage in the cloud

In addition to storage space for website-relevant data, many web hosting packages include cloud storage. You can use this to store any files such as Office files, music, photos or videos.

5. Analysis tools for optimization

Statistical tools are usually also available in web space. You can use them to record how many visitors have viewed your pages, how long they have been on the page, which elements they have clicked on and which device they have used to visit the page. 

This data is a valuable basis for a targeted optimization of the website. For example, if a lot of people visit your site via mobile devices, you will immediately know where it is worth optimizing the content.

6. Direct data upload with FTP programs

FTP clients allow files to be transferred over IP networks. Using special FTP software, you can upload and download files to the web server, rename files, or delete them. As a user with FTP access, you also benefit from the ability to quickly and easily place and manage files in an existing directory structure.

The following FTP programs use numerous web hosting services:

  • FileZilla
  • Transmit
  • Cyberduck
  • SmartFTP
  • WinSCP

7. Is the domain included?

Webspace is not everything. To enable Internet users to find and access your website in the first place, they need an address: the domain. A web hosting package usually includes a domain with which you can make your website accessible to visitors. In principle, you can choose the domain yourself, but you should check in advance on the web host’s homepage whether your desired domain is still available.

The domain extension, i.e. the component after the last point, is also called the top-level domain (TLD). Common examples are .com or .net. The character and/or letter sequence before it is called second-level domain. In this case is the second-level domain, “com” the top-level domain, “www” the subdomain and “compare” a directory.

In addition to the typical country codes in the TLD, the competent authority, ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers), has approved 1,400 new TLDs. These describe topics or geographical regions such as “.berlin”, “.business” or “.forum”. If you want to secure a specific TLD for your web project, you should make sure that the web host of your choice offers it.

The domain registration is usually done by the webhoster for you. However, before booking a web hosting package, you should check how many domains and how many subdomains it contains. The more subdomains there are, the clearer the user can structure the page and the higher its searchability in the search engines will be. 

If you already have a domain, you should find out whether the web host of your choice allows the connection of external domains and whether it ideally even offers a relocation service.

8. Is free web space worth it?

In addition to the paid web hosting services, there are also numerous free offers. The free web hosting providers advertise not only with free hosting, but also with a simple user interface and strong backlinks. This may sound tempting, but such offers naturally have one or the other catch.

Usually either hidden costs or various restrictions lurk here. This is often revealed by a glance at the small print. In most cases, the free providers finance themselves by advertising on their customers’ websites. This is not only annoying, but also deeply dubious with commercial sites. Often the web space is limited to only a few megabytes, so that you cannot equip your website with many pictures or videos. Sometimes even certain file types are excluded from uploading.

Traffic is also affected by limitations. After exceeding a certain data transfer volume, a throttling of the loading speed often starts, or there are even costs per opened gigabyte of traffic. The support offered by free providers, if any, is very rudimentary.
Another important disadvantage is that free providers generally do not issue fully-fledged domains, but only manage their customer’s website under a subdomain of their own domain.

The disadvantages of free hosting offers summarized:

  • Unwanted advertising banners
  • No user defined banners possible
  • Low storage capacity
  • Exclusion of certain file types
  • No full domain
  • Limitation of traffic
  • No or only rudimentary support

Given that shared hosting packages are already available for a few Dollars per month, free web hosting is hardly a serious alternative.

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