Hosting a Website

In its simplest form, hosting a website just means two things. 1) Providing a server to house the files that make your website work, and 2) providing internet bandwidth that allows your website to be seen by the rest of the world. The majority of the 100,000[1] new sites that went up today, were done in a “shared” environment where there may be hundreds of other websites on the same server as yours.

Lets discuss each in just a little detail, so those without the background can at least get an idea.

A web site can be as simple as just a single file. This file has some HTML instructions in it that define what the web page will look like and what it will say. If we want it to look pretty, we can add some CSS instructions to a separate file, as well as some graphics files. So, to host all of this, there must be some space on a hard disk on a server. The server then gets requests from the world to view your page(s). When those requests come in, the server replies with all the different files that make up a single page.

We just mentioned above that there is a request and a reply. These communications protocols are known as HTTP and that is were the bandwidth portion comes in. Most the computers in the world are connected together by the internet and for web services that is the HTTP protocol. There is also HTTPS where the 'S' is for a secure connection. All of these “protocols” travel over a circuit, commonly copper wire or optical fiber. You may have DSL or Cable at the house. Businesses that are setup to do Hosting will commonly have the optical fiber as that allows for the highest communications capacities.

So, what does the Hosting Service provide then? Well, we have seen that there is a server for the files and requests and one or more data circuits to handle the web traffic. Additionally, the Hosting Service is providing power (usually redundant) to the servers so they can run 24 hours a day. Air Conditioning (usually redundant) so they don't overheat. And personnel to watch over them. The Operations people should be making sure that all the latest security patches have been applied at the level of the server itself in the case of shared hosting services.

We have just seen a little bit of what it takes to host a really simple website. What if your site is bigger, or more complex? Then what is entailed? Well in most cases, you want the hosting service to be “full service”. That means that they are also taking care of you email and your DNS. It is best if they also provide some kind of Control Panel so that you can get to your site and make your own changes instead of having to rely on someone else. This isn't for everyone, so be sure you have the requisite understanding before trying to use a Control Panel instead of calling the support lines.

In addition to the above mentioned basics, a complex website may be dynamic. This means that the server isn't just replying by sending a file, but some logic is occurring at the server and the webpage components are being built by the server for each request. This usually indicates the use of an underlying database.

Here at the WORX, when we want to do Web Hosting we use Hosts of America for our services. They cover all the services I mentioned above and they are local to the Oklahoma Web Design community.

Hopefully, this has brought some level of understanding on your part to the mysteries of “Hosting a Website”

All for now


[1] According to the Netcraft April 2008 Web Server Survey there are over 165 Million websites as of April 2008 of which 3.1 Million are new. That's basically 100,000 new websites every day!!