Hosting a website is like walking a tightrope, as there are lots of variables involved. You have to make sure your website’s always accessible yet affordable, low maintenance yet scalable. Get the balance right and you’ve got yourself a perfect website.
And it all starts with where and how you host your website. Broadly speaking, you can either host a website yourself, which is popularly referred to as self-hosting, or pay someone else and use their web hosting platform to host your website. For all intents and purposes though, self-hosting doesn’t make much sense these days.
Why self-hosting isn’t worth it
Technically, you can host a website from within your own computer. However, just because it can be done, doesn’t mean it should.
Sure, self-hosting puts you in complete control over the hosting environment. It’s your computer and you can power your website on top of any software stack that catches your fancy. In fact, it is this absolute control that makes self-hosting an infeasible option.
Even before you get down to installing your software stack, you’ll need to make sure your web server has a constant power supply, with appropriate power backups in case of outages. You’ll also need a static IP address from your ISP, since most assign one dynamically that changes every time you reset the router.
Since there’s no one else to setup, configure, and maintain the web server for you, you’ll need to have the technical know-how to not just install the hosting infrastructure, but also to punch holes in your firewall to allow incoming traffic from the Internet to reach your self-hosted website.
Even if you are willing to go through all this trouble to set up your web host, you’ll still not be able to send email. That’s because virtually all ISPs block outgoing traffic over port 25 in an effort to discourage spammers.
As you can see, self-hosting a website brings with it a lot of inconveniences. Besides, server maintenance and monitoring is an always-on task that requires specialized skills and if not done well, could turn off your visitors.
All things considered, self-hosting is good for small in-house project teams for collaborating on projects internally, but it is definitely not worth the hassle for hosting a publicly accessible website.
Things you need to host a website
Hopefully by now you’re convinced that if you’re seriously interested in hosting a website, you’ll be better off using the services of a hosting provider.
The hosting providers essentially offer web servers as a service. They offer you everything you need to host your website, usually in the form of easy to use tools, while taking away the complexities of maintaining all the technical infrastructure starting with the web server.
But before you get to that part, you’ll first need a domain name, which is the address of your website, such as techradar.com. Here’s our guide that’ll equip you with everything you need to know about domain names. The good news is that many hosting providers will also offer to register domain names and perhaps even offer a discount if you register your domain with them.
Types of hosting platforms
The thing you need to know about hosting platforms is that there are several types, each with their pros and cons.
The most basic is Shared Hosting. With this type of hosting, you and other website owners are given access to the same physical server. Essentially you are all sharing the same hardware resources, though of course you each have your own separate accounts.
The biggest advantage of shared hosting is its affordability, since the hosting provider can divide the cost of maintaining the server between you and the other website owners. On the downside though, shared hosting offers a limited amount of resources. To guarantee the same level of service to all its customers, shared hosting providers usually have a stringent cap on resources such as the CPU, physical memory, and bandwidth.
On the other side of the spectrum is Dedicated Server Hosting. As the name suggests, this type of hosting offers you an entire server for yourself. You won't be sharing the server or any of its resources with anyone, and you’ll get it entirely to yourself.
Dedicated hosting gives you more control and you can configure everything on the server as per your requirements. But this also means that you have to take care of all the technical tasks that the hosting provider would’ve handled for you in shared hosting. That said, some providers do offer managed hosting, but these would cost you more money, and kind of defeat the whole purpose of dedicated hosting.
In between the two, is what is known as a Virtual Private Server or VPS Hosting. Thanks to the joys of virtualization, the service provider divides the big server into smaller, isolated, virtual servers. Each unit functions independently of each other, thus giving the illusion of a dedicated server.
The advantages of VPS hosting is that you get better and more reliable performance than on a shared host. The server is also customizable enough and easy to scale.
On the flip side, management of a VPS is similar to a dedicated host. You'll have to take care of technical tasks related to the server yourself. However, many hosting providers offer the option of choosing a fully managed VPS hosting plan, which takes most of the mundane maintenance tasks away from you.
In a snap, with VPS hosting you get top notch web hosting functionality at a far lower price than a dedicated server. Most people start with shared or VPS hosting and upgrade later as their business grows. Dedicated hosting, on the other hand, is the ideal choice for websites with very large bandwidth and storage requirements.
Type of website
Before you choose a hosting plan, once again, take a step back and think about the type of website you want to host. Generally speaking, websites can be divided into two broad categories.
The simplest are the Static websites. These are usually hand-coded in HTML or using the help of a web design software such as Blocs, Rapidweaver, and Pinegrow Web Editor, before being uploaded to the hosting provider’s server. They are called static because everytime you need to make any changes, you’ll have to implement them on your computer and then re-upload the edited HTML file.
Static websites are simpler to design, and cheaper to maintain. However, not only do they offer limited functionality, they also make some common online tasks more difficult to implement, particularly handling transactions, or interacting with your visitors.
Then there are Dynamic websites. In addition to HTML, this type of website makes use of scripts to generate and update content as required (hence dynamic). Dynamic websites are usually powered by content management systems (CMS) like WordPress, and Joomla. You can interact with and influence the website using their CMS’s and help simplify some of the complex but essential online tasks, which would have been nearly impossible with static websites.
Before you choose the type of hosting, know that both types of websites have their own technical requirements. For instance, a WordPress site will have different requirements than a static website, or even a website that processes payments. It’s a good idea to spend some time thinking about how you plan to build your website, which will help you zero in on the correct hosting platform for you.
Features to look for
Once you know the type of hosting platform that’ll best work for you, it’s time to shop for the right hosting provider. There’s no dearth of hosting providers, but they all differ in terms of the price and the services offered. The features are important because there’s more to web hosting than just making your website available online, which is why the good hosting providers pack in a lot of other essential services.
In our opinion, the best way to judge a good host isn't solely on price. Instead there are several other parameters on which you can grade them and we’ll run through some that we consider as the most essential:
Bandwidth: Unless you are hosting a personal website or an online resume that’ll be visited rarely, you should take some time to estimate the amount of bandwidth for your website. While you can start with the lowest tier plans of most hosting providers, if you plan to host a media intensive website with lots of multimedia content, you’ll need a large amount of bandwidth even to begin with.
Scalability: In addition to thinking about the current requirements of your website, you should also take some time to think ahead. If you do a good job, your website will soon attract more visitors. You should look for hosts that can accommodate your growing requirements, both in terms of storage (as you upload more content) and in terms of bandwidth (to serve the growing number of visitors) and preferably charge on a pay-as-you-go basis.
Content delivery network (CDN): Again, depending on the type of website you plan to host, a hosting provider that has a built-in CDN will help you deliver your content faster. This is even more essential for websites that aren’t tied to a particular geography and are serving content to a worldwide audience. If you are new to CDNs, here’s our guide to help you get started: What is a CDN?
Linux or Windows server: Most web hosting providers offer Linux and Windows servers. Choosing the right one for your website doesn’t depend on which of these operating systems you are running on your desktop. Instead, as a general rule of thumb, you should only opt for Windows hosting if your website requires Windows frameworks such as ASP.NET, MS SQL, IIS web server, and such. For every other kind of website, we’d suggest you go with Linux hosting.
Website builder: Web hosting providers have a handful of assistive tools and control panels like cPanel and Plesk to help you with managing your website. One such helpful tool can be one of the best website builder software platforms. In case you haven’t heard of website builders, here’s everything you need to know about them: What is a website builder? If you are planning to develop your website on your own, look for a provider that offers the use of an online website builder, to make the task easier.
SSL certificates: One of our primary reasons for discouraging self-hosting is security. The web hosting provider will take all the necessary steps to ensure the security of their web server, thereby protecting your website. On the other hand, an SSL certificate will help ensure the security of any information shared between you and your visitors. This includes everything from login information to credit card details. SSL certificates have become an essential feature of hosting a website as we’ve explained in our guide What is a SSL Certificate?, which is why you should look for hosting providers that can help you procure one.
Automated backups: We are strong advocates of taking regular backups, whether it is your personal computer or your website. The web hosting providers take adequate measures to protect against all kinds of risks. But in case of an unplanned calamity, you should always have a recent version of your website backed up that you can revert to. The good hosting providers often offer to take automated backups at least once every 24 hours, saving you the trouble of having to create and implement a backup policy for your website.
Email services: Many web hosting providers don’t include an email address in their starter packs, while others will throw in one. If you need more email addresses make sure you subscribe to the appropriate plan. Also note that some hosting providers offer email as an add-on feature, which gets you a lot more addresses and several other email-related features as well such as spam protection.
Domain name registration: While it isn’t an essential feature, registering your domain name with your hosting provider enables you to manage them both from the same interface.
Now that you know what’s involved in hosting a website, head over to our list of the best web hosting providers and pick one that best meets your requirements.