A web hosting service is a company that manages servers. When you sign up for a hosting plan, you are paying them for the right to use one of their machines.
For your website to work, you need a place to keep your websites files, and you need a way for people to download and view those files. This is what a server does. A server is a specialized computer that stores (hosts) your website’s files and sends (serves) them to people who visit your site. A server can be just about any computer with an Internet connection. In fact, you can use your home computer as a server. However, there are all sorts of risks involved with using a personal computer for web hosting, and this is where web hosting services come in.
Web hosting is a massive industry. With hundreds of millions of websites currently online, people all over the planet are finding themselves diving into a strange new world of technology that they’ve never explored before. It can be confusing and intimidating at first, and many people never quite grasp what hosting is all about, what it does for them, or how it affects them.
For any website to be available for viewing on the World Wide Web, it has to be on a computer that is connected to the Internet. The computer your site is on is known as its host. The host can be any computer at all, anywhere in the world. Your computer at home can host your website, if you want. You could also use a computer in your office, in a warehouse, or even in a shed. All you need for the host are
- An Internet connection
- A dedicated IP address
Each computer or device that connects to the Internet has an IP address. This address is unique and allows other computers on the Internet to find you. It’s just as unique as the street address of your house. Most homes and even some businesses have a dynamically allocated IP address, which means that their Internet Service Provider (ISP) allocates the person or business an IP address each time a connection is made to the Internet. The IP address could be different for every connection.
You are also paying for the benefit of having professionals take care of the computer that holds all of your valuable website files. A good web host also ensures that their servers have up-to-date software, constant power, and regularly scheduled backups.
- The server is the computer where you put your website files
- You host your website on a server
- The hosting service is the company that manages that server
- The terms hosting service and web host usually mean the same thing
The Types of Web Hosting
In general, there are three kinds of hosting: shared, dedicated, and VPS.
You should know heading in to this section that shared hosting is probably going to be your best choice. Most beginners will never need dedicated or VPS services, but it’s still good to understand how they work.
Shared hosting means that you share a server with other customers. One server is split up into a bunch of virtual partitions, with each hosting account being assigned to a particular partition.
Shared hosting plans are cheap (starting at around a few dollars a month) and easy to use. Most shared hosting plans are very full-featured and allow you to host unlimited websites.
The biggest issue with shared hosting is the “shared” part. Since you’re splitting server resources with other customers, your site’s performance can vary due to activity of other sites on your server. If a site from a different account experiences a sudden spike in traffic, you might notice slower page loads for a short period of time.
Most hosting companies have countermeasures in place that prevent any one user from hogging all the resources, but it may still be an occasional issue. Additionally, if your site begins receiving tens of thousands of visitors a day, then you may begin to run into some problems on a shared hosting plan. It’s usually easy to upgrade, so this isn’t something you should worry about.
For 90% of websites, shared hosting will be more than sufficient.
With dedicated hosting, you are essentially leasing an entire server from the hosting company. Nobody else will be allowed to use your machine. Your website will load extremely quickly at all times, and unless you are receiving insane amounts of traffic you’ll never have to worry about performance. You will also have the ability to make all sorts of tweaks to how the hardware runs, and you’ll be able to install custom software.
Dedicated servers are good for large companies, high-traffic websites, and complex web applications that need a lot of processing power.
Dedicating hosting is expensive, with most plans starting at around $140 / month, and there is a lot more you need to know about hosting when you’re in charge of your own server. There is very little chance you will need dedicated hosting for your first site.
Virtual Private Server (VPS)
A virtual private server is sort of a halfway point between shared and dedicated hosting. Virtual private servers are created by dividing a single server into a small number of“virtual machines”. These virtual machines behave like individual computers. They have their own memory, operating systems, etc. Even though they all run on a single physical machine, they do not affect one another.
VPS servers are split among a very small number of customers. Shared hosting servers will usually have a much larger number of users on the same machine.
As with dedicated servers, VPS hosting is not necessary for the majority of new websites.
Web Hosting Companies
With thousands of web hosting companies in the market it can be difficult if not impossible to know which web site hosting companies truly provide an excellent hosting solution at an excellent price. When you have an established domain name with a good web hosting company, you can get reports on your traffic and which of your pages your customers are visiting most often, as well as many other statistics.
Your web host will charge you a fee for monthly service that ranges from $10 or $20 to the more expensive $50.00 per month. Plan to pay between $300 and $500 per year to your web host.
Always avoid free or very inexpensive web hosting services, because you may experience bouts of server downtimes and you are likely to have significant limitations in storage, number of email addresses, FTP upload etc.
Be sure your web host can accommodate e-commerce and storefronts, wireless capability, bogs, forums, chats, online interactive helps and anything else you want to add onto your site.
Estimate what your growth needs are and ensure that this web host can serve you as you grow. The last thing you want to do is change host mid way unless you absolutely have to do so.
Check your bandwidth capability to be sure that, if your website traffic grows rapidly, your customers will not have to wait to download or view information. Three things to look for in a web hosting company are:
- Excellent Customer Support: Your hosting provider should be there for you 24/7 and give you instant access to the technicians you need to solve your problem. Ask them how long it takes for them to typically respond to your problem. A good test is to call them in the mid night to check if you get to a live, level 3 support.
- A Sound Infrastructure: Check whether they offer a multi-homed network powered by multiple bandwidth providers to ensure redundancy. Some offer a 100% guarantee on its network availability or network uptime.
- Financial Stability: If you're running very critical operations, you can't afford to be with a hosting company that may not be in business in a few months.
Web Site Hosting Agreement
Not all items are relevant in all contractual situations. In some situations, other provisions may be appropriate that are not listed below. The following checklist is, however, a basic and general guide as to what provisions it may be important to include, or at least consider, in the Web Site Hosting Agreement that you enter into. This document is not intended to substitute for legal advice nor legal wording provided by a competent advisor in the relevant legal jurisdiction.
Title of contractIdentity of the parties
- Individuals or business entities
- If businesses, what type? (partnership, corporation, LLC, etc.)
- Name of person signing on behalf of the business
- Signer’s official title
- Does he or she have authority to bind the business?
Addresses of the parties
General purpose of Web Hosting Agreement
- Who owns the copyrights? Make sure all parties with rights that are affected are made parties to the Agreement.
- Generally describe the service to be provided such as locating the web site on the host’s server and making it available to Internet users.
- Describe the general business of the pages to be hosted. What is the scope of that page?
- Describe the URL locations of the various pages.
- How much server space is being made available? This may tie into pricing of monthly hosting fee. Attach schedule of fees by allocated disc space.
- Is there a dedicated bandwidth requirement? How much bandwidth is available?
- Is there a requirement that the server be a certain type? (UNIX, etc.)
- Is there a warranty that server software be kept up to date?
- If web design is also included in services under this agreement or a separate agreement, is copyright license tied to continued hosting?
- Is there a warranty regarding minimum hosting speed? Is T1 required?
- Is there a limit on T1 and bandwidth sharing?
- Are there standards for permitted downtime of server? Is periodic maintenance and backup downtime provided for? Are there required response times if there is a server problem?
- What are required hours of operation and customer support hours?
- Are mirror sites required/permitted? If so, what server can they be on? Separate server/location?
- What are backup responsibilities? How frequent? Where must backups be stored?
- Does client have FTP access, secured or otherwise? Is host liability limited? What policies and procedures apply of client has FTP access? Must client notify host of new material on server?
- Can owner access the site to make changes? Is access secure, password protected, etc.?
- Are E-Mail Accounts included? How many? Web based?
Other Services of Hosting Company
- Web Development
- Email Accounts
- Search Engine Placement
- Monitoring and Reporting
- Store Fronts
- E-Commerce Solutions
- Credit Card/Merchant Accounts
- Links and Advertising
Responsibilities of Client
- Any restrictions regarding content? Adult sites, obscene materials, any other materials?
- Limit to specific site presented for hosting?
- To assure that material does not infringe?
- Assure material not illegal.
- Acknowledge host policies such as anti-spamming, bulk mail marketing, etc.
- Does host have the right to monitor site reserved?
Copyright and Digital Millennium Act compliance
- Client should represent and warrant that the material to be hosted does not infringe on the proprietary rights of any other party.
- Is host held harmless?
- Does client acknowledge Digital Millennium Act procedures? If claimed infringement, contract should state that host gets the right to shut the site down.
- Specifically prohibit infringing material to be located on the site and make it grounds for termination of hosting agreement.
Term and termination
- Is there a defined term to the Agreement?
- Can client transport their site upon termination? Who owns the copyright to the site? Issues if host also developed web site.
- Can agreement be terminated before end of term without cause?
- Under what circumstances can agreement be terminated with cause? Default
- Even before termination, can client transport site to another host?
- How does termination tie in with hosting fee?
- Is there an early termination fee or penalty?
- When does the term commence? Immediately? Upon delivery of Web Site? If also developing site, upon substantial completion of site? Or does hosting fee commence during development?
Compensation – Hosting fees
- What is fee structure for hosting and other services.
- Hosting fee limited to hosting services? Other services require separate fee or included within hosting fee?
- What are payment terms? Monthly in advance? Form of payment?
- Does payment vary depending upon disc space, dedicated bandwidth, etc.?
- How long does fee last? Can it be changed during the term? Does it escalate upon renewal?
- Can page be shut down if hosting fee is not paid? Hold harmless from business losses to client if page is shut down for non-payment?
Warranties of Host
- Are warranties limited to those specifically made under agreement?
- Are other warranties disclaimed? Incidental and consequential damages disclaimer? Warranties of merchantability and fitness for a particular purpose?
- Limit possible damages to cost paid for hosting service.
- Attorneys fees
- Modification of Agreement
- Time of the Essence
- Necessary Acts and Further Assurances
- Specific Performances
- Representation on Authority of Parties
- Force Majeure
- Company seal
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