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What is web hosting?

Futuristic Data Center Server Room
(Image credit: Getty Images)

When you build a website, as well as using one of the best website builders, you'll also need to utilize the best web hosting (opens in new tab) for it to run smoothly online. But what is web hosting (opens in new tab)?

Most businesses need an office; all websites need web hosting, as without it they can't be based on the internet. Web hosting is a service whereby you pay a web host, and they provide you with resources that you'll need to run your website on the internet. 

These resources depend on the type of hosting you go for, and the price you pay. You're given access to a certain amount, and it usually concerns storage space and network bandwidth, which are allocated on one or more physical servers in a data center owned by the web hosting provider of your choice.

A wide variety of web hosting services are available, from free hosting all the way up to enterprise-level packages, and depending on the technical requirements of your site, and your own personal technical knowledge, you can pay for and use these to access adequate site resources for your website.

Below, we'll walk you through everything you need to know, so that you can then make the correct choice for your site's web hosting.

Take a look at our video below for a quick primer on what web hosting is, and what you need to know!

What is web hosting?

A website needs resources to stay online. These resources include such things as storage space for the site’s content, and network bandwidth to let visitors smoothly access it. While the storage makes sure that you have enough space to store all your site’s files, bandwidth is the capacity of data that can be transferred between the website and its users. 

The resources are obtained from a server—which is really just a powerful computer that’s connected to the internet at all times. Typically, a web hosting provider will have a large number of servers spread across one or more remote data centers. Depending on the plan you go for, the provider will allocate a set amount of resources on these servers for your website to use.

Web hosting: free or paid?

row of server units

Web hosting resources are hosted on servers in data centers across the world (Image credit: Image Credit: RAID)

A question that a lot of budding website owners seem to ask is whether they should invest in a paid web hosting provider, or just choose a free one. Free web hosting services are indeed available, but they are limited in nature and often come with certain strings attached. 

Mostly, they are a way for a web hosting provider to advertise their more powerful paid hosting plans. For example, free web hosting will often limit the amount of storage space you can use or the number of visitors who can access your website in a given month. Services may even display intrusive advertisements on your website. 

These things can greatly impact the functioning of a professional site, which is why the best free web hosting (opens in new tab) is only recommended when you are working on a personal project with no financial implications. If, however, you are using your website for professional or business purposes, a paid hosting plan is a must-have.

What are the different types of web hosting?

a series of servers and their cabling

There are a wide range of types of web hosting available (Image credit: Unsplash)

There are different types of web hosting services available in the market. They differ in aspects such as server speed, disk space, network bandwidth, and various secondary features. Depending on your specific circumstances, you can choose a plan with the resources that fit your needs and budget. Below are a few common forms of web hosting.

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Shared hosting is a type of web hosting where a single server is shared by hundreds of websites. Because the servers are shared, their resources are divided between multiple websites, and result in lower server speed and higher response times. This is good for small websites, but established businesses and professionals will probably require something more powerful.

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VPS hosting (opens in new tab), via a virtual private server (VPS (opens in new tab)), is a virtual section with set resources created within a physical server. Unlike shared hosting, each server is divided into only a few virtual servers and shared between five or 10 different websites. This reduces server load, and gives each website ample resources to function. Virtual servers are therefore costlier than shared servers.

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Dedicated hosting (opens in new tab) is the most expensive form of web hosting, in which a single site takes up an entire server. This ensures that the maximum amount of resources are available at all times for exclusive use by the website. Dedicated hosting is only necessary for very large sites that boast a huge audience.

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Cloud hosting (opens in new tab) is a new form of web hosting where a single site is hosted across multiple virtual servers, so it continues to function even when one server goes down. This ensures that your website is guaranteed maximum uptime.

Who are the best web hosting providers?

Hostinger logo

Hostinger is among the top web hosting providers (Image credit: Hostinger)

There are several tens, if not hundreds, of web hosting providers vying for space in the website industry. Because of the sheer number of options available, choosing the right hosting provider can prove quite challenging. We outline our top picks in our guide to the best web hosting (opens in new tab) services, but here's a summary of the top web hosts in the market right now to make your search a little easier.

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Based in Europe with more than 30 million users, Hostinger (opens in new tab) provides powerful yet affordable web hosting options across different price ranges. It has data centers in the USA, UK, Singapore, Lithuania, and the Netherlands. Learn more about the company in our interview (opens in new tab) with CMO Daugirdas Jankus.

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Hostwinds (opens in new tab) is the leading web host when it comes to dedicated hosting, and it offers powerful configurations for both general and high-demand users. Across its range of highly-customizable hosting products, Hostwinds is a great option for businesses looking to scale up their website, and even its cheapest packages are packed with strong features.

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Namecheap's (opens in new tab) range of cost-effective web hosting plans don't compromise on quality, and it offers hosting for WordPress, resellers, VPS, and dedicated servers, as well as shared hosting plans. Starting at $2.88 a month, most plans have limitless features, ranking it among the best unlimited web hosting (opens in new tab), while it also offers beginner-friendly, knowledgeable support.

What kind of web hosting is right for you?

Generally speaking, the three things to look out for in any great web hosting provider—apart from storage and bandwidth—are server speeds, uptime guarantees, and customer support. 

A good web host will always offer great speeds and reliable uptime, along with dedicated round-the-clock customer support. You should generally look for at least 99.9% uptime and 24/7 customer support from all hosting providers.

When choosing the right web hosting provider and plan, you have to keep in mind both short-term functioning and long-term scalability. Some hosting providers are easier to upgrade and transfer out of than others. Some even offer dedicated upgrade options and website migration tools. 

However, no one web hosting company will be able to offer you a great deal in all these aspects, especially if you have budget constraints. This is where you will have to prioritize based on your business’s needs. As long as you stick to a reputable provider, however, you shouldn’t run into any issues.

Further reading on web hosting and website builders

Once you've created a site with one of the best website builders (opens in new tab), discover the common mistakes to avoid when choosing your web hosting provider (opens in new tab); how your web hosting impacts security (opens in new tab); our comparison of managed vs unmanaged hosting (opens in new tab); and the five best anonymous hosting (opens in new tab) solutions to protect your privacy.

Ritoban Mukherjee is a freelance journalist from West Bengal, India. His work has been published on Tom's Guide, TechRadar, Creative Bloq, IT Pro Portal, Gizmodo, Medium, and Mental Floss. Ritoban is also a member of the National Association of Science Writers.