Web Hosting! With blogging skyrocketing in popularity, web hosting is a buzz word in the world of websites. People have all sorts of questions that can include something as simple as “what is web hosting?” to something more complex like “what are the different types of hosting and their characteristics?”
This particular writeup on web hosting intends to demystify the concept and answer everything people want to know. To understand the concept, I will divide the whole blurb into nine (9) chapters. It is going to be a long read! So, hang on and keep reading. You will get some invaluable information here.
Chapter 1: What is Web Hosting?
When we turn on our computers and fire up a web browser to search for something or go to a particular site like Amazon, eBay, or Google, we don’t think much. We do not think about simple questions like:
- What exactly do we do when we “VISIT” a website?
- Where exactly is that website located?
- Where have we gone?
We just do our business, close the tab, or the whole browser. That’s all! But apart from those basic questions, there are many other lingering ones like:
- What exactly is a website?
- What are the different types of websites?
- Where exactly does a website live?
- What is a web hosting company?
Some of you may already know the answers to these questions, but that will not stop me from answering them anyway. I am in a mood to play the “enlightened teacher” who wants to teach everything!
So, be bored and read!
What Exactly is a Website?
A website can be anything from a content management system to a web application to a collection of pages or documents. These are the three broad categories in which you can divide the websites in this world. However, there will be some overlaps in all categories.
Despite such overlaps, websites follow that loose and broad classification. Strictly speaking, there isn’t any such classification in the first place. This forced categorization helps us understand things clearly.
Let’s look into each of these classifications in detail.
Collection of pages or documents
The first websites that came into existence belonged to this category. Every page of such a website is a separate file that sits in a public-facing directory of a webserver. Public-facing simply means that people across the world can access those files.
For such websites, when you request a web page, your computer’s web browser will be literally downloading that file from the public-facing directory and present it in front of you.
Facebook, Google, your web-based email provider, Twitter – these are all web applications. Even the online games that you play are also web applications.
What are web applications? They are very similar to apps that you install on your smartphones, tablets, and even desktops. Like the files for apps that you install on your device live in your device, the web applications’ files also need a place to live.
That place is none other than the public-facing directory of the webserver. When you use your web browser to access those web applications, the browser will immediately download some of those files and run the application. The browser will also maintain constant communication between your computer and the webserver.
CMS or Content Management System
Content Management System lies somewhere between the first type (collection of pages or documents) and web applications, making them a hybrid thing. They make up a vast majority of websites today.
They use the same technology as used by web applications for simulating the collection of pages or documents. For instance, if you are reading a blog (powered by WordPress), you will not be reading individual pages or documents. Content gets pulled from the database and sent to the web browser as if it were a page or a document.
The web browser will not know the difference. It will serve every blog post as a different page or a document. Now, WordPress isn’t the only CMS out there. There’s Joomla, Drupal, ClassicPress, Ghost, and more. All of them behave the same way.
What you read just now is an overly simplified explanation. There’s much more that goes behind the scene. Unless you are a developer, you don’t need to learn all those things. But there are a few things that you must know. Here are those things:
- You send a request from a web browser on your computer to a website’s server for something. It can be a page, a document, a file needed for running an application, etc. You type in the URL in the address bar or the URL bar of your web browser. The URL that you type is the primary portion of the request you make.
- When the request reaches the server, it pulls out whatever is requested and sends it back. The server may send back a document, an assembled document from the content management system, or the web application’s segment that you requested. Essentially, the web server will respond back with some content or the other.
- When the browser receives the requested content from the server, it displays the same for you to read or use.
How to Run a Website?
If you want to run a website, you will need a computer connected to the Internet. The computer should be capable of receiving requests, retrieve content based on the request, and then send it back to the request origin.
A website server basically refers to two things – a computer where all website files and documents and databases will be stored, and software (known as the webserver) that can read requests and deliver files requested by a user.
In theory, and in practice, you can run a website from your home computer that uses Windows, Linux, or macOS. However, that’s a terrible idea. You should not do that for many reasons.
- You need to set it up (if you want to know how you can read this).
- You need to keep your computer connected to the Internet always. You cannot turn it off.
- Your Internet connection needs to be very high speed Internet.
- Your home computer is underpowered, and it is not designed to handle many requests for a long time. Even your Internet connection is not equipped for that. They both will soon reach their limits and stop working, which in turn will stop the website.
- You need to know how to stop DDoS attacks, hacking attempts, malware injections, etc.
- You might need a static IP that you need to purchase from your ISP.
All these are not suitable for hosting a website from your home computer. If you want to get complete control, instead of hosting your website with a third-party hosting company, you can consider buying a server. However, that will cost you a fortune. Servers are extremely costly, and they need a lot of electrical power to stay operations. Your utility bills will keep escalating fast!
Obviously, you will also need a high-speed Internet connection with a lot of bandwidth. However, that’s a purely foolish and stupid idea. To run a website, you can just use a third-party server and pay only a few dollars per month.
Web Hosting Companies
When I say third-party servers, I am actually referring to web hosting companies. They have all invested a lot of money to purchase servers and high-speed Internet connection with a lot of bandwidth. They have set up those expensive computers to run websites
They have set up firewalls to prevent DDoS attacks, hacking, and malware injections. They take care of updating the software installed on those computers. They have done all the hard work.
If you want to host a website, you can rent a small part of their server or sometimes the entire server depending on your need. You pay monthly rent, and they take care of all technical things to keep their servers updated. You can focus on your website.
To help you out, those companies also offer an assortment of tools that you can use to build, modify, and launch a website.
So your website is not really something surreal. It is a collection of actual files and folders sitting on an actual computer with proper CPU, RAM, etc. That real computer sits physically in a real building.
The computer that hosts your website is not very different from the computer you use at home. The only difference is that it is a lot more powerful. A server can have terabytes of RAM, many CPU cores, and remains connected to very high speed Internet.
**Key Takeaways From the Chapter
Your website is a collection of real files and folders. Those files and folders are kept on a very powerful computer known as a server. The server is present somewhere physically and remains connected to the Internet with high-speed connections.
It is always a good idea to host your website on a third-party server instead of trying to build your own server or hosting your website on your home computer. When you request a website page, you reach the hosting server or the computer where the website files sit.
Chapter 2: Types of Web Hosting
Finding the right web hosting plan can be seriously overwhelming. There are two reasons. First reason – there are 5 broad categories of web hosting. Second reason – web hosting companies will give you a massive list of features, and you will start thinking that you will need all of them.
To minimize the pressure, I will suggest that you try to figure out the type of hosting you need instead of comparing the features offered. Once you figure out the type of hosting for your website, you can always compare the features.
So, let us start demystifying hosting types one at a time.
Shared hosting is the commonest form of hosting you will find. There are hundreds of companies that offer shared hosting. It is, therefore, difficult to figure out which one is the best. Everyone says they the best in business. That’s an impossibility. Not everyone can be the best.
Shared hosting is a type of hosting solution in which one computer or server will be shared by thousands of websites. Because thousands of websites hire a small portion of the server, the web hosting company charges a small price as monthly rent.
Shared hosting is, therefore, the cheapest form of hosting solution.
But what really happens in shared hosting? How does it work?
Well, in a shared hosting platform, thousands of websites are stored in the same drive. The same CPU processes all the websites, and the same web server delivers requests for all websites.
All websites compete for the same finite amount of resources. If one website takes up more resources, the others suffer. That’s the reason why shared hosting services have conditions attached for unmetered bandwidth or unmetered storage. They are not truly unmetered.
They often say that a website should not use more than 25% of the CPU for more than 90 seconds straight. Any website that does so violates their terms and conditions. That’s when the hosting provider is forced to throttle bandwidth for the websites that violate the terms and conditions. Those website accounts may even face suspension without notification.
Of course, a shared hosting server is way more powerful than your home computer, and it can hold and processes thousands of websites at once without any problem. As long as the websites are not too popular and don’t use excessive resources on the server, it is all fine.
Here’s why shared hosting is not great for popular sites
If you have a popular site, especially one that runs on a CMS or Content Management System, shared hosting isn’t for you. Running a complex web app or a CMS platform requires much more than a small amount of processing power to execute database queries, compiling content into a page, or performing other actions.
Looking at each of these actions individually will give you the impression that everything will work out fine. That impression comes from the fact these individual actions take a fraction of a second and seem to happen instantaneously.
But now multiply the time with several thousand incoming queries within a few seconds or a few minutes, and what you will have is a perfect concoction for a site crash. The problem is that you don’t even need to own a popular and complex site. It may belong to someone else.
But that website will use more resources to respond to all user queries. This will eventually leave fewer resources for the rest of the sites on the server. End result? Lags and downtimes! Your site might just become unavailable because of someone else’s site.
More problems with shared hosting
Lags and downtimes aren’t the only problems plaguing the shared hosting environment. There’s more! You cannot customize the security of the hosting environment. You will have no control.
The hosting company does its best, but what about the websites? They may not implement the best practices for security. You may do your best, set up a firewall, and a protective shield against DDoS attacks. You may even implement a malware identification and removal tool.
That’s great! But can you vouch for other websites on that server? I don’t think so! One vulnerable website can allow hackers and malware to get into the server, and when that happens, every site on the server becomes vulnerable, including your well-fortified website.
The shameful story doesn’t end there. There’s more to it.
Did you know that all the websites on a shared hosting server will have the same IP address? What if one website on that server is engaged in horrible activities like sending out email spams or hosting porn? The reputation will be hit hard.
You may find that email filters and firewalls blocking the IP address, and hence, blocking your website.
When you are using a shared server, these problems will or may come, and trust me, you cannot stop that from happening.
Of course, low cost is a perk to buy a shared hosting plan, but the associated risks are too great! You should be wary of those things.
Dedicated hosting or a dedicated server is, by far, the most expensive form of hosting solution. In this format, you get an entire server for hosting your website or web application. No other website will sit on that server.
All the server resources will remain at your disposal. That’s great because your site will not be impacted by other sites.
Because you get an entire server for yourself, you need to pay a much higher price. In fact, dedicated servers are the most expensive hosting solutions.
On the brighter side, you will get to control the hosting environment. Tweak settings and adjust firewalls to keep yourself safe from DDoS attacks or hacking attempts. If you want to run an enterprise management system or build a custom application, a dedicated server is what you will need.
The ability to change the software, make changes to the configuration settings are precisely what you will need for your tasks. The availability of the entire server resources will make your website or application super fast.
But apart from the price factor, there is another problem. You need to know server management. Handling a dedicated server is far more complicated and requires expert-level knowledge.
If you don’t have that knowledge, you will have to get a server administrator, which will pile up as an extra cost!
VPS or Virtual Private Server
A virtual private server sits midway between a shared hosting server and a dedicated server. In a way, a virtual private server is also a shared hosting server, but instead of thousands of websites sitting on that server, there will be a few of them.
In VPS hosting, the hosting provider will use virtualization to create an isolated environment for you. This isolated environment will work as a dedicated server. The only difference is that the dedicated environment will not be physical. It will be a virtual one.
Despite being virtual, the environment will have dedicated resources like CPU, RAM, storage, etc. The environment will remain totally isolated. Every website on that server will have its own isolated environment. One virtual environment will in no way impact another virtual environment.
You will have total control in that virtual environment just the way you will have in a completely dedicated server. You can tweak configurations, make changes to the operating system, set up a firewall, etc. So, you can develop your applications or run a SaasS business. SaaS stands for Software as a Service.
Because you will have complete control over the virtual server, you need to have the necessary technical knowledge to deal with it. If you don’t have that knowledge, you may need to hire someone with such knowledge. Alternatively, you can always go for a managed VPS server, which will incur some extra cost.
Since a virtual private server will have very few customer accounts, a much larger portion of the server’s computing power is allocated to you. Also, each virtual environment will have a separate IP. So, the virtualization layer you have will not impact or get impacted by another virtualization layer.
So, being still a shared server, VPS will cost less than a dedicated server. But fewer people sharing the physical server will make it more expensive than the regular shared hosting server.
Cloud Hosting Server
You need to understand that you will eventually hit the maximum limit of the physical server if you start getting enough traffic on your website, irrespective of whether you are going to a shared hosting server, a VPS, or a dedicated server. The amount of resources available on a physical server is always finite.
Remember that real machines will have real limitations. The amount of memory a machine can use, the amount of storage space it can have – everything is limited!
Having said that, you also need to understand that a shared hosting plan and a VPS hosting plan is often more than enough for most websites.
But you shouldn’t forget that there are websites that regularly get tens of thousands of visitors daily that amount to millions of visits every month. Your site could become one of them.
Or, your site may see a sudden spike in visitors because one or two of your content pieces can go viral suddenly. That is when a shared, or a VPS server can struggle. Even a dedicated server can struggle because… well, there’s a finite amount of resources!
To get around this problem, many web hosting companies are now offering what is known as scalable cloud-based hosting, or cloud-based hosting, or scalable VPS hosting, or cloud-based VPS hosting, or simply, cloud hosting.
What is Cloud Hosting, exactly?
In the world of web hosting, the cloud refers to a massive pool of computers working together. Any website or application running on the cloud can utilize the collective computer power of the computers.
So, when you are hosting your website or application on the cloud, you are not hosting it on a virtualization layer in a single physical server as in VPS. Rather, the virtualization layer is powered by the collective pool of computing resources available from many computers.
Yes, in cloud hosting, you get a virtual environment and not a physical server. In cloud hosting, you get control over the virtual environment. You get to tweak configurations, set up firewalls, and more. It is just like a VPS but powered by many computers instead of a single computer.
Benefits of Cloud Hosting
In case you are not aware, here is something important that you need to know – “Hosting companies, in general, will limit the average level of resource usage. They will usually limit it to 50% (or below) of the total computing power of the server.”
Hosting providers will do so to ensure that even if there is a usage spike for one website, the overall resource usage by all websites collectively stay below the server’s total computing power. This allows the system to handle the increased load. It works perfectly fine with websites that grow over time.
The hosting company will also keep adding more computers, and hence, more computing resources to ensure that servers perform optimally as the websites grow in popularity. They can also achieve this by reorganizing how the virtual servers are deployed.
Whatever the hosting company chooses, the end result is that there are ample resources available to prevent bandwidth bottleneck when needed most.
Cloud hosting also allows people to pay for what they actually use. Just because there are many resources available, it doesn’t mean that companies will charge individuals for all those resources.
Hosting cloud hosting companies have come up with a pay-as-you-go pricing model where they charge their clients hourly. Others have come up with a fixed monthly rate that can be as low as $5 a month. If the usage exceeds the monthly allowance, the clients need to pay for extra resource usage hours.
Such pricing models work great for companies that cannot afford expensive hosting right initially but eventually need more bandwidth with business expansion.
Cloud hosting providers allow deploying multiple servers against a single account. So, you can deploy three or more servers (or less) for different stages of your development. For instance, you may want a server for development, one for testing, and one for production.
When you don’t need the extra servers, you can simply destroy them, and the hosting provider will stop billing for the destroyed server.
**You need to watch out
By definition, cloud hosting should be scalable. Well, you can actually increase the resources available for your virtual server with a single click. However, true scalability comes when you can increase the resources as needed and then decrease when you don’t need those extra resources.
This ability to scale up and scale down is not available with every cloud hosting company. What does that mean? It means that after you scale up, you have to keep using the extra resources and keep paying for them.
Remember that the terms ‘cloud’ and ‘scalable’ are quite ambiguous. Different hosting companies will have different offerings. Watch out and read properly before you commit.
Dealing with a VPS server or a dedicated server requires a lot of technical knowledge. Many people who need those hosting solutions don’t have the technical know-how to deal with the crude servers.
Hiring a full-time server administrator may not be a feasible option either because of the cost implications. That’s the reason why many hosting companies have started offering what is known as managed hosting.
It can be managed VPS hosting, managed dedicated hosting, or managed cloud hosting. Managed hosting simply means that hosting companies will provide some kind of technical support that may include things like:
- Help with the initial configuration of the server.
- Pre-installing software.
- Regular updates and upgrades.
- Server monitoring.
- Sometimes, firewall setup.
Precisely how much proactive technical support comes from the hosting company will differ from one host to another.
You will also come across something called Managed WordPress hosting. It is a managed hosting but geared specifically towards only one application – WordPress. You cannot install anything else in that environment.
The good thing about managed hosting is that you can focus on what matters the most and what needs to be done without knowing everything about server administration.
The hosting types that I mentioned are the major commercially available hosting options you will get. However, that’s not the end. There is something called specialty hosting that is geared towards special needs and comes with very specific hosting features.
They support specific technologies and support a specific database tool, a specific framework, or a specific language. For instance, you may come across something called Magento hosting. It is designed for hosting the Magento e-commerce platform.
You don’t have to worry about all these things now, especially if you set up a new blog or a site for yourself or your business need. While starting out, it is highly unlikely that you will need specialty hosting.
What Kind of Hosting do You Need?
Before you go out shopping, you need to understand what type of hosting you will need. Choosing the wrong hosting type can lead to a wastage of money and frustration. So, choose wisely.
Shared Hosting: If you are setting up a small blog or building a site for a small business like a non-tech business, a club, or a church, a shared hosting server will do fine. Basically, a shared hosting server is great if your site or blog will have a limited number of pages.
VPS or Cloud Hosting: If you are looking to build a website or a blog that will receive new content almost daily or frequently and serves as an exclusive money-making tool, it is better to go for VPS hosting or cloud hosting.
If making money is your primary intent, it is highly likely that you will make your site grow over time with fresh content. Your visitor count will grow gradually, or there may be a sudden spike in visitors because of one or a few particularly good content pieces.
Your web host should be in a position to handle such gradual or sudden traffic growth. Shared hosting is not equipped to do that. VPS hosting or cloud hosting is capable of doing so.
Thus, even if you are starting out with shared hosting, it is recommended that you switch to a VPS hosting plan or a scalable cloud hosting plan when you start experiencing growth.
Dedicated Hosting: The real benefits of dedicated hosting over VPS are very few. Usually, dedicated servers suit the needs of large corporations. But again, with the advent of cloud hosting, dedicated hosting is becoming redundant. You can understand that by looking at only websites – Quora and PayPal. Both of them use cloud hosting, and they are both massive organizations.
Cloud hosting is reliable and cheap compared to dedicated hosting and allows for rapid scaling in just a single click! It is pointless to go for a dedicated server when a cloud VPS server can handle the growing needs more efficiently.
Managed Hosting: If you want the features of VPS or cloud hosting but without worrying about server management, a managed hosting solution is the best option for you.
A Quick Summary Table
|Shared Hosting||It is a low-cost and simple hosting solution for new websites and small businesses. It is perfectly suitable for websites that do not have specialized needs or are not supposed to experience sudden traffic spikes.|
|VPS Hosting||This is for those websites that have outgrown the power of shared hosting and need more resources and greater control.|
|Cloud Hosting||It is for websites that need real-time adjustment of hosting resources. It is perfect if a website experiences intermediate traffic spikes.|
|Dedicated Hosting||If your website needs full control over the hosting environment and all aspects of server administration, dedicated hosting is a perfect choice.|
|Managed Hosting||It is for sites that need the power and bandwidth of VPS, cloud, or dedicate hosting without the need for handling server administration tasks. Cloud hosting, VPS hosting, and dedicated hosting come in managed variants and are generally more expensive.|
Chapter 3: What Exactly Do You Buy In Web Hosting Plans?
Did you ever wonder what exactly your money buys when you purchase a web hosting plan? All web hosting companies advertise their products with a massive list of features, and they offer different pricing tiers. That’s fine, but why do you pay the fee that you pay? How is the web hosting company using the money that you pay?
If you are wondering about all those things, this is what you need to know:
The Physical Server: This is “the most expensive” part of a web hosting business. The physical equipment – the servers are very powerful rack-mounted computers, and they are extremely expensive.
Premium web hosting companies keep spending on their servers to improve their hardware equipment from time to time. They are fully aware that the most advanced and faster equipment means faster website load times.
The server where your website is located will make the maximum impact. For instance, if a server uses HDD (spinning drives) instead of SSD storage, it will give slower website load times. That happens because SSD storage is faster.
Datacenters: The physical servers that a web hosting company purchases need to sit somewhere. There has to be some building with security features to protect the servers from being harmed by natural forces or humans.
Moreover, the datacenters need a continuous supply of electricity to stay operational 24×7. They also need to be close to areas where highspeed and high bandwidth Internet is easily available.
Electricity and Internet are not free. They also attract expenses just like the physical building that houses thousands of servers!
Software: The majority of the software applications that web hosting companies use are open-source and free. However, not every software is free. For instance, the famous cPanel you get in Linux hosting solutions is proprietary software, which has to be purchased. Without a license, hosting companies cannot provide that!
Again, there are hosting companies that offer Windows hosting. While Linux is free to use, Windows isn’t. Web hosting companies that offer Windows hosting have to pay Microsoft to use their product. This makes Windows hosting much more expensive.
So, unless you know that you need Windows hosting, you should not be using it. Windows hosting is used for specific types of applications that work only in a Windows environment. Luckily the majority of the websites in this world do not need Windows hosting!
In all likelihood, you will not need Windows hosting unless you are building such apps that can run only in Microsoft’s proprietary environment.
Support: You will need support. You may need to get a quick solution to a technical issue you are facing with your hosting. Who will give you that answer? Of course, the hosting provider will be responsible for it.
So, hosting companies need to keep teams of trained professionals and server administrators who can resolve your technical issues. Basic questions are answered by moderately trained people who can deal with common troubleshooting issues.
More technical issues require attention from system administrators who usually provide support from the back. If the first line of support staff cannot resolve the issue, it is escalated to those highly-trained professionals who revert back with proper solutions.
These support teams are salaried individuals. Who is going to pay for their salaries? Yes, the money you pay every month is partly used for covering those expenses.
Avoid this method of shopping:
One common mistake that everyone makes while shopping for web hosting solutions is first looking at the price! That’s wrong!
I understand that there are budgetary constraints that you have to take care of, but if you are serious about your business, you need to invest. So, don’t worry about the price first. The most important thing that you need to do is to make a note of your minimum requirements.
Once you have that list, go ahead and compare the different plans from different web hosting providers to see whether they are offering what you need or not. Once you find a plan that addresses your basic requirements, you can then look at the price.
Remember that neither a low price nor a high price is the actual indicator of a good hosting solution. Why am I saying that?
For instance, you will find BigRock shared hosting for $1.59 a month, and Namecheap shared hosting for $1.58 a month. However, Namecheap provides a free proprietary CDN and also uses SSD drives. BigRock has none! Which one do you think is better? Of course, Namecheap is a better choice for these two parameters, and albeit a cheaper one!
You get the point, right? Price is not an indicator of quality. Some hosts will charge unnecessarily high for poor quality. They can easily get away with this because there are thousands of web hosting companies, and not everyone has the tenacity to compare them.
So, I will suggest that you take your time to find out which hosting company offers the features you need. You can then start sorting them based on price.
Chapter 4: What Features Should You Look For?
Without an iota of doubt, this is the most dreadful part of choosing a web hosting company! Everyone will give you an awfully long list of features, and most likely, you will not understand what most of them mean unless you are aware of what they actually do.
To help you get started, I will give you a small checklist of things you should look for while shopping for a web hosting plan. It is literally impossible to give you a complete list of features because I don’t know what you need.
So, let’s begin…
Features to Look for:
It is absolutely necessary that you select a web hosting company that offers fast servers. If your website loads slow and a visitor has to wait for a long time to see the content, it is very likely that the visitor will never return to your website.
Moreover, Google has made speed an important ranking factor. If your website is slow, especially on mobile devices, your website will not rank on Google search. That’s something you will not like! All your efforts will be lost in vain.
So, it is imperative that you settle for a hosting company that has fast servers. The speed of a server is determined by many factors, but the most important factor is the storage type that it uses.
If a server is using spinning drives (the traditional HDDs that have moving parts), it will be slow. You should look for a server that offers SSD storage.
Every web hosting company will say that their servers are ultra-fast. That’s not true. Most of them are often lying to you right on your face.
There are clues that you should look for to know whether a server is fast or not. Here is what will tell you whether the server you want to buy is actually fast or not:
Detailed Stats of the Server:
A web hosting company should provide detailed stats of their servers. If they openly advertise their server setup, you can be more or less sure that they are not a reseller hosting company and that they are not using someone else’s hardware equipment.
A genuine hosting company will usually provide a detailed server setup. Even if you do not understand everything, you should look for stuff like server stack (Apache or Nginx or something else), PHP version, file inode limit, database type, etc. The more detailed information you get, the better it is.
SSD or Solid State Drives are way faster than the traditional spinning drives with moving parts. SSDs have high IOPS (Inputs Outputs Per Second); that is, they can read and write data way faster.
CDN or Content Delivery Network:
Not every web hosting company will have its own CDN. There is only a handful of them. However, you should look for web hosting companies that offer integrated CDN, even if they are offering that service in association with third-party CDN providers like Cloudflare. CDNs can dramatically speed up website speed by serving cached versions of the website to visitors from locations close to them.
Location of the Data Center:
The server location plays a very important role. The company should be able to provide a data center that is close to the location from where you expect most of your visitors to come. For instance, if you are building an e-commerce site that targets pet parents located in Melbourne, you will want a data center in Melbourne or nearby locations.
The closer the data center is to your visitors, the faster your website becomes to them because your website data need not travel long distances.
Finally, do not forget that speed should be consistent. If your website is exceptionally fast at times and horribly slow at other times, it is not going to work out. It will give a terrible user experience, and Google is going to hate your site.
You really don’t want Google’s ire breathing down on your website’s shoulders. That’s bad news! It is better to have a slightly slower but consistent speed than having a website that loads fast at times and slow at other times.
You should not forget that no matter how fast a server is, your website’s code and features will also determine the overall speed of your site. So, optimize the code (or use an optimized theme), don’t use flashy features or unnecessary features, use optimized images, etc. to ensure that your site loads faster.
Ideally, your website should load completely within 2.5 seconds on mobile devices and become interactive. If your website takes more than 2.5 seconds to load on mobile devices, Google is going to take note of it put that on the evaluation report. You will eventually see the result in falling search engine rankings!
You will come across this term very frequently. What does it mean? It refers to the amount of data that flows out from your website to the visitors within a specified time frame. Usually, that time frame is 30 days.
Many shared hosting providers will provide unlimited bandwidth. There is no need to be super happy about it. That ‘unlimited’ bandwidth works on the assumption that you will not be using a lot. They will assume that your site will not have more than a few hundred visitors a day.
If you are running a personal blog or a small business website (like a club or a church site), the unlimited bandwidth of a shared hosting provider will work just fine for you.
However, if you have a site that brings in the majority of your earnings, it is most likely a popular site with thousands of international visitors (think of a website like About.com or LiveScience.com). In such a case, the unlimited bandwidth of the shared hosting plan is going to disappoint you and violate the rules that no shared hosting company will explicitly tell.
That’s when the company will throttle your bandwidth and ask you to upgrade to a better plan.
If you are already getting warnings from your current hosting company and you are looking for a switch, make sure that the next hosting company that you are looking at is giving you the necessary bandwidth within your budget.
The onus will remain on you for determining how much bandwidth you will need per month. You can understand this by looking at your analytics data, especially Google Analytics. If you are getting about 2,000 unique visitors a day, your unique monthly traffic will be 60,000. It means that it is about time you upgrade your current hosting plan to a better one.
Also, do remember that you should avoid hosting companies that will immediately penalize you for exceeding the defined bandwidth limit. There are some ridiculous hosting companies that will simply suspend your account and delete your website for exceeding the bandwidth limit, or they will levy hefty fines.
That’s not good! You should be able to pay for whatever extra you are using. That’s the reason why I always recommend switching to a cloud hosting service where you get the pay-as-you-go model.
If you don’t want to switch the hosting provider, it is better that you upgrade to a higher plan with your existing web hosting company. That way, you may not have to migrate your whole site.
But again, if you are upgrading to a higher plan with the existing host and you yet need to migrate your site, that’s pointless. That’s when you should seriously consider switching hosts.
One easy trick to save bandwidth is to use a CDN and serve cached files of your website from a CDN server. This will not eat up your bandwidth limit set by your hosting provider.
Just like bandwidth, there are many shared hosting providers like HostGator that offer unlimited storage. Again, no need to be super happy about it. There are restrictions in place. You cannot violate the terms and conditions that the hosting companies will not tell you explicitly.
So, you better read the terms and conditions, and if you cannot find the restrictions, you better ask their sales team.
Now coming to the point, website files do not take a lot of space. If you are running a text-heavy blog, you should be fine with about 1 GB of storage space. However, if you are running a blog with several images per blog post or if you are running an e-commerce site, you will most likely be okay with 2 to 3 GB of storage space.
However, if you are building a site that needs to have a lot of high-quality images (like a photography site), you will need a lot of storage space.
But if you are thinking that unlimited storage will allow you to store such large media files, you are wrong. That’s not allowed. If you intend to store a lot of audio files or video files, the shared hosting company will not allow that.
If you create a lot of videos for your website, you better host them on a video hosting service like Vimeo or YouTube and then embed them on your site. This will save both storage space and bandwidth.
Storing large media files on your server storage and serving them from there is not an ideal thing to do. That’s a wastage of money, and you will be marked for warning sooner or later.
I will deal with this segment in the next chapter in detail, but here is a short overview. You need to remember that there are various technologies that you can use to build different web applications.
However, if you are planning on using popular applications like Joomla, Magento, MediaWiki, Zen Cart, Drupal, WordPress, etc. that use PHP, almost every web hosting company will allow you to do that because almost everyone supports a LAMP stack.
However, if you are thinking of using something like MongoDB or Ruby on Rails, make sure that your preferred hosting company supports them. Not all hosting companies will provide support for such technologies.
In all likelihood, if you are planning on starting a simple blog for the first time, you don’t know what those exotic technologies mean or do. So, you shouldn’t worry about them at all. You are good to go!
Those technologies are meant for advanced developers who know exactly what can be done with such technologies. It is interesting to note that the vast majority of websites on this planet are powered by some form of the content management system, specifically WordPress. Joomla and Drupal are also quite popular, but WordPress powers more than 30% of the web.
So, it is reasonable for me to assume that you will also use WordPress for your blog or website because WordPress is so versatile that you can build literally anything on it.
My advice to you is that you should never be using weird and little-known things unless you have a very good reason to do so. There is no reason why you should try to build a blog using Ruby on Rails. That’s stupidity!
Here is the thing – when you are starting out your blogging career, you don’t really know whether you will continue doing that in the long run or not. You don’t even have any idea of how much bandwidth you will need in the future or how much storage space you will need.
So, it makes sense that you start with a shared hosting plan. However, when your blog starts getting more and more traffic, you may have to switch to a VPS plan. Will your hosting company allow doing that without a halt in the services?
What does a halt in services mean? It simply means that when you scale up to a VPS server, will your site become inaccessible during the switch? If that happens, it is not good at all. Such service interruptions leave a bad impression on your readers.
So, when you make a switch, site migration should happen without downtime. Can your hosting provider do that? If not, you should look for a different host who can do that.
This is where cloud hosting aces! When you need more resources, you can increase them using a single click. You don’t even have to switch a server. For instance, if you are using DigitalOcean cloud hosting, you can resize the droplet (a fancy word for a virtual server) and increase disk space, CPU cores, and RAM all at once without impacting the site!
The question is, will your shared hosting provider allow such additional provisioning of resources without impacting your site. If that is not possible, will your hosting provider migrate your site to a VPS server without downtime?
The ability to scale when growth sets in should be an important feature you should look for when shop for a hosting plan.
The hosting plan that you settle for should give you easy access to your server files and folders. In general, the shared hosting providers will give you cPanel (for Linux) and Plesk (for Windows). That’s the interface that you use for accessing your website’s file and folders using an easy file manager.
However, there should be other ways of accessing those files and folders. The commonest way is to use FTP. The other more technical way is to use the SSH shell, which will give you a command-line interface.
In all likelihood, you are not going to use the SSH shell unless you know how to execute commands, but hey, it is good to have access to the SSH shell.
Another thing that you should consider in advance is how easy or difficult is it to install other apps on your server. Most likely, you will not do that, but you may change your mind someday. Will your web hosting company allow you to install other apps?
Generally, shared hosting companies like BigRock, Namecheap, HostGator, etc. have the famous Softaculous app installer that allows for easy 1-click installation of hundreds of apps.
This is the final thing you should look for. How good is the reputation of the hosting company when it comes to providing support?
When you start for the first time, you may run into technical problems every now and then. If that happens, you are bound to ask for help.
If the company’s support is not good, you will feel cheated. Also, there should be multiple channels of support. Chat support and phone support are the most desirable options because they lead to a fast resolution.
Additionally, there should be options for the ticket system and knowledgebase. The most common issues can often be resolved using thorough knowledgebase articles.
Do not forget that the chat or phone support should be available 24×7. If your website goes down for some reason, you shouldn’t have to wait for hours before the support team becomes available. That’s plain ridiculous.
The good thing is that most of the reputed hosting companies will offer 24×7 chat or phone support. However, if you are settling for cloud hosting, you will not get such 24×7 support.
Logically, when you are dealing with cloud-based VPS hosting, the hosting company assumes that you already know a few things, and you can deal with them on your own. In the case of shared hosting, the story is different. Most of the users are rookies, and they will most likely need help with small issues.
If you are on a VPS hosting plan and you need such quick support, you better look for some external help or at least go for a managed VPS hosting where you will get immediate support.
Support is an integral part of web hosting. Don’t ignore this! If you don’t know how good the hosting company is with support, you should scout the Internet and search forums and other blogs to find the truth.
Chapter 5: How do Web Servers Work?
If you are wondering how a web server works, you are not alone. There are thousands like you, and I was like you at one point. I had the same question. So, allow me to demystify this for you.
What is a Hosting Server?
It is a computer, and it is not very different from the computer you use at your home. The only differences that you will notice are that these servers are a tad bigger than the one that you have at your home, they will not have monitors attached to them, and they will not have separate keyboards either!
But they are still computers! They are very powerful computers with a lot more storage than a home computer, and they have a lot more computing power. They are also connected to very high-speed Internet connections that are way faster than what you use at home.
Such processing power and high-speed Internet are needed to ensure that a server can attend to thousands of visitor requests at the same time! If a server cannot do that, websites will not work!
Operating System on a Server
Since a server is a computer, it needs an operating system. The operating system is a software interface that connects the applications, the users, and the computer hardware together.
At your home, your computer may be running on Windows, or macOS, or Linux. These are all operating systems. Your phone has either Android or iOS or Windows Phone. They are also operating systems.
However, in the case of servers, you won’t get such variations in operating systems. The most common operating system you can find for servers is Linux. Of course, there are different distributions of Linux. A server can use CentOS, or Ubuntu, or RedHat, or OpenSuse Enterprise, or something else.
That doesn’t mean that a server cannot have Windows as an operating system. Some servers run Windows. But those servers are expensive because the Windows operating system is proprietary.
Now, if you are thinking that Linux is a difficult thing to handle, you are right! Most people use Windows or macOS on their home computers. But there is no point thinking that you cannot handle a Linux server.
Linux is an absolute standard for servers. They can run almost every web application, barring a few applications like .NET, ASP, Microsoft Silverlight, etc. that can run only on a Windows server.
There is no point in thinking that a Linux server will require you to use a command-line interface. You get a proper user interface where you can click around to install apps. Most of the apps are written in programming languages like PHP, Ruby on Rails, Python, etc. that run far better on Linux.
Since most of the websites in this world are powered by apps written in Linux-friendly programming languages, most of the servers you encounter will have Linux as the operating system.
Trust me, I don’t know how to use Linux. I did try Ubuntu, OpenSuse, FedoraCore, etc. on my home computer, but eventually switched to Windows. But all the websites that I operate are hosted on Linux servers. If I can do it, you can do it as well.
When I say server, it refers to the physical server – the physical machine where you store your website files and folders. Then there is something called the “web server.” It is not the same as a server. Don’t get confused.
The web server is a piece of software. It is this web server that handles requests from visitors.
When a visitor types in a URL in the address bar of a web browser, the URL gets translated into a request. This request is then routed to the physical server where the website is located. After the request reaches the physical server, the software application called the web server handles that request. The web server figures out what files are requested and what applications need to run to send those files to the browser requesting it. Once the web server figures it out, it completes the operations and sends back the response to that request.
That is when the web browser receives the necessary files and displays them to the visitor. So, the web server is the mediator, the interface that connects the Internet, and the website files located on the physical server.
The commonest web server that you will come across is known as Apache. However, it is not the only web server. There is a famous alternative called Nginx. Now, there is a new player on the block, and it goes by the name LiteSpeed server.
If you are using a Windows server, you are most likely using a web server known as IIS. However, you can also run Apache and Nginx on a Windows server.
While some say that Apache is perfectly fine and you won’t really notice anything in terms of speed, I tend to disagree. I have been on the Apache web server and on Nginx too. Nginx is faster, and I started loving it until I encountered the LiteSpeed server.
If you are running WordPress, I will recommend that you find a web hosting company that offers the LiteSpeed server. It is the fastest web server as of date for running WordPress.
But again, website speed also depends on a lot of other factors. If you are interested, you may want to read my other blog post that explains how to speed up your WordPress site. It is a pretty detailed guide, and you should be able to follow it with ease.
Database Management System
Most of the websites in this world need some sort of database management system for storing an assortment of information, including the content. The information can be the content, customer data, product information, pages, etc. The type of information stored in the database management system will depend on the type of website you are operating.
It is needless to say that the most famous database management system in this world is MySQL. It is an open-source system, and it is extremely powerful. It can run relational queries that are extremely complex. Being an open-source system, it is free.
If you are using WordPress or Joomla or Drupal CMS, you will need the MySQL system. Not only that, but it is also used by various social networks, bulletin boards, e-commerce platforms, and an assortment of website builders.
Most of the web hosting companies support and offer MySQL database management system. However, if you are planning on working with Ruby on Rails, you better find a hosting company that supports the PostgreSQL database system. It is also an open-source system and powers the Ruby on Rails applications. It works in a very similar fashion to the MySQL database system.
The majority of the websites that you will see today are dynamic websites. There are very few people who make static websites. I already talked about databases and web server. However, did you ever wonder what fetches the content from the database and send it to the web server?
There is something in between, and it is the content management system. The good thing is that you don’t have to learn how to build a content management system. People have already done that, and most of them are freely available.’
Whether you are looking for a simple blogging engine or you need a project management system or a complex CMS site, the site you are building is a computer program that will have dynamic content and interactive features.
A computer program has to be written in a programming language, and the most famous programming language that is used for writing these web applications is PHP, which is a scripting language.
Most of the content management systems are written using the PHP scripting language, and the majority of the web hosting companies (in fact, almost all of them) support PHP. If you want to build a website or an application using different scripting languages like Python or Ruby on Rails, you need to find a web hosting company that supports such scripting languages.
And, what on Earth is LAMP?
The most common operating system for servers – Linux! – (L)
The most common web server in use – Apache! – (A)
The most common database management system – MySQL! (M)
The most common scripting language – PHP! – (P)
Do you see it now? L for Linux, A for Apache, M for MySQL, P for PHP. They together make the LAMP stack.
Most web servers use this stack. The LAMP stack is the default stack that most of the web hosting companies will support. However, some web hosting companies offer Nginx or LiteSpeed web server instead of Apache. That’s fine! Both Nginx and LiteSpeed work on Linux servers, support MySQL databases and PHP scripting language.
There are various applications that will need specific plugins (or modules) for the technologies mentioned above. Additional modules are mostly needed for web server and scripting language.
For instance, if you want human-readable URLs for your website (also known as Pretty URLs), you will need mod_rewrite plugin or module for your Apache server.
You might need the GD Graphics Library module for PHP if the application you are building needs a lot of server-side work with images.
So, if you have specific requirements that require specific modules, make sure that you check with your would-be hosting provider to find out whether they provide support for those modules or not.
In general, they do!
For instance, if you want Pretty URLs for your WordPress-powered blogging site, you can set that rule directly from your WordPress dashboard. You don’t even have to fiddle with server settings.
Do you receive Windows or macOS updates on your home computer? Don’t they come with a version number? Similar to that, the applications that run on a server also have versions. Newer versions are better and faster than the older versions.
For instance, you may want to check whether your hosting provider is offering PHP version 5 or version 6 or version 7.
PHP 7.4 is the latest version, and it is the fastest among all PHP versions. It is also the most secure version today.
Ideally, your web hosting company should provide the latest and most stable version of various applications. There are plugins and apps that will need the latest PHP version or the latest Apache version to work. Some will work only with the old versions.
So, whatever you use, you need to have the appropriate version. Generally, web hosting companies offer multiple versions. You don’t have to worry about those things if you are using script installers like Fantastico, Softaculous, or Simple Scripts. They will install the right version of the script that your web hosting company supports.
If you are building something manually, you must check the versions available. You don’t want to get stuck in the middle.
The server where your website files sit is the computer – the physical one. A server will have an operating system and a web server. These two are absolutely necessary and enough if you are building a static site.
If you are building a dynamic site or a dynamic app, you will need two more things – a database management system and a programming language or scripting language.
The commonest combination you will get with most of the web hosting companies is the LAMP stack. If you need anything else, you need to find an appropriate hosting company.
Chapter 6: Hosting and WordPress
After all the long narration, why on Earth did I come to WordPress? That’s because of a simple assumption! If you are looking for a web hosting solution, you are here to build a website. And, if you are building a website, your most obvious choice will be WordPress. It is easy, and it is versatile. You can build anything you want using WordPress.
You can get an e-commerce site, a photography site, a social media site, a coupons site, a question and answer site, etc. There is always a plugin or a theme to do exactly what you need.
WordPress is truly professional, and it is built with rookies in mind. It supports drag-and-drop features, you don’t need to learn a damn thing about coding, and you don’t need to have prior experience to use it.
The popularity of WordPress can be understood by the fact that it powers one-third of the web. Do I need to say anything else? I don’t think so.
It is a beast capable of achieving extraordinary things even in ordinary hands. You don’t need to be a nerd to create something using WordPress.
Because it is so popular, it is necessary to address a few things or issues that people generally face when it comes to hosting a WordPress site. So, I will address them quickly in this segment.
WordPress and Shared Hosting
Almost every shared hosting company has optimized its servers for running WordPress. You don’t need any special hosting solution for that. For starter sites with very less traffic, shared hosting works perfectly fine.
So, if someone says to you that a shared hosting server is not a suitable option for your website, that person is bluffing!
But do keep in mind that WordPress sites are dynamic systems, and whenever a visitor requests a page from your site, a database query runs. If your site is new and has very less traffic, a shared hosting server can handle it pretty nicely.
The problem comes with the traffic keeps increasing. When hundreds of queries come at once, your shared hosting server may be overwhelmed and fail to respond accordingly because of very limited resources.
If your site is growing fast enough, I will suggest that you move on to a VPS hosting plan.
WordPress and VPS Hosting
If your WordPress site is popular or destined to become popular, it is better that you opt for scalable VPS hosting or scalable cloud-based VPS hosting. It makes more sense because, with scalable hosting, you can increase the computing resources for your website and do away with the need for changing your hosting plan or hosting provider.
With VPS hosting, not only will you have more storage space and more computing power, but also more control over your server. This will allow you to fine-tune your server to meet the specific needs of your website.
WordPress and Managed WordPress Hosting
Managed WordPress Hosting is a new breed. It is mostly cloud-based and scalable. However, different providers may have different setups. Do check that thoroughly before making a purchase.
As I keep saying, scalable hosting is what you should eye for if you intend to build a blog that will grow over time or if you intend to build an e-commerce website.
Coming back to the topic of Managed WordPress Hosting, this variant is quite different from shared hosting in the sense that it comes with extra value-added services like automatic backups, advanced analytics, downtime monitoring, staging environment, proactive security features, and more.
The hosting company will provide provisions for automatic updates for WordPress core, themes, and plugins.
Some Managed WordPress Hosting providers will give their own version of WordPress optimized with specific plugins for increased speed and security. However, I will never recommend you to go for a managed hosting solution that depends on Jetpack for optimization.
Jetpack is not really that great. You can read my full review of Jetpack here and understand why I don’t recommend using Jetpack.
You may, however, try out options like Rocket that come with integrated CDN (not Cloudflare) for speed.
But what you need to know that WordPress is a DIY website builder script. You need to do and learn. You really don’t need a Managed WordPress Hosting. In my opinion, it is only a gimmick to make you spend more.
A simple shared hosting server can handle a big site if you know how to distribute the bandwidth requests. Confused?
You may not know that Cloudflare has recently launched a feature called Always Online. If you activate this feature, Cloudfare will save cached versions of your website on their servers and serve stale copies of the website to the visitors.
Whenever you update the real site, the caches will clear up, and new cached versions will be store on the Cloudflare server. This way, not only can you save bandwidth, but also ensure that your website always remains available even if the actual hosting server is facing downtime.
There are many more optimization rules that you can apply to reduce bandwidth. For instance, you may use Optimole for serving images on your site from Optimole servers. Images can eat up a bulk of your bandwidth, and hence serving them from a different server can save bandwidth for you.
Remember that optimization is not a one-time thing. It is an ongoing process, and you can learn all those things over time with continued usage of WordPress.
Enjoying the WordPress Experience
No matter where you host your WordPress site, the best experience falls in the DIY realm. Even a shared hosting plan can give you the best possible WordPress experience if you do it the right way. Of course, hosting matters, but that doesn’t mean that your WordPress site will need a hosting plan with a lot of computing power.
Here is a list of important things you should remember to extract the best WordPress experience irrespective of your hosting plan or hosting type:
Latest Version – Always!
You should keep the core WordPress files and the plugins and themes up-to-date. New technologies evolve every day, rendering the older ones useless. The reason for such rapid development of WordPress from one version to another is to kill the security issues and introduce new features.
However, do remember that when a new version is released, it fixes the older security issues. But if the same new version has new features, it is highly likely that new features will kill all security loopholes created by the new features.
So, while it is important to upgrade to a newer version to get rid of old security issues, it is also important to stay vigilant and keep an eye on the new issues that may show up shortly.
Additionally, the true potential of WordPress is unleashed by the myriads of plugins and themes available. Even they are vulnerable to security threats. So, keeping them updated is vital.
Apart from updating and upgrading, you should also focus on implementing some form of security that will prevent hackers from exploiting new vulnerabilities. You need to take a holistic approach to ensure the safety of your website.
Be Careful About Plugins
WordPress plugins repository will give you access to thousands of plugins. You cannot and should not use all of them. That’s absolutely ridiculous.
What you should do is that you must use the ones that you absolutely need. There can be multiple plugins offering the same set of features. For instance, contact forms! There are dozens of plugins that will allow you to add nice contact forms on your WordPress site.
Which one should you use?
For any plugin, it is necessary that you use only the ones that have many active installations and are under active development. Those plugins that haven’t been updated for months or years are not ideal for your site. They will pose a serious threat to your site from the security angle.
Also, outdated plugins may not be compatible with your up-to-date WordPress core and other updated themes and plugins. This conflict can break your site or open a new vulnerability that hackers can exploit easily.
Why on Earth do you want to take such a risk?
Finally, keep the plugins count low. The more plugins you use, the more database queries run, making your site unsuitable for shared hosting servers. Your site will become heavy and load slowly. So, use only those plugins that you need. There is no point in adding unnecessary functions. You don’t need to create a fancy site. You need to create a functional site.
Backups – Regular Backups
You don’t need an automatic backup feature. You don’t need to install a plugin for backups. You can do that directly from your server irrespective of whether you are using a shared hosting server, a VPS server, a cloud server, or a dedicated server.
In the case of a shared server, VPS server, or a dedicated server, you will have cPanel to give you backup options. You can take a full website backup (database and website files and folders), or you can have partial backups (only website files or only database). You can download the backups on your local computer and upload it back to restore your site.
In the case of cloud hosting, you will get the option of one-click backups. For instance, in DigitalOcean, you will have the option of what is called “snapshots.” A snapshot is basically a complete clone of your website (including files, folders, and database) saved as an image file. You can take a snapshot with a single click and restore it back using a single click.
Keeping backups is absolutely necessary because no one can guarantee that your site will never be infected with malware, or it will never be hacked. If anything like that happens, you can restore your website quickly using the backups.
For instance, I use Digital Ocean and take a snapshot every day immediately after posting a new article on my blog and then delete the snapshot of the previous day. This keeps my snapshots up-to-date, and it works as a failsafe against hackers. If my site is hacked and I need to restore my site from a backup, I won’t lose a damn post!
The continuous development of WordPress creates security loopholes. The same is true for plugins and themes under active development. So, regular backups are important.
No Self-Hosted Videos, PLEASE!
If you host your website videos on your server, you are going to make a big dent in your bandwidth when people watch those videos. That’s not a good idea at all. It is always better to upload your videos to some video hosting platforms like YouTube or Vimeo and then embed them on your website.
Those services have state-of-the-art infrastructure and nearly unlimited bandwidth. Let them do the heavy lifting for your site and save some bandwidth for you.
There are certain things that you need to know. When you upload a video to your web server, you have to make sure that you are converting the videos into different formats and ensuring that they are scalable for different screen sizes. While most of this will be done automatically, it simply means that you will be storing all those versions on your server. That will eat up a lot of storage space. You want that to happen?
Another advantage of adding videos to YouTube or Vimeo means that you make your content available on different platforms, and you can monetize them separately. Even better, those platforms become a separate point of discovery for your website. Why do you want to miss out on the opportunity to promote your website at their expense?
Chapter 7: Emails, Webmail, and Mail Servers
You have created a website and hosted it! That’s great! What about contact options? Don’t you want people to contact you? Such contacts can be for many reasons, including backlinks, advertisement opportunities, content requests, copyright notices, and more.
You will need an email service for that. There are many ways of setting up an email service. You can simply use Gmail, but that doesn’t look professional. It is always better to have something like email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, email@example.com.
Using Gmail, Yahoo, AOL, etc. might be easy and allows for saving money, the whole practice is amateurish and unprofessional. It can have a bad impact on the business.
So, you should consider getting a professional email with your domain name. This is where you need to learn about Email Servers and Email Clients.
Email Servers and Email Clients
If you want to use emails, you will need both an email server and an email client. An email server is a piece of software, just like the web server I discussed earlier. It will run on a computer (the physical server).
The email server will remain connected to the Internet continuously, and its job is to receive emails and send emails that you want to send.
The email client, on the other hand, is a tool that you will need for viewing your emails. It can be a phone app or a desktop app, or something browser-based! For example, on the phone, you can get Bluemail and other apps. You can get Microsoft Outlook or Thunderbird for desktop. For browsers, you can have RoundCube or SquirrelMail.
The job of the email client is to probe the email server and store all messages for viewing the emails. It is also the interface that will allow you to read and write messages. When you write and send an email through an email client, the client will send it to the email server, which will then send it to the intended recipient.
The email server and the email client are two different things – both software. They have to communicate with each other. The protocols they use for communication are IMAP and POP. So, you can independently choose the email client. They are not interdependent. The only link between the two is the communication protocol.
So, as long as you are using one of the two protocols, any email client can work with any email server.
What’s interesting is that a single email client can connect to multiple email servers. So, even if you are using a client like Outlook to read your Gmail account, you can keep it that way and add another email server that will give you access to your business emails.
POP and IMAP are the two most standardized email protocols. POP stands for Post Office Protocol, and it often goes by the name POP3. The number 3 refers to the third edition of POP.
IMAP stands for Internet Messaging Access Protocol.
The POP works just like a Post Office. It will deliver messages to your email client, but it will not save any information on how you interact with the email. For example, there will be no information available on whether you have already read the message or not or if you have created any draft message.
IMAP will store all those information on the server. When you use IMAP, everything remains synced because everything is on the server. Thus, when you open the mail client from a different device, you will get access to all that information.
It is because of this syncing capability that IMAP is immensely popular. If you are purchasing an email from your web hosting plan, make sure that the web host offers IMAP protocol.
How do You Access Emails?
If you are setting up a business email, it is necessary that you have the ability to access the same. How do you do that? There are two ways. You can access it through webmail, or you can use an email client.
Using an email client is a far better option, in my opinion, because you can install the client on multiple devices. Your web hosting company will give you the instructions for setting up an email client properly. They will give you the port numbers that you need to use for successfully setting up the client of your choice.
The other way of accessing emails is to use the webmail that is provided by the hosting company. The most popular platform for webmail is RoundCube. Webmail runs in your web browser, and you need to log into your webmail interface. The easiest way to do so is to log into your web hosting account and then to open the webmail from there. This way, you don’t have to remember the URL for the webmail.
Application Email or Transactional Email
You may engage in sending occasional emails directly from your application. Such emails may include password recovery emails, registration emails, receipts, invoices, thank you messages, etc.
These emails are called transactional emails, and they are not sent through your hosting account’s email server. They are sent through the application. These emails, therefore, use the computing resources of your web hosting.
If you need to send many such emails, it is better that you use a premium service for sending these transactional emails. Such premium services usually come in the form of plugins, and they use their servers to sending those transactional emails instead of putting a strain on your web server resources.
Marketing Emails and Mailing Lists
If you are using a shared hosting server, most likely, there will be a restriction on sending bulk marketing emails using the email server or the application’s mailing capabilities. Such restrictions may not be there for VPS servers or dedicated servers. However, be careful!
The laws against spam emails are very strict, and if you want to send marketing emails from your email server, you have to ensure that you are conforming to all laws. There are many variables that the utilities designed for blocking spam will look at. If you fail to take care of everything, your emails will be blocked.
That’s the reason why I do not recommend sending marketing emails from your mail server. It is better to use a third-party service like Mailchimp or Constant Contact. They have taken care of everything, from laws to anti-spam tools.
Using a commercial service for your marketing emails will definitely lead to extra costs, but it will ensure that you are playing safe!
Chapter 8: Avoid These Mistakes While Purchasing Web Hosting
This is the final chapter that you must read. People make mistakes – pretty expensive mistakes when they shop for web hosting plans. I made them at one point in time. Now I have learned it the hard way. You have a choice. You may learn it the hard way or learn from someone who faced all those issues.
Mistake 1: Don’t go by price!
That’s the biggest mistake you will make. A cheap deal may land you in big trouble in the near future. The only way web hosting companies can offer such discounted prices is by cramming more and more websites into a single server, leading to a severe resource crunch.
They know that when customers realize their mistakes, they will try to move away. So, they try to ensure that the customers buy their cheap hosting plans for a long duration. You must have noticed how the shared hosting companies dramatically slash their prices if you go for a 5-year or a 10-year plan.
The longer the duration, the more money they make at your expense and by providing a horrible setup!
A premium hosting company will never do that. It will keep the prices high and offer state-of-the-art hardware.
Remember the saying – “You get what you pay for.” You may also remember this – “The more sugar you add, the sweeter the tea gets.”
Mistake 2: TV Ads!
If you see a hosting company investing heavily in TV ads, stay away! TV ads are very expensive. I know that because I worked for a company’s marketing department, and it was my responsibility to oversee the TV ads and create advertising budgets.
If a hosting company invests heavily in TV ads, it is diverting the funds in marketing instead of spending the same on better equipment or training professionals for a robust customer care service.
Mistake 3: Believing Affiliates
Most affiliate sites will compile information from the Internet and write only nice words about hosts. They will not give any real proofs. You will notice the same screenshots circulating everywhere. How is that even possible?
The sole intention of those affiliates is to sell and earn. If you have noticed carefully, even we do affiliate marketing, but all that I write here is intended to give you an unbiased review. If you want to believe affiliates, make sure that you are reading unbiased reviews.
Mistake 4: Buying Based on Terrible Features
You must have seen hosting companies advertising 1-click installations for more than 150 or 200 applications. Really?
Why do you want to fall for that? Are you going to use all of them? What’s more important to you?
More importantly, most of those one-click installation apps are totally free. They don’t cost a dime, and the worst part is that most of those apps are terrible. You will never need them, and hence, basing your purchase on those terrible features is utter foolishness.
Mistake 5: Believing the Uptime Guarantee
What on Earth is that? Tell me, who shows you the actual logs? You will see affiliates boasting about that, and they just give plain numbers in a format like this:
January – 99.9%
February – 99.9%
March – 99.8%
April – 100% … and so on!
What the hell is that? I can write those numbers too! WHERE ARE THE ACTUAL MONITORING LOGS? Tell someone to show that, and I will fund that affiliate site for a full year!
Trust me, those numbers mean nothing, and there is absolutely no way of verifying what the web hosting companies are telling you.
Mistake 6: Free Domains
When you get something for free, it feels good. But, a free domain shouldn’t be a selling point. You need hosting! Good hosting will help you improve your earnings over time. Generally, hosting companies will throw in a free domain to coerce you into buying their subpar hosting plans. That’s a trick!
Don’t forget that domain names are quite cheap, and you can buy one. You don’t need a free one. More importantly, if you tie a domain with your hosting account, it later becomes very difficult to make a switch from your hosting account to a different host.
Ideally, your domain should stay independent of your hosting account. All it takes to associate a domain to a hosting server is updating the A records or the nameservers. Can’t you do that? Of course, you can!
Mistake 7: The Expensive Extras That You Don’t Need!
Backup services (CodeGuard), Security (SiteLock), Dedicated IP, Domain Name Privacy – Why do you need all that?
I talked about backup earlier. You can do that on your own. You don’t need to buy a service for that. For security, put your website behind Cloudflare, and you are good to go! Just keep your plugins, themes, and WordPress core files updated.
As far as domain name privacy is concerned, what will happen if you keep your name public? At most, you will get some calls from companies that will offer website development. Say NO! How difficult is that? In the worst-case scenario, you will get spam emails. Send them in the spam folder! Done! Problem solved!
And trust me, if the hosting company is good and reputed, their shared IP address work just fine. You don’t need a dedicated IP. If you are running a sensitive site that will collect sensitive user information, you might want to get a dedicated IP and a premium SSL certificate for that IP address. For a normal blog, you don’t need a dedicated IP.
You don’t even need a premium SSL certificate for your blog or a site that doesn’t collect sensitive user information. A free SSL from Let’s Encrypt is enough!
Buying a web hosting plan may be ridiculously complicated because of the marketing gimmicks and lack of knowledge. That doesn’t mean that you cannot do some basic research and figure out what you need.
Once you figure out what you need, it will become easy for you to shop for a hosting plan. Take your time. There is no need to hurry! There’s a lot of irrelevant information floating around, and you should never fall for that! Be wise!