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What is Web Hosting?

There is little point in building a Web site unless pages are available for others to see. To accomplish this pages must be stored on a Web server.

A Web host is in the business of providing Web server space and services for Web sites owned by individuals or companies that do not have their own Web server.

Hosting companies provide far quicker Internet connections than individuals because they use, maintain, and service specialised server hardware and software which is normally too expensive for the general user.

A Web server can simultaneously host content for a large number of Web sites, perhaps as many as two hundred and fifty sites per server. Large commercial Web sites will often use their own server, known as a dedicated server.

There are many types of Web Hosting packages available. We will now consider the main options.

Free Hosting

Most Internet Service Providers (ISPs) offer limited Web space for small sites. These services, though basic and limited, are generally free.

There are a number of important differences between paid-for and free Web hosting. For example, you cannot be sure that Web content is backed up and secure, you will have a long URL such as www.micksfreewebhosting.com/sites/yourname/index, you cannot use custom CGI or Perl scripts or create dynamic sites, and you will probably have to allow some form of banner or pop-up advertising on your Web pages.

Businesses should not use free Web hosting if they want their Web site to create a professional and favourable impression.

Using a free Web host is great as you learn how to build your first Web site. As you become more interested and competent in Web site creation you will quickly become frustrated at the limitations of free hosting and want to advance to using a specialised Web Host.

Shared Hosting

Shared hosting, or virtual hosting, is the cheapest and most popular option for the majority of companies and organisations. Basically, you share a Web server and its resources with other Web users. Shared servers use fast Internet connections and have very few performance problems.

Each shared hosting provider should supply you with your own personal control panel (PCP). The PCP is used to administer your account and gives you the ability to perform a variety of tasks.

A shared account should include at least ten POP3 e-mail addresses, unlimited e-mail aliasing and forwarding, full FTP access for easy uploading of Web content, the ability to buy more Web space, and your own CGI bin so that you can use your own scripts.

You will also be able to use your own domain name.

A key issue is customer service / technical support. It is important that support staff are helpful and patient individuals who don't get frustrated by basic questions and concerns. A good Web-based support site which answers the most frequently asked questions is also important and a great time-saver.

Dedicated Hosting

If your Web site is absolutely critical to your business or organisation you should probably be thinking about dedicated Web hosting.

What this means is that you will effectively rent your own Web server with your own licensed software and your own bandwidth connection. Your server will be located in a secure data-centre and will be maintained by specialist staff on your behalf. Unlike shared hosting no-one else will be sharing your server resources. It also means that the server can be configured to meet your needs, for example choosing either an NT or UNIX operating system.

You can expect to pay a minimum of £250 a month for a decent dedicated server package. A typical e-commerce business could easily cost £500-£1000 a month to host on a dedicated server depending on the specific requirements of the business.

A dedicated server can typically process 140,000 emails, 50,000 file transfers, and over 250,000 Web page requests per day. If your server is only processing Web pages it can handle millions of Web page requests every day.

DIY Hosting

If you are technically minded you could consider hosting your own Web site. You will need to be an all rounder with a good knowledge of HTML, Internet protocols, operating systems, databases, hardware, Internet security, and so on. Building and maintaining your own server will also be very time consuming.

The main problem with building your own Web server is that you will have to obtain and configure a variety of system and software programs so that they all communicate with each other.

Running your own Web server gives you complete control of every aspect of your Web site. You can upgrade software and hardware when you want and add additional features not provided by a traditional Web hosting company.

You can avoid moderation to a certain extent and you could even set yourself up in business as a Web host. On the downside you are ultimately responsible for the site - the buck stops with you if things go wrong.

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