Where does my website live? Web hosting in a nutshell

Ever wondered exactly where your website is? By the end of this guide, you will have a much clearer idea.

Web hosting is an essential service for any website or online business. It provides the platform that stores, manages, and maintains the data related to your website. Without web hosting, it would be impossible for you to have a presence on the internet.

After all, the computer code has to be stored on a piece of hardware somewhere in the real world, right? Here we break down the key terms and explain where the site built by your web development team really lives. We break down what exactly web hosting is and how it works. Here is our guide to web hosting in a nutshell.

What is Web Hosting?

Web hosting is a type of internet service that provides individuals and organisations with access to their own server space to store their websites. This server space is usually provided by a third-party provider (known as a web host).

The web host will manage all of the technical aspects of running a website, such as security, storage, maintenance, and updates. By using a web host, you can focus on creating content for your site rather than worrying about its day-to-day management.

Types of Hosting Services

There are various types of hosting services available depending on your individual needs, but the two main groups are shared hosting and dedicated hosting.

Shared web hosting and dedicated web hosting have distinct differences that might influence the type to choose for a business. For example, shared hosting is an economical option, however it tends to come with less reliable performance due to sharing resources between multiple websites hosted on the same server.

On the other hand, dedicated hosting provides secure and stable service due to exclusive predetermined system resources for maximum performance. This benefit usually comes with a cost since larger businesses may need more complicated hardware or additional data storage when compared to shared hosting plans. Ultimately, it is important to consider both potential costs and performance gain before selecting which web hosting provider works best for business operations.

Shared hosting is the most popular option as it provides users with access to multiple websites stored on one server at an affordable price point.

Dedicated server hosting is best suited for larger businesses that require more resources and customisation options as this type of service can be more expensive than shared hosting. There are also other types of specialised hosting services such as VPS (Virtual Private Server), cloud servers, managed servers, and reseller servers, all providing their own unique features tailored to meet specific requirements.

How web hosting works: technical details

Servers: where the code is stored

Your website is in two parts: a set of code files (computer programmes), stored in a folder on a computer (called a “webserver”); and a database (a collection of information, such as product details), which usually runs on a separate server.

Each server has an IP address, which is a string of numbers. Like a telephone number, an IP address lets other computers find your server among all the computers on the network.

File transfer protocols

In order for your website to appear online for visitors to view, there must be an active connection between your computer and the host’s server (also known as an FTP connection).

Once this connection has been established using File Transfer Protocol (FTP) software such as FileZilla or WinSCP, you will then be able to upload files from your computer onto the host’s server which will make them visible on the internet by way of domain name registration (your unique web address).

Domain names and URLs

You don’t type in an IP address to reach a website though: you use a domain name like ‘yoursite.com’ which is written out as a URL (https://www.yoursite.com). Domain names are like an address book for websites: the web browser looks up the domain name to find the right IP address to connect to. Just as you can move house and still keep your name, you can change server and still keep your domain name.

The domain name address book is shared around by the maintainers of “DNS servers” (like phone books). Every broadband provider (such as BT or Virgin) maintains their own DNS and so do people like Google. Domain name details are continually broadcast to all the other DNS machines so that they all know what IP address each domain name points to.

What if I have a .com and a .co.uk?

Several domain names can point to the same IP address, just as multiple businesses can share the same offices. This means you can easily have a .com and a .co.uk (and .london and .fashion) all pointing at the same website.

Physical servers, virtual servers and “the cloud”

Somewhere, there’s a real computer holding the code of your website. Your site might be on a single real computer in a rack somewhere (your webserver), or it might be on a “virtual” server or in “the cloud”.

Virtual servers let hosting companies have multiple servers hosted on a single real computer, which great for small businesses that don’t need the expense of renting a whole machine. If your site is “in the cloud”, then multiple real computers will host loads of virtual servers.

These virtual servers can have their performance increased and decreased as necessary, so if you usually only get 3 hits in a month, you only pay for the power you need, but if your website is suddenly viral and you get 3 million hits, then your server can handle the load.

Building blocks for programmers

There are many different programming languages used in web development. Some are used to communicate between the server and the user’s web browser (HTML, Javascript) while others shape how your website looks (CSS) or works behind the scenes (PHP, C#, Java).

Many websites are built using pre-made blocks of code. Companies like WordPress and Drupal have libraries of standard parts that web development teams can put together – like installing pre-made doors and windows for a new house.

Turning code into webpages

Whether your website is hosted on a physical or virtual server, the same process is used to display pages to people visiting your site: their browser requests a page from the web server, and that web server will fulfil the request. The request, if it could be written in plain English, would be something like “show these 3 pictures and that text” or “fetch this information from the database”.

The browser takes the information given, including instructions to put the right colours and fonts in the right places, adds any images, and responds to interactions, such as button clicks. That’s your webpage, delivered.

Affordable web hosting for your business

Web hosting makes it possible for anyone who wants to create an online presence – whether they’re setting up a blog or launching an eCommerce store – to do so without having to worry about managing technical aspects like security or maintenance themselves.

With so many different types of web hosting services available today, there’s no reason why anyone should have difficulty finding one that meets their individual needs. Understanding how web hosting works can help ensure that you make the right choice when selecting a provider for yourself or your business.

At boxChilli we are expert in all things digital. If you need advice on hosting or want to utilise our comprehensive web design, web development or SEO services, please don’t hesitate to contact our team. We are more than happy to help.

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About the Author

lee murphy - support manager

Lee M

Support Manager

With over a decade of technical expertise, our Support Manager Lee brings a wealth of knowledge and skill to our team, ensuring our client’s websites function properly and thrive. 

Lee’s role is to help make sure our client’s websites website stay online by looking after both the website’s health and our hosting. Helping to keep our clients’ websites online when they’re needed most. He has been in the marketing industry since 2010 but has been involved with coding since school.

Outside of work, Lee is a keen fan of video games and card games even travelling across the country to compete.