What is Web Hosting? A Complete Beginners Guide

David Utke •  Updated: January 24, 2022 •  Web Hosting

What is web hosting and why do you need a host in order to have a website? First, a website is simply a collection of files and images on a computer. When you visit a website you’re making a “request” for that data to be delivered to your device.

But if the computer where you’re making the request to is turned off or broken, you won’t be able to access the website. Because of this technical problem, web hosting companies like Bluehost and others emerged as a way to provide fast and reliable hosting for companies and individuals by allowing you to rent space on an industrial strength computer that is on 24/7.

You need a web host because the alternative is for you to run and manage your own server which is costly and complicated.

Web Hosting Terms Explained

In the web hosting industry there is a lot of terminology we forget beginners don’t know or understand. So here are the most common web hosting terms you will encounter when looking to purchase web hosting.


A server is an industrial strength computer that stores the files for your website and is connected to the Internet 24/7. It also serves requests for data when people try to visit your website. Think of it like a flash drive. When you plug that flash drive into a USB port on your computer and open a file you’re making a request for that data from the flash drive.

With a server, it’s much the same with a server except on a much more complex scale. Your server has the websites files, a fixed IP address, and name servers defining that server. At the domain registrar where you registered your site, you simply define the name servers to that of your server.

So now when anyone goes to the IP address of your website or the name of your website a request will be made to the server where you files are and content will be delivered.

Disk Space

It’s like your hard drive. How much space do you have on your computer now? 100 GB of space? 200? Disk space is the same deal.

If you’re looking to build a simple site for your physical business, then you don’t need that much. If you’re looking to host movies and music then you need a lot more.


Also known as bit rate. Data, regardless of wireless or wired travels in units called bits. The channel capacity of a device like a server determines the speed of the bit rate (ie how fast and how much bits you can access when making a request).

This is why it takes time to download a song rather than being instantaneous. Bandwidth is the measure of bits consumed per second.

MySQL Database

All you need to understand is that it’s database management software. It’s required to run things like WordPress, forums, and scripts.

SSL/TLS Certificate

Used to encrypt data (bits) during communication transfer. Think of like accessing this site. The data traveling from my server to your computer is not encrypted, it does not need to be as it’s not sensitive information.

Now think of inputting your credit card information to buy something. THAT information transfer you want and need encrypted. SSL and the newer TLS certificate are used for this purpose primarily by business.

Most hosts totday offer a free SSL certificate BUT you need to tell your host to activate it for you. Otherwise your site will simply be http instead of the more secure https.


C stands for control,  it’s software to help you manage your account on your server with an intuitive, visual interface.


Plesk is an alternative to Cpanel. I recommend Cpanel for it’s ease of use. Why? Because it makes transferring your site easy if you ever decided to switch web hosts.


This stands for “Web Host Manager.” It’s software designed to manage multiple Cpanel (or Plesk) accounts on a server. You get WHM typical when you get hosting at the VPS level or above. In other words, when you have your own server, or virtual server you will typically have multiple websites (each with their own Cpanel account). WHM helps you manage these multiple accounts.

Domains Allowed

This term refers to how many domain names you can host on your account. Typically this feature is listed as “unlimited” for all but the most basic plans.

Types of Web Hosting

Now that you have a good understanding of the terminology associated with web hosting, let’s get into the different types of hosting you can purchase. In general, there are only a options when getting a web hosting account. Here are the most common you will see:

Shared hosting

Cheap affordable (and reliable) hosting. Perfect for someone starting out, or someone wanting to build 1 or 2 new websites. Shared hosting means that you share your hosting with hundreds of other websites on ONE server.

The costs are low because multiple websites (all of which get minimal amounts of traffic) are on one machine.Shared hosting is perfect if you’re launching a new website.

You have low amounts of traffic so it makes no sense to spend money on resources you’re not going to use. Also, you can always scale up as your website grows. For a more technical explanation for those who want to nerd out on shared hosting, check out the Wikipedia page.



Cloud hosting

When you purchase a cloud hosting plan what you’re buying are virtual resources that are spread across multiple computers that are acting as one. Cloud hosting has a lot of flexibility as your files and content are not one machine.

If more resources are needed because of a high traffic spike cloud hosting is great. It also has redundancy protection as multiple copies of your site are on multiple machines. So if there is a problem with one machine in the network, your content can easily be migrated to another machine.

In a nut shell, that’s cloud hosting.

Cloud hosting is very different and is typically the best option for new websites in my opinion. Where with other types of hosting like share hosting, all associated files are on one single machine that shares resources with other websites, cloud hosting however has your files spread across multiple computers.

Because of this, cloud hosting tends to be fast and reliable where a shared hosting account may be a bit less reliable (though cheaper).



If you do get a true cloud hosting package, you’re going to have to learn and develop some IT knowledge because you’ll be in complete control and also completely responsible for your virtual machine. It’s sort of like being given a motorcycle when you’ve have no idea how to even ride a bicycle. New software to learn, you’ll need to manage resources, updates and upgrade. This is what make a shared hosting account still a great option because it’s a “get it and forget it” option.

If you’re going to use a managed WordPress cloud hosting package you’ll be limited to what scripts and plug-ins you can use. Most managed WordPress plans will also restrict you to only using WordPress. So other scripts like forum software, Joomla or Drupal won’t be allowed.

Virtual Private Server

A virtual private server (VPS) is like shared hosting but on a much bigger scale. Instead of sharing a server with hundreds other websites like you do on a shared account, your website and your hosting account is but one of maybe 4-6 other hosting accounts on a server. Because of this, you get greater resources to your websites, you’re able to handle larger amounts of traffic, and you have more account control on the back end.

A VPS is the middle ground when you need more resources than the highest level shared account, but not quite the resources (and the cost) of a full on server. A rule of thumb is to get a VPS when your website is doing over 250,000 pageviews.

Keep in mind though, this is not always the case. E-commerce stores for example tend to need to scale up more quickly than a simple content driven website. Your web host will inform you when your website is starting to take up resources beyond your current account and what options you should begin looking at.

Managed VPS vs VPS

If you have no idea how to manage a VPS, get a “managed VPS” package. Managed means your web host takes care of the updates and security for your hosting account so all you have to do is manage your websites. If you just go out and get a non managed VPS on you’re own and it’s up to you to take care of security and updates. It’s more technical, so if that sound like something you would rather not do, get a managed VPS.

Overall, you should get a VPS as soon as you can afford it in my opinion. You can afford it when your websites are making $500+ a month. Again, for those who want to nerd out and learn more about a VPS here is a more technical explanation here.



Reseller hosting

Reseller hosting costs roughly the same as a VPS and is designed for you to resell the hosting to clients you work with. Say you’re making websites for clients – you could package a hosting account along with your design services.

Why would I do this instead of affiliate marketing for a web host?

It’s a great way for creative professionals to build recursive monthly income. Instead of getting one big commission, you instead get a small monthly fee from your clients. Functionally you’re building your own mini side business around providing web hosting.

As most reseller accounts start around $30, all you need to do is get enough paying clients to pay for that cost and some profit. If you got 30 clients to give you $12 each for a hosting account that would be $360 a month or $330 in pure profit in this example.

Why would anyone do this or need such an option?

It”s designed for professionals like web designers, programmers etc to be able to offer an added service to their own services. It’s also ideal for anyone who wants to undertake the difficult task of building a web hosting business by reselling the services of an already established web hosting company.

Can I just use reller hosting for my own websites?

Yes, you don’t have to resell the hosting but if you’re just going to host your own websites then it’s better to get a more cost effective hosting solution.

Dedicated Server

A dedicated server is simply a large, powerful computer you can rent from a web hosting company. It’s ideal if you have a high traffic website or websites (a million+ of visitors a month with a tremendous amount of bandwidth usage).

Is a dedicated server right for you when starting out? NO WAY. This is designed for business that are getting traffic and making money and can justify the cost of spending $90 or more on a dedicated server.



Dedicated serves come with WHM (web hosting management). Same as a VPS. It’s a program that is designed to give you control over your whole entire server including various cpanel accounts and what not.

In that order. I don’t want to have to fuss around with learning how to manage a dedicated server. Now, if you have a team of people running a website. Maybe you built a massive website and now have a dedicated tech guy, then sure. Perhaps a standard server makes sense, for most though a managed server is the headache free solution.

Web Hosts Frequently Asked Questions

Now, let me address some of the most commonly asked questions I get with regards to web hosting, what is web hosting as well as what is the best web host.

What is the best web host?

There is no one best web host. Instead, you should find the best host for the type of hosting you need. If you’re just starting out then you’ll need a shared web host and at this level there are a lot of great options.

Other hosts specialize in some specific type of hosting. Maybe their core focus is cloud hosting or managed WordPress. You should do your research and find the bets host today for the type of hosting you want and sign with them for a 1 year contract. After this year, if they performed well then you can consider staying, moving or upgrading your hosting.

Can you upgrade your hosting plan?

Yes, most hosting companies enable you to upgrade your plan as needed. You can either manage it in the dashboard yourself or contact support for assistance. I recommend contacting support to ask them how best to proceed as each web host operates differently.

How much does it cost to host a website for a year?

You need to purchase hosting and a domain name in order to have a website. On the low end, you might pay as little as $8 for a domain and $6 a month for hosting your first year which would keep your startup costs under $100.

As your website and portfolio of websites grow you’ll need to pay for more powerful hosting like a VPS or perhaps even a full on server. However at this point you should be making more than enough money from your web properties to justify this increase in cost.

Is shared hosting good?

I get it, you’re starting out and you want quality hosting to help your website rank and grow fast. However there is no need to overspend on hosting. A shared hosting account from somewhere like Bluehost is fine to start and grow a blog.

Shared hosting is good, but it’s not great. Once I got my website to around 1000 visitors a day and was making money I would look at investing in better quality hosting or to upgrade my account from shared hosting.

Can Google host my website?

Google does not provide hosting services directly, but they do provide the ability to register domain names. You can connect a Google Domain to a third-party provider and utilize their services. You may also use their web forwarding tool to send visitors to your current website.

Can I host my own website?

Yes actually, but when your computer is off your website won’t be available and you’ll need to have special software to handle any traffic that hits your website. If you’re curious all you have to do is upload HTML and CSS files to a folder on your computer, then use a program to publish them online. I don’t recommend doing this since it comes with several security and performance issues, but it is possible.

What is Web Hosting Conclusion

Hopefully this beginners guide to web hosting was helpful. By now you should have a broad understanding as to what web hosting is, the different types of web hosting you can purchase and why. As well as specific terminology you need to know when making a purchase decision. If you’re looking for a web host, checkout or best WordPress web hosting guide.

David Utke

David Utke is a professional blogger, YouTuber and a highly rated user experience consultant. He and his team create helpful tutorials, software reviews, videos and more based on real-world experience. Join over 30,000 monthly readers and 27k+ YouTube subscribers!

Keep Reading