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Web Hosting Basics

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Several times I have found myself in the situation of having to explain someone what web hosting is. As it turned out, certain people instantly got the idea, but for others, it was something new and hard to understand. The purpose of this note is to clarify what web hosting is for those who don't know much about it.

If you want to have your own website, you need three main ingredients:

-the website pages (index.html, contact.html, for example)

-the domain name, which you need to register. Something like www.your-domain.com . You may not get a domain for your website, but place it inside an existing domain, like www.some-domain/my-website . If you're creating a business website, it is highly recommended that you get a domain for it. It will look much more professional.

-a place where your site resides and is reachable by internet users. You need to place your site in a web server, a computer which is permanently connected to Internet and which other computers can reach.

Web Hosting companies have powerful servers and so they can serve several sites in the same computer. They sell the service of "hosting", providing a space in their server for your site, and letting you use their server resources, like mail server and databases, depending on the package you buy. The web hosting company assigns you a space where you save your site pages so they are accessible through the web. So that's it. That's web hosting, in a few words.

Web hosting packages come in all kind of flavors. You need to look carefully and find a company you trust, which offers a package containing the services you need. Do not pay more for services you don't need. They will be useless. Just get a package that is enough for you, and then, if your site grows, you can always upgrade to a new level.

Let's have a look at some of the services that may be included in a web hosting package:

-storage space: generally expressed in MB (megabytes). Your needs depend on your site's characteristics. You should see how much space your site occupies, by adding up size of pages plus images, for example.

-bandwidth and monthly traffic: this will be enough in most cases, unless you have a website with many visits per day.

-PHP, ASP, CGI: this means support for programming languages. If your site is written in PHP, you need to find a web hosting package with PHP enabled.

-MySQL, Access: these are databases. If your website makes use of a database, you need to have at least one database included in your package. Some hosting packages come with unlimited databases, othes include a fixed number of them.

-Front Page Extensions: if your website has been created using Front Page, you need to get a package with Front Page extensions enabled.

-Control Panel: this will be useful for you. A Control Panel lets you manage your hosting account settings using a web interface, all you need is your browser. An example of what you can easily do using a control panel is create and delete email addresses.

-Support: it is important that the hosting company brinds customer support and you can reach them easily, for example they may provide a ticketing system where you create tickets to inform them of any question or problem, or they may provide you with an email address where you can send your inquiries. In any case, they must respond promptly to your messages, although that is something you will be able to check once you're their customer. You can start by sending them an email with a question before acquiring a hosting plan, to verify how long they take to answer.

These are some basic features a web hosting plan may have, you will find most plans have more services listed. Web hosting is an arena full of technical terms. Don't be ashamed to ask for clarification when you do not understand a particular service, or if you are not sure which plan is the right for you. It is better to be safe than sorry.

About the author:

Veronica Bendersky is a Systems Engineer who specializes in web programming and online systems. She is now also offering web hosting and domain registration at http://www.ayreshost.com.

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