Web Hosting & Domain 101: How Hosting a Website Works

Article by Jerry Low . .
Updated: Aug 15, 2018

 

This is a very detail guide for users who wish to learn about the science behind website hosting and domain names.

Table of Content

Topics covered include (click to jump to each section):

 


 

How Website Hosting Works

What is a web hosting?

Web hosting is a big computer (that we call server) where people store their websites.

How does web hosting work?

Think of it as a house where you store all your stuffs; but instead of storing your clothes and furniture, you store computer files (HTML, documents, images, videos, etc) in a web host.

More often than not, the term “web hosting” refers to the company that rent out their computer/servers to store your website and provide Internet connectivity so that other users can access to the files on your website.

Here is the list of web hosting companies we reviewed.

Web hosting and data center: Aren’t they the same?

The term “web hosting” usually refers to the server that host your website or the hosting company that rent that server space to you.

Data center usually refers to the facility that is used to house the servers.

A data center could be a room, a house, or a very large building equipped with redundant or backup power supplies, redundant data communications connections, environmental controls – ie. air conditioning, fire suppression, and security devices.

This is a server 

This is a server. The name of this model: DELL 463-6080 Server. It looks and works like the desktop at your home – just slightly bigger and more powerful.

This is a data center

This is how a data center look like from inside, basically it’s just a cold room filled with lots of big computers. I took this photo during my visit to Interserver data center August 2016.

 


 

Different Types of Web Host Explained

Generally, there are four different types of hosting servers: Shared, Virtual Private Server (VPS), Dedicated, and Cloud Hosting.

While all types of servers will act as a storage centre for your website, they differ in the amount of storage capacity, control, technical knowledge requirement, server speed, and reliability. Let’s dig in and look at the main differences between a shared, VPS, dedicated, and cloud hosting.

Shared Hosting

What Is Shared Hosting? In shared hosting, one’s web site is placed on the same server as many other sites, ranging from a few to hundreds or thousands. Typically, all domains may share a common pool of server resources, such as RAM and the CPU.

As cost is extremely low, most websites with moderate traffic levels running standard software are hosted on this type of server. Shared hosting is also widely accepted as the entry level hosting option as it requires minimum technical knowledge.

  • Disadvantages – No root access, limited ability to handle high traffic levels or spikes, site performance can be affected by other sites on the same server.
  • How much to spend – Not more than $10 on signup.

Recommended shared hosting services (links point to our review): A2 Hosting, Hostinger, HostPapa.

 

Virtual Private Server (VPS) Hosting

What Is VPS Hosting A virtual private server hosting divides a server into virtual servers, where each websites is like hosted on their own dedicated server, but they’re actually sharing a server with a few different other users.

The users may have root access to their own virtual space and better secured hosting environment with this type of hosting. Websites that need greater control at the server level, but don’t want to invest in a dedicated server.

  • Disadvantages- Limited ability to handle high traffic levels or spikes, your site performance can still be somewhat affected by other sites on the server.
  • How much to spend – $20 – $60/mo; additional costs for those who need extra server customization or special software.

Recommended VPS hosting services (links point to our review): InMotion Hosting, InterserverSiteGround.

 

Dedicated Server Hosting

What Is Dedicated Hosting? A dedicated server offers the maximum control over the web server your website is stored on – You exclusively rent an entire server. Your website(s) is the only website stored on the server.

  • Disadvantages – With great power comes… well, greater cost. Dedicated servers are very expensive and it’s only recommended to those who need the maximum control and better server performance.
  • How much to spend – $80/mo and above; price based on server specifications and additional services.

Recommended dedicated hosting services (links point to our review): A2 Hosting, LiquidWeb, M3 Server.

 

Cloud Hosting

What Is Cloud Hosting? Cloud hosting offers unlimited ability to handle high traffic or traffic spikes. Here’s how it works: A team of servers (called a cloud) work together to host a group of websites. This allows multiple computers to work together to handle high traffic levels or spikes for any particular website.

  • Disadvantages – Many cloud hosting setup do not offers root access (required to change server settings and install some software), higher cost.
  • How much to spend – $30 and above; cloud hosting users are usually charged on per-usage basis.

Recommended cloud hosting services (links point to our review): WP Engine, Kinsta, Hostgator.

What makes a good hosting company?

There are dozens of factors to consider when you are choosing a web host.

Server performance, price, features, customer supports, and server physical locations are usually the key factors shoppers look into.

You should read our web host choosing guide or check out our 10 best web hosting picks to learn more.

 

 


 

How Domain Name Works?

What is a domain name?

A domain is the name of your website. Before you can create a website, you will need a domain.

A domain name is not something physical that you can touch or see; it is merely a string of characters that give your website an identity (yes, a name, like human and businesses). Now, here are some quick examples: Google.com is a domain name; so are Alexa.com, Linux.org, eLearningEuropa.info, as well as Yahoo.co.uk.

To have your own domain, you will need to register your domain with a domain registrar.

Top Level Domains (TLDs)

Back to our examples.

Alexa.com, Linux.org, eLearningEuropa.info, and Yahoo.co.uk – these domains end with a different ‘extension’, namely: .com, .org, .info, .co.uk.

We call this “extension” as top level domain (shortform: TLD).

Examples of other TLD include .uk, .ws, .co.jp, .com.sg, .tv, .edu, .co, .com.my, and .mobi. While most of these TLDs are open for public’s registration, there are strict regulations on certain domain registration. For example the registration of country code top level domains (like .co.uk for United Kingdom) are restricted for the citizens of the corresponding country; and the activities with such domains website are ruled by local regulations and cyber laws.

Certain extensions of these TLDs are used to describe the ‘characteristics’ of the website – like .biz for businesses, .edu for education (schools, universities, colleagues, etc), .org for public organization, and country code top level domain names are for locations.

Country code top level domain

 

Country Code TLDs

The full list of country code top-level domain (ccTLD) extensions are (in alphabet order):

.ac .ad .ae .af .ag .ai .al .am .an .ao .aq .ar .as .at .au .aw .ax .az .ba .bb .bd .be .bf .bg .bh .bi .bj .bm .bn .bo .br .bs .bt .bw .by .bz .ca .cc .cd .cf .cg .ch .ci .ck .cl .cm .cn .co .cr .cu .cv .cx .cy .cz .de .dj .dk .dm .do .dz .ec .ee .eg .er .es .et .eu .fi .fj .fk .fm .fo .fr .ga .gd .ge .gf .gg .gh .gi .gl .gm .gn .gp .gq .gr .gs .gt .gu .gw .gy .hk .hm .hn .hr .ht .hu .id .ie .il .im .in .io .iq .ir .is .it .je .jm .jo .jp .ke .kg .kh .ki .km .kn .kp .kr .kw .ky .kz .la .lb .lc .li .lk .lr .ls .lt .lu .lv .ly .ma .mc .md .me .mg .mh .mk .ml .mm .mn .mo .mp .mq .mr .ms .mt .mu .mv .mw .mx .my .mz .na .nc .ne .nf .ng .ni .nl .no .np .nr .nu .nz . om .pa .pe .pf .pg .ph .pk .pl .pn .pr .ps .pt .pw .py .qa .re .ro .rs .ru .rw .sa .sb .sc .sd .se .sg .sh .si .sk .sl .sm .sn .sr .st .sv .sy .sz .tc .td .tf .tg .th .tj .tk .tl .tm .tn .to .tr .tt .tv .tw .tz .ua .ug .uk .us .uy .uz .va .vc .ve .vg .vi .vn .vu .wf .ws .ye .za .zm .zw

And that’s not all. We now have more than 1,000+ generic TLDs (gTLD) opened to public, including .BAR, .BARCELONA, .BUILD, .FOREX, .CLUB, .COLLEGE, .REST, .WEBSITE, .WIEN, .XYZ, and so on. You can find the full list of top-level domains in the Root Zone Database.

Also, ICANN publishes case studies on the usage of different generic TLD (ie. .auto, .bank, .ceo, .nyc, etc, check it out if you are interested.

Domain vs sub-domain

Take mail.yahoo.com for example – yahoo.com is the domain, mail.yahoo.com in this case, is the sub domain.

A domain must be unique (for example there can only be one single Yahoo.com) and must be registered with a domain registrar (ie. NameCheap); while for sub domains, users can freely add it on top of the existing domain as long as their web host provide the service. Some would say sub-domains are the ‘third level’ domains in the sense that they are simply “sub folders” under the domain root directory, normally used to organize your website content in different languages or different categories.

However, this is not the case to many including the search engines – it is known fact that the search engines (namely, Google) treat sub domain as a different domain independent from the primary domain.

Terms of domain name

To quickly recap on what we have just learned –

Website Domain Name Subdomain TLD ccTLD
yahoo.com Yahoo .com
mail.yahoo.com Yahoo mail .com
finance.yahoo.com Yahoo finance .com
yahoo.co.jp Yahoo .co.jp

 

 


 

The difference between a domain name and web hosting

Domain name and web hosting are two different things.

But they are often sold by the same providers. For examples – InMotion Hosting, whose core business is website hosting, also offers domain registration service. GoDaddy, the world largest domain registrar, offers a wide range of different web hosting services.

Hence it is very common for newbies to get confused between a domain name with a web hosting.

To simplify

A domain name, is like the address of your home; web hosting on the other hand, is the space of your house where you place your furniture. Instead of street name and area code, set of words or/and numbers are used for the website’s naming’. The same goes with hosting, computer hard disk and computer memory are used instead of instead of wood and steel for storing and processing data files.

The idea is presented clearer with the image below.

Domain vs Web Hosting - how does it work
The difference between domain name with web hosting. In short –  they are not the same thing.

 


 

How Domain Name Registration Works

From a user’s point of view

,com domain names

Here’s how domain registration works from a user’s point of view.

  1. Think of a good name you want for your website.
  2. A domain name needs to be unique. Prepare a few variations – just in case the name is taken by others.
  3. Make a search on one of the registrars’ website (ie. GoDaddy).
  4. If your selected domain name is not taken, you can order it instantly.
  5. Pay a registration fees, range $10 – $35 depends on the TLD (usually using PayPal or credit card).
  6. You are now done with the registration process.
  7. Next you will need to point the domain name to your web hosting (by changing its DNS record).

And that’s about it.

We discussed in-depth about how to choose a good domain name, compared domain registration prices, and explained the process of buying an existing domain in this domain dummies guide. .

Who’s governing domain registration process?

Internet Privacy

Things are a lot more complicated from a domain registrar’s point of view.

Domain registration process are governed by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, or ICANN.

This governing body is essentially a global regulator of best practices for registrars, web hosts, and the clients who interact with them.

According to the body’s standards, all customers registering a domain name must be prepared to furnish contact information for themselves, their organization, their business, and even their employer in some cases.

Regulations on ccTLDs

For those users who are seeking to register a country-specific domain name option (like “.us” or “.co.uk”), a good portion of the registration process will be dedicated to determining whether or not the customer is a resident of that country and therefore legally permitted to purchase one of its country-specific top level domains (will talk about this later). And that should hammer home a secondary point to users.

While there are hundreds of available domain name suffixes (like “.com” or “.net), many of these domains have specific registration requirements.

For example, only organizations can register a “.org” domain name, and only American citizens can register a domain name that ends in “.us.” Failing to meet the guidelines and requirements for each type of domain during the actual registration and payment process will result in the domain name being “released” back into the pool of available domain names; the customer will have to pick a top level domain for which they actually qualify, or cancel their purchase altogether.

During the signup process, it’s also important to have information directly from a web host, as this information will be need when filling in the DNS and MX record information during registration.

These two records determine which web hosting server’s content is displayed when a user navigates to the domain, as well as how email is addressed, sent, and received using that hosting package and the associated domain name. Inaccurate information will result in errors and page-load failures.

WhoIs data

Every domain name has a publicly accessible record that includes the owner’s personal information such as owner name, contact number, mailing address, and domain registration as well as expiry date.

It’s called a WhoIs record and lists the registrant and contacts for the domain.

As required by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), the domain owners must make these contact information available on WHOIS directories. These records are available anytime to anyone who does a simple WhoIs lookup.

In other words, if someone wants to know who owns a website, all they to do is run a quick WHOIS search, type the domain name and voila, they have access to the website registration details.

Example of a WhoIs record
Example of a WhoIs record (details hidden with domain privacy).

Domain name privacy

Domain privacy replaces your WHOIS info with the info of a forwarding service done by a proxy server.

In result, your personal info, such as  physical address, emails, telephone number, etc is hide from the public. Domain privacy is important because your domain record (ie. the WhoIs data) may also be used in ways that aren’t legitimate or desirable. Since anyone can look up a WhoIs record, spammers, hackers, identity thieves and stalkers may access your personal information!

Unethical companies check domain expiration dates then send official looking “renewal” notices in an attempt to get the domain owners to transfer domains to their company, or send invoices that are service solicitations for search engine submissions and other questionable services.

Both email and snail mail spammers use the WhoIs databases to harvest domain owners’ email and contact domain owners with solicitations as well.

 


 

Wrapping Up

This marks the end of our web hosting & domain name 101 guide. We hope you have learned something useful from this article.

Relevant tutorials

We have published a number of useful guide and tutorials to help you put up your first website online.

On creating a website

On managing your website

On purchasing the right web host