Web Hosting Tutorial for Beginners - All Basics Covered - 2017 Edition

If you are getting started with blogging, web hosting will come across to you as something really complicated and technical. But rest assured, once you have a few basics cleared, you will no longer feel that way.

After reading this article you will know everything there is to know about web hosting (that a blogger needs to know).

So let's get stared:

What is web hosting?

Simply put, a web host (web hosting company) helps put you website online and accessible to the public.

Here's what a web host allows you to do:

  1. Gives you space to save (store) your files, images and other media. (Disk space)
  2. Allows people to access your stored files/images/media when requested. (Bandwidth)

To do this the web host uses what we call a 'Server'.

What's a server?

A server is a computer that stores files/media and serves files/media when requested.

It stays online 24/7 (UpTime) and can serve requests to multiple visitors (know as 'clients') at the same time.

So if 100 visitors visit your blog at the same time, each one of them will still be able to see your blog.

When you write a blog post, you save the file to your web host's server and now it can be accessed by anyone visiting your blog.

Operating System of the server

Since the server is like a computer, it runs on an operating system known as Server OS. Typically there are two popular operating systems as follows:

  1. Windows operating system - IIS (Use only if you need to run ASP or ASP.Net on your site).
  2. Linux based operating system (Open source hence free) (CentOS being the most popular)

As you would have guessed, the Linux operating system is the most popular of the two as it is open source.

Of all the Linux based programs available, CentOS is the most popular. Most if not all web hosting companies use CentOS.

Linux supports PHP which is the programming language used by WordPress and many other free CMS's (Content management systems) like Joomla and Drupal. This is why, you need a linux based server to run these systems.

So from this part on, we will only be focusing on linux based servers.

Web server software program

A web server program is installed on top of a OS to make the system behave like a server. So to make this clear, a server runs on an Linux operating system like CentOS on top of which a server program is installed.

Most popular web server software programs are as follows

  • Apache HTTP server software (Open source)
  • Litespeed
  • Nginx
  • lighttpd

It is beyond the scope of this article to discuss the differences between types software systems.

It is suffice to say that for your blogging journey, it is best to stick with Linux hosting that offers Apache HTTP server. 90% of all hosting companies offer this, so you don't need to worry too much here.

The second best option is 'Litespeed'. If configured properly, this server software is super secure and is faster in comparison to Apache.

We will discuss more about these in the later part of the article.

Details here are just for some rough understanding. You need not necessarily 'by heart' these.

Storage space and bandwidth

As discussed earlier, a web hosting company gives you space to store your files/images and bandwidth to make your files/images accessible to public.

Hosting bandwidth and storage

Let's look into these in a bit more detail:

1.) Storage Space: Your blog posts, images, media files (videos, podcasts etc.), WordPress installation, themes, plugins etc. are all stored in the server.

The more files you save, the more storage space you occupy.

Typically, most hosting companies give you plenty of storage space. Some even give you unlimited storage (known as 'unmetered' usage).

So you need not worry too much about this.

2.) Bandwidth: Each time a visitor accesses your website, he/she uses server resources. This is because, the server needs to send all the files/images/media to his computer.

The resources used to serve files this way are calculated as 'bandwidth'.

The more visitors you have, the more server resources will be required and hence you will need more bandwidth.

When comparing web hosting, it makes sense to check how much bandwidth each service is giving you and at what cost.

Bandwidth is measured in Bytes and the values will generally be given in GB (Gigabytes) or TB (Terrabyes).

How much bandwidth do I need?

Bandwidth requirements vary based on the type of content you have on your blog.

For example, if your blog posts only have plain text, your bandwidth usage will be less. On the other hand, if your blog features high resolution images (self hosted images), your bandwidth requirement will be very high. If your blog has self hosted videos, your bandwidth will fly off the roof. This is why it is a good idea to host your videos using a service like Youtube.com or Vimeo.

You cannot calculate your bandwidth requirements before hand. It is only after hosting your site that you can find out how much bandwidth you are using and if you need more.

But rest assured, for a regular blog, the bandwidth requirements are usually well within what the web host offers you.

Server response time

The 'server response time' is the time taken by a server to answer a request. In other words, time taken by a server to load a website in the client's browser.

Faster response times are indicative of a good hosting company.

You can check your website's response time using a tool like bitcatcha.com or Pingdom.com

Note: Remember that this is different from 'site load time' also known as page speed. A site load time depends on the server response time plus the size/design of your webpage. If your webpage has a lot of un-optimized media (like un-optimized images), it will take a longer time to load.

You can check your site's page speed details using Google Page Speed Insights tool.

Server Location

Some hosts will have servers at different locations/countries and will give you the option to select a location.

Always go for a location that you think the bulk of your website visitors are closest from.

If your blog is for a global audience, you need not worry too much about this. But if your blog is very regional, go for a web hosting company whose servers are located within your own country.

Server 'Up Time' and 'Down Time'

Servers are subjected to severe loads on a daily basis. In addition to regular client based requets, servers can also experience, cyber attacks or run into other such resource intensive requests. This is why they require timely maintenance, and back-up plans.

In the absence of such plans, servers will experience constant down-times.

If your web hosting server is down, your website will go off-line. In other words, your visitors will not be able to access your website.

This is why it is important to use a good hosting company that guarantees 99.9% up-times.

Even the best servers will experience minor down-times like a few minutes every now and then. Nothing can be done about it. But if your web hosting company experiences constant down times, it is time to consider a new service.

Monitoring down-times: It is not possible to manually monitor Down-times, hence you can use a service like uptimerobot.com or Statuscake.com

These services will monitor your site and send you an email whenever your website is down. You can then contact your web hosting provider to inform them of the same asking them to rectify the issue so they can quickly fix it.

MySql Databases

A MySQL Database is required if you plan to run a site using a CMS (Content Management System) like WordPress.

One wordpress installation requires 1 MySQL database.

A CMS like WordPress uses the MYSQL database to store and retrieve data to dynamically generate webpages.

A database is not required if you plan to run a static website without using any CMS.

Not using a CMS would mean, you will need to manually upload/update your articles to your server. Static sites are usually best if you do not plan on adding more than 5 to 10 pages to your website and if you do not plan on updating your website very often.

Web hosting control panel

A web-hosting control panel allows you to configure your website. Here are some things you can do using a control panel:

  • Configure email: Add remove email address, create quota, redirect email, spam prevention etc.
  • Add/remove website accounts, configure sub-domains, add-on domains etc.
  • Configure FTP accounts.
  • Work with databases: Add remove MySQL databases, backup MySQL databases.
  • Configure cron jobs to run at specific intervals (eg: Run a backup script to take website backups)
  • Check your traffic statistics (who visited your website, bandwidth used per visit etc.)
  • Manage files: Add/remove website files using file manager.
  • Check usage statistics: Check your bandwidth and storage details.
  • Install services like wordpress, joomla, forums and other software programs.
  • Configure SSL certificates.
  • Backup and restore your account.

Since the control panel allows you to do all of these important activities, it is crucial that it is functional and user friendly.

Note: Don't get overwhelmed looking at all these tasks. They are pretty simple to do once you get the hang of it. And most of these are not even required. I just highlighted all the things that a Control panel allows you to do.

There are various types of control panels that different hosting companies provide. Some of the most popular ones are as follows:

  • Cpanel/WHM
  • Plesk
  • Direct Admin
  • Web Admin
  • Ajento
  • H-Sphere
  • Webmin/Virtualmin

Out of these Control Panels, one of the most popular (and easy to use) control panel is Cpanel/WHM. Next in line is Plesk.

For this tutorial, we are going to focus on Cpanel/WHM. I highly recommend that you only choose a hosting provider who offers Cpanel.

Do a demo: If you want, you can try out a demo of the control panel before buying. Most good hosting companies will allow you to demo their control panel.

Here's a demo for Cpanel: https://cpanel.com/demo/

Types of hosting

Now we are getting into the meat of the article.

Almost all hosting companies offer these three options for you to choose from:

  1. Shared hosting.
  2. Reseller hosting.
  3. VPS and Dedicated hosting.

So which one should you go for? Here's the answer:

1.) Shared Hosting

If you want to host a single website, then it is best to go with the shared hosting option. This is generally quite cheap (around $5/month to $10/month).

How many websites can I host using a shared hosting account? Most shared hosting plans will allow you to host more than one website, some even allow you to host unlimited websites.

But there is a catch - you can only host a new website as an Add-on domain. This means, this new website will be hosted by creating a sub-directory within your main/primary website.

So even though, technically, you will be able to host many websites, the drawbacks to hosting this way are many. So many that it is advisable not to do this especially if you are serious about your blogging career.

Let's look at a few dis-advantages of an Add-on Domain:

  • You get only one CPanel (Control panel) account for the primary domain.
  • Web statistics like Awstats will be available only for the primary domain, it won't be available for Add-on domains.
  • Email addresses will be available only for the primary domain. This means, you will not be able to create domain specific email addresses (eg: name@sitename.com) for Add On Domain names.
  • Add-on domains don't rank very well in search engines. So you have a major disadvantage here from the SEO perspective.
  • Add-on domains are dependent on the primary domain, so if you don't use the primary domain and need to remove it, all add-on domains will need to be reconfigured too.
  • Add-on domains can cause issues with some scripts and managing HTAccess files especially when running a CMS like wordpress.
  • If one domain exceeds its bandwidth usage, all domains will take the hit.
  • There could be conflicts between htaccess configurations that would require expert advice to rectify.

These are just some of the many dis-advantages of Add-on domains, so I would recommend you stay clear of them.

If you have more than one domain name to host, the best option is to buy a new shared hosting account. One account for each site.

If you have 4 or more domains (websites) to host, consider going for a Reseller Hosting Account.

2.) Reseller Hosting

As the name suggests, Reseller Hosting allows you to resell your hosting to others. But you can also use it to host your own websites.

Reseller hosting allows you to create a separate account for each website, unlike Add-on domains discussed above which hosts all websites inside a single account.

As mentioned earlier, if you have more than 4 websites that you plan to host, by all means go for Reseller Hosting.

Let's see why:

Most Linux Reseller plans start at $15/month and they allow you to host a minimum of 50 sites per account.

Considering that shared hosting for one site costs around $5/month. If you have three sites you end up paying $15/month. If it is four sites, you end up paying $20/month. Instead, you can save money by taking up a Reseller hosting account.

The dual advantage of a reseller hosting package is that you can even sell hosting to your friends or businesses at your own rates.

When you buy a Reseller hosting package, you get yourself a Cpanel ('Control panel' for configuring individual websites) and WHM ('Web Hosting Manager' for creating managing different website accounts).

This way you can easily manage all your website accounts using a single WHM interface.

3.) VPS and Dedicated hosting

These types of hosting are better suited for very high traffic sites and sites that require a lot of functionality.

For example, if you run a community site or a forum, it is best to go for a VPS server. This is because, user registration and simultaneous user logins require a lot of server resources.

Typically, a web host will not allow you to consume so much resources if you are on a shared or reseller hosting plan. They would disable your site and ask you to move to a VPS or dedicated plan.

If you plan on taking up a VPS service, I highly recommend, KnownHost.com

For regular blogging, a shared hosting or reseller hosting account is more than enough.

Do I need a SSL Certificate?

An SSL certificate allows you to offer a secure browsing experience to your visitors. To put it simply, your site address with SSL with start with a HTTPS instead of the regular HTTP. HTTPS (HTTP Secure) encrypts the connection between the client (site vistor) and the server making it a secure environment.

If you are only going to run a blog, you do not need a SSL certificate.

Though, if you plan on having a blog that allows user registration, then you must consider having a SSL certificate.

Google recently has been a big time supporter of HTTPS and has also indicated that sites that use HTTPS will have a ranking advantage over sites that are HTTP. But as of now, no such correlation has been seen.

So you need not worry too much about it.

That being said, there are some hosts that offer free SSL certificates in association with services like LetsEncrypt.org. One such host is HawkHost who I highly recommend.

Do I need a dedicated IP? - Dedicated IP versus shared IP

When you buy hosting, you generally get a shared IP address. A shared IP address is shared by many websites. There could be thousands of websites sharing a single IP.

A dedicated IP on the other hand is unique to your site. You can actually visit your website simply by typing in the IP address in the address bar of a browser.

Dedicated IPs are pretty cheap and can be brought for around $2/IP/Month.

That being said, Shared IP's are perfectly fine for most cases. You need not bother too much about getting a dedicated IP.

Dedicated IP is usually recommended if you plan on using a SSL Certificate but is not mandatory. You can run a SSL connection over a shared IP address because most browsers and OS today support SNI (Server Name Indication).

Do I need a CDN?

CDN or a content delivery network, helps block spammy traffic, and also leverages the power of caching to help increase your website's load speed which reducing the overall server load.

Initially, you do not require a CDN. Once your site starts attracting a lot of traffic, you can consider using a CDN. Yes, CDN does offer security and protection against online attacks, but you need not worry too much about that as of now.

Should I use wordpress hosting?

With the rising popularity of wordpress as a blogging platform, there are tons of hosting companies who have started offering 'Wordpress Hosting'.

These are nothing but regular hosting with a bit of goodies thrown in with an inflated price tag. For eg, a free database/site file back-up and restore service.

But you can easily back-up wordpress sites manually. In-fact, it is recommended to do this manually as you cannot simply rely on a host to do this properly for you.

WordPress can run with ease on any kind of Linux hosting. You don't need hosting specifically designed to run WordPress.

Which hosting to use?

Now comes the main question - which host should you choose?

Here are four important factors to keep in mind:

1.) Offers Cpanel: Make sure that the host offers CPanel as the control panel.

2.) Offers good support: Make sure that the host has a good support system in place with a live chat. Test out their live chat to see if the support is good. Ask them a few questions to make sure they are knowledgeable. They should also offer support 24/7.

3.) Allows you to pay monthly: There are some hosts that do not offer a monthly plan. They want you to sign-up for a full year. Avoid such hosts unless they are really reputed service. You should pay monthly at-least for 3 months to test out a host before committing. Commit to a yearly payment plan only after you are completely satisfied with their service.

4.) Gives up-time guarantee: Make sure that they offer a guarantee of 99.9% uptime.

5.) Has a money back guarantee: The host should have at-least a 30 day money back guarantee.

6.) Has good reviews: The host should have decent reviews online. Check out a few reviews from different websites.

Now let's look at the top 6 hosting options for a new blogger:

1.) Hostgator:

Hostgator tops this list as it has been around for a while and has proven to be a top host - Good uptime, solid support, fast and reliable. I have personally used Hostgator for over 10 years now and have not had much complaints.

Hostgator was taken over by EIG (Endurance International Group) in 2012 but luckily this has not impacted the service quality, at-least not as of now.

Hostgator offers Linux hosting that runs on CentOS and the popular Apache HTTP Server with CPanel/WHM control panel.

Here are the shared a reseller plans offered by Hostgator:

Sharing Hosting: The basic shared hosting package (Hatchling) comes with unlimited bandwidth and disk space and allows you to host one domain name. The price being $6.95/month.

This is the best plan if you plan on using HostGator's shared hosting.

The higher plans don't offer you much in terms of value for money. The only thing the 'Baby plan' offers is unlimited domain names. As mentioned earlier, these are only Add-On domain names which is not recommended.

The third plan (Business plan) offers a private SSL certificate and one dedicated IP. As a beginner you don't require either of these.

So in my opinion the best plan to go for is the Hatchling Plan.

Reseller Hosting: The basic reseller package (Aluminium plan) comes with 60 GB of Disk Space and 600 GB of bandwidth. Plus, you get to host unlimited domains. All this for a price of $29.95/month

Reduces to $25.95/month if you pay 1 year upfront. Total cost for 1 year upfront payment comes to $299/year.

The other plans only offer higher bandwidth and higher disk space. You can upgrade to these higher plans as per your needs in the future.

For beginners, the Aluminium plan should be more than sufficient. So choose the Aluminium plan if you plan to use Reseller Hosting.

Note: Depending on your location, you will automatically be redirected to the regional version of the site when you visit Hostgator.com. For example, if you are in India, Hostgator.com will redirect to Hostgator.in. It is advised not to buy hosting from the regional version and go to the Hostgator.com version instead. How do you do that? You will be given a prompt to switch back to the .com version, click on that prompt to return.

2.) Hawkhost

Hawkhost is a relatively lesser known host, but they are solid. I have been using them for over 2 years now and have had no complaints whatsoever.

Hawkhost uses Centos with Litespeed server (as opposed to Apache HTTP server that most hosts use).

Litespeed has been known to be faster than Apache in serving files. Some say Litespeed is upto 9 times faster than Apache. It also comes with extensive security features and has built in DDos (Denial of service attach) mitigation.

Most Litespeed features are compatible with Apache like .htaccess directives, mod_rewrite and mod_security. So you don't necessarily feel like you are using a new software.

Server locations: Dallas (Tx), Washington DC, Los Angeles, Amsterdam, Singapore, Hongkong, Toronto.

Hawhost offers the following shared and reseller hosting packages:

a.) Shared Hosting: The basic shared hosting package (Primary) comes with 10 GB of space and unlimited bandwidth at $4.99/month.

In addition, if you pay for a year upfront, you are charged at $3.99/month and the total cost comes to $47.99. Click here for details.

b.) Reseller Hosting: The basic reseller hosting package (Bronze) comes with 15GB disk space, unlimited bandwidth and 50 website accounts. The price for the same is $18.99/month. Click here for details.

Pros of using Hawkhost:

  • They don't up sell stuff to you. They are very simple and straight-forward in their approach.
  • Free SSL (for life) that is auto-set up.
  • Very affordable pricing.
  • Litespeed server with Htaccess.
  • Free Memcached that helps accelerate page load times.
  • You get to choose your preferred server location.
  • Excellent support.

Cons of using Hawkhost:

  • None.

3.) Bluehost

Bluehost is another highly popular host. Similar to Hostgator, it was taken over by EIG a few years ago. The takeover has not impacted its service quality and they still offer good quality service.

Bluehost offers the following two shared hosting plans:

Basic: Comes with 50 GB of space and unlimited bandwidth at $71.40/year. (Allows you to host 1 domain)
Plus: Comes with unlimited domains, space and bandwidth at $95.88/year.

If you are planning to use shared hosting on Bluehost, stick with the basic plan. The 'Plus' package does not give you much other than unlimited space and domains. As discussed earlier, unlimited domains can only be hosted as Add-on domains and hence is not recommended. Similarly, 50 GB of space is more than enough for any blogger.

Free Domain Name: Even though Bluehost offers a free domain name with all its shared hosting packages, it is recommended not to use the free domain and buy a domain from a standard domain name provider like NameCheap or Godaddy.

Don't ask me why, but it is always recommended not to host your site and buy domain name with the same provider. Also, the domain name is free only for the 1st year, you will need to pay for the name from the second year onward.

Pros of using Bluehost:

  • Offers enhanced version of Cpanel that has a better and easy to use interface.
  • Offers a free domain name for 1 year. (you will need to pay for the domain from the next year onward)
  • Good 24/7 phone, email and live chat support. Knowledgeable support team.
  • 30 day money back guarantee.

Cons of using Bluehost:

  • Monthly payment option not available, minimum payment term is for one year.

Reseller Hosting: Bluehost does not offer reseller hosting on its own. It does recommend buying reseller hosting from ResellerClub.com which does not have too many good reviews.

Note: If you plan on buying hosting from BlueHost, make sure to buy it from Bluehost.com and not from regional versions (as advised for Hostgator). If you are redirected to the regional version, simply scroll down to the footer of the site and click on 'Switch to BlueHost.com' link.

4.) Inmotion Hosting

Inmotion hosting has been around for quite a while now and has always attracted good reviews from their users.

InMotion offers the following shared and reseller packages:

a.) Shared Hosting: The basic shared hosting package (Launch) comes with unlimited bandwidth/space and allows you to host on additional Add-on domain and 2 MySql databases. The pricing is $47.94/year. (Monthly payment not available). Click here for details.

b.) Reseller hosting: The basic reseller hosting package (R-1000s) offers 80 GB space and 800 GB of bandwidth per month with one free dedicated IP. You also get to host unlimited domains. All this at $14/month. Click here for details.

Pros of using InMotion Hosting:

  • Free domain for 1 year.
  • 90 days money back guarantee.
  • 24x7 support with live chat, phone and email.
  • Offers free data backups.
  • Free dedicated IP with reseller account.
  • All accounts come with fast SSD drives.

Cons of using InMotion Hosting:

  • No monthly payment option available for shared hosting plans. You need to pay yearly.
  • Reports of delayed customer service.

5.) A2Hosting

A2Hosting is a well known and reputed hosting company that has also been around for quite a while.

Server location: USA (Michigan), Europe (Amsterdam), Asia (singapore)

A2Hosting offers the following shared and reseller packages:

a.) Shared Hosting: The basic shared hosting package (Lite) Comes with unlimited space and bandwidth, free SSL, SSD storage and Cpanel at $9.99/month (Even if there is a discount on the first month, the next billing will be charged at $9.99/month). Click here for details.

b.) Reseller hosting: The basic reseller package (Bronze) comes with 30 GB Storage, 400 GB Bandwidth and ability to host 40 websites at $29.99/month. Click here for details.

Pros of using A2Hosting

  • Offers good discounts and promotions every now and then.
  • Free SSL for all accounts in association with LetsEncrypt.org.
  • Good support - live chat, phone and email.
  • You get to choose your preferred server location - Asia, Europe or USA.

Cons of using A2Hosting

  • Higher cost.

6.) Interserver

Interserver is another hosting company that runs Litespeed (Refer Hawhost above for details).

They offer the following shared and reseller hosting packages:

a.) Shared Hosting: Interserver offers only one shared hosting package (Standard Package), that comes with unlimited bandwidth and disk space at $5/month. You also get a free SSL certificate. Click here for details.

b.) Reseller hosting: The basic reseller hosting package (RS One) offers 80 GB of space, 500 GB Bandwidth and allows you to host unlimted domains at $19.95/month. Click here for details.

Pros of using Interserver

  • Very affordable pricing.
  • Free SSL Certificate.
  • Good support - Email + Live chat.

Cons of using Interserver

  • None

6.) Namecheap Hosting

Namecheap is predominantly a domain registration service but they have recently started offering hosting. As far as domain registration goes, they are the best. And looking at their reviews, it seems that they offer a decent hosting facility as well.

Server locations: US and UK.

As far as pricing goes, they offer the cheapest deal there is. Let's look at the pricing for their basic plan.

a.) Shared Hosting: The basic shared hosting package is priced at $9.88/year. That's right, not per month, but per year. That comes to less than $1/month. Of-course, this is only for the first year. From the second year, you are charged at $40/year, which is still cheap. You get 20GB SSD-accelerated disk space and unlimited bandwidth. Click here for details.

b.) Reseller Hosting: Their basic reseller package starts at $16.95/month. You get 25 GB of disk space and 1000 GB of bandwidth which is a lot. You also get to host 25 websites. Click here for details.

Pros of using NameCheap

  • Very affordable pricing.
  • 100% uptime guarantee.
  • Reputed service provider.

Cons of using Interserver

  • None

Conclusion

Buying Shared Hosting: If you are a blogger who is just starting out, I recommend buying the basic shared hosting package from NameCheap at $9.88/year. Other affordable options are HawkHost and Interserver. Both of these are priced at $5/month which is affordable.

Avoid Add On Domains: If you want to host more than one website, don't use the 'Add-on domain' feature offered in Shared Hosting packages. Buy new 'shared hosting' accounts for each website instead. Yes, this might seem costlier, but believe me, you will see its benefits later in your blogging journey.

Buying Reseller Hosting: If you want to host more than 4 websites, consider buying a reseller plan. Recommended reseller plans are the basic plan from InMotion Hosting at $14/month or the basic reseller plan from Hawkhost or NameCheap at $16.95/month.

Skip the free domain name: Even if the hosting company offers you a free domain name with your registration, it is best to buy a domain name from a standard domain name seller like NameCheap or GoDaddy. These services offer a better domain name interface, offer standard rates and come with knowledgeable support.

 
 
 
 

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