What is web hosting?

Web hosting is one of the underlying technologies of the internet. There can be no websites without it. In the past, companies typically used their own servers for hosting. Meanwhile, however, business users often face the decision of whether to use an alternative model. After all, it’s important to achieve the best cost/benefit ratio. Moreover, private website operators also need to develop a basic understanding of website hosting if they want to choose the right provider and product for them.

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Web hosting: defining a core element of the internet

What is website hosting? In short, web hosting refers to the provision of webspace for publishing websites.

Websites are similar to text documents in this respect. In order to keep accessing documents, they have to be saved on a computer hard drive. For website content to be accessed at any time, anywhere around the world, it also needs to be saved but not on a local computer. Hosting instead requires a high-performance server that is connected to the internet around the clock. This way, the website is always available online and the content can be accessed by users around the world. Professional hosting providers also make such servers available to website operators.

Who needs web hosting?

Anyone who wants to launch a website on the internet will need to use some form of hosting. No matter whether it’s a blog, company website with CMS, online store or magazine, web hosting is one of the technical requirements for publishing content online.

It makes no difference whether the online project is for commercial or private purposes. For companies, it can make economic sense to run their own servers for hosting their websites. For private individuals, however, the costs of running their own server are typically too high, making the option to rent webspace from a provider more attractive. In fact, using an external web hosting service can also be more cost-effective for companies after weighing up the options and benefits.

Tip

IONOS offers flexible and secure web hosting for private users and companies of any size. If your needs grow, you can easily switch to a bigger package with just a few clicks.

How does web hosting work?

Website hosting ensures users are able to enter a domain name in their browser and access the right website content. A website creator must first register a domain and then upload content to the hosting provider’s server. Domain names and servers are connected via the Domain Name System (DNS). Information is stored on name servers, stating the IP addresses where certain domains can be found. So if a user opens a URL, the domain name is resolved into an IP address and the corresponding address on the internet is searched. If all goes well, the website is displayed.

Since hardware outages can occur, many hosting providers run multiple servers for a single domain (high availability). This allows website requests to be successfully processed when a server is offline. Additional performance can be achieved with a content delivery network (CDN). The content is duplicated at multiple data centers and distributed throughout the world. This way, users are also able to enjoy fast loading times, even when they are geographically located far from the actual web hosting provider.

A typical web hosting package also includes a database, a PHP installation, and an SSL certificate. Without these core technologies, hardly any websites would be possible nowadays. For this reason, they are conveniently included in many providers’ hosting packages.

What forms of web hosting exist?

Two different types of web hosting are available for publishing a website. Here’s an overview of the hosting options most relevant in a company context.

Free/advertising-financed hosting: The cheapest hosting option is only included here to provide a complete list. Although there are no fees for advertising-financed hosting, users have to expect severe limitations to the configuration options and performance. Since it makes no commercial sense for companies to display third-party advertising on their own websites, this type of hosting is not worth considering in a professional context.

Shared hosting: This kind of hosting is among the most popular. Here, several web hosting accounts (websites) are hosted on a server. They share the hardware resources and system bandwidth. However, the owner of an account does not have any direct access to the data of another account. Both private and smaller professional users often choose this hosting option with its relatively low fees. The disadvantages of shared hosting include security aspects. After all, the data is stored together with third-party company data on the same server. Since resources are jointly used, performance is also limited. Anyone who runs a high-traffic site and wants to ensure quick loading times will probably opt for hosting via a dedicated server instead.

Virtual dedicated server: Virtual dedicated servers offer greater security. While companies share the hardware of a server, their accounts are stored separately as standalone virtual systems. Here, users typically have more configuration options than provided by shared hosting.

Cloud hosting: With this relatively new type of hosting, the website content is stored on networked (or clustered) servers. This allows better load distribution and the performance deficits of shared hosting can be compensated up to a certain point, while the costs remain at a moderate level. Cloud hosting has attracted much criticism because of data protection issues. If the hosting provider fails to take suitable security precautions, sensitive data could easily end up in the wrong people’s hands.

Dedicated server: Much like the virtual dedicated server, company data is stored separately from other customers – in this case, on a dedicated physical server, which is a completely independent device. The advantage is that the full bandwidth of the system can be used for your website. Companies also have full administrative access and can configure the server as they see fit.

Managed hosting server: With this option, the website content of the user is stored on a separate server, but the user does not gain complete control over the hardware as they would with a dedicated server. The configuration options are more limited. However, the web hosting provider handles administration and maintenance, freeing up the IT resources of the company.

Server housing / colocation web hosting: With this form of hosting, a hosting provider makes space available to companies for their own servers. Configuration, administration, and maintenance are handled by the individual company. This option is intended for companies that use their own hardware but wish to have their servers housed in a professional environment. Colocation web hosting is one of the most expensive types of hosting.

What services are included in web hosting – besides webspace?

Depending on the type of hosting chosen, web hosting can comprise different elements. The basic scope of any provider is the provision of webspace and a web server, i.e. connecting the domain name to the webspace. Users can also book extra services.

Especially with shared hosting and managed hosting, different packages are often offered that also include email services and one-click installation of CMS like WordPress, TYPO3 or Joomla – usually at an additional fee.

Typical services of web hosting providers:

  • Domain transfer
  • Email service
  • Content management systems (CMS)
  • Backup service
  • Database backend
  • High availability
  • SSL certificates
  • Statistical analyses
  • Technical support
  • Monitoring
  • Selection of server location

An overview of the biggest web hosting providers can be found in our web hosting provider comparison.

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