Web hosting is a service that provides individuals, organizations and users with online systems for storing information, images, video, or any content accessible via the Web. Web hosts are companies that provide space on a server they own for use by their clients as well as providing Internet connectivity, typically in a data center. Web hosts can also provide data center space and connectivity to the Internet for servers they do not own to be located in their data center.
The scopes of hosting services vary widely. The most basic is file hosting (or Web page hosting), where Web pages and other files can be uploaded via FTP or a Web interface. The files are usually delivered to the Web "as is" or with little processing. Many ISPs offer this service for free to its subscribers. People can also obtain Web page hosting from services such as GeoCities or Angelfire. Web page hosting is typically free, advertisement sponsored, or cheap.
Web page hosting is typically sufficient only for personal home pages. A complex site calls for a more comprehensive package that provide database support and application development platforms (e.g. PHP, Java, and ASP.NET). These facilities allow the customers to write or install scripts for applications like forums and content management. For e-commerce, SSL is also required. The host may also provide a Web interface (e.g. cPanel) for managing the Web server and installing scripts as well as other services like e-mail.
Some hosts specialize in certain software or services (e.g. e-commerce). They are commonly used by larger companies to outsource network infrastructure to a hosting company.
Types of hosting
Hosting can be split up into six general types: free, shared, reseller, virtual private server, dedicated, and colocated.
Free hosting: just about all the free web hosting available is extremely limited when compared to paid hosting. Free web hosts generally require their own ads on your site, only allow web-based uploading and editing of your site, and have very tight disk space and traffic limits. Still, most people get their start via free web hosting.
Image hosting: hosting only a few different formats of images. This type of hosting is often free and most require registrations. Most image hosts allow hotlinking, so that you can upload images on their servers and not waste space/bandwith on yours
Shared hosting: one's Web site is placed on the same server as several hundred other sites. A problem with another site on the server can bring all of the sites down. Shared hosting also brings with it some restrictions regarding what exactly can be done, although these restrictions are nowhere near as restrictive as for free hosting.
Reseller hosting: designed for those who want to become Web hosts themselves. One gets a large amount of space and bandwidth that can be divided up among as many sites as the user wants to put on his account. A reseller account is placed on the same server with other reseller accounts, just like with shared hosting but there are fewer accounts.
Virtual Private Server hosting: Virtual Private Server technology enables one physical server to house several Virtual Environments which behave exactly like an isolated stand-alone server. This is often a much more affordable solution than a dedicated server, normally offering all the same benefits, such as root access.
Dedicated hosting: With dedicated hosting, one gets a server of one's own. They have no restrictions, except for those designed to maintain the integrity of the Web host's network (for instance, banning sites with adult content due to the increase risk of attack by hackers and grey legal issues for the ISP). Unless a separate plan is purchased from the host, the user is also generally on his own. This can be an expensive proposition, as the purchase of the dedicated server itself is generally far more expensive compared to shared hosting.
Colocated hosting: This involves a server the user purchases himself and installs at the host's data center. Besides unmonitored reboots, the user must pay extra for many services dedicated hosting provides by default. Colocated hosting is generally chosen by people with server administration experience and those with more significant needs than which can be satisfied by dedicated or shared hosting. This is usually the most expensive and least cost effective option if you are not colocating many servers.
Web hosting is often provided as part of a general Internet access plan; there are many free and paid providers offering these services. The free services generally have restrictions on how the space can be used, including but not limited to: advertising, bandwidth restrictions, and programs that can be used to edit sites.
Businesses are generally restricted to using a paid Web host to host their site on. Paid Web hosts usually provide many more features, including 24/7 support and personalized assistance. Sites hosted on paid Web hosts also tend to load more quickly since each server hosts fewer sites, giving each site a larger proportion of resources.
A customer also needs to evaluate the requirements of the application. Such considerations include database server software, scripting software, and operating system. Active Server Pages (ASP) web sites usually require a Microsoft Windows based server platform. Most hosting providers provide Linux-based web hosting which offers a wide range of different software. A typical configuration for a Linux server is the LAMP Platform. This includes Linux, Apache, MySQL, and PHP (or Python, Perl or Ruby). Usually there is limited interoperability between the two, although Linux servers can integrate with Windows file services through Samba, and many Linux hosts provide support for Microsoft FrontPage server extensions.
Regardless of whether one is a business or has a personal site that needs to be hosted, it has to be created first. HTML experience is usually required to create a site (and more advanced languages can be used for interactive content, such as ASP or those languages used in a LAMP setup), but those without design experience can hire a Web designer to do the heavy lifting. Once the site is online there's not much else that's required: the host generally handles the technical behind-the-scenes work with the server.