Website hosting lets you publish a website on the internet, so it can be seen online. No matter whether your website is for business or personal use, it’s really important to choose a website hosting company you can trust. Finding reliable, secure and flexible hosting is key to creating a successful website.
Website hosting comparison chart for 2017
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Website hosting explained
It can be a big mistake to opt for the cheapest website hosting. The price may reflect the quality – and cutting corners with website hosting is a bad idea. It may lead to website downtime, poor quality technical support and other problems.
Instead, it’s really important that you can depend on your hosting. Unreliable hosting can lead to your website being unavailable at times – this is annoying in any situation, but particularly frustrating if you’re trying to run a business or your site receives lots of traffic.
Look for good security too. Hackers often target website hosting services with poor security, and this can result in data being stolen or your site being deleted or altered.
Types of website hosting
There are two main types of website hosting: Linux (usually for PHP-based websites) and Windows (usually for ASP-based websites). Most hosting companies offer both, so just make sure you pick the right one if given a choice.
Website hosting packages tend to be billed on a monthly basis, but you can usually sign up for a year (or more) to qualify for a discount. If you decide to do this, make sure you can accommodate website growth by upgrading without penalty, if necessary.
Extra hosting services
Many website hosting companies offer a range of services in addition to basic hosting. These can include domain name registration, email and search engine optimization (SEO). If you need these services, it’s usually cheaper to buy a hosting package which includes them, rather than purchasing them separately.
Most website hosting packages also include one or more apps. These include content management systems (CMS) and blogging tools to help you create common types of website.
To find the right website hosting, consider these key areas.
Website hosting capacity
Make sure the space available with your website hosting is more than the total size of your website files.
Most packages also limit the amount of data you can transfer each month (sometimes called the bandwidth). How much of this you will use depends on how many visitors your website receives.
Even entry level packages offer adequate capacity for starter websites, but if you plan on hosting lots of images, sound or video content, you may need extra space and bandwidth.
Cost and contract length
Most website hosting packages are charged monthly, but offer a discount if you pay upfront for a year or more.
You may have to pay a one-off set up fee when you first buy hosting. Some companies also offer money back guarantees, effectively allowing you to try their service at no risk.
Just like your own computer, website hosting packages have an operating system. There are two main options: Windows or Linux. Your choice isn’t dictated by the operating system on your own computer – it depends on what technology you have used to build your website.
Most people use Linux hosting. It’s a good choice unless you know you’re already committed to Windows.
Databases and scripting
It’s easy to pick the wrong type of server when you buy your hosting. Most websites are built in either the ASP or PHP scripting language.
If your website is built in PHP then you will probably need Linux hosting with the Apache web server installed. If your website is built in ASP, you will probably need Windows hosting and the IIS web server.
Reporting and statistics
Look for a statistics package or facility to show information about how many people have visited your website. You should also be able to see how they found your site, which pages they visited, and how long they spent on your site.
These functions are often called ‘web analytics’ or an ‘analytics package’.
Security and reliability
Ask your web hosting company to explain how it guards against hacking attempts. They should have a firewall, and should perform regular backups of your website.
If having your website offline would cause major disruption, look for a package with a service level agreement (SLA). This guarantees your website’s availability and should explain what compensation you’ll be entitled to in the event of problems.
Content management systems
Website hosting packages usually include one of more content management systems (‘CMS’) like Wordpress, Drupal and Joomla. These help you create common types of website – like a blog, online forum or photo gallery.
Although useful, you’ll probably still need basic technical knowledge to use the CMS features of your website hosting.
Ease of use
You will need at least some technical knowledge in order to use any web hosting service. However, some packages offer well-designed control panels which help you get your hosting set up properly. Check for a demo or screenshots.
Help and support
It’s really important your website hosting comes with adequate help and support in case you need advice or things go wrong. Because problems never happen at convenient times, look for a company offering round-the-clock assistance.
Many web hosts deal efficiently with support requests via email, but a telephone number where you can actually speak to someone is invaluable in an emergency.
Here are our answers to the most common questions about website hosting.
Q. What is website hosting?
A. Website hosting enables you to publish a website on the internet. You have to upload a copy of your website to a server which is permanently connected to the internet.
Q. Do I need website hosting?
A. Yes, assuming you want to create and run a website. However, if you plan to create your website from templates by using a ‘site builder’ package, or have access to another tool to help you create a website, it may come with hosting already included. If that’s the case, you will not need to purchase separate hosting.
Q. How much technical knowledge do I need to use website hosting?
A. You will need some technical knowledge. At the very least, you will need to know how to upload your website files. If you don’t have any technical knowledge and lack the time or inclination to learn, you may prefer to use a ‘site builder’ package. Alternatively, you can ask a web developer to set up hosting for you.
Q. Will my website hosting include everything I need to publish a website?
A. Probably, but what’s included does vary from package to package. In particular, you may need to purchase a separate domain name (like www.yourwebsitename.com) before you can publish your site.
Q. Some website hosting features sound technical. How do I know what I need?
A. It’s vital you understand how your own website is built, or is planned to be built. Then you can check the technical features of the hosting match your requirements.
If you’re not sure about this or haven’t decided yet, a good option can be to plump for a mid-range Linux hosting package which includes at least one database and a content management system (CMS). This will give you flexibility without breaking the bank.
If someone else is building a website for you, ask them for a list of requirements.
Q. How do I tell how much hosting space I need?
A. You can get a rough idea by checking the total size of all the files that make up your website. Allow some extra space to expand into.
In practice, even entry-level packages offer far more hosting space than you are likely to require for a basic website, so if you’re unsure, pick a basic package and make sure you can upgrade it if you need to.
Q. How much bandwidth will my website use each month?
A. It’s very hard to tell unless your website is already up-and-running. So it’s best to save money and start small. Choose an entry-level package which you can upgrade easily when you need to.
Q. Lots of website hosting packages look very similar. How do I decide which is best?
A. Check what levels of support and service the website hosting company offers. These vary vastly. The cheapest hosting companies tend to offer minimal support and take longer to solve problems. That’s fine if you know what you’re doing, but if you think you’ll need help, pay a bit more for extra support.
Website hosting is a jargon-heavy area. If you’re not familiar with it, here’s our guide to the key terms.
A type of web server software. Every website hosting package comes with web server software – it allows you to upload files and do useful things with your hosting. If your website has been built using PHP, you will probably need Apache in order for it to work with your hosting.
A measure of how much information is transferred to and from your website. Most website hosting packages limit how much bandwidth you can use each month. The busier your website, the more bandwidth you will use.
Content management system (CMS)
A tool providing a framework within which you can create your website. A CMS is a good way to create a website with advanced features, relatively quickly. There are many different types of CMS, designed to help you build different types of website. For instance, Wordpress is a CMS that makes it easier to create a blog.
File transfer protocol (FTP)
The standard method of uploading files to your website hosting. To use FTP, you need to install ‘FTP software’ on your computer (you can get this free).
The amount of space available for your to upload your website files. All the files which make up your website must fit into this space. Hosting space is usually measured in megabytes (MB) or gigabytes (GB, equal to about 1,000MB). Believe it or not, although many hosting packages offer 1,000MB or more, a simple website will take up less than 10MB.
A type of web server software produced by Microsoft. IIS stands for ‘Internet Information Services’. Every website hosting package comes with web server software – it allows you to upload files and do useful things with your hosting. If your website has been built with ASP, you will probably need IIS in order for it to work with your hosting.
A type of email address. With an IMAP address, messages are stored on a central email server so you can log in from different computers and still see all your messages.
A type of database. Many websites have a MySQL database at their heart – it contains the content of the website and information about how it should be displayed. You will probably need MySQL if you plan to install and use a content management system (CMS) or other applications.
A type of email address. With a POP3 address, messages are downloaded onto your own computer when you check your email. They are then deleted from the email server, so you can only view those messages on that one computer.
Many websites are, effectively, small computer programs that perform specific tasks for website visitors. They use programming languages to do this.
Allows you to send email from your computer via your website hosting service. If your website hosting company offers SMTP, it means they run a server which you can connect to in order to send email. SMTP stands for ‘simple mail transfer protocol’ and is the most common method of sending email.
SQL is a computer programming language used to edit, delete and extract information held in a database. SQL is used with website hosting because many websites are built with a database at their core.