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Advanced Hosting Tutorial

This tutorial will help to explain some of the terminology used when talking about website hosting. It will explain what all the features mean in a hosting plan and which ones you should look for. It will also help you to avoid some of the problems that some first time webmasters make when purchasing hosting for their website.

Introduction:

In order for people around the world to be able to view your pages on the internet at any time, you will need to place your web pages on a "web server". Web servers are computers which are connected to the internet 24 hours a day, 7 days a week and are only used to serve web pages to internet users.

Most ISP's (Internet Service Providers) will give their customers some very basic free hosting service included with their internet access package. In most cases, since this service is free, it will be very limited in the features it offers.

Also, there are other companies which give you this service for free. They give you some space on their server to place your website. However, in return, you allow them to place advertising on one or all of your pages.

Free hosting services are an excellent starting point for every webmaster. It is good to experiment and get some experience for free, before you commit yourself to paying for web hosting. However, if you want a professional website with all the features that you will need you will probably want to use a paid hosting service.

Types of Hosting:

  • Non-Virtual Hosting:

Almost all free hosting services, whether they are from your ISP or another company on the internet, will place your page in a subdirectory of their "domain" (similar to http://www.yourisp.com/~yourpage). Some also give you a subdomain (similar to http://yourname.yourisp.com) This is called non-virtual domain hosting.

  • Virtual Hosting (virtual server):

A major advantage of using paid hosting services (virtual hosting) is that you can use your own domain name to host your site ( http://www.yourdomain.com/) and your hosting company's domain name never shows up. Also, they will never place their own advertising on your site. This gives you complete independence and control over your website.

  • Dedicated Server:

If you need to run special software on your site, or if you receive a large amount of traffic (tens of thousands of visitors a day) it may become more efficient for you to have a dedicated server. Unlike virtual hosting, where many domains are hosted on a single server machine, with a dedicated server you will be the only domain using the server! This means your site will be much more reliable, faster to load and can handle more traffic etc. It also means that you will have full access to the server, to install any special software or to make modifications to advanced server settings.

  • Server Co-Location:

This is the most advanced type of hosting. It basically means that you buy your own server and you co-locate it at an ISP. The hardware will be yours, and you are usually responsible for maintenance etc. All your ISP does is provide you with high speed connections to the internet and a certain amount of data transfer. Only large companies usually need this type of hosting.

Below we explain the different features which you may find with different hosting providers, whether they are free or paid.

Features:

Disk Space: This tells you how much space you have on the hosts disk to place your files. This is usually given in MB (Megabytes), although some hosts may offer plans with 1 GIG (Gigabyte) of free web space. If you have only a few html pages with mostly text and a few pictures then you probably won't need more than 5-10 Megs of space. However, if you have many images, audio files, programs to download etc. then you need a much larger space. Most free hosting services offer 5 - 50 Megs of space. Most paid hosting starts around 50 Megs and goes up to 500 Megs or more. Do not let hosting companies fool you with the huge space they offer. In most cases you won't use half of it, so don't pay for something you won't use!

Data Transfer/Bandwidth/Traffic: This is a measure of how much data can be downloaded off your website (usually given per month). Every time you get a visitor to one of your pages, this page must be transferred or downloaded from the server to their computer to view it. Most small websites will never require more than 1 GB of transfer a month, although large sites and sites which offer audio, video, large downloads or images will need much more than that. This is also the most expensive part of hosting, with some hosts asking for as much as $20 per GB if you go over your set limits! Be careful with this and make sure that you will get enough bandwidth for your site, and that you will be charged a reasonable amount if you go over (< $10 per GB or less).

POP Accounts: POP or POP3 accounts are email accounts which you can use Outlook, Netscape Messenger or Eudora to access. Do not be fooled by hosts offering unlimited POP accounts... just look for a reasonable number especially if it will cost you more! What will you do with 20 more email addresses??

FTP Accounts: These accounts allow you to login to your space on the server using an FTP program. FTP (File Transfer Protocol) is one of the easiest ways to upload your files to your server, and to add new files. You will usually only need one account, unless you have more than one person updating your website and you want to give each one a password.

Telnet/Shell Accounts: Shell or Telnet access allows you to login to the server remotely from any PC connected to the internet using a Telnet program. What this allows you to do is to make some advanced modifications to your files. In addition to uploading/downloading files, you can also change permissions of files. This may be necessary for some CGI-Scripts. Some FTP programs also allow you to change permissions. Otherwise, make sure that your web hosting company is willing to change file permissions for you if they do not offer telnet access.

CGI-BIN: This is very important. Most websites today use some form of CGI-Scripts, which allow you to have interactive content on your website. For example, most forms you use on the internet are handled by CGI-Scripts. Message Boards, Surveys, Search Engines, Banner Ad software and most other similar programs are in fact CGI-Scripts written in the Perl language. Having your own CGI-BIN allows you to put all these types of programs on your website. Make sure that the host will allow you to run your own scripts, not only the ones they provide.

However, more recently, ASP and PHP scripts are starting to replace CGI scripts written in Perl. So, CGI scripts may not be that important for you if you are planning to use PHP or ASP. Just make sure your host allows ASP or PHP, whichever one you will be using instead.

SSI: Server side includes allow you to insert the output of CGI-Scripts into your pages using a simple one line command. SSI pages usually end in an .shtml extension. This is only important if you will be using CGI-Scripts that require it.

PHP: As mentioned earlier, PHP has become very popular lately. It is an easy to learn and use language, specifically for web page design. Although there are some who still use Perl scripting and CGI, PHP is likely to replace them over the coming years. Therefore, if you are planning an interactive site, you should consider using PHP. If you do need to use PHP hosting, make sure your web host supports it.

MySQL: MySQL is a type of database which is required for some CGI-Scripts, PHP and ASP scripts. If you plan on running programs which store information in a database, like a directory of links for example, you may need access to a database like MySQL. The most popular type of development for the internet today has become PHP/MySQL development. PHP scripting and the MySQL database are a very powerful combination, which allows you to develop complex functionality for your web site relatively easily (compared to the alternatives). PHP has built in functions specifically to support MySQL hosting, which makes using PHP with a MySQL database relatively easy.

ASP: Active Server Pages allow you to create dynamic pages and programs for your website. ASP is a programming (or scripting) language. ASP can be used in place of CGI and PHP scripts. The only disadvantage of ASP is that it runs mainly on the Windows environment. This means that in order to use ASP, you will most likely have to host your web site on a Windows web server. Some Linux and Unix servers now support ASP web hosting as well, however it is usually more expensive to have access to ASP because it is not free. PHP on the other hand is provided to web hosting companies for free, and this is one of the main reasons that has made it more popular than ASP.

Real Audio/Video Streams: This will allow you to place real audio or video files on your server and have users stream them instead of having to download them first. This is a very cool feature, but many people don't need it.

FrontPage Extensions: FrontPage 98/2000 extensions allow you to use Microsoft FrontPage to publish and update your website. This is very much easier than using FTP to upload each file individually. With FrontPage web hosting, you can upload your entire website all at once. You can also use the advanced features to manage your website. Of course, you will need to own FrontPage 98 or 2000 to benefit from this, but it really makes being a webmaster easy and fun! This is especially true for beginners. More advanced users will usually prefer to do things manually to avoid the many bugs and quirks of Microsoft software ;)

Site Statistics: This is also a very important feature to have. It is very useful to know as much information as possible about who is visiting your site, which pages they visit the most/least, and how many visitors you get per month etc. If you plan on selling advertising on your site, you will need this information as well.

Web based Control Panel: Most hosts will provide you with a web based members area where you can login and make modifications to your site. This gives you more control without having to contact your host to do modifications for you. These control panels usually allow you to create new email and FTP accounts, view your stats, make backups etc.

 

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