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Basic Introduction to Website Hosting

Having a website is considered essential for most businesses today. However, establishing and maintaining a website can seem overwhelming if you are unfamiliar with hosting terms. At Webservio, we aim to cut through the confusion to help you understand how web hosting works. Then you can make informed decisions about the hosting environment and services that your organization needs.

Web Hosting Basics

Domain Registration

Domain Name System (DNS)

How the Internet Works

Web Hosting


The Basics

There are three primary components that make web hosting possible: domain registration, DNS, and hosting. Each of these services are necessary in order for your website to be viewed by the public. Large hosting providers have streamlined hosting services so that the process is simplified for those unacquainted with how these systems operate. Doing so makes owning and managing a website more accessible. However, it can also give the false impression that all web hosting is created equal, which is simply not the case. To learn more about hosting options, you can skip ahead to Hosting Environments.

Simplifying the hosting process also may give the impression that you need to have all your domain and hosting services with the same provider. This can certainly make things easier to manage, but it is not required. If you choose, you can have multiple providers for your domain registration, DNS, and hosting accounts. This guide will help you understand how these three components work together to make website and email hosting possible.

Domain Registration

The first step to creating a website is deciding on a domain name. This is the URL that users will type to go to your website, for example agreatcompany.com. Domain names must be purchased. They are like virtual real estate that can be bought and sold. Domain registrars are like real estate companies that manage these transactions. To buy domains through Webservio, you may go to services.webservio.net

Before purchasing a domain, you have to check if it is available. Most domain registrars offer a search tool that you can use to see if your domain is available. In the case of our example above, agreatcompany.com is already taken. However, it is available with a different extension, such as .org or .net. You may also hear domain extensions referred to as TLDs (Top-Level Domains). Most TLDs are managed by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN).

Many domain extensions are open, meaning anyone can register/purchase them. However, some are restricted to certain types of organizations or uses, and specific eligibility requirements must be met before the registration is authorized. For example, a lawyer wishing to register a domain like legalaid.pro (using the .pro extension) must first provide proof of their professional license or certification.

Starting in 2013, ICANN began releasing additional TLDs to allow for more unique URLs. Now you can choose a domain extension that really describes what will be found at your website (eg. .rentals, .dating, .cool, .cheap, and many more). The price of registering a domain may vary depending on which registrar and extension you choose. The minimum term to register a domain is one year, but you can register a domain name for up to ten years at a time. 

Domain Registration Process

Once you have decided on an available domain name, you may begin the registration process. Most registrar sites make this an easy task and walk you through all the necessary steps. An essential component to domain registration is providing contact information, which includes Registrant, Administrative Contact, and Technical Contact. You may use the same person for each category if you wish. 

The contact information for every registered domain is accessible to the public by doing a Whois lookup. For this reason, you may opt to use a private registration. Doing so means that your information is still on file with ICANN, but it cannot be viewed publicly. ICANN requires you to verify the accuracy of your domain's contact information on a yearly basis.

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Domain Name System (DNS)

The domain name system (DNS) is like a phone book. It is comprised of many different name servers hosted by registrars and other companies, including Webservio. These servers contain the DNS records for many different domains. There are numerous types of DNS records, but the two most common are A records (address records) and MX records (mail exchange records).

A records associate a hostname (such as agreatcompany.com or test.agreatcompany.com) with an IP address. The IP address is unique to a single server somewhere in the world where the files for that domain are stored. MX records specify one or more hostnames that handle the email for that domain (eg. mail.agreatcompany.com). The MX records may point directly to the mail server, or they may point to a spam filtering appliance or hosted spam filtering service. Either way, each hostname has an A record of its own that gives the IP address for that server or appliance.

A Behind-the-Scenes Look at Web Navigation

When you type in a URL (Uniform Resource Locator), there are several steps taken in order to connect to that website. First, the computer essentially does a Whois lookup to find the registration information for the domain of that URL. Part of this information includes the name server(s) for the domain. By accessing the name server(s), the computer determines the IP address for the server that hosts the website. The computer then connects to the server and accesses the files for that particular page of the website.

For example, if you were trying to go to http://agreatcompany.com/products/pricing.html the computer would first find the directory on that server for the domain agreatcompany.com. Then it would look for a directory (a.k.a. file folder) titled "products." In that directory, it would look for a file called "pricing.html." The HTML file would include all the information needed to display that page on your screen. This may include accessing files (like images or javascript) located within a directory for that domain or for a different website on a different server. When you understand all that is happening behind the scenes, it is pretty amazing that a webpage can load in just seconds.

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How the Internet Works

All these connections and lookups would not be possible without the Internet. It is like a network of highways connecting all these different servers, computers, and devices. Even though groups like ICANN oversee aspects of the Internet, the infrastructure of these networks are not owned or managed by one particular group or entity. When you choose an Internet Service Provider (ISP), you are using their cables and other infrastructure to connect to a Network Access Point (NAP). These NAPs are often located within a large data center comprised of servers, routers, etc. Multiple ISPs may connect to one NAP.

Network Access Points are connected by backbones. A backbone is a line of many fiber optic cables bundled together that transmit data from one NAP to another. There are even submarine communications cables that transmit Internet signals across the ocean from one land-based station to another. In addition to cables, some Internet connections occur using satellite signal. For example, a cell phone connecting to the Internet sends and receives signals to a cell tower, which sends the signal to a satellite, which then transmits to another cell tower. That cell tower uses a cable connection to reach a NAP. 

Servers and Clients

The Internet links together servers and clients. Servers are computers that provide (a.k.a. host) databases and programs that people (users) might want to access. Clients are the programs or devices that retrieve information from these servers. For example, Outlook is a mail client, a Web browser, like Google Chrome, is a client, and your computer and cell phone act as clients.

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Web Hosting

Hosting Provider Arrangements

The first step to establishing a hosting environment is to choose a provider. In most cases, people establish a hosting account with a web hosting company. However, individuals with a higher level of technical knowledge may choose to create their own hosting environment, and businesses may hire IT staff to establish and maintain an in-house hosting network.

Internal Hosting

Some companies choose to buy a server and all the needed infrastructure (firewall, router, switches, cables, etc.) to establish their own internal network. The server(s) connect to the LAN (Local Area Network), which connects the various computers and printers. This internal network is also connected to the Internet via an ISP. This arrangement means the company is hosting their server internally.


Colocation is when a company buys a server and other needed equipment but chooses to host that server in a data center outside of their company. In this case, they pay the data center for space, bandwidth, power, and other amenities, but they are responsible for managing and maintaining their equipment. This arrangement is beneficial since the data center provides amenities most business cannot afford on their own, such as backup generators, anti-static flooring, sophisticated fire suppression systems, and multiple ISP connections. These benefits improve the security and uptime of the company's server and other equipment.

Manged Hosting

Managed Hosting is when a company puts their files on a server owned and hosted by another company. The hosting company provides and maintains the equipment. In addition, they may provide other services like installing an operating system, software updates and patching, creating firewall policies, configuring additional services, or resolving technical issues. It is important to understand what services your managed hosting solution includes because they can vary quite a bit from one provider to another.

Hosting Environments

Not all hosting is created equal. When it comes to hosting services, the old saying "you get what you pay for" tends to be true. The type of hosting environment that you choose will depend on many factors, including security considerations, uptime/reliability guarantees, amount of traffic, amount of server resources, connection speed requirements, management capabilities, and level of support available.

Dedicated Server 

Having a Dedicated Server means only your company's files are located on that server. As a result, all of the server's resources (disk space, RAM, etc.) are only being used for the purposes designated by your company (website, email, database storage, etc.). For this reason, a dedicated server offers the greatest degree of control, security, and predictability. Learn more about the advantages of a Dedicated Server.

Virtual Private Server (VPS)

A Virtual Private Server (VPS) is a server partition created using virtualization technology. A VPS acts as an independent server in that it can run its own operating system and be rebooted independently of other partitions on the same server. Each VPS on a server is designated a portion of that machine's resources (disk space, RAM, etc.). In addition, during high usage periods a VPS may "burst" to use more resources than it is normally allotted. Using virtualization enables a high degree of flexibility, since a VPS can easily be scaled up or down in size and a "template" can be created to allow for quick creation of new VPSs. Using virtualization can also yield significant cost savings since the tasks managed by multiple servers can instead be handled by multiple VPSs on a single server. This saves on equipment, power, and space usage. Learn more about the advantages of a Virtual Private Server.

Shared Server

If you don't know what kind of hosting environment your website is using, it is probably on a shared server. Shared hosting is popular due to its low cost. A shared server may contain the files for hundreds of websites. In this case, the server's resources are shared between all users on a first-come, first-served basis. This can mean your website or email loads more slowly during high demand periods. Learn more about the pros and cons of a shared server.

Cloud Hosting

Cloud Hosting has become popular due to it's high uptime and reliability. Cloud hosting uses virtualization to create Virtual Machines (VMs), which are very similar to VPSs. However, they do not have the ability to "burst" resources. This is usually not a problem though, since VMs in a cloud environment are hosted by a network of servers rather than just one. Often these servers are located in multiple locations. This configuration allows the servers to designate tasks based on usage at the time, and it can essentially provide 100% uptime, since if one server or server cluster fails the others continue to work with no interruption of service. Learn more about the advantages of Cloud Hosting.

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