What is Hosting? Hosting, Domains and URLs explained.

The idea of hosting being a dot on a world wide web

When I think of hosting, I imagine a hard disk floating in the sky connected to lots of computers. On this hard disk a little area of storage is lit up; this bit of space belongs to me; it is where my website or ‘online presence’ lives. I ‘rent’ this space from the host the same way I would rent an apartment from a landlord. My hosting is where my website is stored, it is my online presence or dot in the ‘World Wide Web’.

The idea of hosting being a dot on a world wide web
My hosting is where my website is stored, it is my online presence or dot in the ‘World Wide Web’.

What is Hosting?

Let’s say you are working on your computer. It’s an old-fashioned computer. No internet, no cloud storage. At this time you would have probably had two floppy-disk drives A: and B: and then your hard-disk C:, hence sometimes called your C Drive.

If we imagine you have been typing out your CV in Word or something similar. Well now you want to save it so you make a folder (on your Hard disk or C Drive) called ‘CV’ and you save your file cv.doc into it. That document is saved on that computer. It is not connected to any other computer so no one else can see it. If you connect a printer you can print it. When you connect another computer you can make it so that two computers can see it. Should you connect let’s say ten computers, you have made your computer a server a because it is holding the information and it is serving the information to the other computers on the network.

Now, (bare with me, the ah ha moment is not far off) the internet (or world wide web) is a giant network of computers and your website is a file , or a few files which you want to be available to anyone in the world. So we pay for someone to provide us with somewhere for it to live, for hosting it. They have a computer which has been made into a server and has all the right software and connections. We rent some storage, or a bit of space on their hard disk and put our website there, now the website is available to anyone with a computer / mobile phone and an internet connection, 24/7.

I am hearing a lot about lyrical hosting particularly for bloggers.

What’s a URL / Domain?

Now when our website visitor wants to go and visit our website they need an address to find it. We can’t say its computer number 5067 on the 20th floor of a skyscraper in New York. Instead we need something simple and easy to remember. We need a URL (Uniform Resource Locator), this is your web address for example ‘https://www.mywebsite.com’. The interesting part of the URL, the piece which is really unique to you is called the domain. In our example of ‘https://www.mywebsite.com‘ the domain is the ‘mywebsite.com‘ part. It is the part of the URL which is your website’s name.

Buying your domain

You have to buy your domain name, usually you own it for a period of time and then have to renew it.Your details of ownership are registered with nominet and this is the place to look if you want to find out who owns a domain or you have any issues over ownership. Domain names can vary in price dramatically. Sometimes they are given away free with hosting, with very popular domain names they will have been bought as an investment and you may have to go through a broker to negotiate a price! Remember you don’t have to buy your domain through your host you can find the best deal and buy it separately, you then have to go through an extra step of redirecting the ‘name servers to your hosting’. This sounds scarier than it actually is!

Places to look for domain names and try them on for size include www.123reg.com, www.namecheap.com

Where does e-mail fit into all this?

Email is related to this because many website owners, businesses or bloggers might want their email address to be something like ‘info@mywebsite.com‘, to reflect their brand. In order to do this you would need to add a ‘mailbox’ to your hosting so that your email is stored with your website. Some hosts charge extra for this and some don’t. There is a growing trend of avoiding this by using a free email for example ‘gmail.com’ and opening a business account for mywebsite@gmail.com. It is not for everyone but it is a usable workround.

Not all hosting is of equal quality and choosing the right hosting provider, comes down to more than just cost. Look out for a post regarding this!