What do web hosting companies do? A web host provides many services such as web building tools, email services and sales tools, but the most basic service your web host provides is hosting. Hosting is, in essence, the storage, identification and connection of your site to the Internet. So what are the ingredients of web hosting and why do they matter to you?
The goal of putting up a website is to make information or products available to millions of people. A web server is a computer provided by the hosting company that takes care of the information requests—much the same as a clerk running the ticket booth at a movie theater complex. As people make requests, both the web server and clerk check their resources to find the right response. The ticket clerk gives times for a show and sells tickets; a web server returns a specific webpage. Trying to run a website without a web server is like having a ticket booth without a clerk—you may have information, but no one can access it.
So why use a web host for storage? Just as you keep movie tickets at the ticket booth and not the refreshment stand, you store websites on a host server because that's where the information is needed—within the web server's reach instantly.
Once your website is on the web host server, its location is identified with a unique number called an IP address. This long identification number distinguishes your website's computer from every other computer online.
But long numbers are difficult to remember. As the Internet became more popular, a cross-reference tool was built that linked IP addresses to easy-to-remember domain names. Both your IP address and its attached name are stored on large computer servers in a database called the DNS (Domain Name Server). The DNS is the worldwide telephone book of websites, linking all names and numbers.
Whenever someone types the name of your website into their browser, that browser sends out a request for the address of your website to a domain name server. The server queries the DNS database, finds your site's registered address, then relays this to the original browser, allowing that computer user to view your website.
Your web hosting service is like your post office, routing letters to you while doing the same for thousands of other customers simultaneously. But answering an Internet query—even when it crosses thousands of miles—takes only fractions of a second. The best difference between your web host and your post office, though—aside from speedier service—is that if you don't like the service or speed of your host you can leave your current provider and select a new website host.
Back to the movie theater analogy—everyone knows why developers build big movie complexes near main roads and freeways. You need big roads to route all that traffic in and out of the theater parking lot. Similarly, competing web hosts often boast about bandwidth. Bandwidth is the size of the road that your hosting company has invested in to connect your website to the Internet. High bandwidth allows your website data to travel quickly to your visitors or customers. The larger the road, the higher the bandwidth, the faster the data will travel. Web hosting companies with good reputations offer high bandwidth connections to the Internet with little downtime so your website can handle hundreds, or even thousands, of visitors at once.
Your well-chosen web host will give you room to grow and a consistent, high-speed connection to your website on the Internet. After the basics are in place, you can focus on the other services your web hosting company provides.
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