Beginner’s Guide to Web Hosting

So you want to start your very own website? Are you confused about domains, DNS, VPS and a dozen other abbreviations? Then you’ll like this web hosting tutorial!

In this post I am going to walk you through the basics of web hosting, how to start your website the right way and how to move forward promoting your brand new site.

You’ve probably heard of web hosting from time to time and have a very good idea of what web hosting is. Some on the other hand do not and that’s where this guide will come in handy. We’re going to cover what a domain registrar and web host is, the different types of web hosts out there, ways to check out if a host is reputable or not, how to choose domain names, different aspects of a host and a whole lot more.

We’ll start with the basics. If we were to search for the term “web host” on Google, we’d return over 31 Million results. That’s far too many for me to go through. I’m not too sure about you guys. With web hosting being so saturated, meaning there are so many web hosting companies to choose from, it’s hard to determine which are reliable and which aren’t.

Before we get into how to choose a web host or what to look out for, let’s talk about web hosting and try to understand it a bit more. There are several types of website hosting out there and determining which one to pay for can be a bit daunting for some. We’ll start by first understanding what web hosting is, then we’ll talk about each type of web hosting so we can better decide which is best for our needs.

What is a Domain Registrar?

Your domain registrar takes care of actually registering your domain name with ICANN. It’s not free for them to create domain names either. They have to pay an ICANN fee.

There are two types of domain registrars really: ICANN accredited and non ICANN accredited domain registrars. An ICANN accredited registrar is in direct contract with ICANN, while a non-ICANN accredited registrar only resells domains provided by an ICANN accredited registrar.

There are not so many ICANN accredited registrars. One of the biggest retail registrars, Namecheap is also a reseller and not ICANN accredited.

Your web host can be your domain registrar at the same time. I do not recommend that. Your domain name will pile up a lot of branding and authority. You want to have full control of it without a web hosting company requiring you to buy additional services to keep your domain active. It’s much simpler to change a web host later on if necessary.

It’s usually also a lot cheaper to go with a third-party domain registrar. I am in the process of writing a post about the cheapest domain registrars and I will update this post with that reference.

What is Web Hosting?

Web Hosting is a service that enables storage and access of data typically associated with websites on a server or group of servers. That’s a complicated way of saying you can store your website on a web server and your visitors can access it, thanks to your web host.

Another definition is web hosting is the act of hosting HTML documents, PHP documents, ASP and so on, on a dedicated computer that will serve them to anyone that is interested in viewing them. They can do much more than this, but this is just a basic understand so we can move forward into the different kinds of web hosting.

Anyone with an internet connection and the right tools can (theoretically) become a web hosting company. Since the barier for entry is so low, we should be aware of companies that would pose a risk to our website’s long term growth. So if you have an internet connection and you can serve any type of web file for download to the general public, then you could consider yourself a web hosting company.

Now we all know this isn’t a good way to do business. There are millions of companies that pay big bucks to house their servers and equipment in DC’s (Data Centers) that can provide the type of service to those servers that they need to actually be considered worthy of hosting something for web use.

So now we have a basic understanding about what a web host is, let’s take a look at the different types of web hosting services out there today. Many of us will only need one of them, but a few may opt for something more expensive as it will tailor to their needs better then something less expensive.

The Main Types of Web Hosting

There are quite a few different types of web hosts out there today that we can choose from, we’ll explain each one in the order of importance or should I say the needed experience level. We’ll start with the most basic and move up to the most advanced.

  • Free Web Hosting
  • Shared Web Hosting
  • Reseller Web Hosting
  • VPS (Virtual Private Server) Managed
  • VPS (Virtual Private Server) Unmanaged
  • Dedicated Server Managed
  • Cloud
  • Dedicated Server Unmanaged
  • Colocation

There are probably a few that we may be missing, but this is most if not all of them. Now let’s go over each one so we can better understand which would be right for our needs.

If you are just starting out you will probably go for shared web hosting. Imagine a big server with hundreds of small websites put on it. That’s shared hosting: your website shares the resources of a server with a bunch of other clients.

Virtual Private Servers (VPS) are usually used when a website has grown out shared hosting. This time that big server is divided into bigger chunks. Like instead of a couple hundred, let’s say 4 or 8. You get the idea. The setup is quite different than shared hosting. Usually some kind of virtualization technology is used to create a VPS.

A VPS is a virtual server, so if your website hits heavy traffic, the other sites hosted on that physical server are not affected, and vice-versa.

Dedicated Servers are usually used by enterprises when they are dealing with heavy traffic or in need of heavy computing power. A full server is at the disposal of the client and they can do whatever they want with it.

The newest buzzword is Cloud. The most basic way of looking at cloud is: it’s multiple machines connected together into a big pile of resources (like CPU power, storage space, memory). They are seamlessly connected so you can scale your hosting environment at will and virtually without limit.

Shared Hosting

Shared hosting is what 95% of webmasters will use and will normally always use. Since the web hosting industry is so saturated with millions upon millions of web hosting companies, shared hosting can be very cheap. Many start at as little as $2 – $5 a month and go up from there.

So what does shared web hosting really offer?

It really all depends on the web host, many will offer everything that is needed and then some and some won’t. Many web hosting companies will post a features list for their potential clients to look over, simply check over that list and make sure that everything you need or want is there.

The only downside to shared web hosting is that you’re housed on a server with a few hundred other clients, which in many cases is ok because the servers can handle them. But in a few cases we’ve found web hosting companies way overselling their servers and packing so many on them that they can’t even operate correctly.

So be sure to keep an eye out for slow service and response times as this is a clear indication that they are overselling and this will result in your site/sites being very slow.

Reseller Hosting

Reseller hosting and shared hosting are probably the most popular forms of hosting. Shared hosting is popular for it’s versatility and its price and reseller hosting is very popular because it gives users the option to host their own clients with multiple domain names, under one account. This is also very useful for webmasters with many sites and that need the extra resources and options that reseller accounts offer.

Reseller accounts are normally $20+ more expensive then normal shared hosting accounts because they offer so many more options then a normal shared account. If the server is running a control panel system a reseller account will normally have extra options to configure the account with or an entirely new control panel to manage the reseller account.

A great deal of hosting companies start out with reseller accounts as they are around 50% cheaper then a full dedicated server and are much easier to manage and run then a dedicated server is. Also with smaller web hosting companies, they do not need all the extra resources and space that will come with a dedicated server, so they are able to keep things small and grow as needed.

VPS (Virtual Private Server) Unmanaged

A VPS or Virtual Private Server is a great step up from a shared hosting account or a reseller hosting account. A VPS is basically a server but instead of having an entire server to utilize a server is sliced up into normally four parts, and each part is set up as a separate virtual private server.

Basically the client will get access to root and all the functions of a real server and anyone on the server will think they are on a fully dedicated server, but in all actuality they are only using part of the server and around four or so other people are using the other half.

When we speak of unmanaged servers we are referring to the type of management that is included in the service. Unmanaged would mean that the provider doesn’t offer any assistance with running or keeping the server updated, they will of course make sure it stays on with working hardware and also a working connection, but they will not keep it updated, fix or resolve software errors or anything dealing with the software side of the server. The client is responsible for making sure the software side of the server stays running.

VPS (Virtual Private Server) Managed

The managed portion of a VPS is basically the complete opposite of the unmanaged. Everything that they wouldn’t do on an unmanaged server they will do on a managed server. Normally they keep it up and running, monitor it in case anything happens to it and will resolve anything with it if it does go down. They also keep it updated with the latest software patches and fixes and will install software if the client asks.

The VPS is still set up in the same manner but in this case it will be managed so it will come with all the above extras, but not at the same price. Managed service is normally around $30 extra a month, in some cases it can be cheaper. Many companies that offer VPS service will include managed service in their prices already, so the client doesn’t even have to worry about it. Make sure you ask before setting up any service if you’re unsure of the type of services offered.

Virtual Private Servers are a great upgrade from a shared or reseller account and can also be a great way to learn how to utilize a dedicated server. As stated above, a Virtual Private Server is actually a dedicated server except a full server is portioned into smaller sections and each user has access to their own section. You’ll still get root access and can install and uninstall any application or services you’d like without effecting anyone else on the server.

Dedicated Servers – Unmanaged

Dedicated severs are just about as good as it gets as far as a computer to run a web site or services from. Dedicated severs range in speed and space and the specifications of the hardware are the determining factor of the monthly price. Dedicated servers can do just anything web related or server related that a client could want. Even the lower end servers can be quite useful.

Dedicated servers can be quite expensive and for that reason they aren’t for just anyone. Dedicated servers are for very large web sites or for sites that need the extra processing power that only a dedicated server can provide. Many users of dedicated servers have quite a few web sites that need to be online, and they run some sort of online server or service that requires the power of a dedicated server.

Users that run game servers or something similar will find that dedicated servers are the best bang for their buck. A lower end dedicated server can be as cheap as $80 a month which would normally included one terabyte of bandwidth a month, that’s 1,000 Gigs of bandwidth monthly. Game servers normally require a little more processing power and a lot more bandwidth monthly then a normal web site or database driven site.

The only draw back a user may find with a dedicated server is the fact that they are leased and not actually owned by the renter, meaning that when signing up for a dedicated server service, a user is actually renting the server monthly instead of purchasing or leasing the server to own it. In few cases providers allow rent/lease to own service. Many users do not like the idea of not owning the server because all of their valuable information is contained within it.

Next thing we need to factor with a dedicated server is the fact that 90% of them are unmanaged and most will not state they are unmanaged; they will only state they are managed if they are. So if neither is stated assume that it’s unmanaged. A dedicated server takes a good bit of experience and knowledge to get up and running and doing it safely. There are quite a few factors to take into consideration while running a dedicated server and for that matter some experience in it is normally required.

Many larger corporations and businesses that want to get online but need a dedicated server will find that it’s harder to work and use a dedicated server then it is to setup a shared or reseller hosting account. So be sure to know what you’re getting into when ordering this type of service and be sure to have someone that knows what they are doing before actually setting one up.

Dedicated Servers Managed

Dedicated servers that are managed are the best bet for most companies that do not have their own IT department or that do not want to hire someone to handle all of this for them. Managed dedicated servers are basically the exact same as an unmanaged server but just how the name implies, it’s managed.

Now, with managed service there is a lot that is taken care of, but not everything is actually taken care of. Setting up the server, installing some software and making sure it’s updated and secure is basically all managed service will provide. Some providers offer a tiered managed service and the more they manage the more expensive it will become. Basically you’re hiring one of their guys to take care of the server for you, but it’s cheaper then hiring someone full time to manage the server.

Many companies will find this service the best route for their company to take if they do not have an IT department or have anyone that can manage all of their servers. Be sure to ask as many questions as possible when setting up a dedicated server with a provider as many of them won’t advertise the types of services they give for free.


Colocation is one of those things that shouldn’t really need to be explained. If you’re in the position of needing colocation you probably already know exactly what it is. But for the sake of this article, we’ll explain it in lames terms for the rest of us that are unsure about collocation.

Colocation is for those companies, businesses or individuals that need more security or special hardware in their servers in order for them to achieve what other servers can’t. Colocated servers are all owned by the person paying for the service because, well, it’s their computer. They build the server and ship it to the provider and the provider provides a safe, clean and stable environment to run the server 24/7.

Now that we’ve decided what type of web hosting service we’d like to get we then need to decide which web hosting company we’d like to go with. Deciding on a web hosting company really just depends on the client’s preference. I’ve heard clients say they went with a web hosting company because they liked their web site, others have said they liked the extras they offer and didn’t mind paying the extra monthly for them.

Finding a Good Host

Luckyily we at HostingManual have already composed a list of good web hosts and we have published very detailed reviews.

If you want to go with one we don’t have listed, there are quite a few things to look out for; we won’t get into too many details, just the basics. First and foremost, look out for companies that do not present themselves properly. If the company looks shady then they probable are. Do a little research on them, check out some popular web hosting forums like Web Hosting Talk and do a search for the company in question. Their clients could be posting in these forums and giving valuable information about them and the type of service they may offer.

The next things to look out for are those companies that offer way too much for hardly anything at all monthly. These types of companies aren’t very reliable as they oversell their servers and that can end up causing them to crash or not perform up to par. Remember the old saying for any type of service; you get what you pay for. So if the deal seems too good to be true, then it probable is.

Once you’ve found a few good hosts that are reputable and can offer everything we need, the next things to take a look at are the extras and monthly price. Again, our reviews give good guidance on this too. Whoever can offer the most at the best price should be how we decide to go with. This holds true with any type of service or product that we may purchase.

So now you’ve found a web hosting company, you’ve decided what type of hosting you need. Now what’s next?

Now you have to come up with a domain name; if you already own your desired domain name you can skip skip this section.

Domain Names

Domain names are used to make finding web sites much easier. A domain works like area codes do with telephone numbers. The area code can help determine where the person is located and domain names work in a similar way.

Web sites are actually connected to with an IP address. But IP addresses are long and very hard to remember, so domain names were created to help shorten the process and making finding and location web sites much easier and faster. Domain names use a system called DNS (Domain Name System), which will connect to a centralized server and grab the IP address associated with the domain name.

We’ll go over DNS and setting it up a little later. Let’s figure out how to register a domain name and determine the type of domain name we’d like to get.

Choosing a Domain Name

Deciding on a domain name for a web site is a very important step as you will be stuck with it for the registered period. There isn’t a reset or redo button with domain names, what is registered is what will be registered.

Deciding on a domain name can become a bit time consuming as there are plenty of domain names out there already registered, so it can be hard to find one you like. There are a few things to look for when choosing a domain name though.

Try to get one with a company name, or the abbreviations of the company name.

Using dashes can sometimes help when registering a domain name but ideally try to stay clear of them.

Take a look at all the different extensions; there are plenty of different extensions that will work with different types of companies.

Numbers and other characters are sometimes good to add to the domain name if the current domain name is already taken. Again, it’s better to have letters only in the domaind name.

Setting Up DNS

Now that you have a domain name, you need to learn how to properly setup that domain name so it will work with your hosting company. This is done simply by utilizing the DNS function that all registrars allow to be edited. Most registrars have this feature and for the most part it’s free, some however do charge so you need to be sure to check with our registrars before you do anything that will cost you money.

The first thing you’ll need to do is find out what Name Servers your web hosting uses. Usually this will be mentioned in your welcome email, but they should also be available in your control panel somewhere.

Name servers usually start with an “ns” and are at the beginning of a domain name. Here is an example of a set of name servers.

Name Server Examples

With these name servers our domain name will point anyone that accesses it to the correct location of where it resides on the Internet. Without it no one will be able to view our site at all, unless they use the IP address associated with your web hosting account.

DNS usually takes 24 – 48 hours to fully propagate throughout the Internet and function correctly for anyone trying to access it. Once the DNS information has propagated through all the servers on the net you can start using your hosting account and all the features that go with it.

With a domain name you have access to a plethora of extra features. We can use anything from email @ our domain name to setting up our own hosted accounts for clients or friends. The possibilities are limitless on what can be done from this point.

Control Panels

Many web hosting companies offer some sort of control panel when they setup a user’s account. From here we can do anything we’d like as far as configuring and setting up hour web site or other accounts.

There are quite a few different control panels available for us today, many of which end-users won’t have the resources to gain access to unless their hosting provider offers it as a control panel for their account. cPanel is one of the most widely used control panels.

Other control panels offer their own manuals and there are many resources that can be found online to similar tutorials or manuals. Simply search on a search engine for that information and the first few should return the desired results for most users.


Deciding on which host to go with is a big task for anyone new or experienced with web hosting and can seem a bit daunting. Remember to keep in mind all the information presented in this article and others posted on Hosting Manual and finding a host won’t be too hard at all.

Deciding on domain names can be equally hard, just remember to use something that deals with the web site or company in question. Using shortened versions of the name, dashes or other things to help shorten the length of the domain name often helps. Registrars aren’t to hard to come by but be sure to use one that offers everything that is needed or wanted and shop around, domain names range anywhere from $7 to $50 per domain name.

Following these simple rules set forth in this tutorial will help most of you find exactly what you’re looking for with a web host and aid in your track to becoming a webmaster.