What is Web Hosting and How Does It Work?

Updated: Nov 19, 2020

If you're looking to understand better what is web hosting and how does it work - this post & video is going to be very helpful for you.

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What is Web Hosting?

To help you understand what web hosting is, let’s walk through an example.

Imagine you just came up with a new business idea, say to sell blue widgets, and you want to open up a store somewhere in your town.

You can register store’s name, get a logo, even make a few widgets.

But none of that will matter unless you rent a physical space to set up your shop, and that’s what web hosting is all about.

Web hosting is just a service where you’re able to rent space on the internet, fill it with all your files and media (your digital “goods”), then open your doors by publishing your website live to the world.

When you start a website, all your text, videos, photos, buttons, etc. have to be stored physically somewhere on a web server – basically a commercial grade computer that’s connected to the internet 99.9% of the time (unlike your laptop, for example).

Web hosting companies have buildings filled with these servers and people to keep them running,

They’ll even provide you with design platforms, customer support, security, and all sorts of useful tools to make creating and sharing your website easy.

When learning about what it takes to start a website, be careful not to confuse buying web hosting with buying a domain name.

Basically, a domain name is just an address where your shop/website will be set up.

Web hosting is like the land and infrastructure that lets you set up that shop and make it accessible to anyone in the world.

And your website is like your actual shop, with all the goods you sell inside.

So if you get a domain name without hosting, you’ll just see a page that says “parked” – all you have is an address, but it doesn’t lead anywhere.

And if you buy hosting without a domain name, then you’ll have a place for people to go, but they won’t be able to find it.

We wrote a whole post that goes in-depth on domain names, how they work, and how to pick a good one for your website – if you’re interested check that out here.

Types of Web Hosting

When it comes to building websites, there are a few different types of web hosting you’ll see, based on the kinds of web servers used and what your skills/needs/budget are.

  • Shared Hosting

  • VPS Hosting

  • Cloud Hosting

  • WordPress Hosting

  • Dedicated Hosting

While all these types of servers will act as a storage center for your website – holding all your website code and data while letting the world access it – each offers a different amount of storage capacity, control, speed, and reliability.

When you’re starting out, you want to stick with shared hosting as it’s the lowest cost option and has everything a small starter site needs.

But as you grow, you’ll want to look into other types of hosting to be able to support increases in traffic, so let’s take a look at the different types of web hosting so you’ll know a bit about the benefits of each.

Shared Hosting

With shared hosting, your website is placed on one server with a bunch of other sites – from a few hundred to thousands of other sites.

All of these websites share the server’s resources, including memory and processing power, which leads to cost savings that the hosting company then passes on to you.

The disadvantage of this is that the server will struggle to keep websites that run a lot of code or get a lot of traffic online.

But as we said, when you’re starting out this won’t be an issue and the ease of setup and low cost are more than worth the tradeoffs.

Shared Hosting Pros

  • Lowest cost (best place to start)

  • Fairly simple to use (need to learn a few things but no super-advanced tech knowledge needed)

  • No messing with server options (you can tweak a few things you might need but most of the server-side of things is set up for you)

  • Built-in control panel (so you can make technical changes with buttons/form fills not command lines and code)

  • Server maintenance is taken care of for you

Shared Hosting Cons

  • Very little control over server configuration (you have complete control of your website, just not some very technical parts of how your website’s server operates)

  • Not able to handle large volumes of traffic

Virtual Private Server (VPS) Hosting

Virtual private server hosting (VPS) uses technology to digitally divide one server into multiple “virtual” servers.

In this setup, your website code runs as if it’s on a separate physical server from any other website, though in reality, it’s actually sharing the physical resources (memory, processing power) with a few other websites (much fewer than shared hosting).

The benefit of this is that you can customize your website backend a lot more to better handle complex code and higher traffic.

But, taking advantage of this requires technical expertise and you’ll pay more for this.

As your website grows and you can afford to pay someone to help you with the coding stuff, this can be a helpful upgrade to maintain a great experience for your visitors (fast loading times, smooth functioning).

VPS Hosting Pros

  • Root access to your server (do whatever you want with it)

  • Dedicated server space – no one else to share with

  • Traffic surges on other people’s sites won’t affect yours

  • Very scaleable to meet more traffic to your site

VPS Hosting Cons

  • More expensive than shared hosting

  • You have to know how to do technical server management tasks

Cloud Hosting

Cloud hosting is sort of a variation on VPS and Shared hosting.

Instead of having your site on one physical server along with a bunch of other sites, your site is run form a “cluster” of servers that make up a “cloud,” along with a bunch of other websites that also share some resources on that server cluster.

The benefit is that if one of the physical servers that your website is on has a problem or gets overloaded, your website traffic is automatically sent to another server in the cluster.

This gives you some of the benefits of VPS hosting in that you’re not as limited by what other people’s websites are doing or just one servers’ resources.


  • Server failures don’t affect your website

  • Little downtime

  • Resources are allocated to your site where and as needed to keep it running smoothly

  • Can more easily scale to handle more traffic than other hosting


  • More expensive than shared hosting

  • You don’t have full control over the server setup

WordPress Hosting

WordPress hosting is a kind of shared hosting built specifically for WordPress websites (imagine that!).

These servers are specifically configured for making WordPress sites perform like a dream and you often get technical support that can also help you with WordPress problems (whereas with other hosting, they can help you with server/other hosting problems but if something is broken in your WordPress site they’ll often leave you at “good luck”).


  • Low cost

  • Good performance for WordPress sites

  • WordPress customer support


  • Only good for WordPress sites

  • Usually more expensive than simple Shared hosting

Dedicated Server Hosting

Dedicated server hosting offers maximum control over the server your website is stored on and run from – you’re exclusively renting an entire server, no other websites will be hosted on it.

This provides you maximum ability to optimize your website’s performance and handle a lot of traffic, but you’ll pay for it.


  • Complete control over your server

  • Highly reliable and secure


  • This is the most expensive type of hosting (usually it’s only used by large businesses)

  • You have to have advanced technical knowledge of server setup/maintenance

Website Hosting Costs

Web hosting is one of the many costs of starting a website.

Typically you’ll pay a monthly fee, with discounts for paying months in advance (sometimes up to 3 years).

Prices vary from host to host but here’s what you can typically expect to spend:

  • Shared Hosting: As little as $3.95/month to $10/month

  • Virtual Private Server: $20-60/month plus customization costs (assuming you pay someone to do that for you)

  • Dedicated Server: $80+/month including hosting and customization/maintenance costs.

As we mentioned above, shared hosting is more than enough to get started; as your website gets more traffic and holds more files, photos, etc. you’ll want to consider upgrading (but should be making more than enough money from the site to cover the additional costs).

Bonus Tip: You can actually host a simple website for free on Dropbox or Google Drive.

Web Hosting features to look for

We’ve got a really in-depth look at what to look for in web hosting in our best web hosting services post.

Definitely go check that out if you want the full low down!

Here are a few bullet points for a brief overview:

  • Speed/Uptime – how fast will your hosting be able to load your website and how often will it be unavailable (if at all)?

  • Traffic/Bandwidth – are there any limitations on how much data your host will share/how much traffic your site can receive?

  • Support – how good and available is their technical support?

  • Features – email accounts, FTP access, hosting for multiple sites, an easy to use control panel – do these things come included?

  • Cost – obviously; does the amount hosting costs makes sense for what you can spend?

There’s More to Creating a Website than Hosting…

Hosting is an essential part of building a website and after reading this post you’ve got the basics under your belt.

But there’s still a lot more to learn!

So if you found this post valuable, go check out our Youtube Channel for more great tips on everything you need to know to create a website!

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