What is Web Hosting? | U.S. News

Cindy F. Cape

For your website to be available to online users, you must use web hosting services or have self-hosting capabilities. Both methods require server hardware and software connected to high-speed internet. An internet user (known as the client) enters a website address into a browser. Then the web host receives the request, locates the files, and sends data to the client.

Businesses and individuals may not have the infrastructure and technical experience for storing, maintaining, and housing web servers. Instead, they buy a web hosting plan which is like renting space on a physical server.

Website storage is a core web hosting functionality, but most providers offer customer support and online account access. Unlike self-hosting, the website owner isn’t responsible for updating, securing, or upgrading server hardware and software. The companies in our ratings provide web hosting services. Check out our Best Web Hosting Services of 2022 rating to explore top-rated solutions.

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Web hosting is a service that houses website files on servers. The servers (owned by the host) exchange data with clients (typically a web browser), and the client displays the requested web page (or domain name) to the user (the potential website visitor). Website owners purchase a hosting plan, allowing them to lease space on a physical server.

The hosting services provided by vendors such as Bluehost, HostGator, and SiteGround offer different plans, capacities, and features. Web hosts house and maintain servers in a data center, so hosting plan subscribers don’t need to own physical server hardware or software.

Users input a URL (uniform resource locator), also called a domain name, into a web browser (known as the client). The web browser translates the URL into an internet protocol (IP) address and sends an HTTP (hypertext transfer protocol) request to a web server. A host owns the web server and rents space to users.

In response to the HTTP request, the web host server locates the resources and transfers the files necessary to load the requested web page in the user’s web browser. The speed at which this process occurs depends on several factors, including the allotted server resources and physical server location.

A server is a type of powerful computer that is always turned on and connected to the internet. The host allocates server resources, including hard drive storage space, random access memory (RAM), and bandwidth, to a website according to the allowances of your hosting subscription. Web hosting providers offer shared and dedicated services, allowing site owners to choose from several options.

However, servers can crash when they don’t have enough resources, resulting in downtime. Many web hosting services provide uptime guarantees, including several listed in our Best Web Hosting Services of 2022 rating.

There are a number of hosting types that can suit different needs and price points. Shared hosting is generally the most affordable option since you are sharing resources with other sites, while dedicated hosting is generally the most expensive, since you have your own private server and resources.

Dedicated Hosting 

Company/Score Monthly Cost Bandwidth Storage
Bluehost $79.99/Month and Up 5 TB 4 GB
HostGator $89.98/Month and Up 10 TB 8 GB
Ionos $45.00/Month and Up Unmetered 8 GB
DreamHost $149.00/Month and Up 4 Mbps 4 GB
InMotion Hosting $139.99/Month and Up 1 Gbps 16 GB
GoDaddy $129.99/Month and Up N/A 32 GB
A2 Hosting $155.99/Month and Up N/A 16 GB

Dedicated hosting offers the most control for website owners. It provides a dedicated server with full admin and root access, allowing users to install their preferred operating system and security tools. Dedicated hosting is like renting a single-family home instead of an apartment in a shared building or sharing space with roommates.

Shared Hosting

Company/Score Monthly Cost Bandwidth Number of Sites
Bluehost $2.95/Month and Up Unmetered 1
HostGator $2.75/Month and Up Unmetered 1
SiteGround $2.99/Month and Up Unmetered 1
Hostinger $1.99/Month and Up 100 GB 1
A2 Hosting $2.99/Month and Up N/A 1
Ionos $0.50/Month and Up N/A 1
DreamHost $1.99/Month and Up Unmetered 1
GreenGeeks Web Hosting $2.95/Month and Up Unmetered 1
InMotion Hosting $2.49/Month and Up Unmetered 1
GoDaddy $4.99/Month and Up Unmetered 1

Shared hosting is when multiple websites reside on one server and share the server’s resources, including RAM and a central processing unit (CPU). Think of it as sharing a home with roommates. Some providers like Bluehost offer resource protection, which ensures your website performance regardless of how many sites share the server. Shared hosting is typically the least expensive and can be an excellent option for small businesses, bloggers, and hobbyists.

Shared hosting services may include other beginner-friendly tools, such as WordPress hosting and drag-and-drop website builders. Although shared hosting is affordable, there are trade-offs. Website owners cannot control server resources and may experience performance differences during usage surges.

VPS Hosting

Company/Score Monthly Cost Bandwidth RAM
Bluehost $18.99/Month and Up 1 TB 2 GB
HostGator $23.95/Month and Up Unmetered 2 GB
Hostinger $3.49/Month and Up 1 TB 1 GB
A2 Hosting $39.99/Month and Up Unmetered 4 GB
Ionos $2.00/Month and Up Unmetered 512 MB
DreamHost $13.75/Month and Up Unmetered 1 GB
GreenGeeks Web Hosting $39.95/Month and Up Unmetered 2 GB
InMotion Hosting $19.99/Month and Up Unmetered 2 GB
GoDaddy $4.99/Month and Up Unmetered 1 GB

Virtual private servers (VPS) give website owners a dedicated portion of a server, called a partition. It’s like renting an apartment, where you have your own space (server resources) but share the building (server) with others. Websites hosted on a VPS may experience fewer performance issues because each partition provides dedicated RAM and processing power. VPS subscriptions cost more than shared hosting, but less than dedicated hosting plans.

Like shared hosting, VPS works well for small businesses. For users wanting to host a large online store or a site packed with video and audio files, VPS resources may not be quite enough and dedicated hosting may be preferable. With some technical knowledge, site owners can customize their VPS site more than on shared plans. VPS provides root access for custom configurations and specialized software installations.

Cloud Hosting

Company/Score Monthly Cost Bandwidth Storage
SiteGround $100.00/Month and Up Unmetered 8 GB
Hostinger $9.99/Month and Up Unmetered 200 GB
DreamHost $149.00/Month and Up 4 Mbps 4 GB

Cloud hosting uses virtualization technology to pool resources from multiple servers in the cloud instead of a single on-site server. It is better equipped to handle traffic spikes than VPS or shared hosting because most providers let website owners add RAM or CPU on-demand. Alternatively, an auto-scale option can automatically increase resources when traffic spikes.

This flexibility makes cloud hosting best for growing businesses needing more resources than shared plans but that don’t want a dedicated subscription, which requires more technical experience and is expensive. However, not all providers on our Best Web Hosting Services of 2022 rating offer cloud hosting. Check out SiteGround, Hostinger, or DreamHost if you’re considering cloud hosting.

WooCommerce Hosting

Company/Score Monthly Cost Bandwidth Monthly Visitors
Bluehost $15.95/Month and Up Unmetered N/A
SiteGround $2.99/Month and Up Unmetered ~10,000
Ionos $3.00/Month and Up Unmetered N/A
WP Engine $24.00/Month and Up 50 GB ~25,000
DreamHost $16.95/Month and Up Unmetered ~100,001

WooCommerce hosting is a form of shared hosting optimized for online stores. Since WooCommerce is a WordPress plugin, hosting providers offering WooCommerce plans also support WordPress. Some have WooCommerce pre-installed or one-click installation. WooCommerce hosting also includes seller-friendly tools like payment processing and shipping options.

WordPress Hosting

Company/Score Monthly Cost Bandwidth Number of Sites
Bluehost $2.95/Month and Up Unmetered 1
HostGator $5.95/Month and Up Unmetered 1
Hostinger $1.99/Month and Up 100 GB 1
A2 Hosting $11.99/Month and Up Varies 1
Ionos $3.00/Month and Up Varies 1
DreamHost $16.95/Month and Up Unmetered 1
GreenGeeks Web Hosting $2.95/Month and Up Unmetered 1
InMotion Hosting $3.99/Month and Up Unmetered 1
GoDaddy $8.99/Month and Up Varies 1
WP Engine $20.00/Month and Up 50 GB 1

WordPress hosting is a sub-category of web hosting that provides servers and resources optimized specifically for the content management system (CMS) WordPress. Although many shared hosting plans support WordPress installation, dedicated WordPress subscriptions may include additional features, such as automatic WordPress updates and site builder tools. Similar to WooCommerce packages, many WordPress hosting providers offer technical support for WordPress users.

Reseller Hosting 

Company/Score Monthly Cost Bandwidth Disk Space
HostGator $19.95/Month and Up 600 GB 60 GB
A2 Hosting $18.99/Month and Up Varies 60 GB
GreenGeeks Web Hosting $19.95/Month and Up Varies 60 GB

Reseller hosting is when a web host leases bandwidth and hard drive space to a business, which in turn provides web hosting services to its clients. This solution helps entrepreneurs wanting to start a reseller company. It also works well for web designers and developers who are interested in expanding their businesses with add-on services like web hosting.

Resellers can devise their own hosting plans and prices. Since reseller hosting subscriptions include white labeling, a reseller’s clients will see the business owner’s branding, not that of HostGator, A2 Hosting, or GreenGeeks Web Hosting. Although the web host maintains servers, the reseller can manage multiple sites, domain names, and resources from a single control panel.

Popular Web Hosting Services

A domain name is a website address or URL, such as “www.usnews.com.” You can select your website’s address and extensions, like .com, .org, or .net. The non-profit organization, Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), oversees the domain names system. It also permits Domain Name Registrars to sell domain names and make changes to the registry on a site owner’s behalf.

Many providers on our Best Web Hosting Services of 2022 rating include a free domain for the first year. However, you can also buy a domain separately and set it up to direct traffic to your site’s server. Most hosting services provide how-to guides for transferring a domain name or pointing it to your hosted site.

RAM, bandwidth, and hard drive space are key components of web hosting. Different plan subscriptions will provide different amounts of each resource. Higher levels support more traffic and files but also cost more.

Here’s how RAM, hard drive storage, and bandwidth differ:

  • RAM: Short-term server memory that allows your website to run several processes simultaneously, like responding to HTTP requests.  
  • Hard drive space: The drive is for storage and holds your website content, such as images and text files.
  • Bandwidth: This refers to how much information you can transfer to and from your site. 

Entry-tier web hosting plans may provide adequate storage, RAM, and bandwidth. But as the number of site visitors increases, you may need to upgrade. Likewise, e-commerce sites use more processes, as do dynamic web pages.

Choosing a web hosting service is challenging because many options and subscriptions are available. The web host houses your site and maintains the servers to ensure uptime. But hosting services also include technical support, account management tools, and self-help resources.

Think about how you plan to use your website and your technical expertise. For example, WordPress.org reports that of all new websites, 66.2% use WordPress, making it a popular CMS option. However, if you want an online store with payment processing capabilities, consider WooCommerce plans (which run on WordPress) or look for solutions that work with your shopping cart software.

Also, think about your desired contract length. For short-term hosting, look for providers offering monthly plans, such as HostGator or DreamHost. Most vendors have one, two, or three-year plans for longer-term needs, which may cost less than monthly subscriptions.

In addition, consider the following tools and features:

  • Website builder tools: If you’re building a site from scratch, check out builder plans and features offering drag-and-drop functionality, page templates, and image libraries. 
  • Access: Web hosting services should offer a control panel for website management and file transfer protocol (FTP) to transfer files from your computer to the web server.
  • Security: Basic security measures may include spam prevention tools, firewalls, and a secure sockets layer (SSL) certificate. Advanced features may require higher-tier plans or an add-on.
  • Email: Providers may offer email domains with some plans or as an add-on service. These put your web name after the @ symbol.
  • Storage: If your website includes dynamic content or many audio and video files, you may need higher storage limits. 

Pros:

  • Less expensive than hiring a web designer

  • Easier to quickly update or make changes later

  • Can put a simple site together quickly

Cons:

  • Mistakes can harm the visitor experience

  • Customization requires some technical expertise

  • Specialized site-building is time-consuming

With the availability of drag-and-drop site builder tools, you can create web pages for your site even with limited technical experience. Many web hosting providers offer their own website builders, or you can use the free WordPress tool. Web hosts also have self-help tutorials and videos that will walk you through how to upload files, use templates, or add plugins.

A simple site doesn’t take long to put together online. But it can be time-consuming to create the content, set up the site structure, and choose the best template. A significant benefit of doing it yourself is that you become familiar with the tools and functions, making it easier to update or alter your site later. When a professional builds your website, you may need their services more than once if you want big changes to your site.

Going the DIY route also means less money out of your pocket. Website design and development can cost thousands of dollars. Cheaper options exist if you go through a marketplace like Fiverr, but you should vet the freelancer thoroughly. Although DIY website building has its perks, there are disadvantages.

A beginner with limited experience may spend hours learning how to structure their pages, find page templates, and produce content. Then, it takes more time to implement what you’ve learned. Depending on your availability, site building can take weeks or months. Site builders can reduce the time it takes but offer fewer customization options. In contrast, according to DreamHost, professional custom design services may take two to four months. If you have the content ready, a freelancer may complete the site setup in a couple of weeks.

Web hosting providers use various security tools to protect the servers that hold your website data. However, features for individual sites vary among providers and service plans. At a minimum, many web hosting services on our Best Web Hosting Services of 2022 rating include an SSL certificate with shared hosting packages. A few providers, including SiteGround and Hostinger, have a firewall and distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attack protection on entry-tier plans.

However, many popular hosting services require upper-tier subscriptions or add-on software for advanced security. For instance, GoDaddy offers monthly security subscriptions with firewalls, malware scanning, and DDoS protection. In comparison, Bluehost and HostGator have add-on subscriptions for CodeGuard and SiteLock, which provide malware removal and site backups.

Learn More

For more information about web hosting services, see the following guides:

Web Hosting Services

Other Ratings from 360 Reviews

In addition to our ratings of web hosting services, you may be interested in these guides to other products:

At U.S. News & World Report, we rank the Best Hospitals, Best Colleges, and Best Cars to guide readers through some of life’s most complicated decisions. Our 360 Reviews team draws on this same unbiased approach to rate the products that you use every day. To build our ratings, we researched more than 21 Web Hosts and analyzed 17 reviews. Our 360 Reviews team does not take samples, gifts, or loans of products or services we review. All sample products provided for review are donated after review. In addition, we maintain a separate business team that has no influence over our methodology or recommendations.

U.S. News 360 Reviews takes an unbiased approach to our recommendations. When you use our links to buy products, we may earn a commission but that in no way affects our editorial independence.

https://www.usnews.com/360-reviews/business/web-hosting/what-is-web-hosting

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