How to Host a Website: the Complete Beginner’s Guide
Hosting is the invisible foundation of the internet. Every website needs a ‘home’, a place where its files are accessible anytime, anywhere. That’s what hosting does. It’s a plot of internet land. If you want a website, it’ll need to be hosted somewhere.
Good hosting makes for a fast site that’s almost always accessible. Good hosting is affordable, low-maintenance, and scaleable. Bad hosting is the opposite. In the hyper-competitive, low attention span world of the internet, hosting is an essential foundation. Heck, you wouldn’t be able to read this if we didn’t have a good web host.
So, how do you host a website? That’s the big question, and the answer is simpler than you might think: pay someone else to do it for you or do it yourself. Or, to put it more technically:
- Use a hosting platform
- Host locally
The best method depends on your experience level. Hosting platforms are far, far more common, which is why we’ll be covering that approach first. Setting up your own server is a good learning exercise, but that’s usually as good as it gets. If you’re not the techiest type, signing up with a hosting provider is the sensible option. ‘Cheap and reliable’ is a golden combination in web hosting, and hosting companies provide that. They take care of the technical considerations so you can focus on your site.
This page will walk you through both methods of hosting a website, with some nods to which providers meet different needs best. By the end you’ll have all the information you need to get hosting. On we go…
Step 1: Compare Hosting Companies
A hosting platform is a company that takes care of hosting for you. In exchange for a monthly fee, the provider houses your site’s data and manages the demands of its traffic. They are cheap, consistent, and (crucially) they take care of the technical considerations. There are dozens of hosting platforms out there, if not hundreds.
The first step to hosting your website is comparing providers. Size up the options and see which ones align with your technical requirements — and your budget. To help you along, we’ve conducted our own research to see how popular web hosting platforms hold up. Below is our rankings in brief: a data-driven breakdown of top hosting providers.
Step 2: Choose a Website Hosting Company
Once you’ve had a look at the top hosting companies, you need to pick one! There are a number of features you should consider when choosing a website hosting company. We’ve provided an overview of these in our rankings breakdown above. Below are some of the key factors to consider:
- Free domain name
- Value for Money
- WordPress integration
- Money-back guarantees
What features you should focus on depends on your priorities. Some, like uptime and value for money, are always important. Others, like a free domain name, may not matter if you have one already. Different providers shine in different areas. Bluehost is especially good for WordPress sites, while SiteGround’s support is absolutely top notch.
Step 3: Pick a Website Hosting Plan
Once you have a host platform you like the look of, you still need to narrow your decision down to a plan. There are numerous types of hosting (shared, cloud, vps, and more), and there is usually a selection of plan tiers within each type. For example, HostGator has three shared hosting plans — Hatchling, Baby, and Business.
But first things first. Let’s be clear on what the different types of web hosting are and why it’s important to know the difference. Getting the best deal possible depends on you understanding your needs. There’s no sense signing up to a $10 a month plan when a $3 a month plan will serve you just a well. You site may grow to need that $10 plan, but why sign upgrade earlier than you have to.
Below, then, is a brief overview of the main types of hosting and the brackets they typically serve best.
|Hosting type||What is it?||Who is it for?|
|Shared||Shared hosting is when multiple sites are stored on one server. Sharing the space is more cost effective, but it also means resources are finite.||Small and starter sites with modest technical demands. If in doubt, start here and upgrade as your site’s demands grow.|
|Cloud||Cloud hosting is when your site is powered by multiple servers. It’s a much more flexible system than shared hosting. If one server goes down, another picks up the slack.||For sites starting to outgrow their humble origins. Cloud hosting copes far better with traffic spikes than shared does. It’s a good half-measure if you want to scale up but not not take the plunge of dedicated hosting.|
|Virtual Private Server (VPS)||VPS is a halfway point between shared and dedicated servers. You share server space with other sites, but a section of it is entirely yours.||This is a step beyond cloud. You’re really getting somewhere now. This mixes flexibility, scalability, and power. These plans are great if you’ve outgrown shared hosting but are still not yet ready to go dedicated.|
|Dedicated||Dedicated hosting is where you are the sole tenant of a server. You get all those resources all to yourself. This exclusivity costs, but it’s worth it if your site is resource-intensive.||This is the big leagues. If you’re just starting out you won’t need anywhere near this tier of plan. Not yet anyway.|
Most web hosting providers offer all the main hosting types, but others, like WPEngine, are specialists in one type. If you expect to grow into different types of hosting that’s something important to keep in mind.
How much do these plans cost? Good question. As a rule of thumb, shared hosting is cheapest, followed by cloud, then VPS, then dedicated. The variety of hosting types (and plans within those types) mean price increases gradually. Bluehost’s shared hosting starts at $2.95 per month. By the time you get to its premium dedicated plan you’re looking at $119.99 per month.
You’ll be relieved to hear we recommend starting closer to the $2.95 end of the spectrum. Start there and look up until you find a plan that fits your specific needs. You can always upgrade further down the line.
Step 4: Get a Domain Name
It’s all well and good having a plot of internet land, but without an address no-one will be able to find it! That’s what a domain name is. It’s your digital address. Ours is www.websitebuilderexpert.com. Google’s is www.google.com. You get the idea. Your site will need a domain as well.
Nearly every web hosting provider includes domain name registration in its signup process. Sometime it’s included as a freebie in the plan you’ve chosen (GoDaddy and Bluehost, for example), others you’ll have to pay for it separately (SiteGround and HostGator).
A good domain is simple, easy to remember, and usually number-free. Don’t feel bound to the .com convention either. More and more sites are playing around with atypical top level domains like .xyz or .co. So long as it fits with your brand, you’ll be fine.
If you already have a domain name it’s simply a case of attaching it to your new server. Many hosting platforms include this in the signup process and handle it for you.
It bears mentioning that you do not lose your domain name if you change web hosting companies. They are different services. If you change web hosts you can always take your domain with you.
And that’s it. Simple right? Follow these steps and your site’s hosting should be good to go. To recap:
- Compare hosting companies
- Choose a website hosting company
- Choose a website hosting plan
- Register a domain name
Follow these steps and you will be signed up to a web hosting service ready and waiting for your site. If you’ve made your decision with one eye on the future — which you should — the plan you have chosen will have excellent support and be easily scalable. Now you can focus on the really import thing — your site!
How much does it cost to host a website?
Anywhere from a couple of dollars a month to hundreds. If you’re just starting out there’s no reason to be paying more than $3 or $4 a month. As you site grows in popularity, you will need to scale up you hosting plan accordingly.
What’s the best hosting provider?
It depends on your needs. HostGator and Bluehost were runaway overall winners in our research, but that doesn’t mean they’re the only ones worth considering. For pure cheapness iPage wins out, while large WordPress sites often use WPEngine. It all comes back to needs. Ask yourself what your needs are and find the best fit for them
Hosting a website yourself is a more hands-on approach, and not nearly as reliable. It’s an excellent education in how a website works, but that’s as good as it gets. Connections are slow, maintainance falls entirely on you, and your computer will need to be on all the time. Not ideal. That said, if you’re here you must be interested in the option, and it costs nothing to find out.
There are two ways to host your website from home:
- Use your Windows PC as a WAMP server
- Use a Linux machine
We’ll walk you through both approaches. Please do keep in mind that this is not an option for beginners. Free hosting is an attractive prospect, but you really do get what you pay for. Unless your home happens to be a data center we recommend using a hosting provider.
Hosting a Website Using your Windows PC as a WAMP Server
The Windows approach means turning your computer into a WAMP server. WAMP stands for Windows, Apache, MySQL, and PHP — the elements that make up the server.
Step 1: Install WAMP software
There are are number of free programs available (WampServer and XAMPP to name a couple). Download and install one, sticking with default settings where prompted. The software allows your computer to act as a server — a home for your website’s files.
Step 2: Upload site files
Once you’ve installed WAMP software you’ll need to add a site to it. Once you open the dashboard this is usually found in the ‘www directory’. This is where website files are housed. Your HTML should be written up in text files with the extension .php. Add these to the ‘www directory’ to add them to your site.
Step 3: Make your website public
Your initial tinkering on a self-hosted site will be private — only you will be able to see them. When you’re happy with what you’ve done, go to ‘Apache’ and selEct the ‘httpd.conf’ file. Make sure the settings read as follows…
Allow from all
… and you’re up and running!
Hosting a Website Using a Linux Machine
Step 1: Install LAMP software
The other approach is setting up a LAMP (Linux, Apache, MySQL, and PHP) server. This is largely the same process as WAMP but on a Linux computer. To get started type the following command in the Linux Terminal:
- sudo apt install apache2 mysql-server php libapache2-mod-php7.0
During installation you may be asked to provide your MySQL password, so be sure to have it handy. Once the software is installed you’re ready to configure your server.
Step 2: Configure site files and DNS
Like with WAMP, you add files to the root directory to add them to your site. Again, be sure to use the .php file extension. It’s best practice to ensure PHP and My SQL are working correctly.
Step 3: Configure Apache
For your server to allow visitors to visit your website, you need to tell Apache to accept their requests. This involves setting up a directory and tweaking permissions.
If all this sounds highly technical, that’s because it is. Self-hosting is a rabbit hole world not be taken lightly. If you have a serious technical edge and are curious how websites work at their most fundamental level, give self-hosting a spin.
If you’re not technically minded and want to focus on making a great website, give this approach a wide berth. Self-hosted websites are seldom sophisticated animals — they’re barebone HTML creations. They lack the infrastructure to flourish online.
It’s possible to host your own website, but we don’t recommend it.
What are the drawbacks of hosting my own website?
Slow website, hardware and software maintenance, electrical bills, constantly changing IP address, computer always have to be on… just to name a few. It’s a lot of work for an inferior service. Hosting providers exist for a reason.
Is it common for sites to self-host?
Nope. Most websites use professional hosting services. Netflix and Reddit are hosted by Amazon, for example. You can only really make a case for self-hosting when you’re Google-level enormous, which you’re probably not.
Can I self-host a WordPress site
Yes. Most WAMP software allows you to install content management systems on your server. WordPress is by far the most popular option, but the likes of Drupal and Joomla are options too.
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