Introducing your host…

Picture of servers at the UK National Archive

In an earlier blog post, we gave a brief explanation of domain names and how to obtain one. You can find that article here. However, registering your chosen domain name is just the first step on your way to your shiny, new website.

You can think of a domain name as the sign on your house or above your shop window. It basically just says “This is <whatever>.com” (or .co.uk, etc.)

Like any sign, this is only useful when it’s actually attached to something. If you just buy a domain name, say wibbledewibble.com, and then try to visit the wibbledewibble.com website, you’re likely to see something like this:

Image showing default Google Chrome error message for a missing website

The reason for this is that you literally only have a sign. It isn’t attached to anything. It doesn’t point anywhere and your website doesn’t actually exist yet. That’s where your website host comes in.

What is a website host?

A website host is a specific type of computer known as a server (or website server – there are other types of server too). A website server may be an individual dedicated computer. Alternatively, it may be a separate part of a much larger computer that hosts several different websites. In either case, the server hardware and operating system will be designed for running websites. It will be in a data centre somewhere with fast Internet connections and it is the place where all the things that make up your website are actually installed.

In basic terms, the things that make up your website will be:

  • Web server software – a program that runs on the server, responding to requests from visitors’ web browsers and sending them the web pages that they are requesting.
  • Content management system (or CMS) – another piece of software that stores and manages all the content on your website. It also controls the layout of information and how things look on screen.
  • Web content – the actual content of your website, the words that you have written, your pictures and other media. This also includes any other items that go to make up what your website visitor sees on the screen (logos, graphics, etc.)

It is possible to design and run a website without using a content management system (CMS) and this can be an option for very small and simple websites. Using a CMS makes it much easier not only to design and maintain a website but also to include more advanced features. For example, complex website layout, animations or interactive content. It can also help with the task of making a website respond better on different devices (computers, tablets and mobile phones).

Where do you find a host?

Website hosting is a service provided by a large number of companies all over the world, known as hosting providers. Each company typically offers a range of different website hosting plans at different price points. They usually charge monthly for this service, although some companies may offer discounts if you pay upfront for a year (or more) in advance. Prices vary depending on the size and scale of the hosting service provided. A small, cheap hosting plan will usually only be suitable for a single very small website. At the other extreme, a large-scale commercial hosting plan will be capable of running multiple complex websites and handling thousands or even millions of visitors an hour.

As with many things, hosting services largely obey the old-fashioned rule of “you get what you pay for”. If you have a large or complex site and are expecting it to get lots of visitors, it’s worth finding a good hosting provider and paying enough to ensure that your website is running on a hosting plan that can cope.

Do I really need to worry about all this?

You’ll be happy to know that you don’t necessarily need to worry too much about any of this. While it’s useful to know a little about what’s happening under the hood, you don’t have to become a techno-wiz and learn all about software installation, configuration and systems management. We partner with a couple of different hosting providers and can do all the heavy lifting for you. When we design and build your website, we make sure that all the right software is installed and configured properly. We ensure that it’s up and running on a reliable website host and that everything works as it should. Our care plans then cover your hosting costs and keep your website working at its best. All you need to think about is what you want to say to all your new visitors.

You can find out more about the website care plans we offer to our clients here.

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