Beginner’s Guide to Web Hosting

If you’re new to buying web hosting or running a web site, this page could answer some of those nagging questions. We’ll take you from the very beginning and work up to some fairly advanced concepts – but don’t worry, everything on this page is suitable for absolute beginners.

What is web hosting?

Think about the files and folders on your computer. They are stored on the hard disk of your desktop or laptop computer, ready for you to access them whenever you like. A web page is a file, just like your word processing documents. Just as your word processing documents require your computer to store them, all web pages require a computer to store them.

The difference is that web pages are generally intended to be seen by the general public. To enable this, the computer on which they must be stored must be of a much higher specification than your desktop PC, and must be connected to the Internet through a very powerful link.

A computer on which web pages are stored is called a web server (because it serves pages, on request, to users on the Internet). Collectively a bunch of web pages is a web site, and collectively all the web pages in the world form the World Wide Web (WWW).

The job of making web sites and web pages available to many users is called web hosting. We sometimes like to call the product we offer web space, because we are selling “space” on the Internet for you to host your web site. Web space is measured in megabytes, in exactly the same way as the space on your own computer is measured.

Why do I need web hosting?

It is technically possible to connect your own PC or Mac to the Internet and have it serve pages. But it is not practical since usually a home-based Internet connection is not powerful enough to serve many users at the same time.

For this reason, web hosting companies exist. They own and maintain very powerful web servers which store your web pages. They connect these web servers to the Internet by very powerful connections, enabling many web users to access your web pages at the same time.

If you want to run a web site you need web hosting because unless you’ve got unlimited funds you would not be able to afford the web servers and connections necessary.

What else do web hosting companies do?

As well as providing web space web hosting companies provide other “value-added” services. The extent of these varies from company to company but there are some key services provided by nearly all. These are the registration of domain names (see below) and provision of email. They may also provide technical support either through their web sites or by email or telephone.

Are there different kinds of web hosting?

Yes, of course! There are many different varieties of web hosting, designed to meet different needs. A two-page web site set up by an individual will need far less robust web hosting package than a multinational high-traffic site set up by a big company. There are a few key differentiating factors between the packages web hosting companies provide.

Amount of web space

This means how much web space the web hosting company will allow you to use for your web site. This can vary but usually starts at around the 100 megabytes mark, and can go all the way up to 1000 or 2000 megabytes. For all but the biggest web sites, 100MB is more than adequate. Some web hosting companies offer much more space – they are able to do this because they know that the average web site comes in at less than 100 megabytes.

Number of email addresses

This means how many email addresses the hosting company will permit you to have. For budget accounts, this is usually somewhere between 1 and 10 email addresses. Some higher-end packages permit say 250 addresses. Here at UKcentric we like to go one further whenever possible of course, most of our web hosting packages come with up to 100 email addresses.

Quick reference
1 letter on a page = 1 byte
1024 bytes = 1 kilobyte
1024 kilobytes = 1 megabyte
1024 megabytes = 1 gigabyte

Bandwidth (or data transfer)

This is a much misunderstood measure, but it is really important if your web site starts to generate a lot of interest from web users. It means the amount of data your web site can transmit to web users. For example, if a web page in your web site is 10 kilobytes (about 1000 words on the page) in size, and one Internet user views it, you have used 10 kilobytes of bandwidth. If 10 users request that page you have used 100 kilobytes of bandwidth. Bandwidth is normally measured monthly.

Most small web sites will need under half a gigabyte of bandwidth per month. That means you can serve about 52,000 web pages per month (assuming the pages are an average of 10 kilobytes in size). At UKcentric our lowest-cost package (the Pro plan) offers 20 gigabytes of bandwidth per month, allowing you transfer about 2,080,000 pages. This is more than adequate for small to medium web sites.

Bandwidth overage

What happens if you go over your allotted bandwidth? This is known as bandwidth overage. Some companies will switch off your web site if this happens. Others will automatically add on extra bandwidth charges which are priced at a different (usually much higher) rate than your normal monthly hosting charges.

At UKcentric we understand that some customers will occasionally go over their monthly allowance. We do not cut off the web site if this happens, nor do we charge any extra. Instead we may notify you and recommend you upgrade your web hosting package to one with a higher allowance.

Windows or UNIX?

The last major differentiating factor between web hosting packages is the operating system. Just like your desktop computer (probably running Microsoft Windows or an Apple Mac OS), web servers run an operating system. It’s the software that makes the computer go. There are two major types of OS in the web hosting world – Windows and UNIX. The major variant of UNIX is called Linux.

For basic web sites it doesn’t really matter whether you choose Linux or Windows hosting. Your pages will work just the same whichever you choose. But some customers do have a preference, so we can cater for both. All our technical staff are highly experienced Microsoft and Unix programmers themselves, so we are able to offer expert technical support for all our products.

So which to choose? If in doubt, we recommend you choose one of our Windows hosting plans.

Features and components

These days it is quite rare to find a web site that consists entirely of simple, static web pages. Normally most sites offer at least some degree of interactivity. There are many examples of interactivity, including:

  • forms for users to fill in, which email the data to the web site owner
  • databases which contain details of many products on offer
  • ability for web site users to upload files such as photos to the web site

All web hosting accounts offer the ability to store static web pages. If you want the interactivity however, you need to ensure that your host offers the relevant components. Here at UKcentric we offer many components that are installed on all our servers. These are available to you through web site scripting. Web site scripting means we offer you the ability to program your web pages to behave in certain ways, using our components.

For example, let’s say you want to set up a bulletin board to allow your users to hold an online conversation amongst themselves. This would require a database to store all the messages, and the ability to send an email automatically to you when someone has added a new message so that you can review it.

In this situation, we are using at least two components: a database and an email component. Our hosting packages allow you to store and display data from a database via your web pages. What’s more you can set up a form and program our email component to send the results to an email address you specify.

Storing and retrieving data and sending emails are all done via special script which is embedded in your web page. We offer support for several scripting languages, including PHP, Active Server Pages (ASP) and .Net (ASP.NET). The latter two languages are from Microsoft, so if you have any familiarity with Microsoft languages such as Visual Basic, you will be at home here. Furthermore, .NET in fact supports many different languages such as C#, a variant of the C++ language. (Check hosting plans for availability of .NET).

As for database, all our hosting plans come with the ability to connect to a MySql database. Our Windows hosting plans can connect to a Microsoft Access database, or even an Excel spreadsheet, if you like!

If none of the above means anything to you – don’t worry – we are specialists in this area and can help you out quickly and cheaply. Just pick up the phone and talk to us!

What kind of web hosting do I need?

The hosting package you choose will depend on what kind of web site you wish to set up, and how big you think it may get. For individuals and small companies, we advise that our Pro plan is sufficient. This plan allows 10 email addresses, 1GB of web space and 20GB of bandwidth. This is more than enough to get you up and running, and our simple control panel will allow you to easily set up email accounts.

If you expect your site to a lot of users (say more than 1000 per day) we would recommend our Biz account. Still great value, but offering many more features and components and also 2GB of web space for that extra storage and 100GB of bandwidth.

Once I have web hosting how do I get my web site online?

Once you’ve decided on your web hosting package, you will need to design your web site and get it online. This isn’t as hard as it sounds and there are thousands of web sites built by people who’ve never built one before!

WordPress – a brilliant site-building system for absolute beginners

The great news is that we have tools available free for you to build your site. We are currently able to install the fabulous WordPress site-building system free of charge onto your web site. WordPress is incredibly easy to use, and you don’t have to know any technical stuff whatsoever. It also has an extensive collection of free themes available – which means it’s easy to make your site look amazingly professional with just a couple of mouse clicks. Another bonus is that WordPress runs in your web browser, so you don’t have to donwload any software, and you can edit your site from anywhere in the world. (Fancy updating your site whilst lying on the beach? With WordPress, you can!). If you’d like WordPress installed on your site, just ask us and we’ll install it free of charge.

Site-building for those who like to do things by hand

For those who prefer to build their own sites by hand, you’ll need to start with a software program that can create and edit your web pages. An excellent choice is Microsoft Expression. Another popular choice includes Adobe Dreamweaver. Both of these packages are paid-for, but there are many free web design programs you can download too.

You will initially create your web site on your computer. Once ready, you will then need to upload it to our web servers. As part of the process of ordering your web space, we will have sent you the username and password and other details you need to access your web space on our servers. You must set up your web page editing software with these details. How to do this will vary from program to program, but feel free to contact us for advice on this.

Whichever program you choose, the objective is the same – create good-looking web pages. All these editors allow you to enter text and images into your web pages in a similar way to using a word processor. So if you’re familiar with word processing, this will be quite easy for you. If you don’t want to do this yourself you can of course engage UKcentric as your web designers.

You will then upload your files to our servers. You usually do this using a facility in your site-building software. We’ll give you the settings you need when you set up your hosting account with us. Once uploaded, you will be able to access the pages on the Internet!

What about email?

The other half of web hosting is email. All web site owners require email accounts with the same domain name as their web site. For example, if your domain is londonwidgets.co.uk, you’ll probably want an email address like sales@londonwidgeets.co.uk, or john@londonwidgets.co.uk. No problem! At UKcentric we offer a generous number of email accounts on all our hosting packages.

You will be given access to your own personal control panel which will allow you to set up your accounts.

Sending and receiving email

Once you’ve set up your email accounts, you’ll need a way of sending and receiving email through them. There are many ways to access email, and we support all of them. For example, with our email accounts you can:

  • send and receive via popular email software such as Microsoft Outlook, Outlook Express, Thunderbird
  • send via your Mac, iPhone, smartphone, Android phone, Blackberry or Windows phone
  • send and receive your email via tablets, smart TV and other devices
  • send and receive via our WebMail facility, which allows you to send/receive your email via any web browser, anywhere in the world, any time of day or night
  • and some customers prefer to use popular webmail facilities such as GMail or Hotmail. No problem – you can link your email account to any such service and send and receive your domain’s email via these services

There are no limits on the number or size of emails you may send.

Where do domain names come into it?

A domain name is your identity on the Internet. For example, the domain name of this web site is ukcentric.com. All web sites are reached by a user typing in the domain name to their web browser. Also, all email accounts are related to a specific domain name. To set up a web site on our web servers, you will need a domain name. Most customers purchase their domain names from us, either before they purchase their web hosting accounts or at the same time.

A domain name that does not have any web space allocated to it and does not have any email facilities is known as a parked domain. This means it is reserved for the owner’s later use.

If you have already purchased a domain name from us you will notice that you can upgrade your parked domain names to hosted domain names. This will involve selecting a hosting package, and will allow you to then add a web site and email accounts to your domain name.

What are the pitfalls?

As with buying any service, whether online or off-line, there are a number of potential pitfalls that is advisable to be aware of. The world of web hosting is infested with jargon and it is sometimes difficult to understand what your requirements are and how to tell if you are getting a good deal.

Unfortunately there are some unscrupulous companies operating in this area who bring the industry into disrepute. Fortunately, the most common pitfalls are easy enough to avoid as long as you are armed with a little information.

Hidden bandwidth charges

Many companies hide the fact that they offer insufficient bandwidth for you to reasonably run your web site. Check small print for any hidden bandwidth charges. Often extra bandwidth is charged at a much higher rate than your normal allowance. At UKcentric we do not have any hidden bandwidth charges. However, we may contact you should you go too far over your allowance.

Hidden VAT charges or setup costs

Check the small print of any web site you’re thinking of ordering domain name registration or hosting through for hidden VAT, or setup charges. These can often add substantially to your overall bill. At UKcentric there are no setup charges on domain names or hosting plans, and all prices quoted already include VAT, so the price you see is the price you pay.

Unlimited bandwidth

Some companies offer you “unlimited bandwidth”. This sounds fantastic but in fact no company (really, no company) is able to offer this. What it really means is that there are no set limits, but if your web site attracts too much traffic, they will either close it down or contact you and force you to upgrade. At UKcentric we have clear bandwidth limits, and do not charge you should you exceed them. However, we may contact you if you go too far over your allowance.

Hidden domain name transfer fees

Some companies offer very low-priced domain name registration, and allow you to transfer names in for free. However there may be hidden costs if you want to transfer your name away from the company for whatever reason. Some firms are still charging up to £80 to transfer away, which is totally unethical. At UKcentric we do not charge you anything to transfer your name away and the process is very simple. We will provide all the necessary support and act quickly on your request.

Domain name ownership

Incredibly, some companies still register names purchased by you to themselves, instead of you. This makes them the legal owner of your chosen domain name. Of course, we do not do this.

Fixed length contracts and lock-ins

In the small print and terms and conditions of many hosting companies, you will find that you are tied in to a minimum length contract – usually one year. This means that you can’t escape the charges for at least a year. At UKcentric we only ask that you host with us for at least three months. We must ask for three months because otherwise it costs us more money to set up your account than we receive from you and with our low prices, we cannot afford to run at a loss. We cannot refund any web hosting fees already paid to us, but since most of our customers pay monthly, this usually amounts to no more than about £15.

Lack of technical support

If you are new to web hosting and running your own web site, top-notch technical support will be crucial to you. You need to ensure that you can contact the hosting company and that they will respond in a timely way with an appropriate answer. At UKcentric all of our support staff are expert Microsoft programmers and run their own web sites, so you can be sure that you will get a sensible response. If we are at fault we will gladly admit this and do everything we can to put the problem right.

more details here http://www.ukcentric.com/hosting/beginners-guide-to-web-hosting/