What is Web Hosting? Website and App Hosting Explained for Beginners

Simply put, Web hosting is the activity or process of renting or buying storage space and access for websites on the World Wide Web. Website content such as HTML, CSS, and images has to be hosted on a server to be viewable online.

If you need help choosing a webhost, you can check our in-depth review and comparason of the best website hosting companies you can safely use for your website hosting, and if WordPress is your thing, you will find our in-depth reviews of the best WordPress hosting a very helpful resource.

What is a web hosting service?

A web hosting service is an online service that allows individuals and organizations to store their website files in an internet server to make their website accessible anywhere on the World Wide Web.

Web hosting provider

A web hosting provider (also known as “web host” or “web hosting company”) is a company that enables individuals and businesses (small or large) to make their websites available through the World Wide Web. Webhosts typically provide the storage spaces a website needs on a server and make the internet connectivity between the server and the website files possible in a data center.

Let’s simplify that for beginners.

Generally, websites are made up of different files combined and connected to work together via HTML, Content management system (CMS) or any other programming language used by the developer.

To create any website and make it accessible on the web, these files need to be stored somewhere on the internet that allows communication between the individual files to function properly as one.

A web host is the owner of these storage spaces given to each website on the web.

Every blog post is a file. Every image is a file. Everything associated with your website is a file of sorts, and they all need to be organized properly and stored in a safe location so that other people can access them.

This is typically accomplished through domain name registration and web hosting.

Web hosting is everything that goes into physically “hosting” your website so that people can visit it on the internet. And your domain name is the simple address people type into their browser to visit your site.

While the internet can be accessed from any number of connected devices, the individual sites on the internet still have to live somewhere.

In other words, all the files that make up a website have to be hosted on a server or series of servers.

That means every website has a physical location that your device connects to every time you type in a web address. So, when someone types in your web address, their browser goes to the server where your website is hosted and the server shows them your site.

Image of a data center with website hosting servers
An example of a data center with website hosting servers

What does “hosting server” mean?

A hosting server is a type of server that hosts or houses websites or related data, applications and services. It is a computer that connects other web users to your site from anywhere in the world.

Web hosting service providers have all the necessary servers, connectivity, and associated services to host websites.

By offering a variety of hosting plans and packages, they are able to provide different types of hosting for both small blogs and large organizations.

How website hosting works

Websites are hosted on computers called servers that can dish up pages to thousands or millions of people at the same time.

Just like you get a mailing address when you move into a house or apartment, a web address is the outward-facing way visitors “find” and access your site.

Illustrative image showing how website hosting works
illustrative image showing exactly how website hosting works

What are they accessing exactly?

It depends on the type of hosting and server you choose (more on that later), but in all cases, a web address connects a physical piece of hardware to the physical piece of hardware used to browse the internet. When that connection is made, your website is displayed to them.

That means that the smartphone, laptop, or tablet you’re reading this on is connected to an actual piece of equipment somewhere in the world to view the content on this web page.

Thanks to the incredible connectivity of the internet, all of this happens virtually instantaneously, no matter how near or far you are.

What Webhosts Connects to

Web “hosts” do exactly what it sounds like – they host website files on their servers. These servers are large computer systems designed to host websites so they can be accessed from anywhere with a connection to the internet.

You can imagine the web host ecosystem the same way you might imagine office buildings for rent. Most companies benefit from renting the exact amount of space they need in a building. As time passes, they can potentially grow into more space.

They share essential utilities and amenities with every other company that has offices in the same building, which allows them to pay one monthly fee to cover everything they need.

Some small or niche companies benefit from smaller, more flexible office buildings, while extremely large ones sometimes end up buying or building their own office complexes to fit their specific needs.

Similarly, most websites will fit best on one of a number of potential shared hosts. There are a few different options for shared hosts, and each one has its own pros and cons. Let’s look at what those different hosting options are.

Types of web hosting services

There are 5 major types of web hosting, and they are:

  1. Shared hosting.
  2. Cloud hosting.
  3. VPS (Virtual Private Server) hosting.
  4. Dedicated server hosting.
  5. Reseller hosting.

1. Shared Hosting

This is the most common form of web hosting. Large web hosting companies such as GoDaddy, HostGator, Bluehost, etc. have massive physical banks of servers.

In this type of hosting, you essentially ‘rent’ a space on a server just the same way you would rent an office space in a shared office building.

Advantages of shared hosting

The advantage of shared hosting is that you have one company/person who oversees utilities, security, the integrity of the hardware, and general IT oversight at a very cheap price.

Disadvantages of shared hosting

Just like a neighbor in an office or apartment building can occasionally use all of the hot water, it is possible that you can either be a beneficiary or victim of this system.

Sometimes your site will receive heavy traffic and slow others down as you use the majority of the server’s bandwidth. Other times, another site sharing the same hosting may receive heavy web activity which has the potential to slow yours down.

You don’t need to be too worried though. If it’s a large hosting company with a respected reputation, they’re probably pouring loads of resources into server speed, security measures, uptime, and hardware improvements to remain competitive against other host services.

When should you opt in for shared hosting?

As long as you don’t need extremely customizable hosting or unusually massive amounts of data transfer (e.g., heavy traffic) at any given time, this is usually the best option for most people.

2. Cloud Hosting

Cloud web hosting creates a digital ‘cloud’, that places your data on multiple servers instead of a single one. So, it essentially “lives” in the digital sphere, instead of just staying on a given server network.

Pros of cloud hosting

There are plenty of benefits in using cloud hosting. In many ways, it can be more secure, more flexible, and more secure.

The reason is because, unlike shared hosting, cloud hosting is built on a network of hardware rather than a single server, it’s immune to individual downtime or attacks. If something goes wrong with one server or bandwidth is getting slow, your website can bounce to a different server.


Just as you can imagine drawbacks to not having a consistent office, there are limitations to the customization and security of cloud hosting for some applications. And while many hosting services are working to make cloud hosting as easy as other forms of web hosting, on average, it still requires a bit more technical knowledge and work to set up and maintain a cloud-based website.

3. Virtual Private Server (VPS) Hosting

This distinction is sort of like the difference between an apartment and a condo, or a leased versus owned office space.

Though you still share utilities and walls with your neighbors, you have a bit more control over things, which can be beneficial provided you’re open to the responsibilities and costs that come along with it.

In practice, VPS service is essentially the same as shared hosting, but with higher payments which guarantee customers a certain amount of server space.

This means that, even if a neighbor is generating extremely high web traffic, there’s a minimum amount of bandwidth which you own and are guaranteed. And when nobody is using massive amounts of data, the overall hosting system is shared to provide higher performance to sites as demand dictates it.

One of the major benefits of VPS hosting is that, you’re also insulated from mistakes of other websites, which is not always the case with shared hosting.

Virtual private servers are the best option for websites with ambitious growth targets, frequently-updated content, or routine traffic spikes.

4. Dedicated Hosting and Server

Many businesses have their own servers for internal computing needs like email and local file storage. A much smaller group use their own dedicated web hosting.

Using the same office building example, we’ve been using to explain webhosting services, A VPS offers the same benefits as owning your own office building: maximum customization, control of resources and every aspect of security, configuration, and performance.

Before you use a dedicated server hosting, consider the following.

Some of the drawbacks of a VPS are:

  • It is very expensive to buy and maintain
  • It requires the most experienced level of technical knowledge and resources to successfully maintain and operate it.
  • More human resources and personnel are required for every aspect of your website operations.

When you should use dedicated hosting

This option typically only makes sense for websites with the absolute highest traffic or security requirements. It is without a doubt, the best web hosting option for individuals and organizations who amass a large volume of website traffic such as ecommerce, digital newspapers and can afford it.

5. Reseller Hosting

Reseller hosting is a form of web hosting where the primary account owner can use his or her allotted server resources such as file storage space and bandwidth to host other websites on behalf of third parties.

The original hosting account owner is the ‘reseller’.

Reseller hosting is beneficial when you have an excessive amount of space. Some of the allocated resources including disk space, bandwidth, CPU and more can be shared with other website owners. This is a great way of getting a recurring source of income.

Criteria for choosing a good web hosting provider

Since every website needs a host, that typically translates to “every website owner will have to choose a web host to host their website online now or later”.

The major question now becomes “how do you choose the right host?”

First things first: Before you choose a web, host or start looking for the right web host, it is important you first know the characteristics that make any web host good.


The single most important quality of a good web host is uptime. That is, the amount of time that your website is online (like it sounds, uptime is the exact opposite of “downtime”).

Downtime falls into two categories: 1 – planned, which entails maintenance and backend updates and 2 – unplanned, which is everything else, from crashes to connectivity issues to power outages.

While no web host can realistically offer 100% uptime, it is reasonable to expect roughly 99.9% uptime from any major web host.

Why is uptime so important?

The simple reason is because if your site is down, people can’t access it. If you’re a business owner, this can mean lost revenue for you.

Strategic security measures

In a way, this falls under the uptime umbrella, as hacking and breaches almost always incur unplanned downtime.

But it also extends beyond questions about uptime.

Not only should you expect and demand comprehensive security measures from your web host provider, it is also wise to consider how easy they make it to secure your website using SSL.

Disk and storage space

Everything you put on your website, from blog posts to picture to videos, requires disk space.

Just like saving things to your personal computer requires space, so does uploading things to your site.

Depending on the type of site you’ll be building, this may be an important factor.

For example, if you’re going to be creating a news or media website where you’ll be uploading thousands of photos and videos per month, it is likely that you will fill up your provided storage disk space very quickly.

When choosing a web host, you want to ensure that you’re going to have enough disk space for your site.


Bandwidth, in simple terms, is the amount of data consumed or used up by your website.

How is bandwidth used?

  • Every time a visitor accesses your site, and photos, videos, and articles have to load, bandwidth is used.
  • When you upload something to your site, bandwidth is used.
  • If visitors are downloading things from your site, bandwidth is consumed with every download.

If your site is getting a high volume of traffic, you want to ensure that your host can handle the bandwidth and evaluate how they charge for using extra bandwidth.

Ability to scale

This is especially important if you have aggressive plans to grow your website.

As your website grows and traffic numbers increase, it becomes critical to ask yourself if your host has plans that will suit your needs.

What if your site really takes off and starts getting hundreds of thousands or even millions of visitors every month? Can they accommodate that?

It’s important to know where you plan on taking your site when you choose a web host. Otherwise, you may find yourself scrambling to find a new host when you outgrow your initial one.

Now that you know what to look for in a host, how do you choose the best hosting service for your website?

How to Choose the right hosting for your website

How do you know which type of hosting service is right for you?

Ideally, you should choose a web host based on your website needs.

  • Shared Hosting: Shared hosting is perfect for “normal” websites that will be getting an average amount of traffic. If you’re just getting started with building a website, this is probably the right choice.
  • Cloud Hosting: A step up from shared hosting. Cloud hosting is a good solution for you if you need increased security options and assurances of constant uptime and bandwidth.
  • Virtual Private Hosting: If you want increased control and are anticipating significant traffic growth, you’re going to want to move in this direction.
  • Dedicated Hosting: The choice for those with the biggest needs in terms of security, reliability, and bandwidth.

Web hosting service providers: Which ones are trusted?

Now that you have a better understanding of what web hosting is, types of hosting, what to look out for in a web host and how to choose the most suitable hosting for your website, let’s take a quick look at the most popular web hosting providers.

The most popular web hosting companies:

There are many quality web hosting companies that offer hosting plans for relatively low costs. Some of the most popular web hosting companies are:

  • Bluehost.
  • HostGator.
  • WPEngine.
  • Media Temple.
  • A2 Hosting.
  • SiteGround.
  • InMotion Hosting.
  • 1&1.

For most websites and businesses, the popular option is to get set up with one of the above web hosting service providers and start developing your site.

The main exceptions would be if you’re thinking about choosing a website builder, or if you’re setting up an eCommerce store and don’t know how to code (you’ll probably want an eCommerce site builder like Shopify or BigCommerce).

As you consider web hosting options, remember that if you build your website the right way, it is possible to change where you host it as your needs change.

So, just as you consider where and how to host your website, consider how you build your website and why that matters, too.

References and additional resources

ITT Visual Information Solutions Team
ITT Visual Information Solutions Team

ITTVIS's team of researchers, writers, and editors dedicate hours to ensure every single piece of content on ittvis.com is accurate, accessible and actionable for both established and aspiring entrepreneurs. The team is made up of experts on a variety of topics from business management to everyday technology solutions to maximize productivity. They consistently optimize the website’s content to ensure that all of the information is accurate and up-to-date.