What’s the most necessary yet most commonly misunderstood part of your website? No, it’s not that little picture test that proves TO a robot that you’re NOT a robot (seriously, what kind of digital irony is that?) It’s your hosting.
We’ve used some analogies in this series to a degree of success before, so we are going to keep rolling with them. If your DNS is akin to the roadmap your visitors follow to your site, then your hosting plan is like your plot of land in the subdivision. Some plots are bigger than others. Some are built for one house, some are made to build lots of structures on. This is much like hosting plans, you can buy big or small, depending on your need. The point is, it’s the place you build your house so that visitors can travel along and stop by your house anytime. Back in the day, servers were fraught with problems of staying online 24/7, but nowadays a hosting company shouldn’t have to brag about uptime to get your attention. Don’t pay extra for quality uptime, that should be a given. Overall, when you pay for hosting your paying for rent. You want your site to live there and be accessible, but, unlike eviction from an apartment home, if you stop paying rent the landlord doesn’t just dump your stuff on the curb for you to pick up, they delete it. This brings us to a quick side note you’ll hear a lot from us, “back it up before you jack it up.” Seriously, backup your site.
Let’s dive next into the types of hosting. There are 3 main types to speak of. cPanel, Windows, and custom coded. (And for the super-nerds reading, yes, a later article will cover shared, virtual private, and dedicated servers. For now, we are going to teach as if they’re being used on a shared server because that’s the most care-free type for novices.) Now, these 3 types of hosting are just different platforms for programming languages. In housing terms, let’s say log cabin, Tony Stark’s mansion, and houseboat. All made for living in, but the designs are from different worlds. If you’re writing your own coding (or interested in building with WordPress) then cPanel is for you. If you’re a click-and-drag kid who is ok working inside the limits a program already has for you, that’s what every “website builder” is. They’re custom codes written by the hosting company and they do NOT move from one house to the next at all, so don’t build with one company and expect to move your house across town next year. Where you build is where you stay, so anticipate that when choosing a hosting company. There are a TON of trials out there to get your hands on, so try them all out and see what platform is best for you. The third type of hosting we haven’t covered yet deserves to be last. Windows hosting is notoriously sluggish, frustrating to users, and major hosting companies typically see less than 4% of their customer bases use it. There’s a reason for that staggeringly low number, don’t use it.
Now, take a glance at your desktop, or your home screen if you’re some hip youngster on one of those smart telephone thingies. All those icons you see are just file structures. Files on your computer are just commands for your computer to do things. You call on a file that says “jump,” your computer jumps. You click one that’s says “show me a kitty,” and fluffy pops up on your screen. There are a LOT of files in any program, but the reality is they’re all just lines of code telling your computer what to do. To keep things clear, you’ve “built” these on your desktop or phone just by using it. When you host a website you’re doing the same exact thing, but you’re doing it on that plot of land you rented that EVERYONE on the web can see. So, when you surf the web to your favorite site, you’re telling your computer “let’s cruise on over to that set of files that’s kept on that computer across town and see what’s on the inside.” You pull into the driveway and you’re able to walk through the house all you’d like. Some sites are more like stores you can shop, and some are even more like huge warehouses of filing cabinets filled with information you can request. When YOU build, answer the question for yourself “what do I want my visitors to experience?” and it will help answer a lot of the questions around WHAT you need to build your site.
Next time, we will cover the topic of email and the secrets you never knew about it.