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helpHow your website works

How your website works

To run your website, you actually need a domain name and a web host.

Domain Names

The domain name is the alpha-numeric phrase that lets you find a particular website (e.g. yahoo.com, google.com).  When you give your web browser a domain name, it actually reaches out to special internet locations called domain registries which will tell it where to find the correct web server for that website.  If a website changes web servers, the domain name can stay the same, but we have to make sure the domain registry is updated to send visitors to the new server.

Note: Your domain name is the most crucial, irreplaceable part of your website.  You'll spend time and money helping people get to know your website's domain name (e.g. printing business cards and brochures, getting people to link to your website, developing name recognition, etc).  Find a reputable domain registrar, keep your email address up to date, and don't let your domain name expire!

See also: Choosing a domain name / Choosing a domain registrar

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IP addresses

The domain name is actually a shortcut that points to the IP address of your website.  An IP address (e.g. 69.16.229.152) is hard to remember.  So domain names make it much easier to find things on the internet. 

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Domain registrar

The domain registrar is the company that makes sure your domain name is listed in the appropriate domain registries.  You purchase your domain name from a domain registrar and you will renew your domain registration through the domain registrar.  Domain registrars typically charge between $5 and $900 per year per domain name (depending on the domain name and the domain registrar).  For most websites, it is possible to transfer management of your domain name to a different domain registrar if you find a better price. 

Note: It is very important to protect your domain name(s)!  Make sure you find a reputable domain registrar.  You'll spend time and money helping people get to know your website's domain name (e.g. printing business cards and brochures, getting people to link to your website, developing name recognition, etc).  If you go with a cut-rate option, you may be placing this valuable resource at risk.

See also: Choosing a domain name / Choosing a domain registrar

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Web server

The content  of your website actually lives on a web server or web host.  This is simply a computer located somewhere in the world with a 24/7 internet connection and some specialized server software/programs. 

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Web hosts

The web host is the company that runs your web server.  Fees for website hosting range from very small ($.82/mo) to very expensive ($100/mo or more).  This all depends on the company and what features they give you access to on their web hosting computer(s).

It is important to get a good quality web host.  Web hosting is a very competitive business.  Some web hosts charge very little, but put way too many websites on their web servers.  Remember a web server is just a computer and if it has too much to do, it could break or run very slowly.  When that happens, your website will either be unavailable or very slow. Other web hosts claim to offer a lot of features, but have limitations that you may not realize until you are in the middle of developing a website.

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Choosing a web host

There are many different factors that should go into selecting a web host.

First and foremost, you need a web host that can offer resources and services that meet the demands/requirements of your website (e.g. disk space, bandwidth, features).

While price should be a consideration, you also want to look for a web host that has a reputation for providing high-quality service.  While most web hosts claim to have 99.9% up-time, you want a web host that has a good reputation for actually fulfilling this claim.

Finally, it is important to find a web host that provides technical support at a level that matches your level of technical expertise.

There are many websites that claim to rank web hosts.  However, many of those "directories" are just examples of internet-based paid advertising.   Web Hosting Talk is a well-known and reputable forum where you can do research and learn from the experiences of others: www.webhostingtalk.com

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Hosting: Disk space

One of the most important resources on a web server is disk space.  This is storage space that can be used to store various files (including programs, images, database information, audio/video files, etc). 

Web hosts charge extra for additional disk space because there are real expenses associated with adding additional/larger disk drives on their computers.  You should be very suspicious of any company that claims to offer unlimited disk space.

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Hosting: Bandwidth

Another important resource on a web server is bandwidth.  Bandwidth refers to the amount of traffic that a web site uses -– or the amount of information that the server has to send out to people looking at its websites.  A large file (e.g. audio/video file) takes more bandwidth to deliver than a small file.  And if more people ask for a file, it takes more bandwidth to deliver it than if only a few people ask for it.

Web hosts charge extra for additional bandwidth because there are real expenses associated with adding faster/larger internet connections to their networks.  You should be very suspicious of any company that claims to offer unlimited bandwidth.

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Hosting: System Load and CPU usage

System Load and CPU usage refer to the work the server has to do to produce your web page output.  With a static web page, system load and CPU usage are not likely to be an issue.  But if you are using any kind of scripts/programs, such as a content management system, this is something to be aware of.

Limits on CPU usage are not an advertised feature/limitation, but in any shared hosting situation, the vendor will need to keep an eye on system load and CPU usage, in order to ensure that the server is able to be responsive for all of their customers.  In other words, it would not be fair if just one customer in a shared hosting environment monopolized all of the system resources.  And in a worst case scenario, high server load will bring a server down.

What does this really mean for you?

  • While some web hosts offere high-bandwidth quotas at a very low price, you may never be able to fully use that bandwidth as server load limitations will kick in before you reach your quota.  It is more feasible with a static web page/site, but still unlikely that you would be able to fully utilize the extreme bandwidth they are offering.
  • Some vendors will suspend your account, if it is causing high system load.  Particularly, if you are not using a static web page/site, it is important to use a web hosting vendor who will work with you in a reasonable way, should your website cause system load problems.

Example: 1and1 web hosting is extremely popular for its expansive disk space and bandwidth at a dirt cheap price.  However, they keep a tight reign on system load, sporadically providing a cryptic "Error 500 - Internal server error" page instead of the website, when they judge the site to be too busy.  I have had a client with a completely static website report this problem just from using 1and1's webmail. I do use 1and1 for backup file storage -- but not for any live, public websites.

Note: Unless you move to a dedicated server or virtual dedicated server (which are significantly more expensive), you are using shared hosting situation. 

Hosting: Features

There are many different ways to run a website.  Some websites are static -- they are really just simple HTML files that get accessed through the internet.  But other websites are more complicated and require certain features be available on the web host.

Anytime you run a content management system or other website gadgetry, you will be drawing on features of your web host.  Common features include:

  • programming languages, such as PHP or Perl
  • database resources, such as MySQL
  • parked domains, add-on domains, subdomains
  • access to edit DNS/nameserver
  • shell access

Even when a web hosting company offers such features, they may put further limits on how you can use them.  For instance, certain parts of a programming language may be disabled as a security precaution. Other features may be available for an additional fee.

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Hosting: Email

Email is often a critical part of your website that may be easy to overlook. 

If you are moving your website to a new server, you should be careful to think through how you can migrate your email services with as little interruption of service as possible.

Some issues to consider:

  • How many email users do you host and do they have email accounts -- or just forwarders to their personal email addresses? Some hosts charge extra for extra email accounts.
  • Do people mostly use Webmail, POP3 or IMAP? What kind of webmail is offered and can address books be imported/exported?
  • How much email storage do you require (e.g. webmail and IMAP access)?  This factors into your overall disk space needs.
  • Do you send an e-newsletter or other high volume email through your website?  Some web hosting companies put limits on how many emails you can send. 
  • Do you need to host email mailing lists for announcements or discussion? Some web hosts charge for extra lists, limit import/export of email addresses, or provide limited customization of how your mailing list will operate.
  • What kind of spam control is provided by your web host?

Hosting: Operating System

There are two main flavors of web hosting -- Windows and Linux.  If you have a simple, static website that does not use programming languages or database resources, you are probably better off with a Linux server as a way to limit expense.  If your website will be more complicated, then you need to check on the requirements of the software you are likely to use.

Linux web servers - Linux is the most common and least expensive operating system for a website server. 

  • Linux is "open source" and "GPL" which means there are no additional licensing fees for software.
  • A common Linux server setup is called "LAMP" -- which is an abbreviation for Linux, Apache, MySQL, PHP/Perl.  This simply outlines the main server software that is installed on the server.  All of these tools are open source, GPL software packages.

Windows web servers - In order to operate a Windows server, you need to keep up with software licensing requirements -- because Windows is a proprietary, commericial product.  As a result, Windows servers tend to be more expensive to operate than comparable Linux servers.  However, depending on your needs, you may require Windows in order to operate your preferred website software packages. 

Unknown operating system - Some web hosts may not tell you what kind of operating system they are using.  This would be most common when dealing with a web host offering very limited features (i.e. only appropriate for simple, static websites).

Note: The kind of operating system used on your website server is really only important to you as the website owner.  Either flavor of server will be able to work comfortably with website visitors, whether they are using Windows, Macintosh, Linux or something else to visit your website.

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Hosting: Recommendation

In addition to the general advice above, we recommend that most clients seek out a host that offers a Linux server with a cPanel/Fantastico installation.  However, this recommendation may not be appropriate for all clients as needs and requirements vary.  Please inquire for a more specific recommendation.

  • In general, Linux servers are the most common and most cost-effective option for hosting your website. 

[Some software may require a Windows server.  If you have specific software in mind, please check the software's system requirements]

  • Among Linux servers, I prefer servers that come with cPanel installations.  cPanel is a convenient and common tool for setting up resources such as email accounts, mailing lists, databases, etc.  And, if you choose to change web hosts at a later time, you can find other cPanel hosts with a control panel that should be familiar to you. 

[Some hosts have their own custom control panel, which means changing hosts will involve a new learning curve for the new host's control panel.]

Ready Set Go! consulting offers quality shared hosting at a reasonable price.

  • Linux server with cPanel/Fantastico installed (includes Mailman mailing list software). 
  • We do not place limits on the number of email accounts, mailing lists, domains, subdomains, etc that you use with your account.
  • Please inquire for current pricing, disk space limits, and bandwidth limits, as well as other details you may require.

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The same domain registrar and web host?

Some web hosting companies also sell domain names.  While it may seem convenient to buy everything all in one place, it can be a problem.

It's very important to protect your domain name.  You'll spend time and money helping people get to know your website's domain name (e.g. printing business cards and brochures, getting people to link to your website, developing name recognition, etc).  If you start having trouble with your web host for some reason, you want to be able to move to a different web host without buying a new domain name.

Some web hosting companies will offer a "free" domain name when you buy web hosting from them.  However, in these cases, it is not always clear who owns the domain name.  Some web hosting companies are ethical and will let you take the domain name with you if you switch to another web host.  But other web hosting companies will not let you keep your domain name if you move to a different website host.

It is safer to use a web hosting company that is different from your domain registrar.  By using seperate companies, you can be confident that you will be able to change web hosts if you need to -- without any worry about whether you will loose your domain name.

See also: Choosing a domain name / Choosing a domain registrar

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Chris Paige
Consultant


267-507-5507
efax 206-350-3758
chris@ready-set-go.biz
www.ready-set-go.biz
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Ready Set Go!
Business development and project management solutions
for your small business or non-profit organization