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Elements of Web Hosting
by: Daniel Punch

When you first start out trying to get a site on the Internet everything seems so confusing. Obtuse acronyms flow freely through the 'Beginner Friendly' information sites and definitions can be hard to come across. The main reason for this is that the Internet and the process of getting a website online is really very simple, and once people get past the first stumbling steps they rarely remember the difficulty they once had, which leads to them being unable to understand the next wave of dot com newbies.

So let's begin with defining some of the basic terms that are commonly thrown around when looking for a web host. You'll quickly realize that computer geeks like using big words for simple concepts. What do you expect from a group of people that decided to call half a Byte a Nibble?

Web Host: These are the people that supply your website with somewhere to sit and be accessed from. They're often a wealth of information, so when you're trying to find your feet it will often be worthwhile to contact their tech support and get your questions answered. Because of this, it's important to contact them BEFORE you sign up for any packages to ensure that you'll receive a timely response. Just fire an email their way and see what happens.

Disk Space: This is the same as the space on your own PC's hard drive. Web Hosts will allocate a certain amount of space to your website, usually in Megabytes (MB) or gigabytes (GB). This determines how much you can store on your site.

Bandwidth: Bandwidth is the amount of data that can be retrieved from your site within the bandwidth period. The bandwidth period is the length of time before your bandwidth gets reset once again, usually about a month. Bandwidth is measured in MB and GB, like disk space. Always find out the consequences of exceeding your allocated bandwidth before you purchase a hosting package.

Domain Name: The domain name is your personal identifier on the Internet. This is what gets typed into a web browser's address bar to reach your site. Some hosting companies will offer a domain for free, while others will have the facilities to provide one for a minimal cost.

SQL (MySQL, SQL Server etc.): Structured Query Language. This is the language used to interact with databases. Chances are that if you don't know about it when you start looking for web hosting, you're not going to need to know about it for at least a little while longer.

HTTP: Hyper Text Transfer Protocol. Basically, how the Internet works. It is the protocol governing the transfer of web pages from one place to another.

HTML: Hyper Text Markup Language. This is (usually) what you'll be using to make your website, whether directly or indirectly. Don't be scared by the name, the 'language' is very easy to learn.

FTP: File Transfer Protocol. This is a method for sending pages and files from your home PC to a server. It is quite simple to use and your host will provide login information if this is the method that they use for file access. Typing "FTP://[server details]" into My Computer on a windows box allows you to use FTP as if your server were a regular windows folder.

POP3: This is a common email 'post box' system. It is use to store emails for retrieval.

SMTP: Simple Mail Transfer Protocol. A common protocol used to send emails.

The beginner will not really need to know too much about the above two email technologies. If they're listed, good. It means you have email accounts with your website (i.e. the email will reach you, somehow)

There are many 'languages' used to enhance websites, such as Java, Perl, ASP, .NET, PHP, etc. If you're just starting out you should try to learn simple HTML first before you worry too much about these more advanced languages. In general they're not too difficult to learn, but you'll want a solid grounding before you tackle them.

The Internet is a wonderful source of knowledge, so whenever you want information just fire up your favourite search engine and type in your problem. The Internet is full of sites about the Internet, so the information you want shouldn't be too hard to find.

Building professional websites takes a lot of time and skill, so many companies hire people to do it for them. If this is the situation that you're in, talk to the designer you're hiring about hosting, as they may have struck a deal with a webhost to provide clients with cheaper hosting packages. Also, the professional designer will know what features you're going to need in a hosting plan.

The world of web hosting is not as complicated as people would like to make out. Just make sure you do a little bit of research before diving in and you'll be less likely to get burned by a shifty 'here today, gone tomorrow' company. Check out the host's rankings on a few Web Hosting Directories, do a search for reviews of the company, contact the support staff before signing up and enjoy the world opened by having your own online presence.

About the author:
Daniel Punch

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