Types of web hosting services

You've got your domain name; now you need a web host. Web hosts are companies that, usually for a fee, place your website on their web-server computers and host it, looking after the networking and communications needed to properly display your web pages and ensuring that your website is in a secure environment, both physically (on a web server) and online. Unless you intend to purchase the necessary -- but somewhat expensive -- web servers and look after them yourself, you'll need to decide what kind of service you need and to investigate which web host provides this for an acceptable cost.

Your main considerations are what levels of control, security, space and support you need to run your website. Once you've made these decisions, you can choose from the different levels and types of web hosting services. While some web hosts will give you a small amount of space for free, most charge a monthly fee and provide features and tools in addition to the basic hosting service. Many small and medium-sized websites use shared web hosting, in which several websites are kept on the same web server. Those who need more control and security for their sites can choose to lease their own virtual or physical web server. Businesses that need very high levels of security for their websites can purchase their own web servers and place them in a secure data center that's maintained by the hosting service. Beyond the different types of web server arrangements are web hosting packages for specific website needs, including e-commerce and blogging.

Identifying the type of web host that you need is just the first step. Next, you'll have to consider bandwidth, disk space and uptime, along with tools and features to ease website design and maintenance, all of which are covered below. We've provided price ranges for the different types of web hosts, but note that prices vary widely between different companies.

See our related report on domain name registration, which you'll also need to get your website up and running (some web hosts can also manage your domain).

Types of Web Hosting

*Est. $3.50 to $12.95 per month
Advantages
  • Least expensive paid host type
  • No upfront expenses
  • Readily available
Disadvantages
  • Limitations to resources available
  • Other hosted websites may affect your service
  • Additional costs for email and extra bandwidth
Shared web hosting is the web service of choice for many websites. It's inexpensive and, although there are limitations on file sizes and bandwidth, the allowances are usually enough for most small and medium-sized websites.
Free
Advantages
  • Readily available
  • No maintenance costs
Disadvantages
  • No control over ads placed on your website
  • Questionable reliability and speed
  • Limited bandwidth
Free web hosting is readily available for those just starting out or for website owners with limited budgets. In return for providing this free web service, most providers place advertisements on your web pages.
*Est. $18 to $50 per month
Advantages
  • Less expensive than dedicated web hosting
  • Appears as if you have your own server
  • Service not affected by other sites on server
Disadvantages
  • Still shares physical resources
  • More expensive than shared web hosting
In between shared and dedicated web hosting, VPS hosting provides website owners with their own virtual web server. Although the physical web server is shared, VPS users have their own web resources on the virtual server that can't be used by other websites.
*Est. $65 to $270 per month
Advantages
  • Increased space and speed
  • Server is only used by your site
  • Custom security and backup protocols
Disadvantages
  • Monthly cost is high
  • Managed hosting is even more expensive
Dedicated web hosting is suitable for websites, often businesses, that need a high level of security or want exclusive use of a physical web server. The website owner has complete control over their server, which is leased from the service provider.
*Est. $400 to $1,200 per month
Advantages
  • Less costly than housing servers yourself
  • Can establish high-level security
Disadvantages
  • You must supply the hardware and software
  • You're responsible for maintenance and replacement
Co-location web hosting is similar to dedicated web hosting, but you own (not rent) the web server and lease Internet connectivity from a service provider. This is an option for businesses that want the privacy and security of their own web server, but don't have the infrastructure to support it.
*Est. $12 to $50 per month
Advantages
  • Secure server for commercial transactions
  • Use of web host's SSL (security) certificate
  • Often includes shopping cart
Disadvantages
  • Extra costs for transactions
  • Need to maintain security certificates
E-commerce web hosting can be a shared or dedicated web service, but with additional security dimensions. In addition to the SSL security certificates, e-commerce sites often provide shopping carts to organize product purchase and inventory.
Free to $30 per month
Advantages
  • Simple to use
  • Templates and plug-ins supplied
  • Cheap or often free
Disadvantages
  • Limited customization
  • Limited file size and bandwidth
  • May not be able to include advertisements
Blog web hosting can be shared, dedicated or co-located hosting, but is designed to allow website owners to create and maintain blogs easily. Blog web hosts provide straightforward and accessible tools for people with limited, or even no, technical expertise.
*Est. $60 to $1,500 per month
Advantages
  • Scalable; grows as your site grows
  • Immediacy of extra resources
  • Pay only for what you use
Disadvantages
  • Not as secure as dedicated hosting
  • Premium cost for convenience
Cloud web hosting gathers hundreds of web servers together to function as one unit, and your website has access to it all. This option suits those whose resource needs vary widely, whether daily or seasonally.
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