How Does Web Hosting Work?

Namespace, server, domain registration – the web hosting world is full of jargon. However, web hosting is virtually synonymous with cloud hosting. Back in the first early days of the Internet, the World-Wide Web was referred to as ‘the Cloud’. That’s kind of stuck around now, and nowadays ‘the Cloud’ is merging ever closer with ‘the Internet’.

The real defining feature of the ‘the Cloud’ is its ability to do computation – to process stuff – in the cloud itself. However, even basic web hosts do that too, so perhaps even that is void. For this article, we’ll assume we can change ‘web hosting’ in to ‘cloud hosting’ with no loss of information or understanding.

Remote content

An understanding of web hosting requires an understanding of how any personal computer – what we’ll call from here on in a client (like what you’re reading this on) – accesses remote content stored elsewhere.

Remote content is stuff that doesn’t sit on your computer – on your client – normally; your client has to go and get it. That is, the news of the day doesn’t (normally) sit on your computer waiting for you to open it up. It’s stored elsewhere, probably on computers owned by the news station, and you have to use your browser to go and get it.

Those computers – the ones the news is stored on – are referred to as remote servers, or just servers. The stuff that’s sitting on them, like the news, is referred to as remote content. So your client has to request remote content from the server. The server gives your client the remote content, and your client then displays it to you through your browser.

Web hosting

So where does web hosting fit in? Well, let’s imagine that I’m a big company that has a bit of remote content on my server. Maybe I’m a news station, and I write about the news every day and put it on my server. By putting local content – stuff I’ve written on my own client – on to a remote server, I’m hosting it. If I then make that content visible on the World-Wide Web, so people can access it through the internet, then I’m web hosting it. I’d be web hosting my own content.

Now some companies got wise to the fact that people would want to put stuff on the web that they’d written on their own clients, so that everyone could read it and see (this is the basic idea of a blog). These companies bought up a bunch of servers, and ‘sold’ space on the server to these kinds of people.

This was the very first web hosting premium service: in return for more cash, the web hosting companies could offer faster servers, more space, or a guarantee that the servers would be online more of the time (when they’re not, say if they are broken, it’s referred to as ‘downtime’). And so we now have these companies competing today, offering space on their different servers.

Technical jargon

But what about all the technical jargon? We’ve actually covered most of it already. Your client wants to connect to a remote server. Well, there are millions – tens of millions – of servers around the world. How on earth would your client know which one the news is stored on?

That’s where a domain comes in handy. It’s like an address that tells the client where to send the request for information. Who lives at the address? A server. So ‘www.myremoteserver.com’ would lead you straight to the virtual ‘front door’ of a server, who’s ready to hand out the news to your client, who runs home to you with the information it’s got and shows you what it was given.

So that’s web hosting in a nutshell. Please let me know if you found this way of tackling the problem useful by dropping a comment in the box below.

Kevin Tea is a journalist and marketing communications professional who has worked for some of the leading blue chip companies in the UK and Europe. In the 1990s he became interested in how emerging Internet-based technologies could change the way that people worked and became an administrator on the Telework Europa Forum on CompuServe. With other colleagues he took part in a four year European Commission sponsored project to look at the way that the Internet could benefit remote communities. His blog is a resource for SMEs who want to use cloud computing and Web 2.0 technologies.

  • If I then make that content visible on the World-Wide Web, so people can access it through the internet, then I’m web hosting it.

  • Thank you for making this site very interesting! Keep going!