Web Hosting Definition – Plus Other Hosting Services

Web hosting definitionEarthLink has been a leading Web hosting provider since way back in 1995. So it’s sometimes surprising to hear that people still don’t understand the term web hosting.

But we hear that all the time. And we’ve acted on that information too.

In fact, that’s why our main website navigation that takes visitors to our web hosting services is labeled Web Sites and the first link in that menu say Get a Website instead of just web hosting or web hosting services.

So this post is going to focus on one thing and one thing only: the definition of web hosting.

First, here are some expert definitions…

According to Wikipedia (today, at least), web hosting is defined as:

A web hosting service is a type of Internet hosting service that allows individuals and organizations to make their website accessible via the World Wide Web.

According to the PCMag.com Encyclopedia, the definition of web hosting is:

Making a Web site available on the Internet. A Web site contains pages of information stored in a Web server, which is a computer running Web server software connected to the Internet.

According to TechTerms.com, the definition of a Web Host is:

In order to publish a website online, you need a Web host. The Web host stores all the pages of your website and makes them available to computers connected to the Internet.

But to help define web hosting in a way that’s clear for everybody, let’s broaden the context further and talk about hosting in general.

Everybody, I think, understands what it means to host a party – you have the party at your house. But you are more likely to say you are hosting a party if the party isn’t a personal one, like a birthday party.

Recently, friends of ours hosted a fundraising party for a local preschool at their house. It wasn’t their party; it was the preschool’s party.  But, by agreeing to host the party, our friends were making the party happen at their home and making sure everything went smoothly – guests could come, eat, have fun, and donate money – for the preschool.

The school could have hosted the party themselves, but that’s not what they’re experts at. And they don’t really have the right space or facilities to host a successful fundraiser. So they turned to someone else to host their party for them.

That’s the same basic idea with web hosting.

With Web hosting or website hosting, a company like EarthLink agrees (for a monthly fee) to host the website of a customer at their web hosting facilities. When we host a website, we are putting all the files for the customer’s website (HTML pages, images, etc.) on our server computers in our data centers and making the website open and available to whoever wants to visit. Of course, our Web Hosting services offer much more – domain names, site-building tools, search engine marketing, email marketing, social media marketing, etc. – but the core web hosting function is keeping other people’s websites publically available on our computers.

The websites we host are not our own websites: they belong to our customers. But our customers – mostly small and medium sized businesses – need someone to put their website online and make sure it is readily available to visitors.

It’s technically possible for someone to build and host their own website. But to do it well and have the site perform properly and be easily available, you need to have the right (expensive) equipment and expertise. Most individuals or businesses don’t have that expertise, so they turn to an expert in web hosting to host their website.

It is also possible for a business to have a webpage for their business on a 3rd-party site like Facebook. But that’s not web hosting, because Facebook is letting you promote your business on their website rather than hosting a website that belongs to you. The web address for your business on Facebook would be something like www.Facebook.com/YourBusiness because it is Facebook’s website, not yours. When you are a web hosting customer, your website is hosted at its own domain name; something more like www.YourBusiness.com. That’s why, when you decide to host your website with EarthLink, we offer a free domain name with most plans, and your first step will typically be to choose a domain name for your website.

Some of the confusion about the definition of web hosting probably arises because for most small businesses, they don’t initially turn to a web hosting provider to host a website they have. They don’t, in essence, say, “Here, take my website and put it on your computers so everyone can see it on the Web.” Because they don’t have a website yet, what they actually say is more like, “I finally decided I need a website” or “I want to get a website for my business.” They don’t necessarily know they need web hosting – just that they need a website. So we help with that too. We make it simple for people to build a website (or arrange for one of our professional website designers to build it for them) and then we host the website for them.

Here are some real world scenarios (from least common to most common) for how people get started with web hosting that may further clarify what web hosting is.

  1. A business has a website already (they built it themselves or had someone else build it) and has already registered a domain name. When they sign up with EarthLink Web Hosting, they transfer the domain name for the site to us and then they use an FTP program to upload the HTML files for their website to our web servers (we give them the settings to do this). We then host their webpages so their site is available online.
  2. A business has a domain name already but hasn’t built a website. When they sign up, they transfer their domain name to EarthLink Web Hosting; then they either use our free Site Builder to build a website (Site Builder uploads it automatically to their webspace) or have one our professional website designers take care of everything for them. We then host the site that they build.
  3. A business has a website already but has not registered a domain name. When they sign up with EarthLink Web Hosting, they choose a free domain name for their website. Then they use an FTP program to upload the HTML files for their website to our web servers. We then host their website.
  4. A business doesn’t have a website or domain. When they sign up with EarthLink Web Hosting, they choose a free domain name for their website. Then they either use our free Site Builder to build a website or have a professional website designer do it for them. We then host the website that they build.

For more context about hosting, consider some of the other types of hosting services offered by our EarthLink Business division:

  • Cloud Hosting – Rather than a business buying, storing, and managing server computers at their own facilities, we help them create virtual or cloud servers that we host in our secure data centers. They get secure remote access to their hosted cloud servers and use them as they would physical servers at their business — to host applications, databases, etc.
  • Hosted Voice – Rather than a business buying and managing a complex and expensive PBX phone system on their premises, we offer a fully featured IP PBX system that we host for them. So the business gets all the advanced phone functionality without the hardware costs and maintenance headaches.
  • Hosted Network Security – Rather than a business buying and managing complex and expensive security devices at each location, we offer a fully redundant network security solution that we host to give all business locations the same level of protection.
  • Hosted Exchange Email  Rather than a business buying email servers and managing Microsoft Exchange for all their users, we offer a hosted Exchange solution. Businesses avoid costs for hardware, licenses, backups, antivirus protection, and ongoing maintenance. They also get added security since their email is hosted in an EarthLink Business SSAE 16-compliant data center.