Types of Web Hosting Services

There are many purposes for which people and organizations need web hosting, which means there is a large spectrum on different needs when it comes to publishing information online.

The web hosting industry has developed over the past several decades to support those needs as they've evolved. There are now hundreds of thousands of web hosting companies in existence throughout the world, many serving clients all over the world, while others are designed for use by clients in specific countries and regions.

Regardless of the reason you need to build an online presence, you should be able to find an option that fits what you're trying to accomplish, even if you have no budget for web hosting at all.

I am going to explain the various types of web hosting services that are available to pretty much anyone with an internet connection, so that you can make the best choice about which web hosting product and company you want to go with.

Here is a quick summary of web hosting service options, starting with the simplest and cheapest and moving on to the more custom and pricey options.

  • Free hosting: using a subdomain of platforms such as Blogspot.com, WordPress.com, and other free options
  • Shared Hosting
  • Virtual Private Server (VPS) Hosting
  • Dedicated Server Hosting
  • Cloud Hosting

There are also other custom options that don't quite fit directly with the above list, but should still be mentioned. These options overlap with the list above, but they have custom attributes about them that make it so that they merit their own categories.

  • WordPress hosting
  • Windows hosting

Let's get started going through each of these options.

Summary of How Web Hosting Works

Before I get into the details of the different options for web hosting, I think it's useful to provide some context behind web hosting first.

The term web hosting refers to the concept of making information resources available on the internet. Much of those resources and information published through web hosts is public, while there is also a lot of stuff published online that's not accessible to just anyone with a web browser.

Resources published by web hosting services include web pages (information formatted using HTML and JavaScript) that are presented to the world through web browsers, like Firefox, Safari, and Chrome. The content served by most of the web hosts we normally experience that comprises the public internet include text (textual information, HTML markup and JavaScript) as well as images, videos, and other visual information.

The text, media, code and other resources that comprise the internet exist on computers (similar in many ways to the one you're using) spread geographically throughout the world. Those computers (also known as physical server hardware) have storage (hard drives) and memory (RAM devices), processors (CPUs), and network connections that are used to present the information contained on them to the world via the internet.

When you're shopping for web hosting services, you'll notice that web hosting providers (besides the free ones) usually describe their offerings in terms of those pieces of information: storage, memory, processors, and network abilities. Those things affect how well your web server will be able to do what you need it to do.

In order to publish the content that exists on a server, the physical server makes use of software called a web server, which normally runs in the same system environment as the physical server itself. The most popular web server in use today for serving up content to the web is called Apache.

If you are interested in learning the technical details of how the Apache web server works, you can access their online getting started documentation.

The reason I share these somewhat technical details with you is because I think it's important to understand at least the foundations of how web hosting works so that you can make informed decisions when digging into different web hosting solutions.

Free Website Hosting Providers

For those who don't have a budget or a need for paid web hosting, there are several places where you can claim your own virtual real estate by publishing online.

The most popular of the free web hosting companies are:

  • Blogspot.com
  • WordPress.com
  • Weebly.com
  • Wix.com

When you use these platforms to build a website or blog, your content is normally published on a subdomain of the platform's main domain (e.g. thetechnologyvault.blogspot.com or thetechnologyvault.wordpress.com ). You can choose what you want  your sub-domain to be as long as it's not already taken by another user.

These free website hosting platforms give you a decent amount of flexibility with your publishing, including allowing you to format your fonts and other elements of your pages, include images, embed videos, and even use html code to insert widgets and other elements.

Blogspot Example

I'm going to show you a quick example of using Blogspot to host your website so you can get a feel for what you can use it to do.

My brother is an attorney. He wanted to brain dump what he knows about the law onto the internet to educate people about some of the topics he's most familiar with.  His Blogspot website started getting significant search traffic, so he started monetizing the website with Google AdSense ads.

Shared Web Hosting

Shared web hosting is the next step up from having a free place to post your web content. Shared web hosting is the cheapest of the hosting options. It is intended for people who don't have a large budget for hosting, but who want to be able to host a website or app on their own domain and who want more flexibility with their publishing tools.

Shared web hosting can be purchased for under $10 per month from almost all of the most popular web hosting services, including GoDaddy, Bluehost, LiquidWeb, and thousands of others.

With shared web hosting accounts, your website (or whatever else you intend to publish using a web server, such as an application) sits on a physical server with lots of other web hosting accounts. Sometimes as many as several hundred websites share the same resources (CPU, storage, memory, and network connection) on one physical computer.

Shared web hosting has its pros and cons. Here are the most important of those.

Pros of Shared Web Hosting Accounts

Cons of Shared Web Hosting Accounts

Virtual Private Server (VPS) Web Hosting

VPS hosting is a step above shared hosting, with its performance and configuration options preferable to shared hosting but not at the level of a dedicated server.

With VPS hosting accounts, you are still sharing a physical machine with neighboring web hosting clients. However, with the use of virtual machine technology, VPS web hosting accounts run in their own virtual space and have their own separate operating systems. This means that the performance of websites and apps published on VPS accounts is more predictable and much less dependent on what's happening with other accounts that exist on the server.

VPS web hosting accounts usually start in the 10s of dollars per month (around $50 is normal) and go up to over $100 per month for VPS servers that use more powerful and sophisticated storage, memory, CPUs, and faster network technology.

Similar to shared web hosting, you can set up a VPS web hosting account through most of the popular web hosting companies.

Dedicated Server Web Hosting

Dedicated server hosting plans are the most expensive among the three most popular types of web hosting (shared, VPS, and dedicated). With a dedicated server, you are paying to rent the server and access to the network it resides in. You can expect to pay $100+ per month for most dedicated server plans.

Dedicated servers allow users to configure almost everything about how they are set up, including in many instances the operating system they use.

Dedicated servers are used by more established companies for whom the default configurations don't work and who have to ensure that, for security, compliance, and performance reasons, they are not sharing space with anyone else.

With a dedicated server, you can choose to run your web server on Linux or Windows (or another operating system if you choose)

The amount of flexibility you have with a dedicated server depends upon whether you want to have it managed (meaning that the hosting company handles most or all of the server administration tasks) or unmanaged, in which case you'd need to have a person or team dedicated to taking care of the many (in the hundreds) configuration and maintenance issues that are involved with setting up and operating a web server.

The next level of hosting in terms of cost and sophistication beyond a simple dedicated server is cloud hosting, which is offered by many fewer hosts than the thousands of hosts that provide the standard shared, VPS, and dedicated server plans.

Cloud Server Web Hosting

Over the past decade, the cloud server hosting industry has become prominent. Cloud servers are virtualized environments (similar idea to VPS and shared hosting, except on a much more sophisticated level) that are used mostly by companies and tech-savvy individuals to publish apps, high functioning websites, or content delivery networks (CDNs).

Pricing for cloud server hosting is normally done on a per-use basis, meaning that you pay granularly for whatever resources you use on a monthly basis rather than paying a flat

The major cloud server providers are:

  • Amazon Web Services (AWS)
  • Google Cloud Platform (GCP)
  • Microsoft Azure
  • IBM Cloud
  • AliBaba Cloud

Compared to the other forms of web hosting - shared, VPS, dedicated server - cloud hosting tends to be complicated. Setting up an application or website published on cloud servers is normally done by people who have extensive hosting administration experience, or who have a high technical propensity.

Cloud hosting is most often used by larger organizations or businesses whose have a legitimate reason to publish apps or websites that can scale up and down easily, and that can handle peak times while also scaling back resource needs for slower, less demanding periods.

Purpose Specific Hosting

The various types of web hosting services I described above separate web hosting into the most commonly used technologies and sophistication levels.

In addition to the web hosting segments that are based upon performance and cost features -  shared, VPS, dedicated, and cloud hosting - many web hosting companies have set up hosting plans for specific needs. For instance, most of the popular web hosts offer something they call "WordPress Hosting" because WordPress is the most used content management system in the world. These WordPress Hosting plans could run on a shared server that costs as little as $10 per month, or they could be connected with an "enterprise" plan that costs several hundred dollars per month.

The point is that many web hosts have started creating web hosting plans that cater to specific publishing needs, including publishing with WordPress. There are web hosts who have plans dedicated to ecommerce hosting, for instance, for WooCommerce (a WordPress-based shopping cart system). Some hosts have plans that provide compliance with government regulations, such as HIPAA. There is also hosting that is specifically optimized for databases.

If you have a specific objective you'd like to have done with your hosting setup, and if it's not entirely custom, there is a chance that a web hosting company has set up a hosting solution designed to meet that objective. If you can't find a web host that does specifically what you'll need, then you'll have to custom build what you need within the parameters of what's available in one of the common web hosting environments.