Starting a new website requires a lot of decision-making, not the least of which concerns hosting. If you’re new to website ownership, figuring out how to host a website can quickly become both confusing and overwhelming.
Fortunately, once you learn about the options available to you, determining what your site needs in terms of hosting is pretty straightforward. Figuring out the basics should set you up to make smart decisions and choose the type of hosting that’s best for you and your audience.
This post will provide an overview of some web hosting basics, including an explanation of what it is and why it’s important. Then we’ll discuss the differences between local and external hosting and go over some important considerations for using each. We have a lot to cover – so let’s get to it!
An introduction to website hosting: What it is and why you need it
In short, web hosting is a service that makes it possible to publish your site live on the Internet. A web host, also called a hosting provider, is a company that provides the tools you need to accomplish this.
Most notably, that includes a server. Servers store website files, and Internet browsers can communicate with them to deliver your site’s pages to visitors. This is what makes hosting such a key element of setting up a website – without it, you have no way to make your site public.
It’s important to note that there are two ways to host a website: (1) locally, (2) externally/publicly.
A locally-hosted website is stored on your own machine, while an externally-hosted site is stored on a provider’s server.
If you already know how you need to host your website, you can jump to more in-depth information now:
While you may wish to forgo external hosting to save money, local hosting isn’t typically powerful enough for even a small website. Your users will experience extremely slow loading times, and your own resources will likely be stretched thin.
Instead, local sites are typically used for testing and development or staging and are only seen by the site’s owner and/or developer. An externally-hosted copy of the site is then made public for users, backed by a hosting provider’s much more powerful server.
Local and external hosting are often used in conjunction. However, if you just need a private site for development, you may only require local hosting. Likewise, if your website is very small and simple, you can often go without a staging site and only use external hosting.
How to host a website locally (2 methods)
There are several methods available for hosting a site locally. Which is best for you will depend on the needs of your particular site, so let’s look at two popular options.
1. Create a site using a local web stack
A local web stack, such as XAMPP, is software that provides several components needed for local development, including a web server. The main benefit of using this method is that it gives you the most control over your site:
Additionally, XAMPP keeps your local site completely private, and unavailable to other users. The downside is that it’s a bit difficult to set up. You’ll need to install XAMPP and manually install WordPress in order to get it up and running.
Also, it’s important to note that, while you can use a WordPress site hosted via XAMPP to test drive plugins or practice coding, you can’t use it to create a true staging site. Due to differences in hardware configuration, features that work on a XAMPP WordPress installation won’t necessarily work on a live WordPress site.
2. Sign up for a virtual sandbox environment
A much easier way to create a local WordPress site – and to stage your live site – is to use a virtual sandbox environment. These platforms, including Local by Flywheel, enable you to easily create local WordPress installations:
Local by Flywheel is completely free to use. All you have to do is sign up, download the app, and start creating sites. However, you’ll want to make sure to configure your settings so that your sites aren’t visible to search engines.
Also, keep in mind that while your sites will be hosted locally, you’re still technically relying on a third-party resource. In the event that Flywheel stops supporting the platform, you would have to find another solution (although there’s no indication that this might happen any time soon).
How to host a website externally (5 key considerations)
When hosting a website externally, everything boils down to one significant decision: which provider to choose. Below, we’ve outlined five primary aspects to consider when making this choice.
1. Determine the best type of hosting for your site
For WordPress users, there are five main types of hosting to consider:
- Virtual Private Server (VPS)
- Managed WordPress hosting
Each has its pros and cons. Very small sites can often do just fine on a shared hosting plan. However, the other types will give your site plenty of room to grow, and likely provide better performance and more uptime.
A WordPress-specific hosting plan can be very useful since it takes some of the work of maintaining your site off your hands. It also usually provides tools or services you would need for your WordPress site anyway, saving you from having to make additional purchases.
2. Examine additional features available from various providers
In addition to hosting your website on one of its servers, many hosting providers – especially those with managed WordPress plans – offer handy features you may want for your site. Some common ones include:
- Domain name registration
- Content delivery network (CDN)
- SSL certificates
- Security features such as firewalls or regular scans
- Automated backups
- Externally-hosted staging areas
- Email services
WordPress hosting plans sometimes also offer access to premium themes, automated WordPress updates, and WordPress-related customer support. It’s definitely worth considering which additional features you might need or want for your site.
3. Look at different providers’ customer support options
Customer support is a key element of any hosting service. Your relationship with your hosting provider will likely be a long-term one, so it’s important that it’s able to provide any help you may need related to your account, server, or even WordPress itself.
Self-service support options such as user forums, documentation, or even blog posts can help you quickly get past bumps in the road. 24/7 availability is also handy for putting you in touch with support quickly, and helping you reach someone from your host’s company in the event of a server-related error.
If you’re looking for more guidance related to customer support, our 2018 WordPress Hosting Survey contains valuable data that you might want to consider. Over 800 WordPress users scored several popular hosts on both their overall and WordPress-specific customer support, so you’ll know what to expect.
4. Set a hosting budget and find a price that works for you
Hosting is an ongoing expense. Most providers require you to pay monthly fees, although some offer annual plans. Either way, it’s important to consider what you’ll be able to afford on a regular basis.
There are many affordable hosting options out there. However, as we touched on earlier, the cheaper options sometimes come with other problems. Web hosting is often a ‘you get what you pay for’ situation.
Every site’s budget is different, so we can’t decide exactly what type of plan is best for you. Our best recommendation is to look for plans that are low cost, while still providing a wide range of features and high performance scores.
5. Figure out how you’ll install WordPress on your provider’s server
Finally, it’s always a good idea to consider how you’ll install WordPress on your new hosting account. While this may seem unimportant at first, your WordPress installation options can make a big difference in the ease of setting up your website.
No matter which hosting provider you choose, you’ll always be able to install WordPress manually. This involves accessing your server via File Transfer Protocol (FTP), using a client such as FileZilla.
Some managed WordPress hosts also offer a one-click installation option that enables you to quickly install the software on your account. There are even plans that come with WordPress pre-installed, which is the easiest solution.
When it comes to web hosting, you have a lot to think about. Learning the basics of what hosting is and how it works can help you make informed decisions about how to host your WordPress site.
This includes keeping in mind the differences between local and external hosting, and your options for using each:
- Local hosting involves using your computer as a server for your website and can be set up via a local web stack such as XAMPP or a virtual sandbox environment like Local by Flywheel.
- External hosting requires you to choose a hosting provider. When making a decision, you’ll want to consider hosting types, features, customer support, price, and ease of installation.
Do you have any questions about how to host a website? Ask them in the comments section below!