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Web hosting is a method by which a person or company rents a server to store data used to display a website, which is accessible through the Internet. Every website that can be found and accessed online is hosted on some type of server or similar machine, and various companies offer a number of different methods for this hosting. These can include free hosting for individuals who do not need many options, as well as dedicated systems that are more expensive but provide greater control.
Servers are powerful computers that have extremely large hard drives, or an array of hard drives, which can be rented to those who want a website on the Internet. Every server on the Internet has a unique numerical Internet Protocol (IP) address. If the servers act as metaphorical apartment buildings with unique addresses, then each apartment unit within these buildings provides rented space for individual websites. Much like real apartment buildings, each unit also has an address based on "the building" in which it is located, which is the IP address for a particular website.
When a person or company rents a space on a server through web hosting, then it is basically "setting up house" on the Internet. That website can be reached by a unique address, which is based on the server's address. Most people type in a domain name to find a site, like "www.wisegeek.com," but the actual address is a number that corresponds to that particular site.
Types of Hosting
There are many different types of web hosting available, depending on the needs and budget of a person. Most commercial packages come with certain capabilities for users, such as scripts that allow interactive functions, forums, or email addresses. Shared hosting services provide multiple users with data storage on a single system. Dedicated systems, which are usually more expensive, give each user a drive or server dedicated solely to their site, providing greater speeds and more powerful options. There are also "virtual" dedicated systems, which use software to mimic the power of dedicated methods in a more practical, shared system.
Prices for web hosting vary quite a bit, including free options for personal websites that do not require any special tools and expect low traffic. Free Web hosting is convenient but has some drawbacks. Usually, it includes the presence of advertisements on a website hosted on a free system, such as "banner ads" at the top of the page or "pop-ups." Most free hosting services offer an alternative plan that removes such advertisements for a monthly fee.
For professional purposes, there are also web hosting services that offer commercial packages and business tool bundles, like online "point of sales" packages and credit card processing. The amount of storage for website data and utilities like website email addresses also tends to vary depending on the prices of a service. Free services often create website addresses as an extension of the server's address, such as "www.examplewebhost.com/hostedwebsite." A company or person that just wants something like "www.example.com" usually has to pay to register that domain name in addition to paid hosting.