When creating a website, two terms you’ll encounter frequently are “web hosting” and “web servers.”
While these two concepts are related, they refer to distinct components in the infrastructure that powers websites online.
Understanding the difference between web hosting and web servers is crucial when you’re first getting started building your online presence.
In this post, we’ll clearly define these two integral pieces of the web and how they work together to display pages in your browser.
In a Nutshell
Web hosting provides the underlying infrastructure and technology needed to host a website online.
When you sign up for hosting, you’re essentially renting space on physical servers owned by the hosting provider.
This hosting space allows you to store the files, databases, code, images, and other elements necessary for your website.
Here are some key things web hosting includes:
- Disk space to store your website files and data.
- Bandwidth to determine the amount of traffic your site can handle.
- Email accounts associated with your domain name.
- DNS services to point your domain to the proper IP address.
- An online control panel to manage your hosting account.
Some top web hosting providers include GoDaddy, Bluehost, HostGator, SiteGround, and InMotion. The provider you choose will host your website files on their servers so that your site can be accessed 24/7 by visitors online.
In contrast, a web server refers to the software that actually delivers your website content and files to users.
The main function of a web server is to store, process and deliver web pages to clients as requested.
Some examples of popular web server software:
- Microsoft Internet Information Services (IIS)
- Google Web Server (GWS)
When a user types your website URL into their browser, it’s the web server that does the work of finding and returning the proper HTML, images, documents and other files needed to render the page on the user’s device.
The physical hardware that the web server software runs on can also be called the “web server.”
While related, these two components serve distinct purposes in displaying your website online:
- Web hosting provides the actual servers your website files reside on. Without hosting, your site has no place to “live” on the internet.
- The web server software handles actually delivering the hosted files to site visitors. Without it, users cannot access your site content.
Hopefully this gives you a better understanding of how web hosting provides the infrastructure and web servers deliver the content that makes your website possible!
We’ll explore the details of both in more depth throughout this article.
What is Web Hosting?
As we learned in the introduction, web hosting provides the underlying infrastructure and technology for websites to be viewed on the internet.
Without web hosting, your site has no “home” online and cannot be accessed by visitors.
At its core, web hosting involves renting space on physical servers owned by a hosting provider.
This rented space gives you the ability to store the files, databases, media, code and other elements required for your website.
Think of web hosting like renting an apartment building.
The hosting provider owns the property (the physical servers).
You rent a unit in the building (disk space on the servers) to store your belongings (your website files and assets).
The building makes sure everything is powered on and connected to the wider world (the internet!).
Some key components web hosting includes:
- This refers to the total storage available for your site’s files, usually measured in gigabytes (GB) or terabytes (TB).
- HTML files, images, videos, documents, scripts and other files necessary for your site will reside here.
- The more disk space, the more content you can host.
- This determines how much data can be transferred from your hosting account per month, measured in gigabytes (GB).
- Bandwidth limits how much traffic your site can handle before extra fees may be charged.
- For new sites, a few GB of bandwidth is likely sufficient.
- Most hosting plans include email accounts associated with your domain name (like [email protected]).
- Allows you to set up professional email addresses for your business or organization.
- Number of accounts offered varies by provider and hosting plan selected.
Domain Name System (DNS)
- DNS servers translate domain names into website IP addresses.
- Your registrar provides basic DNS services when you purchase a domain.
- Hosting DNS allows you to customize these records and settings.
Control Panel Access
- Web hosting providers include access to an online control panel or dashboard to manage your hosting account.
- From here you can set up email, manage domains, monitor usage, install applications like WordPress, and more.
- Hosting providers offer customer support in case any issues arise. This may be 24/7 live chat, phone, tickets, online documentation and other avenues.
Shared vs Dedicated Hosting
There are a few key types of web hosting available:
- Multiple websites hosted on the same physical server.
- Most affordable option but less overall control and resources.
- Popular for new or small sites.
- Entirely devoted to one website.
- More expensive but offers greater performance and control.
- Best for large, high-traffic sites.
Other options like VPS, managed, cloud hosting provide varying levels of customization, resources and cost. But shared and dedicated remain the two main types most commonly choose from initially.
Popular Web Hosting Providers in the Philippines
There are hundreds of companies offering web hosting services, but some top picks include:
- Truehost – Popular low-cost shared hosting. WordPress-optimized servers.
- HostGator – Reliable hosting with excellent support. Scales well as sites grow.
- GoDaddy – The world’s largest domain registrar also offers hosting plans.
- InMotion – Fast performance. Flexible packages and affordable prices.
- SiteGround – High-quality hosting geared towards beginners. Managed WordPress options.
- Wix – Free hosting with premium upgrades. Integrates with their popular website builder.
- Squarespace – Provides hosting for their all-in-one website building platform.
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What is a Web Server?
Now that we’ve covered web hosting, let’s explore what a web server is and how it works to display pages in your browser.
A web server is software that delivers website content and files to users as requested.
When you enter a website URL in your browser, the web server finds and returns the required HTML files, images, documents, scripts, stylesheets, and other assets needed to load and render the page.
Without a web server, your site would not actually be accessible online even if hosted on a server somewhere.
Some examples of popular web server software:
- Microsoft Internet Information Services (IIS)
- Google Web Server (GWS)
The physical hardware that these programs run on can also be referred to as a “web server.”
But the software is what handles the main work of receiving HTTP requests and sending back the requisite files and data.
Here is an overview of the web server’s role when a user accesses a website:
- User types in www.example.com and presses Enter.
- The browser sends an HTTP request for the site to the server.
- The server sends or “serves” the files back to the user’s browser.
- The browser assembles and renders the pages, images, etc. on the user’s device.
This request and response cycle happens incredibly fast – in just milliseconds!
Some key responsibilities and functions of a web server include:
- Listening for incoming HTTP requests on a specified port, often port 80 by convention.
- Parsing requested URLs to determine which resources are being requested.
- Locating the files on the server needed to fulfill the request.
- Returning the proper HTTP response code – 200 OK for success, 404 for not found, etc.
- Transferring the files back to the user’s browser for rendering.
- Logging activity for monitoring and analysis.
- Handling simultaneous connections through multi-threading.
- Securing sites with SSL/TLS encryption.
- Providing language processing support for frameworks like PHP, Python, Node, ASP.NET.
- Compressing files to optimize bandwidth usage.
- Implementing authentication methods.
- Managing caching for improved performance.
Why you need it
Why are web servers important?
- Enable websites to be accessed 24/7 by users across the globe.
- Allow dynamic sites to be created through server-side scripting languages.
- Make it possible to handle high amounts of traffic through load balancing and clustering.
- Let administrators secure and monitor sites through logging and access controls.
- Help optimize site speed by handling caching and compression.
Types of Web Servers
There are a few main types of web server software:
- Static web servers – Serve static files only. Fast but less flexible.
- Dynamic web servers – Also process server-side scripts for dynamic sites. Provides more capability but uses more resources.
- Virtual web servers – Simulate multiple web servers on a single hardware server. Allows hosting multiple sites.
Web Server Platforms
Some platforms web server software is built for include:
- Apache – Most popular currently. Runs on Unix-based systems like Linux and macOS. Open source.
- Nginx – High performance. Often used to serve static files. Unix, Linux, Windows, macOS.
- IIS – Created by Microsoft. Integrated with Windows servers. Pre-installed on some Windows versions.
Managing Web Servers
Web servers can be managed:
- Directly on the server machine through command line tools and configuration files.
- Remotely via SSH, RDP, or administrative interfaces.
- Using web hosting control panels which provide GUI access.
- Through automation server management tools like Ansible, Puppet, and Chef.
In summary, the web server is the software that delivers your website to the world. It is responsible for accepting requests, finding files, executing code and returning responses to display pages in the user’s browser.
Paired up with web hosting infrastructure, web servers make the dynamic, fast websites we enjoy everyday possible!
Key Differences Between Web Hosting and Web Servers
Now that we’ve examined web hosting and web servers separately, let’s recap and highlight the key differences between these two integral components of creating an online presence.
While web hosting and web servers work closely together, they serve distinct purposes:
- Web hosting provides the physical infrastructure and servers your website is stored on. Web servers deliver your site content and files to users.
- Hosting gives you disk space to store site assets. Servers process requests and send back responses.
- Hosting is a service you pay a provider for. Web server software can be installed on rented or owned hardware.
- Hosts maintain server hardware, networks, data centers, and infrastructure. Web servers just handle site requests.
To use a postal service analogy:
Web hosting is like renting a post office box where you can receive mail. This gives you an address to send and receive letters and packages.
The web server is the mail carrier who takes letters and deliveries from the post office to their final destinations. Without someone to carry the mail, it just sits there!
When setting up a website, web hosting gives you the storage space on remote servers, similar to renting a mailbox.
But to actually get your site and content to visitors, you need a web server to handle the delivery.
Which comes first?
Web hosting is required first since it provides the necessary infrastructure to store website files.
Without securing hosting, there is nowhere to actually install or run web server software. Hosting plans provide:
- The physical servers your site is hosted on. Without physical hardware, there is no “home” for your site’s files and databases.
- Internet connectivity and bandwidth to make sure your site is accessible online.
- Disk space to store all HTML documents, multimedia, scripts, stylesheets, and other assets that compose your website.
- Security measures like firewalls, SSL certificates, and access controls to protect your site and data.
- Domain name registration and DNS configuration to point your custom domain to your hosting account.
- Tools and dashboards to manage your site and server without needing physical access.
Once hosting is set up, a web server is required to actually deliver site content to visitors.
Without it, nothing would be sent to users’ browsers. The web server handles crucial functions like:
- Listening for incoming HTTP requests from site visitors.
- Determining what resources need to be served to fulfill requests.
- Locating files on disk storage or querying databases to dynamically build pages.
- Returning appropriate response codes and data to browsers.
- Serving HTML, images, videos, PDFs, scripts and CSS files to render the complete website.
- Processing server-side scripts and languages for dynamic sites.
- Optimizing performance through caching, compression, and multiprocessing.
- Handling secure HTTPS connections and encrypting traffic.
- Allowing administrators to monitor, configure, and manage the software and site.
A web host provides the infrastructure, and a web server serves your content on top of that foundation.
The hosting provider and plan you choose places limits on some web server options:
- Shared hosts often restrict certain web server software and settings. VPS or dedicated plans offer more flexibility.
- Managed WordPress hosting will optimize servers specifically for WordPress sites.
- Cloud hosting platforms like AWS let you deploy web servers easily on infrastructure you control.
In most standard shared hosting scenarios, Apache and Nginx are common web server options.
Many hosts use Apache as the default but support switching in Nginx for greater performance.
When it comes to delivering your website quickly, securely and reliably to users worldwide, both web hosting and web servers are mandatory.
Hopefully this overview has helped demonstrate how these two pillars of modern websites complement each other!
Here is a 1500 word section explaining why you need both web hosting and a web server:
Why Both Web Hosting and a Web Server Are Needed
Now that we’ve explored web hosting and web servers in-depth individually, we can clearly see how these two components work together to make functional websites possible.
Neither web hosting nor a web server on its own is sufficient – you need both solutions in place for visitors to be able to access your website online.
To understand why both are crucial, let’s walk through what would happen if you only had one piece without the other:
Scenario 1: You have web hosting but no web server
In this case, your site’s files have a place to be stored because your hosting provider rents you space on their servers.
However, there is no software listening for requests and delivering the hosted files to users.
When visitors type in your site URL, the request has nowhere to go.
Without a web server to send back your HTML, CSS and assets, users just get connection errors.
It’s like having a warehouse to store products but no delivery trucks to transport them to customers. Nothing can be distributed!
Scenario 2: You have a web server but no web hosting
Here, you have web server software ready to handle requests and deliver website content.
But since you haven’t rented server space from a hosting provider, there is no physical infrastructure for your site to live on.
With no place to store your site’s code, media, databases, etc. there are no files for the web server to send to browsers.
Requests return 404 errors because your content has no home without hosting!
It’s like having postal carriers ready to deliver mail but no post office where senders can submit letters and packages. Nothing can be delivered!
Clearly, web hosting and web servers accomplish distinct steps:
- Web hosting provides the storage space, servers, network bandwidth and infrastructure that allows a website to physically exist on the internet.
- Web servers take the files hosted on that infrastructure and actually make them accessible by shuttling content back and forth on demand.
Without bandwidth and disk space from hosting, you have nowhere to store your website or handle traffic.
Without a web server to respond to requests, your site remains inaccessible even if hosted somewhere.
Working together, web hosting and web servers make fully functional, fast websites possible!
Understanding how these services interact is key for anyone looking to launch their first website or troubleshoot issues with an existing one:
- Shopping for web hosting and choosing server software that pairs well is essential upfront.
- Monitoring usage of bandwidth, disk space, memory, CPU and other resources helps optimize hosting plans and web server configurations down the road.
- Knowing that the web host manages infrastructure and web servers deliver content assists with debugging site problems or slowdowns.
- Upgrading hosting or migrating web servers are common ways to improve performance as site traffic grows.
- Scaling up to dedicated or cloud hosting with multiple web servers enables supporting more visitors through load balancing.