What even is a Website Host?

Which services do you need to get a website up and running?

A woman typing on a laptop

A website hosting provider provides computer hardware to house your website files. The website host does not create the website files, you simply rent some computer space from them and in exchange they make sure the computer’s OS is kept up-to-date, secure and performant.

They install software to allow your website to run correctly and they make sure the computer always has enough space and power to keep your website running optimally.

You may have experienced this with your own computer. When it has a virus, the entire machine slows down. Your computer will also slow down when the hard drive fills up, or if it runs out of working memory. Well, the same is true for website servers. All of these issues are monitored and maintained by the website host.

You may be thinking, “Wait a second! I own a computer. Why can’t I save some money and host the website myself?” The truth is that you can, but it isn’t advisable. Keep in mind that in order to host a website, the computer has to be able to be accessed by anyone and everyone on the internet. There is a lot of risk involved in doing that. It’s definitely something you don’t want to expose your personal computer to. Website hosts know how to set up effective firewalls to block bad actors and bots and allow regular visitors and search engines.

Website hosts can also run the website computer using a scaled down operating system to leave most of the computing resources free for your website to use. Website servers don’t need to run full copies of macOS or Window 11 Pro to power a website. Most of the time they’ll use a simplified Linux operating system.

A website host is just that, a website host

Website hosts, in general, are best at hosting websites. Many times they’ll offer complementary services but it’s best to stick with professionals in each area.

If for any reason something went wrong with the website host and you were relying on them for not only your hosting but also: your website development, your domain name, and your email, it would be a massive endeavour to switch. On the other hand, if they were only providing computer space for your website, and something went wrong, you can find a new host, upload a back-up of your website and completely switch in a couple of hours. No sweat!

Also, many website hosts have banks of computers in many locations worldwide. They can store copies of your website files in multiple physical locations, so that your website is fast to load from anywhere in the world.

Another issue, if those services are not kept separate, can happen if the website server picked up a computer virus or was hacked. The hack or the virus would also affect your email and all of your email contacts.

I had a client who needed my help because the website host, that also created and maintained their website using their own custom CMS, didn’t support Canadian tax properly. Switching the website away from that custom CMS cost them thousands of dollars and many months. That all could have been saved if the website was fully separate from the website host and used WordPress.

Other companies have run into issues because website hosts made copyright claims on the content, artwork and photos on their website, when they tried to move to a new host. This resulted in the company either needing new copywriting, branding and photos — or just be bullied into staying put.

I’ve had other clients come to me because their website design was out of date and they weren’t able to get in touch with their past developer, but that developer also hosted their website and owned their domain name.

Keep your website host, website development, domain names and email accounts separate.

Peace of mind is worth a few extra dollars per month.