Thursday, January 17, 2008

Web Basics – What is “Hosting”?

For some, this might be a no-brainer. It’s a word that’s so basic, so fundamental to the concept of website ownership, that even asking it could raise eyebrows. But what if you ARE new to the ‘net? Nobody is born knowing this stuff, right?

Fortunately, it’s also a pretty simple concept to clarify. To explain it, however, we need to spend some time talking about how the ‘net really works.

Let’s say you want to go to a website, one of my blogs. You would open up a browser, click in the address bar, and type “”. When you click the green arrow, or hit their “Enter” key, your computer would load up the main page of my dutch oven recipe blog.

Let’s “open up the black box” and see what really happened.

  1. My Blog Is Made Of Files

It’s important to know what makes up web pages. All web pages (and websites) are made of files. Most of those are HTML files (which are made of text and formatting codes). These carry the words of your page, and all the instructions the web browser needs to layout the pictures and other elements of the page. Another common kind of file for a website is your graphics, or your pictures. Some sites will also have audio or other multimedia kinds of files. It’s just got all kindsa stuff, and each bit of “stuff” is kept in a file. When you view a website, you’re viewing those files, all put together.

  1. Web Browser Makes A Request For The Files

When you type a web address and click “Go”, your web browser sends a request for those files. It knows which files to get, and where to make the request because of the address, or URL that gets typed in. The same thing happens when you click on a link. The only difference is that clicking a link means you don’t have to type the URL.

  1. The Request Comes Through ‘Net Hubs To The Website’s Server

The request that your web browser sends goes first to your ISP (Internet Service Provider). That’s your window to the ‘net. Everything you do on the net goes through your ISP, then it gets scattered to the internet winds, or gathered up from the same.

Once the request leaves your ISP, it goes bouncing from ‘net hub to ‘net hub until it arrives at the computer where the address shows the files are for that particular website. This computer is called the “Host” of that site, because it’s storing all the files necessary to make up the site.

Usually the host is also a “server”. What that means is that the computer is also running software that allows it to send out (or “serve”) the website up to visitors, in response to the requests that we’ve been talking about.

  1. The Server Grabs The Files

Once the host server has received the request, it gathers up all the files for the web page that was requested, and it breaks them up into chunks of data called “packets”.

  1. The Packets Get Sent To Your ISP

These packets then get sent back to your ISP. Now, the fascinating part of this is the realization that these packets will probably not all take the same route from the server to the ISP. Each packet takes what’s called the “shortest electronic route” from A to B. Because one ‘net hub might be more loaded or trafficked at any given moment than another, the data could easily go a totally different route. Sometimes, the shortest electronic distance can actually be not even close to the shortest geographic distance. One packet could even cross national borders or even skip across continents that another packed doesn’t even touch.

  1. The Packets Go To Your Computer

Since your ISP is your window to the ‘net, as the packets arrive there, they get sent straight to your computer. As the packets come in, the web browser assembles them into files, and renders those files as a visible and possibly interactive website. If, for some reason a packet is dropped or doesn’t make the journey, the browser sends out another request for that packet, the server resends it, and the process happens again.

So, in summary, when you call up a website, your computer requests that site from another computer somewhere else in the world. That remote computer (the server) sends it to you where you view it on your web browser.

So, in order for a website to be seen, it has to be stored somewhere in a place that can serve it up. These kinds of computers are called “Hosts”. Often, in order to both cover their expenses and be a profitable business, they will charge monthly fees for the storage space a website takes up, and the server access that the site uses in responding to the viewer requests. Those fees can vary a lot, based on a lot of different circumstances. They’re commonly referred to as “Hosting Fees”.

In a lot of ways, it’s a lot like the rent and utilities that a brick & mortar store would have to pay. You can’t do business if you’re not connected, and those connections cost money. That’s the nature of doing business on the ‘net.

Mark is the co-director of, the search marketing consulting arm of Clickincome ( Mark also has other sites and blogs, including and his MoBoy blog.

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