A web site has to be stored somewhereon a hard drive, to be exact. Generally speaking, people will not be able to see your web site on your local computer unless you are running your own private web server. In most cases, in order for the rest of the world to see your web site, you will need to upload all your files from your local computer to a remote web server.
In the most simple terms, a web server has a hard drive that is housed on a computer that has FTP software installed to allows others access. Web hosting companies usually have a bunch of servers that are directly connected to the Internet via a super high-speed connection. When people type in your URL, they are directed to the web hosting company's server, where they can download and view your web site.
Web hosting companies offer all kinds of agreements and services. In order to pick a web hosting company, it's a good idea to understand all of the potential options they might offer to see if you need them or not. The following sections cover these options in order to help you make informed choices.
Get Your Domain Name!
If you are building a professional site, you will most likely want to get your own domain name, such as http://www.lynda.com. Of course, you couldn't have lynda.com because that's already taken! ;-) The domain name is part of the URL to your web site, and it's unique to your web site only. For example, http://www.somethingcool.com is an example of a domain name. The URL http://geocities.yahoo.com/lynda/ is an example of a URL without a unique domain name. Most professional web sites prefer to have a unique domain name that won't be confused with someone else's business or service.
You can check to see if the domain name that you want is available at any number of sites. For example, I like to use http://www.register.com, for no good reason except that the word "register" is part of the domain name. Most domain registration sites charge about the same fee for the registration, which is typically $35/year. For those on a tight budget, http://www.godaddy.com registers domains for $8.95/year. If the name you want is taken, you'll most likely have to pick another. Sometimes people pay (or sue each other for the right) for a web site name that is taken.
Domain Name Server
Once you secure the domain name, you will want to have your web site content available if someone types the URL into a browser. In order to do that, a few more steps will need to be taken. First, you'll need to use a web server to house your web site.
Most people will hire a web hosting company for this service. The web hosting company will need to make sure that the domain name you have secured will be tied to the IP address of your web site. (An IP address is a numeric identifier that is assigned to a web server, such as 192.168.1.30) No one could possibly remember the IP address of every site they want to visit, as domain names are much easier to remember than a bunch of numbers. Your web hosting company will assign an IP address to you, and they will take care of making sure the DNS records point your domain name to their IP address.
Your Web Hosting Needs
Before you go signing up for just any hosting account you should take some time to consider your current needs and give some thought to your possible future needs. For example, if you never intend on selling any products on your web site, then why would you need a plan that provides an e-commerce solution? (Unless it's free, of course.) Typically, the more services offered by the hosting company, the more you will pay, so analyzing your current needs and projecting future needs is important.
Figure 2 This web site is an example of a non-virtual web site (http://www.geocities.com/willemsgunther/bonsai/index.html ). Notice that this URL does not have a unique domain name.
The following sections cover some of the choices you'll need to make before you begin looking for a hosting company.