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Web Hosting – Terms and Definitions

Web hosting companies will include a list of features they have available with their plans. It’s important to take the time to study and understand what is including in a hosting package to make sure that it is right for your needs.  In order for you to better understand the features that your web hosting company offers, you can refer to this list of web hosting terms and definitions:

Disk Space: The amount of data that you are able to store on the server at any given period.  In today’s world, anything short of 500 MB or 0.5 GB can be seriously limiting.

Bandwidth: Sometimes referred to as “Transfer”.  It expresses the amount of data that you can send or receive from the server over a given period, usually per month.

Add-on Domains: The ability to host additional domains, beyond your primary domain, all on a single web hosting account.

Sub-domains: An extension of the domain, usually used to organize different functions of a website.  For instance, if a website called “dog-grooming.com” had a members-only section, it might be under the sub-domain “members.dog-grooming.com”.

E-mail Addresses: Often times web hosting companies will offer you an e-mail service.  This way, you can have your domain as your e-mail address such as “yourname@yourdomain.com”.  This service is recommended to any website that has to maintain contact with their visitors via e-mail.  Using a free e-mail service such as Yahoo or GMail to communicate with visitors or customers could be considered unprofessional.

MySQL Databases:
If you have a website with a script that needs to store information such as customer/visitor information, blog updates, forum posts, comments or anything else, it is recommended that you have SQL functionality.  The most common (and easiest to use) SQL service around today is MySQL.  The alternative to using SQL databases would be to store information in text files.  However, visitors would be able to view the entire text file, but they would not be able to view the SQL database.  If your database includes sensitive information such as credit card numbers, passwords, or other customer information, then it’s recommended to store them in SQL databases for security reasons.

Control Panel: All web hosting services should include a control panel, but the most recommended type of control panel would be an official “CPanel”.  CPanel is an open-source hosting control panel that is more or less the standard for managing a website today.  It’s easy to find tutorials for CPanel if you don’t understand how to do something, and real CPanels usually include a lot more features then a web host’s attempt to make their own hosting panel.

Backups: Any good web host is going to back up your site’s information in case of a server crash.  The last thing you want is for your website to go down for an extended period of time only to find half of the site missing once the server comes back online.  Some web hosts backup their customer’s information multiple times per day.  It’s recommended that you find a host that backs up information at least twice per week.

Uptime: Web hosting companies have a way of telling you how reliable they are.  Third party computers are set up to “ping” each of the hosting company’s servers, which tests to see if the server is able to communicate.  The “pings” happen multiple times per day, and a percentage is figured on how often the third party server was able to communicate with the server.  You should never choose a host with less than 99% uptime.

FTP Accounts: This could be a simple yes/no, or a number.  The ideal situation would be a web host that allows unlimited FTP accounts, though it wont always be that way.  As long as you have at least one FTP account allowed, you should be able to effectively manage your website with ease.

Anonymous FTP Access: An anonymous FTP account is a “guest” FTP account, set up for the purposes of browsing the website by viewing all the files rather than dealing with the links on the page.  It’s recommended to shut this feature off if your web host has it enabled to prevent your site from being hacked.

PHP Support: The standard for server-side scripting today.  Most anything can be done quickly and easily using PHP, and the language is constantly being upgraded with new features.

CGI Support: These types of scripts can be used in conjunction with PHP, or by themselves.  Most webmasters now don’t have much use for CGI as it’s no longer the advanced scripting standard.  However, people who have gotten used to the language may look for a host with this feature.

Ruby On Rails: Another server-side script language.  Commonly referred to as just “Rails”, it was built so that every function in the language already has a default value.  Using this method, a lot of repetitive tasks for the programmer are no longer necessary.

SSH Access: Secure Shell access is a way some advanced webmasters remotely control their web hosting accounts or servers.

Perl: More advanced than PHP, Perl is used for some real fancy tasks.  Normally, webmasters do no need to know this language and don’t need to use it.  However, if the webmaster takes the time to learn it, some programming tasks will become a lot easier and more efficient when compared with PHP.

Python: A BASIC-like language developed so that webmasters wouldn’t have to learn all of the advanced features for languages such as PHP and Perl.  Most of it’s commands and functions are simple English words.

Cron Jobs: Cron jobs are little mini-programs that execute a command or visit a website at certain increments that the webmaster sets.  They are useful for a site that constantly needs to be updated automatically.  They are usually used in conjunction with a script written to update the website in some way.

FrontPage: This is a software developed by Microsoft in order to make website design simple.  Some people find FrontPage to make web design easy to use, but there are many other alternative website-creating wizards that output regular HTML code instead.  FrontPage is no longer supported by most web hosting companies and is therefore not recommended to be used in any new web development.

Auto Installer: Often an Auto Installer will be provided with your hosting account.  These little tools will install various programs automatically, such as WordPress or Joomla.  It’s a great way for newer webmasters to use advanced scripts and not have to deal with the hassle of installation.

Custom Error Pages: When a visitor receives an error page, by default some hosting companies will forward them to their site.  In order to prevent this (as it can look somewhat unprofessional and may confuse the visitor), web hosts allow you to create your own custom error pages to display when something goes wrong.

SSL: Secure Sockets Layers are required for any website that needs a secure connection, such as one that includes a place for their customers to input their credit card numbers.

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