Web hosting glossary: free guide to 70+ web hosting terms
Hosting a website might feel like tangling through the web of unfamiliar vocabulary. Trust me, I’ve been there. Today I’ll cover all the web hosting terms that I could think of and explain what they mean. That’s in hopes of making your web hosting learning curve less steep.
By the way, please use the comment section if you think a definition is missing, and you’d like me to include it in this web hosting glossary.
Cloud hosting – a modern hosting service that connects multiple physical servers using Cloud infrastructure to create a powerful hosting solution. This helps with scaling, redundancy, and performance. It is not a cheap option overall, but you only pay for the resources you need. Both smaller websites and even large enterprise-level apps can benefit from Cloud hosting.
Dedicated server hosting – the whole physical server is rented out (or sold) to a single user. You become the manager of this server and, with complete control, can configure it for specific needs. Only the largest of projects require dedicated server hosting and it's considered a very advanced option.
Reseller hosting refers to service when a bigger provider rents out server space and needed software so that the buyer could re-sell that server space to their own clients. It’s a strategy used to build your own hosting company or host clients’ websites as a developer/agency without a huge investment. For a better example, imagine that you buy a watermelon from a farmer, cut it in pieces, and sell those pieces for profit. This is exactly how reseller hosting works.
Shared hosting – the least expensive web hosting option when a single physical server is shared among multiple (can be up to several hundred) users. This is technologically easy to do and does not require expensive technology, keeping the costs low. Shared hosting is the best option for the majority of small and medium websites. Plus, it's very easy to use as all technicalities are in the hands of the provider.
VPS hosting – Virtual Private Server hosting is the in-between of shared and dedicated servers. By using virtualization software, the resources of a physical server are sliced, separated, and distributed among different accounts. Unlike shared hosting, these resources are dedicated to you entirely. VPS hosting can be both rather affordable if you pick an unmanaged entry option and pretty expensive for high-end managed services. It fits larger projects, thanks to the ease of scalability.
Windows hosting refers to the operating system that runs on the hosting server. Windows is not a very commonly used server OS, but it’s still needed for Microsoft-specific projects if you want to use MSSQL, ASP.NET, or .NET Core. Compared to Linux, Windows hosting can be easier to use thanks to the graphic user interface.
WordPress hosting refers to any web hosting service that focuses on WordPress website hosting. Usually, it’s used as a marketing term because this content management system is the most popular one you can build your site on. However, some providers actually include WordPress-specific optimizations, tools, and support.
Bandwidth is a measure that shows how much data can be transferred in a period of time. Usually, providers set a monthly allowance. Bandwidth resources are used for every interaction with your website – files of each page need to be delivered to the visitor, file uploading and downloading counts in too.
CPU – Central Processing Unit is a piece of hardware that works similarly to your brain. It receives signals and takes action to get those signals processed and executed. The more and the faster CPUs your server has, the more information can be processed for complex website/app functions.
Datacenter is a dedicated space or a building where physical server machines are located. Quality data centers follow strict security and redundancy protocols to ensure that the servers are running 24/7 without interruptions. The data center location is important if you have a particular audience to target. The closer a physical server is located to the audience, the lower is the latency, ensuring optimal speeds.
Inodes are records in the file system that store the data of each file owner, location, size, and similar. This means that the number of inodes equals the number of files. Inodes are often used as a form of limitation – hosting providers can decide how many inodes you can have on your server.
IP address – An Internet Protocol (IP) address is a numeric label assigned to each device that uses Internet Protocol for communication. This means that all laptops, servers, phones, and other devices have an IP address. It is used for sending and receiving information. On shared hosting, you may share an IP address among the other users of that server, although it is possible to purchase a dedicated IP address for your account only. VPS and dedicated server users get their own dedicated IPs. There are 2 IP versions – IPv4 and IPv6. IPv4 is a 32bit standard IP address deployed in 1981 with a limit of around 4.3 billion addresses. Meanwhile, IPv6, deployed in the late 1990s is a 128bit version with a theoretical limit of 340 undecillion addresses.
Processes (active/entry) – Processes are the number of actions that are happening on the server at any given point. For example, opening a mailbox, sending email, installing an app, etc. Meanwhile, entry processes refer only to those actions when a web page is accessed. Once the initial page loading/requests come through, the entry processes end.
RAM – Random Access Memory is a temporary/volatile type of storage on the server. It’s needed to run any app or program, yet the data stored on it is deleted once the server is rebooted or when the app terminates it.
Server is a physical computer machine on which websites/applications are hosted. Imagine it as your own computer with 10s of times more power and storage. Servers are kept running 24/7 in highly redundant data centers so that your project remains online at all times.
Storage/disk space is where all your website/application files are stored. It can either be SSD (solid-state drive) or HDD (hard disk drive). SSDs are modern storage units that don’t have moving elements on the hardware and are faster. HDDs are an older version of storage and have moving parts on the hardware, making them slower and less reliable.
Hosting management software
.htaccess stands for hypertext access. It can be used for enabling or disabling Apache web server functionalities. For example, you can block other websites linking to your site, set a password, or a 404 page. It can be beneficial for SEO to improve your site’s functionality.
Control panel is where the majority of tools to control your hosting account/server/website are located. You can compare it to your computer’s settings. cPanel is the most popular control panel, although many hosting providers are switching to custom-built options now.
FTP/SFTP – File Transfer Protocol is used to transfer files between computers on a network. For example, you can use it to transport files from your computer to your hosting account. SFTP or Secure File Transfer Protocol adds a layer of security as files are transferred through a single connection via secure shell protocol, keeping the connection protected.
Load balancer is a system that distributes incoming traffic through multiple servers to prevent system overload if high levels of traffic are coming to the same IP. It’s used to improve performance on popular websites/applications.
phpMyAdmin is an open-source tool in PHP for MySQL database management live. You’ll find it on the majority of hosting panels and can use it for creating databases, editing tables, or setting user permissions, among others.
Softaculous – when providers say that they have one-click app installers, they usually mean Softaculous. It’s the biggest and the most popular app installer library, where you can find WordPress, Joomla, Drupal, and other CMSs.
SSH – Secure Sockets Shell is a protocol for securely connecting to a remote computer. The data that travels from your computer to a remote computer is encrypted and only the machine that has a special Private key can decrypt that data. You can use it to control and modify a remote server through the Internet connection from home securely. That's done by typing pre-set SSH commands via Terminal in mac or PuTTY in Windows.
WHM – Web Host Manager is the administrative access to cPanel. You can use it to create separate cPanel accounts and set up server resource limits for each of them. It’s mainly used for reseller hosting.
WHMCS – Web Host Manager Complete Solution is a hosting billing and client management automation software. It’s used by reseller hosting/agencies to create different hosting plans and set up automatic billing for clients.
Drupal is a popular open-source content management system written in PHP. It’s mainly used by enterprises, NGOs, and government agencies rather than the public. Drupal is known for security and customizability, as well as a higher learning curve when compared to WordPress.
Joomla is a free content management system focused on developers and allowing them to customize the websites as needed. While not as popular as WordPress, Joomla is more secure and less vulnerable to cyber attacks.
PrestaShop is an open-source content management system for online stores that works on the freemium model. The app itself is free, but many of its features and plugins are unlocked by paying, just like using WordPress. At the same time, it’s easier to use for online stores as it is designed specifically for that.
Website builders are usually all-inclusive platforms that offer a tool for creating a website using a visual editor with hosting included. It’s an alternative to the classic hosting + CMS model for those who need to create a website fast or don’t have the technical expertise to develop a website from scratch.
WordPress is the most popular open-source content management system written in PHP. What started as a blogging platform is now used by the majority of websites – blogs, online stores, and news portals included. WordPress covers close to 40% of all websites.
Zen Cart is a free and open-source shopping cart software. While not as popular as WordPress or Drupal, it’s very easy to use for quickly creating product pages. It might be a good option for small online stores that need a website with easily configurable product page options.
2FA – 2-Factor Authentication is a procedure that adds a second layer of protection when logging in to an account. Logging in with just a password is not enough; 2FA will also send a code to your phone or generate it via an authentication app. This procedure is becoming a new standard when it comes to protecting your accounts.
Backup is a service that takes a copy of all your website/app files and data and stores it permanently/temporarily on a remote/same server. You can then use that copy to restore a website/app in case some major error/vulnerability is discovered. It’s best to opt for daily backups that will be stored on a remote server/Cloud for the best security.
Brute-Force Attack usually refers to those attacks when hackers try to force their way into your account using a script or software that automatically performs multiple attempts to guess/engineer the password.
DDoS – Distributed Denial of Service is a type of cyber attack when a targeted computer/server is flooded with traffic. The goal is to make that computer/server unavailable or at least compromise its performance.
Firewall is an essential security feature that works as a roadblock. Firewalls are given a set of rules to help them determine whether the traffic should be let in or not. It prevents unauthorized or malicious traffic from reaching the server. In shared hosting, the providers usually take care of the server firewall. Meanwhile, VPS or dedicated servers often require you to install a firewall on your own.
Malware is software designed to intentionally harm and compromise targeted networks, hardware, and software. It’s a common type of cyber attack on websites. Hosting providers often have malware scanning tools implemented, but the majority of them charge extra for the removal.
RAID – Redundant Array of Independent Disks is a technology meant to increase data redundancy of the server. It works by distributing the data across multiple servers and preventing data loss in case the drives become compromised.
SSL/TLS – Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) is a protocol that encrypts data traveling between 2 systems so that it is protected from being freely available to unauthorized parties. Transport Layer Security (TLS) is an upgraded version of SSL. When you’re getting an SSL certificate or purchasing one, you’re actually getting some of the latest versions of TLS. SSL is only a popular term used to describe both SSL and TLS, just like Jacuzzi stands for a hotub or Sharpie stands for a permanent market.
Cache – in web hosting, cache (pronounced késh) is a service meant to make your website/app load faster by storing the commonly used files closer to the destination, e.g., visitor’s browser or RAM (random access memory). This way, that data doesn’t need to be retrieved from the original storage, and pages can load faster. Depending on the type of cache, it usually works with recurring visits, meaning that first-time visitors are less likely to benefit from caching. Additionally, your website becomes more redundant – because data is cached, in often cases, visitors can access it even when the server is temporarily down.
CDN – Content Delivery Network is a service that caches website content on a network of servers that are located in multiple destinations worldwide. This works to speed up page loading times for global audiences as the data doesn’t need to travel long distances. Services such as Cloudflare can also mask your IP and so decrease the risk of DDoS attacks.
First Contentful Paint measures the time in which the first visual element appears on the page that is loading. It signals the visitor that the page is actually loading, ensuring a good user experience. Everything up to 1.8 seconds is considered fast.
Page load time refers to the time a page takes to load fully. It’s becoming more and more important as search engines and even social media giants such as Facebook are penalizing slow-loading websites. The acceptable page load time is currently up to 3 seconds.
Response time is the time in which a server reacts to any signal (ping) sent its way. The time should be as stable as possible in well-working servers. Slow response times cause an unnecessary delay in page loading. The ideal response time is up to 200ms, yet everything up to 600ms is acceptable.
SLA – Service-Level Agreement is a provider’s commitment to service quality. It's most often used to determine an uptime guarantee and compensation if such a guarantee is not followed due to the provider’s fault.
TTFB – Time To First Byte indicates a time which the server took to send out the first byte of data when loading a website. It should not exceed 600ms to pass Google’s audit.
Uptime refers to the time (usually in percentage) that the server is online (and so is your website). A standard uptime guarantee in the web hosting industry is 99.9% which equals 1 minute and 26 seconds of downtime daily. However, many good providers exceed this guarantee and strive to be as close to 100% as possible.
409 Conflict – the server could not complete the request due to the conflict with the current state of the requested resource. It appears in situations when the user might be able to resolve the conflict and resubmit the request.
Autoresponder – a common feature on the majority of email services, it allows you to send automated messages in response to a received email. For example, you can set out-of-office messages or set thank-you emails.
Catch-all is a mailbox that receives all emails that are sent to a particular domain. For example, you have [email protected] mailbox, but a client sends an email to [email protected] mailbox – you’ll still get that email.
IMAP – Internet Message Access Protocol is a way of retrieving emails when a copy is stored on the server until it is manually deleted. This way, people with multiple devices can access the emails on all of them.
POP – Post Office Protocol is a process of receiving and authenticating email messages. You can use it together with email applications such as Outlook or Gmail to read your messages. It's important to note that POP does not synchronize the messages across multiple devices. It downloads the message from a server to a device of your choice and deletes it from the server.
Domain registrar is a company that’s acquired ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) accreditation for registering and managing domain names. For example, GoDaddy is among the largest domain registrars where you can buy (or sell) domain names.
ICANN – Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers is an organization that manages and coordinates all IP addresses and domains on the Internet so that computers would be able to communicate with each other. Because of this, we can see and work with the Internet as we know it.
Parked domain is a domain that’s not currently in active use but is assigned a place on the server. Just like a car in a garage, hence the name “parked.” Such domain can be used to redirect traffic to a working website or display messages.
Subdomain is a prefix before your actual domain name. E.g., in en.website.com, en. is a subdomain. A subdomain can have its own unique content. As in the previous example, en. subdomain could display an English version of a website if the main domain is displaying another language.