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Web Hosting Explained

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Hosting a web site is a fairly straightforward procedure, but first-time site builders are often confused by this process. This article provides a simple introduction to web hosting, and explains the various steps required to place your web site on the Internet.

Understanding IP Addresses

Multiple computers connected together at the same location are known as a Local Area Network, or LAN. Multiple LANs connected over remote connections are known as a Wide Area Network, or WAN. In simple terms, the Internet is essentially an expanding collection of interconnected WANs.

As with any network, everything on the Internet needs to have its own unique identity. This is achieved using IP addresses. An IP address comprises of 4 blocks of numbers, each from 1 to 255, separated by periods (i.e. This method provides for around 4.2 billion unique identities.

Hosting Your Web Site

Hosting providers own a range of IP addresses. When you sign up for your hosting plan you receive your own unique IP address from within this range. Your IP address corresponds to your own public hosting area, called your domain, so when someone enters your IP address into their web browser they will arrive directly at your domain. For example, the IP address for is If you type this into your browser's address bar, you will arrive at this web site.

Note: In order to reduce costs, budget hosting providers often share single IP addresses across multiple customers. While this may provide a more affordable option, it should be noted that black lists and spam filters use IP addresses to identify offenders. Therefore, sharing an IP address with other web sites could result in an innocent site being penalized, blocked, or black listed along with the offending site, so always check to make sure your hosting service includes your own dedicated IP address.

At this stage, your hosting service is fully functional. However, providing an IP address as your web site URL is not very user-friendly. This is where domain names come in.

Domains and Subdomains

When you add a hosting service you specify either a domain name (i.e., or a subdomain name (i.e. that should be associated with your IP address. This relationship is then stored on the hosting provider's name servers. Queries for your domain or subdomain name are then automatically resolved to your IP address.

Subdomains are under the authority of the parent domain, so the name server record is all that is required for subdomain names to function correctly. Domain names are on the public domain, so need to be independently registered. This is a separate service.

Registering Your Domain Name

By registering a domain name, you purchase the right to use the name for a specified term. Domain names can currently be registered from 1 to 10 years, depending on the extension. Your ownership must be renewed before the term expires, or the domain name will again be made available to the public.

Domain names include a DNS (Domain Name System) entry, where you specify the location of the name servers that should resolve the name into an IP address. DNS entries usually point to the registrar's name servers by default, but this can be easily changed to point to any 3rd party name server.

You are not required to register your domain name and host your web site through the same provider. Simply contact your hosting provider for details of their name servers (usually and and enter this into your domain name DNS record. DNS changes usually take 24-48 hours to filter through the various DNS servers across the Internet.

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