Web hosting jargon can be confusing, or even slightly intimidating. We have put together this hosting glossary to make it easier to understand for everyone from new website owners to professional web developers.
You can use this guide to learn about a specific web hosting term or just as a general guide to web hosting.
Let’s get started!
Table of Contents
Apache is a type of web server software that was created to handle HTTP requests made after arriving at a website. There are other forms of web servers out there (namely Nginx, mentioned directly below), but Apache is easily the most popular.
SpamAssasin, Tomcat, Ruby on Rails, WooCommerce, Ghost, and others are just a few applications to name that have come as a direct result of Apache.
Bandwidth refers to the amount of data that can be transmitted in a given time, which in web hosting terms usually amounts to a month. How much bandwidth you have available depends on the plan you have purchased from your provider. Bandwidth usage is calculated by the size of your web page multiplied by visitors.
Monthly bandwidth limits can be anywhere between 10 GBs to several TBs of data. There are also numerous web hosts who do advertise unmetered bandwidth.
A Content Delivery Network is a collection of servers that deliver web content based on the geographical location of the visitor. These servers are deployed in data centers across the globe, giving website visitors an optimized page viewing experience.
Some of the biggest CDN providers are CloudFlare, Akamai, CDN77, and Amazon CloudFront.
A Content Management System is a piece of software that acts as an interface used to create and manage digital content on your website. These platforms are also a great way for users of various permission levels to contribute content for your site.
The current top CMS on the Internet is WordPress, with nearly a quarter of all websites currently enjoying it’s many benefits. Additional popular CMS options include Joomla, Drupal, and Umbraco.
cPanel is a Linux-based web hosting control panel with a graphical interface. cPanel’s primary aim is to simplify the process of setting up and managing your own web hosting server. While there are other Linux-based control panels out there, cPanel is the most popular option.
A tiered structure allows for team accounts and multiple users with cPanel. cPanel auto installers and scripting tools makes managing your site’s backend a breeze.
A data center is a facility that is used by the hosting provider to house their servers. These locations tend to be backup and power redundant facilities with a dedicated team of specialists maintaining the server infrastructure.
Locations are also crucial as being close to your website’s target audience will result in faster connections to your server.
A Distributed Denial of Service attack is when a hacker or group of hackers target a online service by flooding it with high levels of traffic. This traffic originates from different sources in an attempt to make the site crash or go offline.
Hosting providers tend to have adequate protection against these attacks, although the adaptability of hackers keeps them on their toes.
While not a huge risk for small websites, DDOS attacks are growing more and more frequent for large websites and business, resulting in millions of lost revenue every year.
Check out our guide on what to do if you experience a DDOS attack!
An IP address is a unique identifier for your computer and acts as a communication protocol between you and the Internet. In a shared hosting environment, multiple users assigned to a single server will have to share an IP address.
A dedicated IP address takes this a step further by giving your website an exclusive address. This address gives your site specialized benefits that is especially useful for eCommerce. Dedicated IPs are an essential and required step to securing your site with an SSL certificate.
The need to purchase dedicated IPs has fallen off in recent years, as most hosting providers now tend to bundle them into SSL certificate.
A dedicated server is the next level up from a VPS, giving you complete and exclusive access to enterprise level hardware. This is usually only beneficial for advanced web developers who require full root access (more on that later) and a high level of reliability and performance from their server.
Check out our guide on the advantages of Dedicated servers over VPS!
DNS stands for Domain Name Service, and if your domain name is your address, the DNS is the phone book which acts as a directory of sorts for all domain names. While domain names may prove easy to remember for people, machines connect you to your target website based on an IP address, which a DNS obtains by “translating” a domain name.
DNS servers act as a connection of sorts between your computer and your ISP (Internet Service Provider). Location is crucial when it comes to DNS servers and geo-restrictions, as they tell the Internet where your computer is located.
A domain name is the way visitors access your website, essentially serving as the virtual “address” of your website. Usually in the form of www.yourdomain.com, purchasing a high-quality domain name will help drive traffic to your site. Keep in mind this usually means shelling out quite a bit of a money (if someone doesn’t already possess it).
Whether it is for SEO, name branding, or just personal reasons, finding a great domain name for your website is the first step towards success.
Domain registration is when you purchase a domain name from a domain registrar (companies who own and sell domains) and attach it to your website. Usually you buy a domain for a year, but they can also be purchased for a longer term up to 5 years!
Due to ever-increasing competition, buying and owning a quality domain name for your website is undeniably crucial. Some of the biggest Domain registrars are GoDaddy, NameCheap, and Register.com.
eCommerce is a term used for any form of business or commercial transaction that deals with transferring information across the Internet. With no restrictions regarding time and distance, online stores have rapidly emerged as the most popular form of commerce in the world today.
Traditional consumer retail sites, auction sites, and online music stores are just a few examples of eCommerce websites today, with the rise of price comparison tools and social media further contributing to their popularity.
eCommerce sites also have some unique requirements, namely SSL certificates and better hardware to handle increased load times.
A firewall acts as the first line of defense against malicious attacks on your server. Firewalls inspect network activity and prevent threats before they reach your sensitive data These safeguards are necessary with data security being such a hot topic today.
Network-level firewalls are typically some sort of hardware at your hosting provider’s data center. They can be further supplemented by features such as backups, SSL certificates, or a Content Delivery Network.
FTP stands for File Transfer Protocol. The core function of FTP is allowing you to upload and download files to and from your server. This makes FTP a core component of developing your website.
Accessing FTP requires a client that can communicate with web servers, with the most popular FTP clients currently being FileZilla, WinSCP (Windows only), and CyberDuck (Mac only).
An IP Address is a unique string of numbers that acts as an identifier for each computer connected to the Internet, almost like a telephone number.
An Internet Service Provider is a company that provides customers with Internet access. ISPs vary with the level of network they provide, with new fiber optic providers such as Google Fiber giving up to 1000 Mbps speeds!
Residential ISPs are more commonly found in a home. Data center ISPs tend to be slightly more sophisticated with advanced hardware, wiring, and a stable network.
Joomla is the number two most popular CMS after WordPress, although there is a big drop off when compared to WordPress’s numbers. Even though Joomla only powers about 2.6% of all websites, this still amounts to about roughly 30 million websites!
Joomla is famous for being easy to use like WordPress, but with the additional flexibility and power to support features that might not be available via WordPress or other CMS.
A Local Area Network is a network of computers and devices connected within a relatively small area. Purchasing a server from a web hosting provider will give you access to data center hardware on their “local” network.
The emergence of cloud computing and virtualization has had a dramatic impact when it comes to LANs, with various improvements to user experience, speed, and stability.
Linux is a free, open-source operating system based on UNIX. Released in 1991, Linux has enjoyed tremendous support from a strong community dedicated to improving the software.
Linux is considered the best option for web hosting with awesome support for web developers . Linux also enjoys greater compatibility than Windows with a wide range of web servers and technologies.
Load Balancing refers to the process of efficiently distributing network traffic across a number of servers. Load Balancers act as a form of safeguard to ensure that spikes in traffic will not result in a overwhelmed server.
Cloud computing is also a great benefactor of load balancing, as additional resources can be quickly added or removed based on traffic.
Managed in a hosting sense means that the hosting provider who you are purchasing your web hosting from will handle the backend details of your server. This handles all updates, maintenance, and installations on your server, Managed hosting leaves you free to concentrate on the content and design of your website.
Managed hosting from a provider will typically cost a few extra dollars a month.
To start, a database is a collection of data that has been stored on a drive for the purpose of quickly retrieving when needed. Databases are especially important for blogs and sites that rely heavily on accessing content. SQL (pronounced “sequel”) is a computer language that makes it easier to access and manage your databases.
MySQL is a brand of SQL technology that has emerged as the leading solution for webmasters around the world. While other solutions such as PostgreSQL and MariaDB, MySQL has emerged as the undisputed leader.
Pronounced Engine X, Nginx is similar to Apache and other web server platforms. Many will argue that the open source aspect of Nginx trumps Apache when taking niche open source projects into consideration.
Take a look at some our top recommendations for Nginx web hosting!
Plesk is basically the Windows version of cPanel, making it easier for webmasters to better manage data on your Windows-based server. Plesk does tend to have a slight learning curve, but also tends to fit the needs of most VPS and dedicated server administrators.
Another reason people love Plesk is the ability to monitor and manage your server via mobile. This allows you greater control over your website when you are on the go.
Redundant Array of Independent Disks, or RAID, is a way of storing data across multiple drives for speed and reliability reasons. There are various methods with benefits when it comes to RAID storage, with the most standard types being RAID 0, RAID 1, and RAID 5.
RAID storage can have a pretty big influence on your web server’s storage capabilities. Check out this helpful post on the importance of RAID storage for web hosting.
Root access refers to having complete administrator access to your VPS or dedicated server. Root access is a feature that tech-savvy website owners will certainly appreciate. Root access allows the user to choose their own OS and software, giving web developers the independence they need.
Root access is not available for shared hosting, as you are sharing one physical server with multiple other users.
Web Hosting can generally be split into four different categories. Shared web hosting is the standard, entry-level hosting that most websites use. In this case you are “sharing” a hardware server and it’s resources with an “X” amount of other users.
Shared hosting tends to be the most affordable web hosting solution, but it is also the most limited option as well. Depending on your website’s needs, you may want to consider looking at some more advanced alternatives.
Check out some of our recommendations for the fastest shared hosting providers!
A shopping cart is a piece of software that is installed on your web server and acts as compendium for both the store and customer. It ties together purchasing, billing, and tracking, as well as customer and inventory management. Website visitors can purchas and track their online orders through a shopping cart interface.
There are a plethora of shopping carts to choose from, with options available as standalone platforms such as BigCommerce or Shopify, WordPress users have popular plugins like WooCommerce and MarketPress to choose from.
Site migration refers to the process of copying over a website from one hosting provider’s servers to another. The process is usually made easier with cPanel or another existing control panel. Site migration tends to be done by a provider’s support team for a smooth switch to their servers.
Make sure to keep an eye on a hosting provider’s terms and conditions, as site migration tends to be free when you sign up.
A Service Level Agreement is a public contract between a hosting provider and the customer that defines the level of service being offered. SLAs contain any additional details not expressly defined when signing up.
Keeping an eye on the SLA and examining it thoroughly prior to signing up can help you avoid getting stuck with a web hosting lemon! Check out our guide on SLAs here.
Softaculous is an auto installer for hundreds of apps, allowing you to easily install scripts with just one click of the button. You can install WordPress, Joomla, SquirrelMail, Magento, or any of the hundreds of apps available. The primary aim of Softaculous is to make installing and managing apps on your server easy and quick.
Softaculous is usually free with the cPanel or Plesk interface of your web hosting provider. Some providers are known to charge a small monthly fee for access.
A HDD, or Hard Drive Disk, is a traditional form of storing data on your computer. While HDDS are still an affordable solution, Solid-State Drives have recently emerged as a new technology. By using flash memory, SSDs have higher data transfer rates and lower latency over traditional “spinning” HDDs.
SSD storage is crucial for web hosting, as it gives visitors faster access to the content on your website.
Solid Shell access is another way to manage your server’s storage and a much more secure than FTP. If you are dealing with sensitive data and want to be protected from any external threat, SSH access is your safe bet.
While SSH access is typically free with most hosting providers, some will look to charge you a couple extra dollars a month. Make sure you read the fine print before signing up!
An SSL certificate is a virtual seal of trust which encrypts all data exchanged on the Internet. Once installed on a web server, SSL activates the site padlock and secures all communications.
Having an SSL certificate for a heavy-traffic or eCommerce site is a requirement today with data theft being so common.
There are also quite a few options when it comes to SSL encryption, with a recent addition being Let’s Encrypt’s free SSL certificates.
Uptime refers to a hosting provider’s guarantee of network availability for your server. Most hosting providers advertising a monthly 99.9% uptime guarantee for their services. If your server should experience any additional downtime past that mark, you will be compensated according to their SLA.
While anything below 99.9% uptime is unacceptable, there are a lot of hosting providers out there who falsely advertise their uptime. Again, keep an eye on the fine print to see what a host is actually providing!
A Virtual Private Server is a virtualized machine (in the cloud) that runs its own copy of an OS and is sold as a service by web hosting providers. They are popular among advanced web developers for being easy to scale when dealing with web applications.
VPS and Cloud servers have become extremely popular in recent years, with an increasing amount of providers enhancing their cloud-based offerings. Read more about the benefits of a VPS here.
Having a website on the Internet requires certain computer hardware and disk space. Due to most people not having the funds to own their own enterprise level hardware, web hosting providers lease out their servers to individuals for a price depending on their needs.
There are several variations of web hosting, with the difference being in the hosting environment and hardware you are given exclusive access to.
WHOIS is a query protocol that is widely used to identify owners and registrars of websites through a large public database. It is a great way of contacting site owners when technical isses arise with a website. Those looking to purchase a domain name can also use WHOIS data for research purposes.
Check out ICANN's WHOIS search tool for more information on a specific domain name.
WordPress has emerged over recent years as the number one publishing platform on the Internet. WordPress has millions of blogs, eCommerce sites, forums, and many more under their belt. WordPress’s popularity can largely be attributed to being a free, plugin-supported platform that is also constantly being improved by passionate developers.
Some examples of popular WordPress sites include Forbes, CNN, and Walt Disney. Some of the most downloaded plugins for WordPress include Aksimet, Yoast SEO, WP Super Cache, and Meta Slider.
Check out our recommendations for WordPress Hosting!
Web Hosting Glossary Conclusion
Web hosting can be slightly intimidating if you don’t have the necessary technical background, with an abundance of abbreviations and slang that can make web hosting sound like a foreign language.
We think we’ve covered quite a great deal of the various terms and jargon that comes up in the web hosting industry. While there is a lot more to the field than what we've mentioned, we hope this helps you to get your feet wet with web hosting.
Looking for a quality hosting provider for your website but not sure what kind of web hosting is right for you? Check out our handy comparison tool or read our top hosting recommendations to see who fits your needs.
Let us know if you have any questions or comments below!