Well queermos, we’ve come up with our website concepts, we’ve built our websites (or have an idea of what we want to use to build them), we’ve bought our domain names. I’ve received the best compliment ever from Managing Editor Rachel’s mom: “she makes this sound like falling off a log.” Made my whole day. Now it’s time to get that website out there, living on the internet for other humans to put their eyeballs on. And this step really is that easy; this step really is like falling off a log.
What is Hosting?
Hosting means putting everything that makes up your website onto a server. Think of a server like a computer who’s also a waitress — it’s capable of taking orders (what does this person want?) and delivering them (here’s your order of fries!). In the case of ‘what does this person want?,’ someone will type in your URL and the server will go, ‘ah! They want to see this website! Order up!’ The servers we’re talking about are also (when they’re working properly) constantly connected to the internet, which means your website will be online all the time, and the server will be ready to dish up a nice hot… whatever your website is.
Who Needs Hosting?
Depending on what sort of website you built/are building, you might not need hosting. Sometimes that happens for free, like if you sign up for Tumblr or Squarespace or a free WordPress website through WordPress.com. Ask a friend to type your URL in and if they can see it, bam. You are good to go. Throw yourself a party and stop reading this post.
If you bought a domain name and you’re interested in building a website from scratch or doing a hosted WordPress, then this is for you. In fact, I had a really hard time picking the order for this series because if you use one of the above services, you never need to interact with a hosting company. If you build from scratch, you don’t have to interact with a hosting site until you’re almost done. But if you are using WordPress outside the confines of WordPress.com, then you kinda can’t even start until you have hosting, because WordPress is something you install on your (portion of the) host. See? Building a website is really a ‘you do you’ experience — everyone’s path is just a little bit different, depending on what you want to do.
Where Can You Find Hosting?
There are a multitude of hosting companies out there, each with their merits and drawbacks. I think we’d be pretty hard pressed to find the ‘perfect’ hosting company. Mostly I use Bluehost — I like that it has a control panel (I got used to working with one) and it has a one-click easy WordPress install (to make this even more like falling off a log). I’ve also never had a problem with their customer service, and being that I administer and fix A LOT of websites for school, I have had a ton of experience calling Bluehost. I’m expecting them to recognize me and call me by name any day now. Mostly, they are inexpensive. I like when things are good and also inexpensive.
Namecheap also offers hosting, and it’s pretty inexpensive too. But beware — their first year rates are less expensive than subsequent years, though the subsequent years are equal in cost to similar options from competitors.
Contributing Editor Robin has had really great interactions with Laughing Squid, and she says it’s perfect for small/non-e-commerce websites. She also likes it because it doesn’t have an introductory price that hikes after a month or a year or whatever — it’s just $4 or $6 or $8 per month, depending on what tier you choose. The downside (for me, at least), is that there’s not an option for unlimited bandwidth (the amount of information transferred between the server and users). As I’m prone to weird spikes in traffic, this is important to me. But unlimited bandwidth isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, either.
By the way, unlimited bandwidth and unmetered bandwidth are different things. Unlimited bandwidth means you can use an unlimited amount, but read the fine print: they might charge you for it over a certain amount.
Tech Director Cee recommends Dreamhost, because “they give me ssh access and db command line access so it’s really easy to migrate stuff.” She also cites their friendly tech support and good uptime (that time where the server’s actually working, opposite of downtime).
What The F*ck Kind of Hosting Do I Need?
Most likely, shared hosting. Shared hosting is great for most personal, freelance or small business websites. That means your site and a bunch of other websites are on the same server. Let’s think of the server as a server in a restaurant again: if your website is easy-peasy and the server doesn’t have too many tables to talk to with your website plus the other websites on the menu, then it can easily dish up your website no problem. If your site is big, complicated or draws a lot of traffic, then that shared server might not be cutting it.
Some hosting companies offer virtual private servers, which mean the hardware is shared but the software makes your server behave like it’s not shared — instead of the resources being variable, there are a set amount of resources dedicated to you.
Dedicated hosting means you have a server all to yourself. Your website has to be crazy big to need that. It’s also really expensive. Most people’s projects don’t start here — they start in shared hosting, or on a virtual private server. When the website starts lagging (performing tasks slowly in a frustrating way), or it starts throwing errors out, then perhaps it’s time. But that’s usually something that’s grown into, like pants. You don’t put a baby in adult pants. The baby has to arrive at the adult pants over a number of years, the result of good solid care.
How to Point Your Domain Name to Your Website
Probably you purchased your domain on Namecheap, if you purchased your domain name during our last installment and saw our really productive conversation in the comments. If you’re also hosting with Namecheap, bravo! That’ll be really easy to set up because it’s the same company. But if you’re hosting some other place, you should know a little bit about name servers. We don’t have to get into exactly what they are or how they do what they do, but let’s talk practical knowledge.
Think of the URL as the table number at our imaginary restaurant — that’s how the host knows where to point guests who want to order up your website. But if we don’t give the host that information, guests will approach the host and say, ‘I want this thing’ and the host will be like, ‘I literally have no idea what you are talking about.’ Changing the DNS servers gives the host that information and allows people to ask for what they want, and the host will know exactly how to give it to them.
1. Find out what the DNS servers should say in order for your domain name to talk to your host. Now I can’t tell you exactly where to find it, as it’ll be different for every host. I can tell you where they’ll normally be, though — find the ‘domain manager’ portion of your host. There will usually be two, labeled name servers, and they’ll be a string of numbers and text separated into three segments by two periods. Here’s an example: ns1.hostmchostyhost.com.
2. Sign into the website from which you bought your domain name (example: Namecheap!). If you’re using Namecheap, click the domain name in the Dashboard and look for “Domain Name Server Set Up” on the left hand side. It will be immediately clear where to put each piece of information you have, for there will be boxes labeled “1” and “2.” Ignore the other boxes if you only have two DNS servers. Now even if you bought your domain name somewhere else, it’s going to be mostly the same as that. Look for DNS or Domain Name Server or Domain Name Service — basically, domain name is your guide like the second star to the right.
3. It might take a little while for that to change, but head over to your hosting company to try attaching your domain name to your account. You don’t want to transfer (it’s cool where it is) you just want to ‘assign’ or ‘point.’ Type your domain name in, and with the name servers changed your host will recognize that you own the domain name and behave accordingly. Don’t fret if it doesn’t work right away — it can actually take a few hours to change completely and work reliably every time.
So what hosts do you use? Do you have any questions? Show us the websites you’ve built over these past few weeks!
This has been the one-hundred-twenty-fourth installment of Queer Your Tech with Fun, Autostraddle’s nerdy tech column. Not everything we cover is queer per se, but we talk about customizing this awesome technology you’ve got. Having it our way, expressing our appy selves just like we do with our identities. Here we can talk about anything from app recommendations to choosing a wireless printer to web sites you have to bookmark to any other fun shit we can do with technology. Header by Rory Midhani.