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server room Your first foray into the web hosting world might introduce a number of specialized terms that can overwhelm at first. The most important terminology you need to keep in mind when selecting a service level from a web host is whether you want shared hosting, virtual private hosting or dedicated hosting. Each tier has pros and cons, and each is quite different from the others. Once you learn the differences, you can use a web host comparison or review site such as to figure out which server is the best set-up for you.

Shared Hosting

Many beginners choose shared hosting first. A shared host puts as many users as possible onto a single physical server. Users gets their own partitioned space on the server to call their own. A user cannot change operating systems or other essential system components on the physical server, nor do they get root access for reboots and other system administration functions. Instead, the Web host manages all of these functions for the users. The upside of shared hosting is it costs the lowest out of all three options, allowing pretty much anyone to start creating websites. The downside is users have limited resources, because other users are on the server. If someone’s website has an error, and a script goes out of control, it’s going to take your site down, as well. (1)

Virtual Private Hosting

Virtual private servers are the next step up from shared servers. While you don’t get the entire server to yourself, the host markets VPS as a premium server and creates a cap on how many users share the same physical server. The cost is significantly more than shared hosting, but still nowhere near the typical dedicated server cost. (2) If you want to get more control over your hosting situation, but you aren’t in a position to move all the way up to a dedicated server, a VPS makes a nice move in-between. You won’t be affected by other people’s scripts, you have more server resources, and you get some control over the server itself.

Dedicated Hosting

Dedicated hosting gives you your own server box that you don’t have to share with anyone. You can adjust the hardware, change around the scripts, and alter the operating system as you please. Dedicated servers come in a variety of configurations, so you can choose between an entry level box and a high-end enterprise-level network if you want. Prices vary greatly due to the difference in hardware and operating system, so it’s going to take some time to figure out exactly what you want. If you’re running a resource-heavy site, a high-traffic site or complicated applications, you’re probably going to want to get a dedicated server to handle the processing load. You don’t want your website to be slow and make your visitors upset, after all. (3)

What kind of hosting do you prefer? Tell us in the comments.