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Anatomy of Web Hosting

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Thursday, 12th May 2011

The anatomy of web hosting - a guide to the various elements.

If you're completely new to the concept of website hosting, it can all be a pretty confusing business - a daunting, techie-sounding load of jargon and acronyms. This article deciphers some of the jargon and provides a general explanation of the various elements related to website hosting.

It might be that you're having a new website built from scratch. Maybe you already have a website and you've chosen a new web company to host it. Either way, how do you decide which elements of hosting the new company should deal with? Is the new web company going to take care of everything associated with your site, or are you keeping the current domain registrar? And what about the emails?


web hosting diagram web hosting diagram


In terms of understanding website hosting, the nuts and bolts of the site can roughly be divided into two parts – one half controls what the user sees, and the other half deals with emails. The diagram shows that a web design company in charge of hosting a site, transfers the website to the web host. The web host stores the website on a server in such a way that it is accessible to the internet.

One aspect of web hosting worth getting to grips with is the DNS (Domain Name System) Record. The DNS Record contains both the A Record and the MX Record. The A Record (Address Record) essentially indicates which server (IP Address) to direct web traffic to for a particular website. MX Record (Mail Exchanger Record) tells the internet which servers to send emails to. The email Host is where the email data is actually stored.

Another technical term you may come across is the IPS tag. IPS tags identify who controls the admin of the domain name. In most cases where a website is being moved from one host to another, it is simpler not to switch domain name registration. If you you do switch for whatever reason, the process will involve contacting the original 'tag holder' (domain name registrar).

Switching control of your website to a new web company involves deciding whether you want the new company to look after everything, or if you just want them to look after certain elements. The info-graphic illustrates two possible scenarios -

Scenario A describes what happens when you want the new company to take care of everything. In this situation, the benefit is that you would only be billed by one company, thus keeping the cost down. The drawback is that if you already have a domain name registered elsewhere it may take some time to have the IPS tag transferred over.

Scenario B illustrates what happens when the new company simply hosts the website – in this example, the domain name registration and email hosting remain where they are. Since the new web company would be only be dealing with the website hosting, any existing email set up would be uninterrupted and the transfer would generally be much quicker. The drawback in this scenario would be that paying two separate hosts could work out more expensive.

Of course in reality, there are any number of scenarios - every client's needs are different. At Rusty Monkey we will guide you (gently!) through the process and advise what the best options are depending on your individual business requirements. We'll even make you a cuppa.



A Record (Address Record) – part of the DNS Record that relates to the address of the relevant server for the website.

Domain Name – this is the unique web address that is purchased for a website.

Domain Name Registrar – a service which facilitates the registration of domain names. Once a domain name is registered, it cannot be owned anyone else.

DNS (Domain Name System) - this can be likened to a phone book, in that it translates the human-friendly domain names into IP addresses. The A Record and the MX Record are both part of the DNS record.

Email Host – where the email is stored.

FTP (File Transfer Protocol) - this is used to transfer files from one host to another.

MX Record (Mail Exchange Record) – part if the DNS Record that indicates which the relevant server is for emails.

IP Address – (Internet Protocol Number) - every computer connected to the internet has a unique IP address to identify it.

IPS Tag – tells the internet who controls the admin of a domain name. Transferring your domain name from one registrar to another involves contacting the original registrar. This can be a lengthy process.

Web Host – the company where the website is stored.

Web Server – the physical computer where the website is stored by the host.


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