Web hosting is a necessity for any person or business with a website. But while selecting the right web host is important, it goes deeper than that—choosing the right operating system is vital for your website’s performance, security, and compatibility.
There are various options out there to choose from, and each OS has its own strengths and weaknesses. This makes each one better suited for specific types of websites and apps, so understanding the differences between operating systems is essential to help you make the best choice for your business.
What Is Web Hosting?
Once your website has been designed and developed, you’ll need to find a web hosting service provider to publish it on the internet. The best way to look at this is that you’re essentially renting space on their server.
The web hosting server then responds to this request with an HTTP response, which lets the internet browser render the page. This lets the user view all the information on the website and interact with it by clicking on links or submitting forms.
A web hosting provider ensures that your website is published and accessible to users worldwide 24/7. The benefits of using a web hosting service provider is that they’re responsible for:
- Providing the resources and storage space to publish your website for continuous operation
- Installing and updating necessary software
- Implementing various security measures to ensure the website is secure
- Applying security patches and antivirus software
- Monitoring the server to detect and fix any issues
- Providing assistance with website migration and server configuration
- Troubleshooting technical issues
Can You Host Your Own Website?
Yes, you can host your own website. But you’ll need to have technical knowledge and a good understanding of web server software. Aside from that, it’ll be time-consuming and costly, as you’ll need to invest in the following:
- A pre-built server (if you don’t know to put one together)
- Choosing a content management system
- Registering a domain name for your website
- Creating and managing your website content
- Having a good understanding of networking protocols, IP addresses, and ports
- Ensuring your site is secure by configuring firewalls and SSL certificates
- Planning for redundancy by creating and managing back-ups on a backup server
Even if you wanted to create a virtual server, you’d still need a physical server to become the host server.
To do all of this will take time, and you’ll need to do regular maintenance and check for any issues on the server. If there’s an unexpected technical error, it could take hours to troubleshoot, and your site wouldn’t be visible during that time. Depending on the software you use, there may also be licensing costs.
At the end of the day, it’s actually better to use a web hosting service that can manage all aspects of the server management and maintenance for you.
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The Different Types of Web Hosting
There are several web hosting options available for you to choose from. Each web hosting plan has its own advantages and drawbacks. By understanding your business requirements and the difference between the types of hosting options, you’ll be able to make an informed decision on which is best for your business.
With this option, you’ll be sharing the server resources like storage space, processing power, RAM, and bandwidth with multiple users. While it’s a cost-effective option, keep in mind that your website’s performance can be affected by traffic surges on other websites that share the resources.
Consider this option if:
- Your website doesn’t require a lot of customization
- You’re a small business start-up that has a limited budget
- It’s a personal blog that covers lifestyle, travel, and food, for example
- Your website isn’t going to get a lot of traffic
If you need a bit more control over your website hosting, then a VPS hosting plan may be ideal for you. Each website on the server is hosted in its own space on a physical server. This allows for more customization if a business or personal website needs e-commerce functionality, custom domain names, and additional security features.
Consider this option if:
- You have an e-commerce site that requires high levels of security
- You want specific packages or software installed
- Your website receives a lot of traffic
As an example, if you have a popular blog that has around an estimated 1.9 million monthly visits, then a VPS option would be a great choice.
The dedicated server is rented exclusively by you, and you get full access to it. This allows you to control everything, from the type of operating system you run, to different software packages that are installed and the level of security that you want.
You’d still need a high level of technical knowledge, as you’d be responsible for managing it yourself. The downside is that it’s an expensive option.
Consider this option if:
- The website receives a very large amount of traffic
- Your website needs high levels of processing power and storage
- It’s an e-commerce site that requires high levels of security
- You need a lot of bandwidth and high levels of performance
Cloud hosting is becoming increasingly popular as it drives digital transformation across industries. Unlike traditional hosting (which uses one server), cloud hosting uses multiple servers on a network that work together and run applications using the combined resources.
This provides large corporations, small-to-medium enterprises, e-commerce platforms, and even bloggers greater scalability. Cloud hosting also provides the most reliability and flexibility of all the hosting options.
There are several benefits of cloud hosting, which include:
- A high degree of user-friendliness
- Offers a stable performance with high-reliability rates
- Faster content delivery, which increases user experience and satisfaction
- Can handle spikes in traffic as it distributes it across multiple servers without slowing down
- Easy to scale your hosting resources up or down as needed
- If one server goes down, traffic is redirected to another, ensuring continuity of service
- You only pay for the resources you use
There are different types of cloud hosting options for you to choose from depending on your business requirements:
- Public Cloud Hosting
- Private Cloud Hosting
- Hybrid Cloud Hosting
- Managed Cloud Hosting
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What Is a Server Operating System?
Server OS (server operating system) is software that’s specifically designed to run on servers. The server OS is responsible for managing all the hardware and network interfaces and is the backbone that allows applications to interact with the hardware components.
The server operating software is responsible for:
- Managing and controlling all operations of a computer server
- Allocating resources like memory, processing power, and storage
- Providing user authentication and access control
- Offering various security features, like firewalls, encryption, and antivirus software
- Allowing remote access to approved users
- Managing the installation, configuration, and operation of applications installed on the server
- Tools that allow the monitoring of the server’s performance, as well as detecting and resolving issues
- Performing maintenance tasks, like software updates and backups
The server operating system is crucial to the server operating efficiently, securely, and reliably.
Why Is It Important to Choose the Right Operating System?
There are so many factors to consider when choosing a web hosting provider that the importance of the operating system used is often overlooked. In most cases, the web host service provider offers their services on pre-configured servers.
The web host will optimize their servers for all the different types of applications that may need to run on your website. But in most cases, you won’t be aware of the Server OS that’s powering the hosting environment, so you should ask upfront.
At its core, the server operating system plays a vital role in shaping the performance of your website, it’s mobile responsiveness, website speed, reliability, how secure it is, and how interactive it is for users.
Do You Need the Same Operating System as Your Computer?
No, you don’t have to use the same operating system as your computer. The operating system that your laptop runs on is different from the technologies that are used to develop your website.
When you have your website designed and developed, the developer will use a framework to create the building blocks of your website. These frameworks (also known as platforms) use programming languages like:
- Ruby Rails
You can ask the development team about what framework they’d be using and why they would recommend it. However, I would leave the choice of platform to the developer as most platforms have the common features and functions that websites use.
What Are the Most Popular Server OS for Web Hosting?
There are a number of server OS that can be used for web hosting, which offers a variety of benefits. But the most popular and widely-used server OS are Windows, Linux, and Unix.
Windows Web Hosting
Windows hosting runs on the Windows operating system, called Windows Server. It allows the hosted websites and apps to access Windows web development features and offers robust support for sites and apps built on Microsoft technologies, such as ASP.NET, MS Access and MS SQL.
Although Windows Server can be an expensive option due to Windows OS and Microsoft licensing fees, it’s an excellent choice for websites and applications that rely on Microsoft technologies. It does offer support for other programming languages—Python, Ruby on Rails, etc—although they’re more common on Linux.
Choosing Windows hosting offers a number of benefits, including:
- Designed to integrate with Microsoft technologies
- Supports multiple programming languages
- Most organizations are already familiar with Windows-based tools
- Can scale easily as a business grows
- User-friendly management tools
- Includes built-in security features
There are some disadvantages to Windows hosting, which may include:
- Higher licensing fees for Windows and Microsoft technologies
- May require more resources than other OSs, impacting performance
- Only provides limited support for open-source tools
- May be incompatible with non-Windows tools or systems
- Less flexibility than other server operating systems
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Linux Web Hosting
Linux operating system is the most widely used server OS. It’s an open-source operating system based closely on the original Unix principles and protocols. It’s built on the LAMP stack—Linux, Apache, MySQL, PHP—but it does offer support for other programming languages as well.
Linux is an excellent choice for many reasons. Here are some of the benefits:
- Completely free as it’s open-source
- Known for its stability and excellent uptime
- More secure than other OSs
- Rapid response to security threats
- Supports a wide range of programming languages
- Scales easily match the needs of the user
- Extremely customizable
- Resource-efficient and high-performance
- Active Linux community that provides resources and help
Disadvantages of Choosing Linux Hosting
While Linux is the most popular server OS, it does come with a few disadvantages. Here’s what you should know:
- Steeper learning curve than other OS for those not familiar with the command line interface (CLI)
- No standardization (multiple options available), which may lead to incompatibility issues
- No official support due to its open-source nature
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Unix Web Hosting
Unix is the oldest server OS around. The version we know today was created back in 1972, upgraded from the original PDP-7 language to the more modern C programming language. It has many similarities to Linux—which is based on Unix—including LAMP stack technology.
Many Unix-based systems, including MacOS and some BSD variations, use the same tech as Linux. This provides greater flexibility and compatibility between different systems, allowing developers to work cross-platform.
As well as being around for many decades, Unix has many benefits, including:
- Known to be reliable and stable with excellent uptime
- Highly secure and can be configured to meet specific security standards
- Supports a variety of programming languages and databases
- Optimized for maintaining high performance with large volumes of traffic
- Easily scalable to meet the evolving needs of the user
- Can run on a number of hardware platforms, making it very flexible
- It can run multiple processes simultaneously without slowing down
- Offers excellent networking tools
- Easy-to-use, highly organized hierarchical file system
- Powerful and efficient command-line interface
Like all operating systems, Unix does have some disadvantages, including:
- Unix requires time to learn and navigate
- May not support some specialized software
- Some versions of Unix (macOS, etc) may be more expensive
- No graphical user interface (GUI), which may be a downside for some
How to Choose the Right One for Your Website
There’s no specific answer here—it comes down to each website’s individual needs. The above information should give you a better idea of which OS would be best for your website, you need to consider your own needs and which one would meet them most effectively.
For websites that need to be coded with ASP.NET and MS-SQL as the database, it makes perfect sense to go with Windows hosting. But for those that can be coded with PHP or a CMS like WordPress or Wix, then Linux hosting is an excellent choice.
Extremely complex websites, those with a high level of traffic, or websites that require SSH access (secure shell) might benefit from using Unix.
Understanding the differences between web hosting operating systems might not be necessary for everyone. But knowing the pros and cons of each and understanding how they fit into your web hosting can help you make a smarter decision for the well-being of your website and the success of your business.
About the Author
Paul Wheeler runs a web design agency that helps small businesses optimize their websites for business success. He aims to educate business owners on all things website-related on his own website, Reviews for Website Hosting.