To find out what hosting is, we first need to look at the word host. A host is someone who receives guests at their place. In the realm of computers, it is a computer that is connected to a network and receives ‘guests’ in the form of incoming connections.
Hosting is when a computer is serving as a host. Normally it is used in the context of a hosting provider: a provider that provides online compouters then can host your specific software. This space can be used to host a website, webshop or files for example.
We wouldn’t be on Selfhosted Heaven if we didn’t start with this one. When you are selfhosting, you are providing your own hard- and/or software to host. Note that it is not always possible to have your own hardware for a variety of reasons, so some people choose to give up some control over the hardware. In that case you are still selfhosting your applications; you just happen to rent a server instead of having it in your own space. In that case you are combining selfhosting with one of the other forms, that we will discuss shortly.
With shared hosting, you are renting a piece of a physical, dedicated server with other users. The big advantage of this kind of hosting, is that it’s very cheap. This is usually used for simple websites with little traffic. The disadvantage may be that on peak hours, the server underneat it may have a lot of traffic on it, which can make your own website slower as well.
Renting a shared host is normally not really meant for selfhosters of big applications. You would probably need something where you have more control over the software it is running. Like:
A Virtual Private Server or VPS for short is, as the name suggest, a virtual server that can run on one or more dedicated server. A virtual server has it’s own operating system which you fully control. You can install whatever you want, use it however you want. This also means to you need to manage, update and secure this server like it’s a real server. It’s normally cheaper then your own dedicated server, since you are renting just a part of a dedicated server.
This kind of server is very popular for selfhosters who just get started: you can rent a cheap server for $5,- a month and get the hang of it before you bite the bullet and buy a real server. Or maybe this is just enough and you don’t need more?
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With shared hosting and a VPS, you always share a server with other. Dedicated hosting is different in that you have your own server: just for you! You can use the complete power of the server for your websites or applications. It is most of the time more expensive than a VPS or Shared hosting, but you fully control almost every aspect, from the operating system to the software that runs on it, similar to a VPS.
A dedicated server is rarely rented by selfhosters; you could however buy a server yourself and run it from your home, or go to a data center and hang it in a rack there, which could be a cost saving compared to renting the complete server. Running it from your home could score you some fake internet points on the Homelab subreddit though…