What are web servers? Why are they necessary?

Intro to Web Hosting series

What are web servers? Why are they necessary?

Web servers are computers that have been set up by a hosting company, usually in a ausweb called a datacenter, like the one shown here. A web server’s sole purpose is to store websites until someone wants to visit them, and then to quickly respond to the visitor’s browser with the site’s contents.

A server should be able to respond to at least several dozen requests at a time, if not hundreds. How many websites a server can comfortably host depends on a wide variety of factors, including server hardware and how popular the sites are.

Even the most expensive server hardware isn’t going to be very useful without the software to actually get things done. The key software programs of a web server are also themselves called servers, or daemons.

Most servers used for web hosting have at least these kinds of software servers running at all times:
• an HTTP or web server (to provide the websites)
• an FTP server (for uploading files)• an email server or two
• a database server (for storing information essential to the operation of a website)

You might be wondering… Are web servers even necessary? Why can’t I just run my websites from a computer at home? There are several very good reasons.

Most ISPs (Internet Service Providers) specifically disallow people from running any type of web-related server on their networks. Doing so can potentially get your Internet account suspended or terminated.

But even if that weren’t the case, you have to take into account the upload speed of your connection. While broadband connections are getting faster and faster, upload speeds are usually about 10-20 times slower than download speeds as shown here

When running a server on your computer, your upload speed would directly determine the total download speed shared across everyone accessing your sites. Most likely you’ll only be able to offer up a megabit or two, and even if you’re just hosting a website with pictures on it, that will quickly be used up by only a few people.

A professional server with a hosting provider, on the other hand, could have a connection as fast as 10,000 megabits. You’d have to pay a fortune to get even a 100 Mbit connection to your house, whereas a hosting provider can offer you space on a server with an ultra-high speed connection for a fraction of the cost.

Moreover, most consumer broadband ISPs aren’t reliable enough for hosting websites. You’ll probably want people to be able to visit your sites at all hours of the day, and that won’t be possible if your Internet connection is acting up or your ISP is performing maintenance.

You also have to factor in the costs of running a computer for extended periods, including the cost of any parts that may fail and increased electricity costs.

This completes the tutorial. You should now have a good understanding of what a server is, and why you can’t just use your personal computer as one.

What is an SSL/TLS certificate?

Intro to Web Hosting series

What is an SSL/TLS certificate?

Whenever you or your visitors access a website through a secure, encrypted https://ausweb.com.au/, that connection is typically made using something known as SSL.

If you make a secure connection in your web browser, you’ll probably see the address bar light up or some sort of padlock appear. You should also see that the URL starts with https://. The “s” is what tells you the connection is secure.

Both SSL and its successor, TLS, function using certificates. Any business site that processes transactions will definitely need secure connections to work. If this is the case for you, then you need an SSL/TLS certificate.

Businesses will often purchase an SSL certificate from a reliable source, such as Verisign or Trustwave, so that customers are assured that their transactions are as secure as possible.

Your web host may be able to sell you an SSL certificate from a trusted provider such as one of the companies we just mentioned.

You may also be able to generate a free one from within your control panel, depending on which one your web host uses.

If a website is moved to a different domain name, you’ll need to update its SSL certificate(s). This will prevent your visitors from being scared away by warning messages.

SSL certificates always expire after a fixed amount of time. Your visitors will also receive a warning when this happens, so you should try to remember to renew your certificates before they expire.

What are PHP, Perl, Python, and Ruby on Rails?

Intro to Web Hosting series

What are PHP, Perl, Python, and Ruby on Rails?

Those are all web programming languages, also known as scripting languages. PHP is the most commonly used and available for web hosting, followed by Perl (which is what’s used most of the time when you see the phrase CGI or cgi-bin).

What language is used to code web software doesn’t really matter, as long as your web host supports the language. In addition to PHP and Perl, many hosts are starting to offer support for Python and Ruby on Rails.

From a security standpoint, poorly coded PHP can potentially be a nightmare for any server admin or website owner. There are many security flaws in PHP that a hacker can exploit, and those are only worsened when a PHP script is written badly.

There are several very important things you should always remember when experimenting with web software.

First of all, you should only use web software if you’ve read a lot about it and found out other people’s opinions of the software.

Any time you upload or install software to your hosting account, you’re giving the program free reign to do just about anything within your web space or possibly even the whole server. You should only install trusted software.

Second, you should always make sure that all your web software is kept as up to date as possible. The more time that passes after a software is released, the more time a hacker or some other malicious person has to examine the code and find a way to exploit it.

Third, no matter how much you trust the software and keep it up to date, it still may run inefficiently. If it frequently uses up too much of the server’s resources, your hosting provider may suspend your account, or at least ask you to remove the software.

And finally, just in case something bad happens, you should always remember to take complete backups of your account on a regular basis. For advice on backups, watch the tutorial later on in this series.

What is a MySQL database?

Intro to Web Hosting series

What is a MySQL database?

A MySQL database, like all other types of databases, is used to keep track of a ausweb or software’s data.

The technical term for MySQL is a relational database management system, or RDBMS. MySQL is a software program that runs at all times on a server and gives other programs access to the information it maintains.

This information is stored in databases. A database is made up of tables. Each table is structured into fields that can contain a specific type of information; some fields can contain only numbers, while others can only contain dates, etc.

When data is inserted into a table, each group of fields is called a row.

MySQL controls access to this information with usernames and passwords, just like when you log in to a computer. Each username gets permission to do certain things with certain databases.

You can create MySQL databases, users, and passwords inside your control panel.

If you plan to install web software on your hosting account, you’ll need at least one MySQL database. Most web software is designed to share a single database with more than one other software program.

You’ll also need to create a username and password for the software to use. Be sure to make the password as complex as possible, because it’s not a password you’re going to need to remember. Usually, a program will store its MySQL password in a configuration file; you’ll never need the password again after installation.

What is FTP? Why do I need it?

Intro to Web Hosting series

What is FTP? Why do I need it?

FTP – File Transfer Protocol – is one way for you to transfer files to and from your https://ausweb.com.au/web-applications/drupal-hosting/ account. Unlike HTTP, which is meant for accessing websites, FTP is designed to transfer files.

Because of this, using an FTP client to transfer files can be faster and more reliable than doing so inside your control panel. An FTP client is software designed to work with the FTP protocol.

One free FTP client we can recommend is called FileZilla (shown here). You can download it at filezilla-project.org. On the left, we can see our local files and folders, while the right side shows the content on the server we are connected to.