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How to Explain Web Hosting Principles to Anyone

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Whether you're a pro website admin or just an enthusiastic amateur, you'll eventually be asked to describe web hosting to someone else. You may want to blog about hosting matters in simple terms.

Knowing the right way to explain hosting can be a real bonus.

Explaining technical concepts to non-technical people can be a challenge. It's best not to assume that your audience knows anything about computers, or how the internet works.

In this article, we'll describe hosting as though it were a type of telephone system: a concept familiar to everyone. First, let's split the concept of a server into two easy-to-manage topics.

What is Server Hardware?

A server might look quite different to a laptop computer, but to your audience, it won't matter. A server is a computer, in simple terms. It accepts messages and signals from other computers, and if it's running correctly, it should reply - and never switch off.

Easy explanation: The server is like a telephone. It receives messages and replies to them.

What is Server Software?

If the server hardware is the telephone, the software is the person that answers the call.

The server software responds to queries from a web browser and relays the requested information. Normally, this works smoothly. If the information isn't known, an error message is sent.

Easy explanation: The server software processes the telephone call and provides answers to the caller's questions.

What is Bandwidth?

Bandwidth is often explained using analogies that involve water and pipes; how much water can flow through a pipe, and so on.

The telephone analogy also works reasonably well here too.

Easy explanation: Just as a telephone and a person can only handle so many calls at once, a network and a server can only respond to a limited number of connections. When there are too many connections, some 'calls' are placed on hold.

The one key difference is that both parties pay for the 'call'.

What is DNS?

If the server is the telephone, DNS is the telephone directory.

The computer obtains the number for a website from a DNS server.

When the site changes its IP address, it takes a while for the DNS server to be updated - just as the phone book goes out of date over time.

Easy explanation: When you make a call, you have to convert the recipient's name to a telephone number. DNS works the same way. It converts the name of a site to its IP address.

What is a Database? And a CMS?

When a telephone call is made, responses can be provided by the recipient in two ways.

  • The first is to simply know the answer and respond immediately.
  • The second is to research each answer before it is relayed back to the caller.

While the first approach may be faster, it's inflexible. The person responding would need to know everything, remember everything and relay it quickly.

The second may be slower, but it allows the person answering the questions to keep data up-to-date and provide better answers.

Easy explanation: The database and the CMS hold the information the caller wants. Most sites mix answers from both sources to provide an efficient response.

Does the Analogy Work?

The telephone analogy may help your non-technical audience to understand how the web works.

If you want to take this further, you can easily apply the same analogy to other concepts. For example, the TCP/IP handshake, where two computers establish a connection before transmitting data, is much like how humans confirm who they are talking to on the phone before they start the conversation. TCP/IP itself is a lot like how humans have to use a common language (English, French, Spanish, etc.) in order to exchange information verbally.

Try using analogies in complex articles to help your readers grasp the theme of the post.

Claire Broadley

About Claire Broadley

Claire has been creating websites for over 20 years and has been using WordPress for over ten. She is an expert in web hosting, design, HTML, and more. She lives with her husband and son in the United Kingdom.


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