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What Is a Server?

What You Learn in This HTML Lesson

This is Part II of a three-part series on How the Internet Works. In this section you’ll learn the answer to the questions: What is a server? What is a web host? And what’s the difference between a server and a web host?

In Part I of this series, you learned that if you want to share your funky song list with Jive Jerome, you can make it available on your computer, so long as you’re part of a network, like an intranet or the Internet.

What Is A Server?

grumpy cat with caption Internet Down - Can't See All the Things

Grumpy cat demands you keep your server running day and night

But what if you turn your computer off? How can you do a solid for Jive Jerome, and all the other people who’ve heard repute of your boss list of songs? They can’t. Try as you might, you can’t figure out a way to share a document from a computer that isn’t even on.

That means if you want to share your song list you have to leave your computer on 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and it has to be online all that time too. What a pain. It overheats and you can hear the fan whizzing while you’re trying to sleep and eventually when you have to restart to install updates you get a bunch of emails from people complaining that the site is down and “what gives, man? Where’s the tunes?”

 So you buy a new computer that exists only to serve up these web pages. This computer is called a server. It’s really just a computer, like your computer, only it never turns off, not ever, so that anyone can access those HTML files you are sharing, any time day or night.

These days very few people have a server in their house. Even people who run their own servers do so from a remote location. For one thing, people are so hard core about making sure those servers don’t go down that they have multiple computers, so even if one shuts down for some reason they have a back up. That’s how dedicated people are to making sure you can have that list of songs, or that photo of Ceiling Cat.

Server stays on always so you can watch ceiling cat watch you

Somewhere in Malyasia there’s a computer running right now just so you can behold Ceiling Cat in all her glory. [Image Source]

What Is a Web Host?

A server farm

Stacks of hundreds of computers in a server farm: here’s one farm you won’t see on Cute Overload. [image via Wikipedia]

Instead of having their own web server, most people pay a monthly fee to a server farm to let some company host their web files. Much like a hog farm is a pen with a bunch of pigs in it, a server farm is a secure space with a bunch of computers for serving web pages.

evil clowns kill servers

Common cause of server outage [image drawn by Surreal32]

This is more efficient anyhow, because it would take a lot of electricity to run your server all the time, whereas if a bunch of people got together they could fit a ton of websites on one computer. And these server farms promise to take all sorts of precautions to make sure that your web site never goes down, even if their power goes out or the site is attacked by vicious alien clowns (you just never know). So while anyone can have a server, a web host is a company that sells you server space. Your website will live on some remote computer, or even multiple computers, possibly even in different countries. That computer will probably have a bunch of different websites on it, unless you pay more for a dedicated server: a server that is just for your websites, and no one else’s.

Fine and dandy, now you know how the Internet works, but you still don’t know how to upload a file to your own website. Next we get to the brass tacks.

Brain Snack: Now You Try It!

Learn HTML with this activity: For those who already have a web host

If you already have a web host, track down the login credentials email you were sent. Often people sign up with their web host and lose track of this very important information. Save it somewhere you can easily find it again, not just in your email.

If you’re feeling ambitious, see if you can find and follow their instructions for using the password they gave you to access FTP. Using FTP can be a bit of a pain the first time, but when you’re coding you’ll be doing it all the time. Take one small step towards  accessing your site via FTP, even if that’s just reading the FTP help page from your particular web host.

Learn HTML with this activity: For those who don’t yet have a web host

Check out the web hosts we recommend. Compare their pricing plans. Look at their help pages to see which you find to be the most helpful and easy to navigate. If you feel ready, go ahead and sign up for a web host. If not, take some notes on the factors you want to consider before you make your decision, and how these web hosts compare in those regards.

Karma Bennett is learning html with songThis is a guest post by Karma Bennett

Karma Bennett is the Learn HTML With Song girl Friday, helping with social media, web marketing and editing. She loves dancing, taking photos of Bay Area graffiti, writing about culture and books, singing along to muzak at the grocery store, and helping people find their new favorite bands.

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Hi! I'm Diane. I'm an experienced web design teacher in San Francisco. I produce music videos to help new coders learn HTML. I'm dedicated to helping you learn to code, with tons of songs, videos, tutorials and activities. All our tutorials are free and we're adding new lessons every day. Subscribe to get the latest post in your inbox.

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