Way back when, in the early days of the web, it used to be that having your own server was pretty easy to do. One afternoon, and an old computer, and you had your own free web hosting that would last as long as your web server did.
Things have changed since then. Does it still make sense to try and run your own server just to save a little bit of money on web hosting? Probably not - but we'll walk you through it so that you can make your own choice.
How does web hosting work, anyway?
Everyone connects to the internet via their ISP, or internet service provider. In the US, this usually means Spectrum, or some other mega company that charges you an obscene amount of money (usually $50-100) to enjoy the basics of modern life.
Well, a web server operates in the same way. It, too, needs to pay fees to connect to the internet. But in contrast to your personal computer, when a web server connects to the internet, it provides a public access code (its IP address) where other people can connect to whatever it's displaying.
Now, we rarely visit IP addresses on the web because they're covered up by domain names. You know, like StickerCrypt.com. That's the final layer: a second company hosts your domain name, which contains instructions on how a computer is supposed to connect to your web server.
How are most websites hosted?
Nowadays, most web hosting providers are large web hosting companies that provide dedicated hosting to anyone who wants a website. Their website files are hosted at the hosting provider IP address, and an internet connection will grant you access.
In exchange for this service, you often pay a monthly or yearly fee. Usual web hosting fees range from $3-20 a month, and some come with a "free" domain name as well.
What are the benefits of having your own server?
Having your own server eliminates that monthly or yearly hosting fee. You will still pay for a domain name, however, so don't think it's totally free. But "free hosting" on your own computer or own server comes with a lot of drawbacks.
First, if the power goes out, your website is down. In contrast, most web server companies have multiple servers to ensure that the web server software is never truly down for maintenance or troubleshooting.
Second, your ISP may place restrictions on the type of traffic coming into your website. You are granted a static IP address when you get access to the internet, and if your IP address is abused by spammers or just an overwhelming amount of traffic, your ISP could restrict your future access to the internet.
Third, a "free" server still takes server resources. Beyond the RAM and the hard drive, I'm talking about electricity and bandwidth. Servers run hot, so you may also be paying for increased cooling costs during the warm months.
What are the benefits of just paying a hosting company?
Paying a hosting company is the solution for 98% of the people who visit this website. Hosting providers offer a lot of value for that $3-20 a month that you'll probably spend. You'll get dedicated hosting, large space for your website files, and a hosting company to deal with things like server management, downtime, download speed, persistent internet connection, and software maintenance.
Hosting providers are all about value added, and they take care of all the technical stuff, too. A self hosted site is going to deal with all of the issues that web hosting companies just take care of. Web requests, web traffic, port forwarding, and dedicated servers are all much easier when handed off to someone else. Then you can focus on your own needs as an artist or small business owner.
When would it be useful to have my own server?
Honestly, the only time I've ever found it useful to have my own home server is when I've been testing deep programming skills. In those times, I'll install Apache to my Windows operating system and just test with a self hosted website until I get it right.
In those instances, I don't need a free SSL certificate, and self hosting is just fine because I'm only concerned about myself, not about potential web visitors. And sometimes, you don't want to pay a fee just for an experimental project. In those instances, working on your local network is just fine. It's what you're meant to do.
To sum up, if you're building your own website, it's wise to choose a hosting provider that provides affordable web hosting and leave everything else alone. You don't need to host a website on your own computer.
If you're building an app or something deeper, then building your own website on a private, local server might be best. But otherwise, just leave that stuff to the pros.
Who do you recommend for affordable web hosting?
This article isn't about trying to convince you to choose a particular web hosting provider, but I'd be remiss if I didn't tell you about my two favorites.
For most small business owners who want to run a single website, NameCheap is going to be your best option. They're affordable, their CEO is NOT into trophy hunting (unlike GoDaddy), and they're fast. Way faster than other providers I've used. NameCheaps' webhosting is called EasyWP, and it's a managed service that lets you focus on what matters most: building a great website.
If you're looking at running a suite of sites, then Cloudways is the way to go. About half of my websites are on Cloudways, and the rest are on NameCheap. NameCheap also holds all of my domain names.
In conclusion, if you are trying to do software or website development, hosting your own website might be a good trial run. Otherwise, it's best to leave the webhosting to the pros, like NameCheap and Cloudways.
Got questions? Leave them in the comments below!