When looking for a web hosting company you may see the terms shared hosting or virtual hosting. These terms, which are identical in meaning, mean that the server housing your web site also houses many other web sites, often a few hundred. Although these other web sites are housed on the same server, they do not interact with your site in any way – they have their own domain name, and use their own files. All that they are sharing is the actual hardware – the server and its connections to the Internet.

The reason that this is done is primarily economic. Servers are expensive to purchase, and need constant care and attention to keep them running at an optimum level, which costs even more money. For most small businesses or groups or individuals, the costs involved in buying and maintaining a server would mean they would never be able to establish a web site. However with shared hosting the web hosting company provides the hardware, the network connections needed to access the Internet and the support staff and resources needed to maintain the server. Since these costs can then be spread amongst many users then the price per user is far lower.

Shared hosting has many advantages for the user. As mentioned above, the biggest of these is the cost. A shared hosting plan suitable for a simple web site will probably cost only a few dollars a month. Since the hosting company is responsible for any technical issues that may arise, all that the user has to do is to keep the web site updated. There is no need to hire technical support staff, and no need for expensive network connections.

Another advantage is access to several different types of service that may come bundled with the web hosting plan. Most plans include the ability to set up email accounts if needed. Other features may include access to online shopping carts, the ability to create online catalogs, or different ways of accepting credit card payments through the web site.

Typically the set-up time for a shared hosting plan is very quick. Once you have established an account with a web hosting company, you should be able to start uploading your web site to the server within just a few minutes. Remember though that it will take anywhere from 48 – 72 hours for your site to become fully available as it takes this long for domain name changes to propagate across the Internet.

For the vast majority of small companies or groups, shared or virtual web hosting is the best means currently available to establish their own presence on the Internet. It is quick, affordable and cost-effective, and does not require any great technical expertise from the user.