Understanding Web Hosting Features
Ok, so you are a complete newbie to web hosting and when you look at web hosting plans, you don't understand what they talk about in there. So if you don't understand those things, you can't compare plans or know if you will be able to do what you want to do with the plan you choose. That's right. Here is a list of terminology that most web hosting accounts use on their plans. Below each is a brief explanation of each.
Web Space/Disk Space/Space:
All of these mean the same thing. They basically mean how much space, like how many MBs or GBs (1024 MB = 1 GB) worth of files (web pages, images, flash files etc) you can upload on to your web hosting plan. Most basic web hosting plans offer at least 1 GB of disk space though nowadays many of them offer unlimited web space. Of course this does not mean you can use a trillion GBs, but it does mean that you can easily use a large amount of web space.
Bandwidth is the amount of data transfer that your website can use. For example, let us say a single web page that you have created is 200KB. If that web page is visited 5 times on your website, then that would use up 1 MB (200 KB x 5) of bandwidth. Actually it will use up more than that but this is just to give you an idea. If on an average every visitor to your web site ends up seeing pages that in total are 1 MB in size, and if you have a bandwidth limit of 5 GB per month on your web hosting plan, then every month your web hosting plan can support 5000 visitors. If more visitors turn up on your website, then you'll end up needing more bandwidth. So roughly you can say, bandwidth translates to the traffic your website can entertain.
Domains are the number of web addresses (for e.g. www.michaelsmith.com) that your web hosting account can support.
In the web address news.aol.com, 'news' is a subdomain of aol.com. This limit shows the number of subdomains you can add to your domains in your web hosting plan.
Suppose you register a domain www.michaelsmith.com and host its website with a web host, then you can create email addresses like firstname.lastname@example.org. This number specifies the number of email addresses you can create for yours domains on the web hosting plan.
FTP stands for "File Transfer Protocol". It is a protocol or a method used for transfer files from one computer to another (for the sake of simplicity). When you sign up with a web host, you will need a method to transfer files from your computer to your web host. An FTP account will allow you to do this. An FTP account will have a username and password. So if you host another domain (and let's call that domain2) on your web hosting plan, you can create a separate FTP account to let somebody else upload files to domain2 without them having to use your primary FTP account. This number on plans tells you the number of such accounts that are allowed.
Once you sign up for a web hosting account, you will be able to do a lot of things like manage your domains, your FTP accounts, create email ids for your domains, view the disk space and bandwidth that you are using and a lot more things. You will be doing all this using a control panel. There are different control panels available like cPanel, Plesk and WHM. cPanel is one of the best amongst the many out there.
A database is a software that allows you to store data in it. For example if you want to store the names, ages, nicknames, gender and addresses of everybody living on your street in a form that would be easily understandable, then you could store it in a database. You could ask the database questions (called "queries") like "What is the age of the guy called Michael?". Of course you'd have to do it programmatically but that was just an example. Such databases are used by a lot of applications or frameworks. For example Wordpress which is a popular blogging software uses databases behind the scenes. MySQL is one such database software. The number suggests the number of databases you can create on your web hosting plan.
Fantastico is a set of scripts (computer commands) that lets installing a whole let of software on the web server with just a few clicks. For example if you want to install a forum/messageboard on your domain, Fantastico makes it extremely easy to do that. It is recommended for beginners to sign up with web hosts that provide Fantastico for free.
Some web hosts allow you to register a free domain when you register for a web hosting plan. However, it is recommended that you do not get the domain that you want to keep for a long with through this feature. That is so because when you cancel your web hosting account or move to a different one, there is a chance that you might have to give up your domain name registered using the free domain feature of web hosts. Always only register a domain that is not so important to you.
Sitebuilder allows you to build your site online (from within your web hosting account) and add content, images, forms and a whole lot more to your site using professional looking templates. Some hosts offer this for free while some charge a monthly fee for it.
When someone sends an email to you using your domain email address, for example email@example.com, then you can set up an autoresponder to respond automatically back to the sender. Of course, this has to be a standard reply. For example if you set up a small business and someone contacts you for some kind of query, you can set up an autoresponder that says 'We thank you for contacting us. We will respond to your query very soon' or if you are out on vacation you can instead set it up to say 'We are currently away for thanksgiving. We will respond as soon as we are back'. This number on the web hosting plans specifies the number of such autoresponders you can set up.
Web Stats stands for web statistics. This tells you how many people visited your website and where were they from (like from US, Canada, UK etc).
Sometimes the hard disks that host your website at the webhosting server can fail. Of course this happens rarely but whenever it happens your entire website information is lost. In order to recover from such rare situations, the web hosts backup your website at regular intervals (or allow you to do it). This specifies how frequently they take a back up of your website. It is always recommended that you keep a local copy of your entire website (if that is possible) on your computer at home/office for increased safety.
Good web hosts allow you to try out their service for a particular period of time (and this period of time is specified in the plans) and within that time if you are not satisfied with their service, then you can ask for a money back.
Some web hosts provide you with advertising credits that can be used for advertising your small business or your personal site. Most commonly offered are Google Adwords. There is one thing to remember though. In order for this credit to be useful it is necessary that you are not already registered with Google Adwords. If you are already a user of the adsense program of Google, then you cannot avail this offer from web hosts.
The above are some of the most basic features to understand for a beginner. Of course you'll see a lot more features on web hosting plans like 'SSH access', 'cron jobs' and more. Most of them are only for advanced uses and won't be necessary for beginner websites. But in order to make sure that you can really host a website that you have in mind using a particular web hosting plan, you should contact the support (live chat, phone) and ask them your website can be hosted without problems using the said plan. This is just to make sure you don't want to use a particular feature which is not available on your web hosting plan. But most web hosts offer just about everything that a beginner (or majority of websites on the internet) could possibly need.