As you begin the planning of your new online business, you'll no doubt come across a lot of new technical terms that you're not familiar with. In many cases, some of these terms may seem to be the same thing, when they are in fact completely different.
When starting a new website, one of the most common terms that cause confusion is understanding the difference between a web host and an internet service provider (ISP). Though completely different things, these are both critical services you'll need when it comes to starting getting a website online and having people be able to access it.
The primary difference between and web host and an ISP is that a web host is the place where you will upload website files (such as web pages, images, videos, etc.) and an ISP is the service provider you'll use (or your visitors will use) to connect to the internet.
Let's take a look at each of these in more detail.
What is a Web Host?
Your web host is where your website is going to live. Although it seems like so much more, your website really is just a bunch of files. When your site goes ‘live’ these files are copied to a server at your web host’s offices and becomes accessible to anyone who has access to the internet.
Think of your web host as the place where you actually upload your website pages, pictures, videos, and everything else you would include on your website. You create the pages, pictures, video files, etc. on your local computer then upload them to your web host; and your web host makes it available to the world.
Your web host can be located anywhere in the world and many web hosts have multiple locations across the world.
In order to have your website hosted on the internet, you'll need to purchase a web hosting plan through one of many hosting companies (such as GoDaddy, Bluehost, SiteGround, etc.).
There are many different types of web hosting plans available. With most web hosting companies you start with a lower level hosting plan that is inexpensive then as your website grows you can upgrade to a higher priced plan that offers more space and bandwidth.
While most web hosts are competitive and offer similar prices and features you'll want to be sure you go with a web host that offers 24/7 customer support.
What is an Internet Service Provider (ISP)?
In order to view your website, use email, and other online services you’re going to a way to get access to the internet.
This is where your internet service provider comes in. You will connect to the internet via a cable modem or a wireless router. Either way, this connection is provided by an ISP.
Unlike your web host which can be located anywhere in the world, your ISP must be a company that provides service in your geographic region. Most often you'll use an ISP at home and connect to the internet using either a cable connection or wireless modem (WIFI) to connect to the internet.
When you're away from home and traveling for leisure or business there are usually ways you can get access to the internet as well. Many locations such as coffee shops, shopping malls, airports, hotels, etc. offer free internet access via WIFI. While this can be convenient you should be aware that when using a public network, hackers may be able to gain access to your device and view sensitive information.
When using a public WIFI spot your connection may not be secure allowing hackers to get access to sensitive information on your devices.
Due to the potential risks of using a public WIFI connection many people who travel a lot will use their cell phone as an access point to connect to the internet, which is secure. Most cell phone providers offer this availability at an additional cost to your regular plan.
The Bottom Line on Web Hosts and Internet Service Providers
As you can see web hosts and internet service providers are two completely different things.
Your web host is what you'll use to upload your website to the internet and make it available to anyone with an internet connection. There are many options to choose from when it comes to a web host and your web host can be located anywhere in the world.
And internet service provider is what you'll use to connect to the internet. Your internet service provider will be a company that serves your local area and the choices are usually limited.
Your choice of an ISP isn’t that important (as long as you have enough speed) because the connection simply opens the doors to the internet. Your web host choice is much more crucial.
Your web host is where you will upload your website pages, images, videos, etc. so people all around the world can get access to your website.
An ISP is what you (and your visitors) will use to get access to the internet.
You will use one web host to handle the hosting of your website while you may use many different internet service providers to access the internet.
Note: This article was updated by Online Business/Hosting Expert Brian T. Edmondson