Hit a link or type an address, and there it is on your screen: the website or webshop you want to visit. It simply appears, as if by magic. But, of course, there's no magic involved. In the blink of an eye, your browser has found out where to go for all the text and pictures making up the site, has got hold of them and is now showing them to you.
Somewhere else on the internet is a computer that's on constant standby, waiting for requests from users like you. As soon as your laptop or phone asks for a page, that other computer sends back all the content, plus instructions on how to display it. The computer that does that is a 'web server'.
A web server is a powerful machine installed in a data centre with an extremely fast, high-capacity connection to the internet. After all, the server for a popular site may have to handle thousands of almost simultaneous requests, and instantly send back content to users all over the world. It also has to be reliable and have backup, because websites and webshops need to be available all the time.
Hosting is running web servers and renting out space on them. Any enterprise that wants an online presence – from a simple website to an interactive webshop – needs to team up with a hosting service provider. The hosting firm gives the website owner access to a server, where all the files making up the site can be installed, along with the software needed to manage the content and handle the traffic.
Hosting service providers come in all shapes and sizes, from huge multinationals, such as Google and Amazon, to small businesses providing tailored services. There are 'commodity hosters' who typically host lots of simple low-traffic sites on the same server. And there are 'managed hosting providers' offering more complex service packages that include things such as site maintenance and security. The various options are considered in more detail in the other sections of this wiki.