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Beginning With WordPress: Getting Started With Self-Hosted WordPress

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This post is part of a series called Beginning With WordPress.
Deciding Between WordPress.com and WordPress.org
Beginning With WordPress: Installing WordPress Manually

Here we are, the conversation continues: In the last post, we talked about deciding between WordPress.com and WordPress.org. Considering that you're reading this article, you must be someone who is interested in having full control of your website.

To that end, welcome to the wonderful world of self-hosting an installation of WordPress.

Now what?


All About Hosting

Well, you need some things:

  • You need to buy that domain name you've been mulling over
  • You need to buy that hosting space in which your website is going to live

So, how does that happen?

There are any number of places you can get hold of those things. I'm not going to give you a list - I suggest you talk to other people around you about who they use, and I also suggest that you google 'domain name registrar reviews' and see what other people are saying about where to get your domain name and the pros and cons of the registrar you're looking at using.

I'd also do the same for 'WordPress web hosting reviews' and then choose a host that fits your budget and has a good reputation in the marketplace. You don't have to buy your domain name and web hosting in the same place, actually I always buy them separately. Typically, I register all my domains in one place, as the best hosting varies as to the best fit for the needs of the client.

When your host offers 'web hosting' what you're buying is space on a shared server. You, and a number of other people, will be sharing the space, the processing power and the bandwidth available to that server. It should be noted that the cheaper the hosting the more likely it is that there are a greater number of people sharing that space, and that can introduce problems, because the more people sharing the space the less available the shared resources are.

Furthermore, when you're buying hosting for a WordPress site you'll also need to check with your host that the service you're buying will accommodate WordPress. You can find out what the requirements for WordPress are here.

The essentials are:

  • MySQL for the database
  • PHP to support the WordPress application code
  • Good server software such as Apache or Nginx

Again, that's a story for another day, and if you check with your host that they're set up for WordPress you'll be off to a good start (and if they don't offer WordPress support, find a host who does). You can also see who WordPress themselves recommend for hosting if you wish, but again, do your research.

There's no one host who is perfect for everyone - you need to find the one that suits you and your purposes. For example, if you want to set up an online store with WordPress you might need a bit more than vanilla hosting. The more complex your site plans, the more research you need to do - in other words, research is key.

When you've settled on your domain registrar and/or web host, then go through their process of buying your domain and/or hosting.  You will have to purchase your domain name first, because when you buy hosting it will be relative to your domain name (if you're buying them both at the same time from the same place this will be pretty straightforward). Once you've followed that through, your registrar and/or host will email you with the 'keys to your kingdom' by way of logins to their respective control panels.

Remember: Keep that information in a safe place!


What Do You Do With This Information?

The webspace is a space on a computer that has an open door to the Internet.

At its most basic, it's not so unlike your desktop machine:

  • A computer with an operating system
  • Software that will do what you need

Of course, it's different than your home computer because you're letting the world have access to some of it - that's awesome, that's what it's made for, and into that space you put a bunch of files that will make you a website.

In our case we're talking about putting WordPress there. But there are loads of other applications you can put into that space to build your website or your chosen web application.

Like any space you buy anywhere you need to have an address so everyone can find it and you may be surprised that the address for your webspace isn't actually 'yourdomain.com.' The actual address of your website will be a series of numbers - something that looks like this 192.168.0.0 (this is an IP address which is short for "internet protocol" address).

Now, let's be realistic: there is no way you could tell your clients or friends that your web address is a series of numbers and that's where your domain name comes in: Your domain name is an alias for that IP address. It makes finding your space on the web easier. (The computer you're reading this on has an IP address too: check it out - google 'what is my ip' - google will tell you!).

DNS and Zone Files

The matching up of your IP address to your domain name is controlled by a file called a zone file. This zone file tells the web where the site lives so that when a browser goes to 'yourdomain.com' they end up in the right place. This file also tells the Internet where to send your mail so if you're using Google Apps or some remote mail service to run your email, your zone file will point web traffic to your hosting and email traffic to Google (or whomever your mail host is). It's a pretty important file - if you want a primer on zone files and DNS records, then chime in down below in the comments and I'll put one together.

Your zone file can be hosted in one of a number of places. Your domain registrar may offer you DNS hosting (where DNS is short for "Domain Name System") is what we call zone file hosting, or your web host will also likely include this as part of your hosting.

The way you tell your domain name where to find that zone file is through a Name Server record. Your domain registrar will have default name servers applied to your domain name when you buy it and if you're buying your domain name and hosting in the same place you should now be good to go to onto the next step of installing WordPress. If this is you, then skip the next paragraph; if you have your domain already and/or you've got hosting separate from your domain then read on.

If you bought your Domain Name separate from your hosting, you need to decide if your domain registrar is going to host your zone file or if your web host is. If your domain registrar charges you for DNS hosting then I think you should let your web host take care of it. In this case, you'll need to update the Name Servers. The email your new host sent you when you signed up with all your important information should tell you the name servers you need use and your domain registrar should instruct you on how to change their default name servers to those of your host. Basically, log into your domain name control panel and add the name servers given to you by your web host.


Congratulations!

When you've done that you'll have a bit of a wait until your changes have propagated throughout the Internet. But once those changes have propagated, you should be able to open your browser and type in your domain name, and you should find yourself looking at whatever holding page your web host provides.

Congratulations - you now have the tools to start self hosting a WordPress website!

In the next article, we'll take a look at exactly how to install WordPress.

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