Hosting your own web server has a lot of benefits—namely the flexibility to use any hardware you prefer and the freedom of having way more control over your bandwidth usage. Here’s what you need to get started hosting your own web server.
The Web Server
A web server can be a computer you built from scratch or a spare desktop you have around the house. While the server won’t perform like a high-end server, it will serve a few dozen clients without issue.
The server needs a web hosting application. Windows Professional and Ultimate versions come with Internet Information Services (IIS), and Apache can be installed on Linux machines. Technically, Apache has a version for Windows, but most Windows hosts use IIS for web hosting. (Although Apache can run on Windows machines, our product Web Suite only runs on an IIS platform.)
The IP Address
For pretty much any computer in the world to access your website, your website will need a public address. That address is called an IP address. This piece of the puzzle is where the cost is involved. You have two choices for Internet Protocol (IP) address management. If you have an Internet Service Provider (ISP) account with a dynamic IP address, this can’t be used for hosting servers. The reason is that server IPs must be static, which means they do not change. Web browsers must be able to do a DNS lookup for your IP address. DNS servers use what is called an “A” record, which is the IP address for your web server. Since a dynamic IP address changes, the A record won’t have the correct location after your IP addresses changes.
Most ISPs offer a static IP address at an additional cost. If you can’t fund a static IP account, several dynamic IP hosts offer a way to forward web traffic to your server. You install a third-party software on your server, which then communicates with the third-party host servers. These third party servers have a static IP address and they forward traffic to your registered web server.
Most organizations keep a policy wherein they have all their web servers in a private network behind a firewall/router network appliance. Because of this, all requests for your website's IP Address/URL will first go to your company's firewall/router network appliance. This appliance must be configured in such a way that these requests are forwarded to the private network IP address of your web server. This is normally done through a process called Port Forwarding.
“Port forwarding” sends traffic from the Internet to a computer within your network, which is your web server in this case. Web traffic runs on port 80, so you must configure the router to forward web traffic to your web server. Each router has its own interface, so consult the router manual to configure port forwarding or most likely your router model number will have the port forwarding instructions documented.
Now that you have your own web server, how secure is it? This is an issue that plagues most people new to the web hosting biz. You should assume that traffic delivered from the cable or DSL modem is not secure. The easiest way to segment insecure web traffic from your personal computer is using a secondary router. Connecting the secondary router to your primary router places a firewall between the two areas of your network, so web traffic remains in what is called the “demilitarized zone”. The DMZ protects the internal network while allowing traffic to flow from the Internet to the web server. Most routers have DMZ configuration these days and hence there is no need for a secondary router.
So there you go, the basic tools to host your own web server. For more tips on how to set it up, check out LifeHacker.