This is a general guide for starting an online forum. This is intended for people who have never setup a website before and who need foundational knowledge about how to proceed. You will need the following things: Web Server Web Host Domain Name Web Server There are different kinds of web servers depending on your needs. I am going to break them down generally so you can quickly know what you need. When I say "concurrent users" I mean the number of users that are logged into your forum at once. I am talking about the list of online users (see picture below). This list shows all users from the last hour. Shared Server Concurrent users: 1-50 Price: $0 - $50 per month Shared servers are good for smaller personal sites. A shared server is a computer that has multiple hosting accounts on it. There is no strict partitioning of resources. As such the performance can be unreliable. For example, if one hosting account gets hit with a lot of traffic then it can slow down other sites on the same server. But shared servers are very cheap. My experience with shared servers is that they tend to become more reliable over time. I think this is because the server population matures over time as the host allocates the remaining accounts on the server and deals with resource hogs. Semi-dedicated Server Concurrent users: 50-100 Price: $50 - $100 per month Semi-dedicated servers are like shared servers but they have fewer hosting accounts on the server. That means each account gets more resources and you can push more traffic to your site. Dedicated Server Concurrent users: 100+ Price: $100+ per month You get the server to yourself. You get consistent and reliable performance. Dedicated servers can get very expensive. For very large sites you will need to figure out what server specs you need in terms of CPU, RAM, etc. VPS Server Concurrent users: 50-100 Price: $50 - $100 per month VPS stands for virtual private server. It is similar to a semi-dedicated server except there is strict partitioning of resources through virtualization. That also means you get full root access to the server so you can manage your own server configuration. Performance on VPS servers tends to be slower but more reliable than semi-dedicated. VPS servers can be good for development environments requiring root access to the server. But for a production environment a full dedicated server is usually a better deal. Cloud Server Concurrent users: scalable Price: varies A cloud server is a virtualized hosting environment where you can purchase more capacity on demand. Cloud servers can be good if you aren't sure what kind of server capacity you need, and you want to be able to quickly and easily purchase more capacity in anticipation of increasing site traffic. No matter what kind of server you get you will have allocated storage. People often ask how much storage they need for their forum. How Much Storage Do I Need? The two main considerations are the number of posts and the size of the attachments. Post attachments can be a big factor if you allow lots of large attachments on your forum. Those attachments are stored on the server. I always use my forum as an example: My forum specs: # of posts - 135,000 # of users - 1,300 total size of database - 280MB size of attachments - 195MB size of posts - 65MB So my forum requires about 300MB of storage (looking at the database size). Most web servers come with some kind of hosting control panel which is where you manage your server. The two common control panels are CPanel and Plesk. Both are equally functional. I personally prefer CPanel. Web Host You rent a web server from a web host. You will need to shop around. Read reviews. Inquiring minds often ask me who I host with. My current host is: http://www.asmallorange.com/ Some of my previous hosts include: http://www.f5hosting.com/ http://www.futurequest.net/ http://www.hostpro.com/ http://www.hostrocket.com/ http://www.hostway.com/ http://www.theplanet.com/ http://www.site5.com/ Domain Name You register a domain name using a registrar. Here are some registrars that come to mind: http://www.networksolutions.com/ http://www.register.com/ http://www.godaddy.com/ Some web hosts are also registrars and will let you register a domain at the same time that you purchase a web server. That makes domain registration and setup much easier. But if you use separate companies for hosting and domain registration then this is the process: 1) Get a host. 2) Register a domain with a registrar. 3) Get DNS information from your host and give it to your registrar. That will point the domain to your hosting account.