Greywolf_WI, feel free to ask as many questions as you want. The LQ community is here to help.
I'll try to answer your questions as best as I can. As you may know, there are three basic hosting plans available:
1. Virtual server
- this is by far the most common, and will be the least expensive. Basically you'd register your domain (or transfer an existing domain) to the hosting company, and they would host your website on one of their servers. Most webhosts also offer website-building tools to help people create their site. Note that since most websites are relatively small, your website would be on a server that is also hosting many others. The specific IP address would be assigned by the hosting company, and would be permanent for as long as you hosted your site with them. You would manage the actual content of your site, but the hardware and server software would be managed by the hosting company. The hosting company should offer technical support, and would be available to assist you with getting your site up and running (as well as responding to any connectivity or availability issues) That doesn't necessarily mean that they will help debug your HTML code, but if you have questions about, say, how to set up a configuration file to work with Apache v2.0 rather than v1.3 they should be able to assist.
2. Dedicated server
- in terms of control, dedicated servers are one step up from virtual servers. You essentially would be renting a specific machine from the hosting company; the only thing running on that machine would be your website. Obviously this will be more expensive than a virtual server. From a technical perspective, the hosting company would be responsible for the hardware, but you would be responsible for all the software. To illustrate, suppose that under the virtual hosting plan the hosting company only permitted you to have a single PHP database but you wanted to set up multiple databases - under a dedicated server, you could do so. To a certain extent, it's 'your' server, and you can install whatever you want on it, possibly including which distro and version of Apache, MySQL, PHP, etc, are installed, depending on what the hosting company offers (and all within the TOS of course, you would not be allowed to set up anything malicious) The IP address would be assigned by the host, and would be permanent for as long as you hosted your site with them. If there was a hardware failure (eg, hard drive crash) the company would be responsible for fixing it, but if you installed a new version of some package and it broke your functionality, you're on your own.
- practically speaking this is maximum level of control you can get. Basically you would build your own machine, install whatever software you wanted, and then physically bring it to the hosting company. To a certain extent you are more or less renting floor space from them, and you are 100% on your own. If there are any sorts of hardware or software issues, they will not be able to help you (because it's truly your machine and they will have no idea what's on it. This will probably be the most expensive option but gives you the greatest degree of control. The IP address will be assigned by the host and will be permanent for as long as you host your site with them. Realistically, if you are looking at colocation, you need to be geographically close to the hosting company,
Virtual -- hardware is managed by the webhost, software is managed by the webhost, website content is managed by you
Dedicated -- hardware is managed by the webhost, software is managed by you, website content is managed by you
Colocation -- hardware is managed by you, software is managed by you, website content is managed by you
Obviously, the specific options available will depend on the hostimg company. (Definitely shop around before signing up, as there are all kinds of options out there.) Unfortunately it would be difficult to completely remove a hosting company from the equation, because you will need Internet connectivity. Lastly, No, there is no "practice" IP address that you could use for testing purposes.
is an LQ advertiser, and they have some good information on their website. Good luck with it