The term "host" is used in several contexts, in each of which it has a slightly different meaning:

1) In Internet protocol specifications, the term "host" means any computer that has full two-way access to other computers on the Internet. A host has a specific "local or host number" that, together with the network number, forms its unique IP address. If you use Point-to-Point Protocol to get access to your access provider, you have a unique IP address for the duration of any connection you make to the Internet and your computer is a host for that period. In this context, a "host" is a node in a network.

2) For companies or individuals with a Web site, a host is a computer with a Web server that serves the pages for one or more Web sites. A host can also be the company that provides that service, which is known as hosting.

3) In IBM and perhaps other mainframe computer environments, a host is a mainframe computer (which is now usually referred to as a "large server"). In this context, the mainframe has intelligent or "dumb" workstations attached to it that use it as a host provider of services. (This does not mean that the host only has "servers" and the workstations only have "clients." The server/client relationship is a programming model independent of this contextual usage of "host.")

4) In other contexts, the term generally means a device or program that provides services to some smaller or less capable device or program.

This was last updated in September 2005

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