Yes, you sure can. Regardless of its operating system, be it Windows, Mac OS, or Linux, you will be able to use your personal computer, be it a laptop or desktop, to host a website.
You can host your website on your computer in two ways:
Privately accessible only within your LAN (Local Area Network)
Publicly accessible externally on the Internet
Setting it up privately on your within your local network requires minimal effort, usually involving installation of some sort of software stack, containing both the web server and database, therefore making it easier to maintain and configure. The computer you install this on is typically on your personal laptop or desktop computer.
Setting it up for public access on the Internet like any other public website involves significant effort along with a plethora of options and considerations. You would require a dedicated web server, which is a computer in itself, whose sole purpose is to host your website, as well as a database to store website data, which may be on a different computer in itself. On top of all this, there is security, software and hardware maintenance and configuration that needs to be considered.
Why Might Someone Decide To Host Their Website Locally?
Hosting a website locally usually entails having the it installed directly onto your personal laptop or desktop computer, rather than through a web hosting company like Bluehost, GoDaddy, Fastcomet, etc.
The likely reason would be to facilitate working offline to design the look and feel and/or build up site content in the case for blogs, before publishing to the public. It also allows you to work faster and practice creating your website without the worry of breaking functionality and the need for an Internet connection.
Similarly, building web applications, which are typically more complex to build than websites, requires testing before they go live to the masses. Installing locally in a private setting would provide an ideal environment for sandboxing and beta testing to help deliver a more stable product.
Both cases are of course temporary before launching to the public. This would involve migrating the website or web application onto a live server hosted by other companies such as Bluehost or even AWS. In other cases, businesses with large funding and/or cash flow, would spin up their own live web server to provide hosting, where going live would be a matter of flicking a switch.
Should I Host My Own Website?
The maintenance and configuration of hosting your own website can be quite expensive and time consuming. If you have the budget, technical skills or even staff to take care of managing the hosting and upkeep of your web server, then it would be worthwhile to go this route since you would maintain complete control of every aspect.
Hosting your own website isn’t necessarily the only solution though, nor is having complete control. In fact, the less time spent on ensuring 100% web server uptime, the more time that can be focussed on content creation.
The majority of website owners would fall into this category. If your intention is to create a blog, portfolio website, business website or a website of similar scale, chances are you are most likely better off not hosting your own website, but you should instead, opt for third party hosting companies like Bluehost or Fastcomet. This allows you to focus on what you do best, which is to create content for your website.
If your intention is to build a SaaS or mobile application, your likely hosting solution would be quite different from normal websites. Technologies such as Kubernetes, Heroku, Azure, Google Cloud or AWS would be your best bet.
How To Host a Website Locally
There are various ways to run a website locally:
1. Install a local webserver stack on your computer
Local webserver stacks such as WAMP for Windows OS, LAMP for Linux OS, or MAMP for MacOS , are popular solutions. So it really just depends on the operating system of your computer.
In any of these cases, installation would involve spinning up an Apache webserver to serve your web pages, a MySQL database to store and manage website data, the phpMyAdmin application to allow you administer your MySQL database, and a PHP interpreter, all of which would be installed on your computer. This setup is typically used temporarily for testing purposes.
If you are after a Windows specific solution, look no further than WAMP, which will install the webserver, database and PHP interpreter in one full swoop for you. All you need to configure is the location of your website files, and the database details, such as database name and password. Similarly, for Mac OS computers/laptops, use MAMP to do the same and LAMP for Linux machines.
Another way to install a webstack regardless of your computer’s operating system is to use XAMPP or Bitnami. Either option will facilitate the creation and deployment of the WAMP, LAMP or MAMP stack with little effort, by allowing you to choose the applications that will make up the stack itself.
2. Use Local By Flywheel (if you’re creating a WordPress website)
Local By Flywheel allows you to install a WordPress website locally with ease. It is a free application that you install on your computer to setup, configure and manage your website, regardless of whether you have a Windows, Mac or Linux computer.
As soon as you download the application, you can choose the platform on which it will be installed and let it worry about the applications you require to spin up your website. Of course, if you are so inclined and more advanced, you may choose to customize the database and PHP versions as well as the type of webserver. But for most users, this isn’t necessary and the preferred options are recommended.
Once you have to developed your website locally, chosen your theme, added content and optimized performance, Local By Flywheel makes it a breeze to publish and push it live to the Internet on your public website.
How To Host a Website On Your Local Network
If you want to host a website on your local network, you can do so directly on your personal laptop/computer or on a dedicated server, both of which would need to be on your LAN (Local Area Network. It really depends on whether you are just testing out your website privately or actually have the infrastructure to host the website publicly.
Regardless of whether your website is hosted on your laptop/computer or on a separate webserver, for it be accessible on your local network, it is necessary for the hosting machine to have an appropriate local IP address.
If the subnet of your local network requires machines to have IP addresses within the range 192.168.1.x, where x can be from 1 to 255, then the computer hosting your website would need to have an IP address that would fall into this subnet. Something like 192.168.1.20 say, would suffice, as long as no other computer on the local network has the same IP address.
How To Access a Localhost Website From Another Computer
If you have set up your website locally on your own laptop/computer and want to be able to access it on another computer within your LAN (Local Area Network), you need to know the local IP address of your computer.
Relative to your own computer, the address of your local website is localhost:80 or 127.0.0.1:80, where 80 is the port of the webserver. However, from the point of view of another computer on the same network, the address of the website would depend on the IP address of your computer, which is only possible if it has a network interface connected to the LAN.
To find out the IP address of your computer on your LAN, you can open a command prompt on Windows or a terminal on either Mac OS or Linux and display your IP configuration.
On a Windows computer, type ifconfig /all:
On a Mac OS or Linux computer, type ipconfig:
Usually your IP address is listed under the eth0 or en0 network interface, so here it is 192.168.0.134. The router IP address can be derived from the netmask, which in the example is 192.168.0.255, then then router IP is typically the first in the range, so something like 192.168.0.1.
If the IP address is 192.168.1.134, simply type this in the address bar of web browser on another computer and your website will load.
How To Access a Local Website From The Internet
You would need to make the address of the website publicly accessible, assuming you have set up your website locally on your laptop/computer or on a local dedicated webserver on your LAN (Local Area Network).
Navigate to the web interface of your local router, which typically has an IP address of 192.168.1.1 (refer to your router manual or determine it yourself)
Log in to your router.
Add a port forward entry to your webserver, depending on your router. Note that some ISPs do not allow port forwarding from source port 80 (ISP controlled) to destination port 80 (of your local webserver). Perhaps choose an appropriate source port.
If your public IP address is 123.456.789.1 and the source port is 9090, then an external computer should now be able to access your local website by navigating to 123.456.789.1:9090 on their browser.
Typically, applications like Apache that run on the webserver (either on your computer or a separate one) have doors through which web pages are served to other applications, like web browsers. This door is referred to as a port, which by default 80 for a webserver.
Your local website though is hiding behind a router which is the gateway from your local network to the Internet and vice versa, via your ISP (Internet Service Provider). In order for any computer on the Internet to access your local website, it needs to be forwarded to port 80 on the local hosting webserver:
As a word of caution, port forwarding is an advanced configuration. Please do so at your own risk as opening ports can lead to unwanted access from cyber criminals.
How Can I Test My Local Website On Mobile?
You first need to determine the local IP address of the computer that is hosting your website on your LAN (Local Area Network), assuming it is connected to your local network via one of its network interfaces.
If you determine that the IP address is something like 123.456.789.1, assuming your mobile is connected to your local network (via WiFi), then you can point your mobile’s web browser to this address, almost like typing in a domain name in the address bar.
If you have explicitly changed the port on which your hosting computer serves web content, say on 9090, then the address of your website instead would be 123.456.789.1:9090.
It is possible to host your website directly on your laptop/desktop computer or on a separate dedicated computer whose sole purpose is to store website content.
If your intention is to primarily test a website, practice making websites or even to provide a sandboxed environment for your web application, hosting it locally on your personal laptop or desktop before making it public, is relatively easy to set up using a webstack like XAMPP (or Bitnami) or a sandboxing environment like Local By Flywheel.
Exposing your website either to a local computer on your network or even temporarily to the Internet for testing purposes is matter of knowing the IP address of the computer hosting your website in either scenario. Once this is determined, you can simply point your laptop/desktop or mobile web browser to this address to load your website.
Spinning up your own dedicated server (i.e. as opposed to hosting with companies like Bluehost and Fastcomet), however, with the intention of hosting a website for public consumption on the Internet is more involved and complex, and requires someone with the skills and/or budget to manage its configuration and upkeep.