I am a beginning wordpress user and am unsure about wordpress hosting. Some hosting sites (for example, Godaddy) have hosting plans and then they have wordpress hosting plans. do I need the special wordpress hosting? Is it possible to host a wordpress site without having special wordpress hosting?
You can get the regular hosting if you are choosing Go daddy as your provider.
depending on the type of account you get, you can host multiple WordPress installations and also multiple domains out of single hosting account.
All you have to do is, Go to their applications and install WordPress. They have very good wizard and it is easy to create.
WordPress hosting from Go daddy is just another marketing trick to sell additional hosting. They claim that, it is optimized for large scale WordPress sites where you need ultimate bandwidth. If you are starter you can get the basic package.
You don't need special WP hosting. As listed above, if your host has up-to-date MySQL and PHP, you're good, and the question becomes the hosting environment being provided--as in, whether it's over-subscribed.
Shared hosting works just fine for most (seriously, well over 99%) sites, including those running WordPress, including those on servers with mixed use. So long as there's no rogue application or one of your co-tenants on the server isn't pulling CRAZY traffic, this issue doesn't matter.
Where it CAN matter is in maintenance. IF there's a special back-up/anti-bad-behavior plan, etc., in place at a specialized ("managed hosting") host, there's a theoretical value to you.
While you don't need any special hosting, there are definite advantages to it when it's done well. Chances are, cheap WordPress-specific hosting will do nothing but install (and, maybe, update) a copy of WordPress for you. At higher levels, they also provide things like tailored caching and protection against rogue plugins. We use WP Engine for most of our high-profile sites, and have been very pleased with them, but that might be overkill if you're just starting out.
Look for WordPress hosting plans that offer web server hardware with NGINX, Redis, & Varnish Cache pre-installed on the platform. These web server stack optimizations for WordPress performance will outperform the standard shared hosting plans as well as saving thousands of dollars in systems administration costs on VPS/Dedicated plans under a DIY approach. The WordPress optimized hosting plans at Bluehost, Hostgator, Siteground, etc. are better for small site publishers seeking page speed performance at a discount, while WPengine specializes in optimizing WordPress sites that scale to over 100 million page views.