You’re looking for a place to put your website. Maybe it’s just a single page describing what your business is. Maybe it’s a blog. Maybe you’ve got the next best solution to ecommerce that you’re ready to build out.
There are so many web hosts and hosting alternatives that it’s almost impossible to tell one from the other, much less understand if they’ll be what you need.
There are a number of different types of web hosting and I’ll look at a few of them along with some specific recommendations. Each will have their pros and cons, and each will be suitable for different types of solutions.
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Free web hosting
There are some solutions which are actually free.
However, because nothing is ever truly free, there are often catches.
Free web hosting will often involve two things:
- Ads will be displayed on or around your website. This is the “cost” of free.
- You may be limited as to how much you can upload or how much bandwidth people visiting your website can use.
- You probably won’t have the ability to use your own domain name.
- There will likely be limitations on the technology that you can use on the site.
- There will be little or no support.
- You may be pestered with invitations to “upgrade” to a paid plan for more features or capability.
I’m not a huge fan of free web hosting, but in some cases, the limitations might not be an issue for you and it might prove a reasonable solution.
Free blog hosting
I need to call out blog hosting separately as there are now several solutions that are very reputable and quite popular for hosting blogs.
WordPress.com (not to be confused with .org) will allow you to create and run a blog using WordPress blogging software. In fact, while I keep using the term ‘blog’ over and over, many sites which don’t look like blogs at all are implemented using WordPress and some even on WordPress.com.
Blogger.com is very similar in that you can create blogs and websites using the content management system provided by Blogger. Blogger is owned by Google, and in fact, if you have a Google account, you already have a Blogger account and can create a website right away.
There are in fact many free blog hosts (just Google that phrase some time), including familiar names like Tumblr, LiveJournal, Blog.com, and more. Many are targeted at specific types of sites and/or specific audiences, but they’re worth checking out.
While some feel that living within the constraints of WordPress or Blogger or any of the other provider’s technologies is too limiting, the fact is that these are very powerful platforms on which you may find you can do a lot.
Hosting with your ISP
It’s very possible that you have some amount of “personal web space” available to you as part of your account with your Internet Service Provider. You’re already paying for your ISP account, so the incremental cost is technically free.
As with free accounts, there will probably be some limitations that might include:
- A fixed amount of storage, but usually enough for a small to medium-sized site
- An inflexible URL (usually http://yourISPname/~youraccount)
- Limitations on any server-side technology that you might want to use
- Possible bandwidth or usage constraints
While the limitations sound a lot like those of free web hosting, they often still compare favorably in that the allowances are usually higher and the pestering is usually less. Like free hosting, many of these restrictions can be adjusted or lifted – for an additional fee, of course.
Shared web hosting
Shared web hosting simply means that your website is on the same hardware as 10, 100, or 1000 other websites – you’re all sharing that machine. (Security in place makes it practically impossible for sites to access the information of another, so there’s really no risk worth worrying about here in most cases.)
In many ways, it’s a lot like the service you might get from your ISP. For a relatively low monthly fee, you get some amount of – or sometimes “unlimited” – space and bandwidth.
Shared hosting companies often provide better service than your run-of-the-mill ISP because hosting is all that they do. They’ll often offer assistance in doing things like getting and setting up your own domain name or other features.
Many, many websites are in fact hosted on shared hosting sites; you’d be surprised.
For most small businesses, organizations, and others looking to set up a website that will attract traffic and be an important part of the business operations, I typically recommend starting with shared hosting.
I often refer people to BlueHost, but there are many including DreamHost, Hostgator and others.
Your domain registrar
When you purchase a domain (for example, as I’ve purchased “askleo.com”), you’re often offered a wide array of additional services, including website hosting.
Some, such as my recommended SimpleURL offer good value and are often great places to start.
Others, however, not so much. In fact, in general I recommend that you avoid registrar-provided hosting with the major registrars. You are effectively purchasing shared hosting in such situations, and my experience is that dedicated shared hosts such as those listed above offer much better value and reliability.
Virtual Private Servers
Virtual Private Servers, or VPS’s, are a kind of hybrid between shared hosting and dedicated servers which I’ll talk about in a moment.
A VPS is nothing more than a virtual machine, sharing hardware with one or more other virtual machines. The VMs are separate and independant, and look and behave as if they were on their own dedicated hardware.
Ask Leo! is hosted on a VPS, as are all my sites theses days.
One of the neat advantages of VPSs is that some aspects can be reconfigured without needing to reinstall from scratch. For example if I want more CPUs, more memory or more hard disk space on my server I access a control panel and make the changes. The machine reconfigures, eventually reboots, and comes back
up in the new configuration.
I use and recommend Storm On Demand. Additional alternatives include The Rackspace Cloud (where I used to have a server), as well as Amazon’s EC2.
Virtual Private Servers are just that: entire servers that you end up managing and controlling completely. You can do pretty much anything, within the constraints of the hardware’s abilities, but you will need some knowledge of server operation.
A dedicated server is exactly what it sounds like: a computer in a datacenter that you rent by the month that is dedicated to you.
Like VPSs it’s a server, unlike a VPS it’s not sharing hardware at all – it’s all yours.
As you might imagine, dedicated hosting is often more expensive than a VPS, but for many companies with more intensive server requirements it’s often a practical solution.
LiquidWeb, the parent company of Storm On Demand, is typically where I send people these days. Alternatives include RackSpace and others.
Not On The List: Your Own Machine
I get asked from time to time “well, couldn’t I just host whatever I want on my own machine here at home? It’s on the internet, after all.”
You’ll quickly run into a number of issues:
- Your upload speed is the speed at which visitors to your home-hosted site would be accessing your website. Typically it’s significantly slower than you would want for that purpose.
- Your site visitors will be competing with you for your internet connection. In otherwords, they’ll slow down your ability to use the internet.
- You must leave your machine on all the time.
- You’ll need to deal with the fact that the IP address of your machine may change, or pay extra for a static IP.
- You’ll need to know how to configure your router properly for incoming connections to your machine.
- There are probably more issues I’m missing…
The biggest roadblock is often not technical at all: your ISP probably doesn’t allow it.
Though of course that restriction can often be lifted – for an additional fee.
If you have a little money to spend the options above are typically much preferable.