How to choose a good host for your website?
When you want to create your own website, you need to choose the best way to host it. There are a lot of solutions on the Internet, and it is not really easy to choose. Let’s try to list some of the most important criterias in order to find the best way to choose a good host website.
Free web host vs commercial web host
There are many offers on the Internet to host your website. Depending on your needs, the good website host could be a free or a commercial solution. Both have qualities and drawbacks. Usually, a free web host is reserved for small websites, with some limitations like bandwidth allotment or advertising. Commercial web host is, of course more expensive, but more flexible.
Benefits of a free host
The major advantage is of course that… it’s free. No charge, no subscription, fast to set up and install.
Drawbacks of a free host
A free web host is fast to set up, but suffers of several limitations.
Most free web hosting systems make money with advertising. So, you don’t pay for your web hosting, but advertising is imposed on your web site. The provider has several costs to buy servers, disc space, bandwidth, that are covered by advertising. So, you can have to place a banner on your pages, bear a pop-up window displayed every time a page is loaded or set up a dedicated frame. It’s very easy to install, but some people hate this kind of advertising, and you can easily loose your visitors. Keep in mind that advertising frames could possibly contain security issues. Advertising execute in your web site a source code on which you have no control. If this code is corrupted or has a security issue, your web site could be weakened.
It will not be possible to have your own domain name. You will have to use a subdomain of your provider, like « myblog.myprovider.com » for example. It is not a very good solution for search engines referencing.
The amount of disc space is usually very limited. If at the beginning, 5 or 10MB can be enough, it may not be sufficient if your web site is growing. You have to anticipate your web site expansion and your future needs in terms of amount of space. If you want to publish pictures, sounds or videos, you will need more space. It is usually not possible to increase your disc space with a free web host.
Most of free web host have a limit on the amount of traffic you can use. It is calculated per day and per month. This means that if the number of pages loaded during a day exceeds the limit, your web site will just be disabled until the next day. It’s very difficult to estimate your needs in terms of bandwidth. It depends on your web site, its attractivity, your target audience… If 100 MB per month can be sufficient for a personal home page, 3 GB can be necessary for a little web site.
If you just want to publish static content, with some pictures, a basic design, you don’t need something special. But if you don’t want a web site which reminds the 90s, you need more. You need a server which is able to execute dynamic scripts written in PHP or PERL for example. This allow you to install a blog (WordPress is written in PHP), send emails, use forms, polls and search engines…
Transferring files on your web host account is very useful, but an FTP access is rarely available. If it is, it is often limited. Sometimes, the provider offers an online site builder, and it is the only way to edit your pages.
Another limitation concerns the files types and sizes. A maximum size is imposed on the files you can upload. So, it is not possible to upload larges images, sounds or video files. Sometimes, only JPG/JPEG, GIF or HTML files are allowed.
The last drawback is about speed of access and reliability. A good host website has a 99.99% reliability. The worst free host providers have a slow access, which can discourage visitors because it is too long to display your site, and offer no guarantee that the site will be online most of the time.
Benefits of a commercial host
First, commercial host providers ensure the availability of your site and the speed of access. The minimum acceptable is 99%, but it should be higher than 99.5%.
An unlimited bandwidth is often highlighted. It is not exactly the truth… If the traffic of your website is very important, the chances are that you have to pay more. In fact, « unlimited bandwidth » means « for a typical traffic requirement ». A web site usually don’t need more than 3 GB of bandwidth per month, at the beginning. If your traffic requirements grow, perhaps you will have to pay for this.
The amount of disk space is much more comfortable than with a free host. You can find providers with 20 GB to 100 GB. With such a space, you can easily add pictures and videos, and use a big database if you need it.
The different manners to access your account, to manage or update the web site, tranfer files, pictures, scripts, are more numerous. You can use PHP, Perl or Python to create dynamic scripts and .htaccess to manage the access to the directories or to customize the error pages. You can use a securely access to your account to manage files with SSH and use Cron to schedule automatic and repetitive tasks, like the savings of files for example. You can then choose the database system you want to use. If MySQL is always available, some providers offer to use alternative solutions like postGreSQL.
In terms of security, a good host website will offer SSL. SSL means « Secure Socket Layer ». Using this solution, all the data transfered between the site and the visitors will be encrypted. The web adress will begin with « https:// » instead of « http:// ». It is the only way if you want to collect and use sensitive informations or use credit card payments for example.
With your website, you will manage your own domain name (like « mydomain.com » for example). Depending on your subscription, you will be able to use multiple domains and subdomains. Of course, you will have emails addresses at your own domain. In this case, it is possible to manage these emails from the mailbox, with a webmail or a POP3 access, or to automatically forward them to another address.
Each provider supplies his own control panel. It is a web application that allows you to manage all the aspects of the hosting. You can manage email addresses, domain and subdomain names, passwords, savings…
The last advantage to be taken into account (but perhaps the main), is the technical support. If you have a problem with your host, you can call (or email) the technical support. Depending on your contract, it will be available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week or not. But a technician will be able to fix the problem.
Drawbacks of a commercial host
As you can see, commercial host has several benefits.
The major drawback is the price you will pay. For very basic services, it won’t be very expensive. But if you want more options (more disk space, secured server, multiple domains, more technical support…), the price will raise.
Payment plans are usually proposed, with monthly, quarterly or annual payments. You will have a cheaper rate if you pay once a year. You can pay monthly until you are convinced that the solution suits you, and then modify the payment plan to an annual one.
If you choose an international provider, be careful with the location of your data. The data are submitted to the laws of the country in which they are hosted.
The perfect host doesn’t exist. Free and commercial offers have advantages and drawbacks. Regarding your needs, you have to choose the good host for your website. A small site or a personal home page can content itself on a free provider, but if you want a blog with thousands visitors, or a secured payment solutions, it is wiser to choose a commercial host.