What’s free web hosting and is there a better option for you?
In the process of setting up your own website, there are a few steps that require a little more time and attention. One of these is deciding which type of web hosting service is right for you. But first, what is web hosting?
While it can be convenient to think of a website as a single unit, it is actually made up of a lot of different files that work together to form your unique online presence.
Rather than exist in the cloud, these files need to be stored somewhere tangibly on a server. By paying a hosting service, you’re paying them to house your files on their own servers. The fees can be monthly or annual, or even free for some services.
Most hosting services own huge numbers of servers that are known as data centres. By using banks of servers, hosts can function more efficiently. Included in their resources are:
- back-up power resources, which ensures server stability even during unforeseen issues like black outs or power failures
- high-level security standards, which protect both the data centres and the sites stored on their servers
- customizable hardware and support systems, which allow for a tailored approach to server protections and capacity.
With all of these auxiliary measures in place, hosting companies are able to keep their servers (and consequently, your website) online 24/7.
What’s the difference between domain name and web hosting?
With so much technical jargon flying around, it can be a little confusing when trying to decipher what you need to do to set your site up. This is especially the case with domain names and web hosting.
An easy way to understand the difference is to think your digital content as a house. The web hosting service is the building in which all your files are stored, while the domain name is your street address. Fundamentally, each site and page has an extensive series of numbers that it can be searched for and identified by. These numbers refer directly to the IP address of your web hosting service, which identifies the required files and sends them directly back to the user’s browser page.
However, it’s a little unreasonable to expect people to remember lists and lists of numbers, so instead the address of your site is represented by a domain name. Searching for Amazon.co.uk sounds a lot easier than typing in a complex series of numbers every time you want to shop online!
Free web hosting or paid services: which is right for you?
When it comes to selecting a service for your site, the most important aspect to consider is your budget. There are a few free hosting services that will certainly help your site make a budget-friendly start but there are some issues to take into consideration.
- While free sounds fantastic, paying for a hosting service means you’re also paying for customer support. Depending on the type of server you choose, expert advice in situations of site crashes or security breaches can actually go a long way. For beginners especially, paying for a hosting service and its accompanying advantages is usually a worthy investment.
- A common condition of free web hosting is accepting ads on your own site. While this might not seem like a big deal, this can weaken your branding if you’re looking to later incorporate affiliate marketing into your online presence. For example, a fashion blog might not be the most logical platform for web hosting ads.
- Restrictions on pages and bandwidth is another concern for users considering free web hosting. It’s important to check the fine print when signing up, as many free services restrict the number of pages you can create on your site. Additionally, limits on bandwidth can mean your site’s visitors encounter pages that load slowly or sometimes not at all.
A free web hosting service can be a good fit for simple sites, but it’s important to choose a service that will suit the final version of your page. Basic is not always best.
Choosing the right type of web hosting for your site
There are a huge number of hosting services available online and having to choose the right option for your own site can sometimes feel overwhelming. Before you fall down the rabbithole of service providers, first decide which type of hosting you’ll need.
The most popular type of web hosting is also not so coincidentally the least expensive. However, it is also often the least reliable, so it is important to weigh saving a few cents against the costs of site failures and other potential issues.
As the name suggests, a few customers share the same hosting computer, which means they’re stored in the same drive, carried by the same server and are all processed by the same CPU (Central Processing Unit). This isn’t usually a problem as long as any of the hosted sites don’t too popular or require too much of the server’s efforts.
With each user visiting your site, files are requested and sent to their browser page from your hosting service. In cases where a site receives unexpectedly high amounts of traffic, the host computer is put under strain and the site will often crash. If your site shares the same server as the popular page, then you might experience performance issues without being entirely sure why.
Another thing to consider is that there can sometimes be risk involved with sharing a host computer. Despite your best efforts in using secure software and maintaining up-to-date programs, your fellow host sharers may drop the ball. Not only can a lapse in their efforts mean your own site is vulnerable to attacks, by sharing the same IP address, you can also be tarred by the same brush if they happen to use their site for spam or poor online behaviour. You could be flagged as spam and face content firewalls without even knowing that it’s happening or why.
Dedicated Server Hosting
By using a dedicated server, you may be paying more but it can be worth it to have control over your own server. A direct path to the server that your site is hosted by means that you can install/remove any software, amend the operating system itself and even change the basic configuration settings of your site.
The most significant advantage to using a dedicated server is that you aren’t facing the security and resource management issues associated with a shared server. However, with power comes responsibility. It’s down to you to keep up with your security protocols and update software regularly, but as long as you do, your site is essentially safe on its very own island.
Additionally, as the sole presence on the server, all of its resources are dedicated to you. If there are performance issues or lags, you’ll notice quickly and be able to find the source of the problem much faster than you would on a shared server.
Virtual Private Server
The halfway point between using a shared hosting service and a dedicated server is known as a virtual private server (VPS). By choosing this service, you’ll have your own server but rather than a physical computer somewhere, the server is purely virtual.
Just like the alternatives, this choice also has some obvious pros and cons. Firstly, a VPS allows you to control your own site without any limitations as if you were using a dedicated server. For anyone looking to use customer applications, this is a huge win. Additionally, users normally have a greater share of resources with a VPS. Whilst your site is still sharing a server, there’s usually a much lower number of sites hosted on each server.
However, it must be said that working with a virtual server does require an intermediate level of technical knowledge, so this isn’t the most beginner-friendly option. While there is often a support team available, it might be worth starting out on something a bit simpler and then later reconsidering your options when you have more experience.
Now that you have a better understanding of what web hosting actually is, you can make an informed choice on what type of service is right for you.
Whether you choose a shared, dedicated or virtual private server, remember that it’s a competitive market. Make sure you check out resources like reviews and articles on the current field of options, and start your online journey on the right note!