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|You can use shared
hosting in which your site is hosted on a webhost's sever
along with perhaps hundreds of other sites that all
compete for resources. Shared hosting is how most
webmasters who are serious start hosting their sites. The
real limitation with shared hosting is that one is often
restricted to things that do not use a large amount of
CPU intensive activities as it would affect the other
websites hosted on the same server. Also if another site
gets really busy on the server you are located on your
site can begin to have speed problems.
Things to consider with shared hosting include:
1. Hardisk Space
2. Bandwidth Allowance
3. Traffic statistics
5. Multi domain ability
6. Ability to install and run scripts and programs.
7. Uptime, Reliability, and Speed to Access your site
8. Unique IP or Name Based Hosting
9. Adult and Non Adult Hosting
Hardisk space is easy enough to understand. Most shared hosting plans give you between 10 and 100 megs of hardisk space. If you only plan to have text and static images, then hardisk space will hardly ever be a factor. If on the other hand you plan to house videos or very high quality pictures then hardisk space could be the weak point on a hosting plan. In most instances of standard webpages, one will run out of bandwidth allowance before one runs out of diskspace. Diskspace is offered in limited amounts with most hosting plans because of this. Diskspace by itself is really cheap as one can buy diskspace proportionately for $1 to $2 or less per 1000 megs as 60 and 80 gig hardrives are very cheap.. But usually as one approaches a given diskspace threshold one has thousands of pages or lots of downloads and these things are what consume bandwidth which is the real cost in webhosting. When a plan limits hardisk space it is indirectly usually trying to keep one within a certain bandwidth threshold.
Bandwidth Allowance is a number people really focus on when picking a host. Bandwidth is simply data transferred, so a plan with 10 gigs of bandwidth allowance allows one's site to use 10 gigs worth of data before additional fees are incurred. With most virtual hosting plans the host counts on few people even approaching the bandwidth limit. It is not uncommon for only 1 to 5 percent of customers who are paying for a 15 gig a month plan to use more than even 5 gigs. If you plan to use more bandwidth than allotted with a given plan you need to see how much it is for bandwith overage which can be from $1 to $6 depending on the plan. To put bandwidth in perspective if one has a 10K html page with 20 K's of picture then that is 30K total of data transfer for each page that is seen by one's site visitors. With 30K pages a site's pages could be viewed 33,000 times per month with less than 1 gig of transfer. If you plan to offer lots of downloadable videos or high quality images you might use lots of bandwidth so you need to keep that in mind.
Traffic Statistics might seem like a minor part of a webhosting plan. Most hosts give you something to go on, but the data is invaluable. Most traffic stats that are provided by your host provide information about visitor amounts and individual and total pages viewed per day, month, and hour. A good stats program can even provide referral url data to tell you about the other sites your visitors are coming from. If your host does not provide good stats but allows you to upload programs and scripts of your own then you can install your own stats program.
Subdomains are things like games.yourdomain.com instead of just a directory like yourdomain.com/games. Some hosting plans allow a set number of subdomains or even unlimited. Traditionally subdomains have been used to allow a website to split their traffic up among several web servers. Sites like Yahoo do this by having those who type games.yahoo.com going to a different server than those who type in dir.yahoo.com for their directory. Subdomains with small hosting accounts mainly allow a site to appear more important, can give them an aura of greater professionalism, and allow differing topics to be split up more professionally. Some people want subdomain ability some don't care.
Multi Domain ability is a feature of higher end virtual hosting accounts that allows one to host multiple domains each sharing the resources of a single plan. For example one could have five sites each using 1 gig of transfer and 10 megs of space acting under a single virtual hosting plan of 100 megs of space and 10 gigs of transfer. Most standard hosting packages are not like this as its more a high end feature. If a hosting plan allows you to host multiple domains it probably has everything you could need in addition to this high end feature. Something often referred to as a virtual server is an even higher end version of multi domain hosting in which you get a percentage of a total server's resources to use ever how you like. This is like a scaled down cheaper dedicated server of your own.
Ability to Install and Run Scripts and Programs
Most virtual accounts allow you acces to your own cgi-bin directory or MYSQL databases where you can upload various basic scripts for doing things such as analyzing your stats, running message boards, or serving advertising on your site. Some virtual hosting accounts of older hosts do not and instead provide for support for MIVA which allows for some of the types of scripts and programs that your own Cgi-bin can such as message boards, and guestbooks. Miva appears to be an old technology utilized to preserve CPU processing time which was more of an issue when older webservers existed. Some high end programs that websites can use require in addition to access to your own cgi-bin directory for there to be various other components on your hosts server such as programming langages like Perl. Popular message board and adserving programs like Vbulletin and Advertpro require specific settings and components to be installed on your webhosts server. You should check on such things if you plan to run a specific popular message board, adserving program, or other advanced program. If having a faster loading website is important to you as well as conserving bandwidth you might want to check and see if your webhost utilizes or can enable something known as ModGzip. ModGzip compresses text to speed up load time of pages and is invaluable for message boards and other text intensive web applications. ModGzip does tax the CPU of a host's server a bit and often is it not enabled for this reason or lack of technical know how.
* If your site utilizes scripts or programs that are very computationally intensive or have complicated requirements to run your host may not allow them and you may be pushed away from virtual hosting towards hosting on a whole dedicated server of your own.
Uptime, Reliability, and Speed to Access your site
This is without doubt the most important thing to consider when looking for a virtual hosting account. Even if you have found a hosting plan that meets your technical requirements, bandwidth needs, and hardisk wants it means nothing if your site is always down. And anyone absolutely anyone can create a website and become a low level webhost. A webhost can perform poorly in many ways for its virtual hosting customers. It can cram too many popular sites onto a single server ensuring that all of their hosted websites respond slowly to all requests to retrieve websites and pages from them. It can have inadequate bandwidth to cover the needs of its accounts and just let the websites it does host fight it out for the bandwidth it does have resulting in everyones sites loading slowly. A poor performing host can also have inadequate security measures in place and not be up on patches and security holes. This can result in their servers having to be brought offline often while they are attempted to be updated and fixed. In the meantime all the sites on them are down. Poor security measures could also result in your website being defaced and some obscene message being put in its place by a hacker. A poor host could also be a haven for Spam and when Unsolicited Commercial Spam email is sent from a hosts computers often this results in other email servers blocking all outcoming and incoming email messages from that rogue network. In short if your host is a popular place for Spammers you could end up unable to send or receive email from your fancy email@example.com site from large ISP's like AOL or MSN. A webhost can also perform poorly by responding very slowly to computer failures. If the webserver your website is on experiences a CPU failure or hardrive failure your site could be down a little bit of time or a lot depending on the competence of your host. A poor host might replace or fix a damanged server that your site was on a week later resulting on your website presentation before the world being removed from existance and your reputation destroyed. No one wants to do serious business with a website that is down ever to their knowledge. Picking a webhost is not like buying a car its most like finding a reputable brain surgeon. You should want reliability even if it costs more.
*Although most hosts will backup all web related files of their virtual hosting customers and have them readily available, it is not wise to rely on your host as your last means of preserving your precious web data. Always backup and keep copies yourself on your hardrive and on CD preferable in a location away from your primary residence.
Unique IP or Name Based Hosting
Many virtual hosting accounts today utilize something known as named based hosting rather than IP based hosting. This is done in an attempt to conserve numerical IP's which are starting to became scarcer. For most purposes there is no difference between IP based and named based hosting. If you type in yoursite.com with IP based hosting you are directed to your hosts DNS server and then directed to a numerical IP on the internet which is your site and its content. With domain based hosting when you type in yoursite.com you are directed to your hosts DNS servers which then connect you to an IP that houses your site and many others. You mainly need IP based hosting if you plan to do certain secure encryption things or for credit card processing. Ip based hosting is deemed more professional though.
Adult and Non Adult Hosting
Some webhosts do not allow adult content at all for their virtual hosting customers. This usually has less to do with morality and more to do with the fact that adult sites are infamous for using email spam and for charging clients credit cards more than they agreed to for a given adult service or site. Such things can bring down the reputation of an entire webhost, draw them into legal matters, and make it more likely that domain based email from the host may be blocked by ISP's. Also adult hosts tend to use a higher amount of bandwith than non adult sites. This is an issue if a hosting plan provides X amount of bandwidth as the host really does not want everyone using an amount that approaches X amount of bandwidth. If you plan to host adult sites on a shared hosting plan you should read the terms of service of the webhost and make sure they allow adult content.