So, you know how to create HTML files (web pages) and want to start a website. You have a domain name but don't know where to store the files (web host). You find countless web hosting companies offering a wide range of products but you can't make heads or tails of all the features to decide which plan is right for you.
Does this sound like you?
If so, this article was written for you. Hopefully after reading it, you will have a better understanding of all the terms associated with web hosting and find a hosting company that is right for your business.
File Storage Space
Usually hosting companies sell different packages centered around storage space. Storage space is specified in kilobytes (KB), megabytes (MB), or gigabytes (GB); a megabyte is 1000 kilobytes and a gigabyte is 1000 megabytes.
How much storage space do you need? Well, that depends on what you are planning to do with your website. If you have only a few pages of text and little to no graphics or images, a 25 MB should be more than you will ever need. Most hosting packages start at 25 MB of storage space. When comparing web hosting companies for file storage space, be sure to check their terms and conditions to make sure they do not charge another setup fee for upgrading to a packge with more space.
One way to determine the size of your files in Microsoft Windows, right click the Start button and click Explore. Scroll down and select the file(s) or folder(s) you plan on using for your website. Right click on the selected file(s) or folder(s) and click Properties and you will see the size.
Bandwidth is the measure of how much data flows through your site. It is usually expressed in GB transfered per month. If you are expecting a lot of hits (millions of page views) to your site you will need to get the most bandwidth you can afford. For new web sites it may take a while to get up to a significant bandwith. If you find you are approaching the bandwith limit, you can always upgrade to a plan with higher bandwidth. Some plans allow you to increase your monthly bandwidth for an additional monthly charge.
Most hosting plans include a significant number of POP e-mail accounts and unlimited e-mail forwarding.
POP accounts can be accessed with your current e-mail program and some hosts may include a webmail interface for your POP accounts. If you have several people that work for your web site/business and want them to have their own e-mail address, you will need to select a hosting plan with enough POP accounts.
E-mail forwarding is when e-mail that is addressed to your website gets redirected to another e-mail address that you specify. Most plans include unlimited e-mail forwarding. An example of e-mail forwarding: for one of my websites mail addressed to mike-@-mrgoodbeer.com, sales-@-mrgoodbeer.com, and webmaster-@-mrgoodbeer.com all get redirected to my Gmail address. With e-mail forwarding you can easily track where your e-mails are coming from. Be careful though...the more e-mail addresses you have, the more SPAM you will receive.
Shared vs Dedicated
When comparing hosting plans, you may notice plans for shared hosting and dedicated hosting. Shared hosting simply means that your web site will be hosted with other websites on the same server or machine. Shared hosting is good for the average web site where speed is not a priority.
A dedicated server is just that, a server that is dedicated to your website. The advantages of a dedicated server are speed and control. The disadvantage is cost, you will usually have to pay a much larger monthly fee for having a dedicated hosting plan. If you know nothing about Unix, Linux, or network administration make sure to get a managed dedicated server. The hosting company will take care of all the security and software patches/updates that arise over time.
Make sure to review the hosting company's terms and FAQ concerning their dedicated servers to determine if their service is right for you.
For the companies that do not have 24 hour support, you will have to determine if their phone support hours meet your specific needs. Make sure to note the location of the company and offset the support times for your time zone. If you plan on working on your web site during all hours of the day, make sure to choose a company with 24/7 phone support; otherwise, you will have to wait for them to open before you can get help to solve your problem.
Common Gateway Interface (CGI) is a program, also know as scripts, that can be run on a website to make the site more dynamic. CGI programs can be written in PERL, C, Unix shell, and countless other languages. It is best to select a hosting plan that allows CGI because you will undoubtedly run across an application or game that you want to modify or include on your site.
There are many resources on the web that list free CGI scirpts and countless companies offering CGI scripts for you to buy.
MySQL is used for creating and maintaining web based databases. If you anticipating having some data on your site that your users might want to sort you will probably need to find a web host that supports MySQL. Some hosting companies specify how many databases you can have on your site and charge an additional monthly fee if you want more. You will have to determine how many databases you will need and select the appropriate web hosting plan.
FrontPage is a website creation and management what-you-see-is-what-you-get (WYSIWYG) tool developed by Microsoft. The files generated by FrontPage may have extentions asscoiated with them. If you are using FrontPage to develop your site, you will need to make sure that the hosting plan you choose supports FrontPage extentions or your web pages may not display properly, if at all.
Server Operating System (OS)
For most basic websites you will not have worry about which OS your web hosting company is using. Most plans are running on either Unix or Linux. For some unique web site features, you may need a Windows based server.
Some hosting companies charge a setup fee when your account is created. This is usually a one time fee and may be waived, in some cases, when you pre-pay for your service. Check the hosting company's terms carefully to determine the details of their setup fee.
Most hosting plans include some type of SPAM filter for your e-mail accounts. This feature can come in very handy if you are using POP email accounts.
Some hosting companies provide shopping cart features as part of their hosting plan. You do not have to worry about this featue if your web site is not selling products. Also, there are many different third party shopping cart applications and CGI scripts available on the web that you may choose to implement on your web site such as the ones found at PayPal.
Mike Snyder is an award winning Brewmaster and author of Beer Inside. Mike has been a webmaster since the early 1990's.
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