If you’re starting a website, you’ve likely at least heard about shared hosting. What you might not have heard is what shared hosting actually is.
What Is It?
But first, it’s important to understand website hosting in general, and why it’s needed. Well, in order for people to be able to load your site, it has to be sent to their browser by a web server. Website hosting is simply a service that provides you with access to such a web server, which is what serves pages to visitors. Now, you can do everything yourself on a VPS, but that’s a lot of work for the average blogger. With the rise of the internet came the need for inexpensive and easy to use hosting. After all, most bloggers don’t want to spend that much money on a site which may not even cover its own costs.
Shared hosting is an attempt to solve the issue of high prices and the complexity involved with hosting a website yourself(believe me, it’s a lot of work on a VPS; I don’t even want to think about managing my own physical server). It solves the issue of high pricing by having many, many websites on a single server. This allows hosting providers to pay for less servers, and they pass the savings on to you. However, just providing you with a virtual host(server config for a website) isn’t enough, since the average user needs to be able to install WordPress or any other CMS of their choice. This is why the vast majority of shared hosting comes with an online control panel, often cPanel. This control panels gives users a web UI(User Interface) to manage everything from the websites hosted, to email accounts and databases.
Umm, this seems like a dumb idea
You’re absolutely right, there are a lot of problems with shared hosting. Granted, most of them are now resolved, but it wasn’t always that way. Due to the fact that multiple websites are hosted on a single server, it means that one website can affect the performance and stability of others. Should one, or more, websites on a single server get a surge of traffic, that one website could end up hogging all of the server’s resources. This either makes your website much slower, or just flat out crashes. Also, what happens if one website is infected with malware? If the server is not configured properly, a smart enough virus could end up infecting all the websites hosted on the server, which could be in the thousands. Ok, I don’t actually know the numbers, but it still could be, and likely is, that high.
A common practice for shared hosting, and actually VPS hosting as well, is to over-allocate the available server resources. Over-allocation occurs when a provider puts more people on a server whose total allowed resources is greater than that of the server. For example, imagine if your host offers each customer 20GB of disk space, a single core, and a GB of RAM. Although the host server only has, say, 300GB of disk space, eight cores, and 16GB of RAM, they put 20 accounts on that server. This tactic serves many purposes, one of which is to further decrease costs. The more people per server, the less servers needed, and the less expensive it gets to maintain.
Chances are, customers will never find out about the over-allocation because the chances of all the accounts on a given server needed all of their resources at the same time is extremely small. This practice is also what allows for all of those hosting plans with “unlimited” disk space. Most websites actually use up less storage than you think.
It’s actually not that bad
Most of the problems mentioned above have been resolved in recent years. CloudLinux is a popular tool among shared hosting providers that offers the ability to separate user accounts and set resource limits. The resource limits ensure that no one website can hog all of the server resources. Even if a website gets a huge surge of traffic, by humans or bots, it can’t affect the other websites on the same server. That one website can crash, but only because it exhausted the resources allocated to it, not because the entire server ran out. The separation also ensures that malware can’t infect other websites on the same host. Tools like this solve much of the problems of shared hosting without increasing the price of it.
Who Is It For?
Shared hosting is generally used for new websites, or existing websites that have low traffic. Shared hosting makes sense for new websites because it’s the cheapest hosting you can find, and control panels make it easy to use. The cost alone is enough to justify using shared hosting, but there are other great features as well. Most hosts also offer free(or cheap) SSL certificates, and many include email hosting in their plans. This means that shared hosting, and a domain, is likely the only cost you’ll encounter when starting a website. A few hosts even bundle a free domain in with their plans.
However, if you have a large website, you’ll need something such as VPS or even Dedicated hosting. These options provide more resources than shared hosting, and guarantee your website access to resources, not just a maximum. But, for most people, modern shared hosting offers more than enough power.
If you don’t want to worry about maintaining your site, then what you need is called managed hosting. With managed hosting, a professional takes care of running your site for you, and all you need to do is create content. WordPress updates, performance tuning, and other WordPress-related maintenance is already taken care of. Namecheap has affordable managed hosting(called “EasyWP”), but if you have the money, I’d recommend taking a look at a service like WP Engine.
Things To Look Out For
If you do decide to stick with shared hosting, here are some things to look out for.
First Month Prices
Many hosting providers will advertise really low pricing, often around the $2.50 mark. They claim to have free SSL and a domain included, everything you’ll need all for one low price. The problem is that the advertised price is just for the first month, after which the price increases to around $8 a month. There’s nothing wrong with this, you do get great value for the first month, and decent value after that, it’s just something to be aware of.
Always be sure to check out a host’s refund policy before purchasing hosting! The last thing you want is to pay for a year’s worth of hosting only to find out it doesn’t offer what you need. So, be sure the refund policy gives you enough time to check everything out, and see if it’s a good match for your needs.
Another trick many hosting providers use is advertising low monthly prices which are only achievable if you buy a year, or even more in some cases. Again, there’s nothing wrong with this; paying for a year upfront decreases the processing fees for the host, and decreases their risk of you leaving. I actually recommend you purchase a multi-year plan to save money, after you’ve tried out their single month plan. It’s worth spending the few extra bucks to make sure you have everything you need.
If you’re looking for the best and most affordable shared hosting, I suggest you go with Namecheap. Their cheapest annual plan(called “Stellar”) is only $30 per year(or $2.88 if you pay monthly), and has all of the following amazing features:
- Up to 3 domains
- With up to 30 subdomains
- 100% uptime
- 20GB of SSD-accelerated storage
- Unlimited parked domains
- 2 backups per week
- Over 100 one-click app installers included
- Up to 30 email accounts
- Up to 30 email forwarders
- Up to 30 email autoresponders
- Webmail included
- SpamAssassin(email anti-spam) included
- Catch all email address
- Up to 50 databases
- PHP MyAdmin included
- Jailed SSH access available
- 24/7 live chat support
- Virus scanner
- Free SSL for 1st year(just $9/year after)
Plus, you can also get your domain name from them for only $11/year, with domain privacy included for free! If you’re not satisfied with their hosting, they also offer a 30-day refund policy.
If, for some reason, you don’t want to stick with Namecheap, then I’d suggest DreamHost. They offer pricing as low as $2.59 a month for their shared hosting plan. The biggest downside is that their cheapest plan doesn’t come with email hosting. However, they make up for that with free SSL, and unlimited 100% SSD storage. To get that $2.59 a month pricing, you’ll need to purchase 3 years upfront, which is still less than $100. If you have the money, their “Shared Unlimited” plan costs as little as $7.95 a month and offers unlimited domains, email hosting, and they even include a free domain.
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