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Trying to make sense of website hosting providers

  stlucia2 17:43 23 Dec 2014

My club has a website which at the moment is about 17Mb in size. We're looking to move to a free, or very low cost, hosting service, but are a little confused by what's on offer.

Googling results in several hits for free web sites, but most of them are in the US. Is there any disadvantage to having a US-based host?

Secondly, the ads mostly mention available space, plus bandwidth per month. What does that latter figure refer to? Does it restrict how many people can view our site, or does it restrict how many mods our webmaster can make to the site in a month?

One reason triggering this quest is that we've just found that our present host doesn't allow our site to be recognised if the user doesn't put the "www." in front of its name, as most web sites can these days. How do I find out if that's possible with potential hosts that we're looking at?

Finally, several of the ads mention how many email addresses they offer; our present host recognises almost any prefix in front of our web site name (e.g. [email protected] org. uk, or [email protected] org. uk) as a valid email address. Is this the same thing they're talking about when they mention the number of email addresses, or are they referring to stand-alone email addresses?

  LastChip 20:34 23 Dec 2014

There are a number of questions you are posing and some don't have straight forward answers. They depend very much on who your registrar is and how much access your hosting provider offers. The old saying of; "you get what you pay for", is never more true. You can't expect decent control on free or almost free hosts. They are designed to give you minimum flexibility and hook you in, in order to upgrade you at a later date to a more expensive option. Keep in mind also, some of the larger providers have European servers. So it may be a US company, but your site may not necessarily be physically hosted on US servers.

That said, your site is a minimal size in today's terms - almost minute! So as far as hosting in the USA is concerned, you would suffer some delay, (known as latency), but it probably wouldn't be perceptible.

Your second question - bandwidth, refers to the amount of data transmitted and received at the server. This will be directly affected by how popular your site is (number of hits) and the content. Clearly streaming video is far more bandwidth intensive than text files, but given the size of your site, it's more likely to be the later I would think. Hosts have the ability to measure the amount of data transmitted and once your allowance has been reached, often charge extra for exceeding that allowance. Sometimes by x amount per 1GB. Generally, there is no restriction on how often you can make changes.

The www. issue, is nothing to do with hosting, but is a function of the way your DNS entry is set-up. If your registrar is the same as your hosing provider, that may be available at the control panel for you to change. But WARNING; don't mess with it if you don't know what you're doing. Getting it wrong, can make your site disappear from the web. Depending on how much access you have to the back end and if it's a Linux server, you can also control that by using a .htaccess file in the root of your site. Just use a redirect regular expression.

Email addresses again, depend on how your host provides access. It's not uncommon for them to be restricted in number with the cheaper deals. It would be as you said; [email protected], [email protected] etc.

Most important with these cheap deals, read the small print and understand exactly what you're getting. More to the point, understand exactly what you're not getting!

  Jollyjohn 21:43 23 Dec 2014

Wow , excellent answer LastChip.

For my humble offering, I can recommend as a hosting provider. I have used them for several years and have had no issues. The charges are very reasonable and I have multiple eMail adressess on my site

  Jollyjohn 08:29 24 Dec 2014

Good morning, me, a spammer, oh no:)

I have the copyright and when payments stop the site will no longer be accessible. I will delete the information from the server before I leave.

I have just checked and I pay £42 per year for the hosting, including vat. I consider this reasonable. The purpose of the site is a diary and for the photo albums. The family is spread out from Shetland to Cornwall, with an annexe in Thailand, so the site is useful for the family to view.

  stlucia2 08:33 24 Dec 2014

Thanks for that comprehensive reply LastChip.

When I queried the "www." issue earlier with my present provider, they said I had to edit the CNAME record, but "... this level of functionality isn't available with the domain we host ...".

Our site is text and photos, but all the photos have been reduced in size for the web. The amount of traffic is not great, but we wouldn't like to be under the "threat" of having to pay extra if we became more popular, or if we added videos to the site.

Sounds like it might be a case of "better the devil you know"; £22 per year is not too bad after all, for seemingly unlimited hosting. And, thinking about it, most people get to our site by Googling for a local club, so the www thing is not really an issue that we need be concerned about. But I'll continue looking around, and be sure to read the small print.

  LastChip 12:22 24 Dec 2014

OK, to (sort of) finish this off. A CNAME record is an entry on to the DNS server file that is responsible for people finding your site. Some hosting provider control panels allow it, others don't.

When a browser calls for a web site, the domain name is actually read from right to left! Strange, but true. In actual fact, the very first character is a full stop (or a period as our American friends would prefer), not that it's ever used (except in DNS records). A period is the root of all the Internet and everything else branches out from beneath it.

I won't go into detail about how your site is found in reality, because it would easily fill a book, but in simple terms, the search to find you starts at the period and then says; "what's next?". Oh, it's a site so lets pass this query to the DNS server that controls Off it goes to the DNS server, who says; "who are you looking for?" Ah, pcadvisor, right let me find the IP address for the server that provides pcadvisor and pass it back to the client who originally requested it.

In reality, there are multiple servers providing this service all around the world all interconnected and it's a complex "web" of connection. In fact, I run my own DNS servers for the very reason you've found. I need full control of the DNS entries, specifically, for DKIM entries for my email servers. And I've never found any host that will offer that level of control.

So, from the above, you should be able to see why www. is not important, as in fact it's a sub-domain of the site. In other words, in my example, the search for pcadvisor didn't need to go as far as www. It had already been found before the last part of the full domain entry was even typed.

I hope that makes sense and helps you to understand the basics of how your site is found.

  stlucia2 19:20 26 Dec 2014

Thanks for the explanation. Much clearer now.

Our club's web site's name is only four characters (the initials of our club) and I'm guessing, from what you've said, that the browser needs to go as far as the .www (reading backwards) part of the name to differentiate us from some other web sites that might have our name as the last four characters of their name.

If we used a name that's much longer, such as the full name of our club, the chances of our site name matching the last part of any other site's name would be much reduced. If there was no match with part of any other name, then the .www wouldn't be needed, would it?

Anyway, I've resolved that it's not worth the hassle moving our site to another provider. People will just have to not be lazy if they want to get to us, and put in the www. ;-)

Have a good holiday.

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