Thursday, July 31, 2008

Some Dirty Little Secrets of Shared Web Hosting

by E. S. Lorence

Let me begin by saying that this is not a pitch for any webhosting company. Yes I own websites and yes they're hosted in a decent place, but that is not my focus here. After reading all the articles and ads about how great this and that hosting company is, how much they offer and how cheap, I thought it was time to take the first step and launch a website.

Everybody seemed to say "Look for the most bandwidth and the most disk-space for the least money". Did you know that in reality, those numbers are almost meaningless? Here are just a few of the real numbers you should know about. Let's start with all the hype about Terabytes of disk space, and now the reality: "Inodes" will determine exactly how much space you can really use.

Since a complete description of this term will fill several articles, in a nutshell, Inodes keep track of each and every file in your web-space. Every email, image, script, and file. I nodes are a "resource" and a resource you will find is strictly limited. I have found the average Inode limit on shared hosting to be around 50,000. That means the total file limit on many shared hosting accounts, including all emails and images will be 50,000, how many emails are in your spam folder? Read more about Inodes at: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inode

Host unlimited sites? Let's take a closer look...

Scripts are the software that power many modern websites. Unlike "old school" static html pages, scripts "run" or operate on your server in order to generate the pages that create your website. Some such scripts are Wordpress, and B2 Evolution. PHP is one of many script programming languages.

Processes:

Every time a script executes on your server such as to serve a webpage or send an email that is 1 process. My host starts warning at about 10 processes, which is close to the limit on many shared hosts. The process will usually only last a millisecond, but if you expect to have any real traffic, you will find that multiple independent sites will start pushing the processor limit. As an example, some simple and popular Wordpress plug-in's will start to hog your resources in no time if left unchecked. And you can forget about SEO scripts, sitemap builders, P2P, Gaming Servers, etc.

Shared Hosting and the "root" directory:

These hosting plans will usually provide only one root directory for all of the domains and sites you plan to build. You will also be allowed one "primary domain". All other domains will have to be "parked" or added on to the primary domain. Without getting too technical, let's just say that some website scripts don't "play" well with others. And many just don't like being installed in subdirectories!

Multiple scripts generating multiple websites can cause major headaches to the unseasoned newbie, not to mention the server resources expended by poorly written or installed scripts trying to figure out where they are and how to run.

How's your memory?

1 to 4 gigs on many modern servers, but that number is meaningless for you. Remember, you may be sharing that server with hundreds of other websites. Memory limits will become a problem when running a popular photo gallery, forum, or streaming audio/video.

10 Terabytes of bandwidth monthly? You will never get close. Unless you're streaming video, most web hosts will not allow you to operate any kind of bandwidth intensive site on eight or ten dollars per month, period.

"My" SQL, not really...

Modern "dynamic" web sites such as Wordpress use a "database" to store and retrieve information, such as the text in this article. While your images and program files may be stored in your 1000 gig' root directory, the data, text, settings, etc will be stored on a completely separate database server. This server has limits too, sometimes as little as 25 Megabytes. A large popular forum or directory with thousands of pages can burn through that in no time.

Database Connections:

Every time a visitor loads your webpage, a connection is made to the database server. Many hosts will limit this to around 25-50 simultaneous connections. Since these connections last only milliseconds, enough to load the page, well designed scripts and websites can accommodate hundreds of visitors an day while staying below these limits. However, if you ever intend to build traffic in the thousands an hour range, or run several moderate traffic sites, to avoid the dreaded "Database Error- Unable to connect" page, be prepared to upgrade your account.

Email limits:

The fight against spam has led to some Draconian rules and limitations in sending email, including limits of as little as 25 emails sent an hour. Shared hosts are routinely "Blacklisted" for real or perceived "spamming" and this is usually due to only one of those many hundred of server "neighbors" engaging in illegal or unethical behavior. Through no fault of your own, you may find all of your emails being "bounced" with no clue as to why. Have a big list? Use an auto responder service!

Some other important questions to consider:

Is "Mod-Rewrite" Enabled? (Necessary for many scripts to function correctly) Is "CPanel" provided? Are regular server backups generated? How much to restore your site from a backup? Is "Server to Server" transfer supported? (If you ever move to another server) Allowed to edit .htaccess? Allowed access to php.ini? (Though uncommon with shared packages) Do the research before you dive in since these are terms you should become familiar with as an aspiring webmaster.

The bottom line is that it really does cost money to make money. If you plan to own and operate any kind of popular income generating website, plan for a dedicated or Virtual Private Server package to avoid the dreaded shared hosting banishment!

To your Web Site Success!

About the Author

E. S. Lorence is a free lance writer, author, and Internet entrepreneur based in Alpharetta, GA. Join him at his marketing and motivational home at- Wealth Method
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