Web Hosting Alternatives

The following is a rough hierarchy of web hosting alternatives, arranged from lowest cost (and capabilities) to highest.

Free Hosting

A number of providers offer free web space in return for things like the ability to run ad banners on your site. While they may be suitable for a low-end site, such arrangements are unlikely to offer things like shell access, CGI scripting, or server-side includes. Most also limit disk space fairly severely, requiring you to pay if you want to use more. For the examples in this book, such free web hosts probably will not be sufficient.

Shared Hosting (Low Grade)

Many Internet providers offer personal web space as part of a basic dial-up access package. Others offer relatively inexpensive web hosting without dial-up access. Although most of these providers do not include shell access or CGI scripting/server-side includes as part of the basic package, some do. An account with such a provider would probably be a good choice for someone on a strict budget looking to practice the examples in this book. With some searching, you can find providers that offer this level of access for $20 to $30 per month. For a site that represents a hobby, or a nonprofit community service project, or a demo of something you hope to turn into a commercial site later on, this may be sufficient—but be aware that things like load, reliability, and bandwidth can come back to haunt you.

Shared Hosting (High Grade)

For a cost ranging from $50 per month to about $250 per month, you can find providers willing to sell you a significant chunk of space on a web server with full CGI scripting, server-side includes, and shell access. You’ll still probably be in a shared-server environment, but significantly fewer customers will probably be sharing that space with you. You should hopefully see better server performance, and a better response time on frantic calls to tech support asking why the server’s down. For many low-end commercial web sites, this represents a good balance of cost and capability.

Dedicated Hosting/Co-Location

As your site grows, and especially as you find yourself providing some sort of service for which advertisers or customers are actually paying you, you will begin to hanker for your own, dedicated web server. This gives you the ultimate in flexibility and performance, while also helping to protect you from the environment changes and other hassles that sometimes make life in a shared environment more interesting than you’d like. Costs typically range from several hundred dollars per month to $1,500 per month or more.

A popular variation on this theme is the co-located server. A co-located server is a machine that you own, but which sits at your ISP, where it can enjoy your provider’s fat connection to the Internet and be looked after by the ISP’s technical staff. Again, the cost for this kind of hosting typically ranges from several hundred dollars per month to $1,500 or more, with the additional up-front expense of actually paying for the computer.

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