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Hosting the Site

“Wow!” Stef exclaimed, “Now I own two domains. Thanks, Dad!” Claude had paid the registration fees for her domains with his credit card. And except for the name and email addresses, Stef's contact information was identical to Claude's. Anita had used her own address and credit card, of course.

“Now that we've named your sites, we need to host them with a hosting service,” I said.

“They'll actually run the Web sites for us, right?” Claude asked.

“Right,” I agreed. “They'll also provide email services for your domains.”

“But I already have an email address,” Claude protested. “In fact, I have several. Too many, really. I don't want any more.”

“You don't actually have to get a new email address,” I explained. “The hosting service can forward mail to one of your existing addresses, so you don't need to create new mail accounts. But normally you want to.”

“Why is that?” Anita asked.

“For different reasons,” I said. “but mostly to look more professional and to protect your personal email address.”

“Sounds complicated again,” Anita said.

“It's not, but we're getting ahead of ourselves. Email is just one component of what a hosting service offers.”

What's a Hosting Service?

Hosting services are businesses that manage Web servers, mail servers, and other Internet-based services. The computers on which the services run are housed in data centers with dedicated high-speed Internet connections and round-the-clock monitoring. Hosting services normally own the hardware in their data centers and charge customers for their use.

Free Hosting

Some hosting services will host your site for free if you're willing to let them display ads on your site. But it's best to stay away from the free services and pay a small fee to get total control over your site.

A hosting service saves you a lot of work. The hosting service installs and configures the computers and software needed to run your Web site and related services. It's responsible for keeping the system up and running (the industry refers to this as uptime) on a continuous basis. It takes care of all the mundane but important details of running a Web site-performing regular backups, maintaining the hardware, monitoring and upgrading the software-that even technically savvy people would be hard-pressed to do on their own.

Rating Hosts

Ratings of hosting services can be found at www.memwg.com/hosting-service-ratings.

None of this comes for free, of course, because data centers are expensive to run. Hosting services recover their costs by charging rental fees, generally on a monthly basis. The fees are based on the services required-how much disk space, how much network traffic, which operating system-and can vary widely from hosting service to hosting service. But basic hosting services (bundled together into a hosting plan) are available for $5 to $10 a month from a wide variety of vendors.

Choose a hosting service the same way you choose a domain registrar, by comparing prices and services. Like registrars, hosting service providers often resell their services, so it may not be obvious who is the actual service provider.

What To Look For in a Hosting Service

All hosting services are not created equal, so it pays to shop around. But before you do, you need to understand what services are available so you can choose the monthly hosting plan that's right for you.

Web Site Hosting

Hosting Web sites is a hosting service's primary business, so you should carefully look over the features each service offers before making your decision (Figure 4.10). Initially, your needs will be very simple-the most basic hosting plan a service offers is good enough in most cases-but it's important to leave yourself room to upgrade the services later if necessary.

Figure 4.10. The home page of OCHosting, a hosting service based in California.

There are three basic types of Web site hosting:

  • With shared or virtual hosting, several (often many) independent sites share the same computer.

  • With dedicated hosting, you rent the exclusive use of a computer for your site (or sites).

  • With co-located hosting, you actually own the computer (either you buy it from the hosting service or else you ship it to the service's data center) and the hosting service manages it for you.

Both dedicated and co-located hosting are costly. Shared hosting, however, can be had fairly cheaply because the hosting service can spread the cost of maintaining the hardware across a whole slew of separately owned Web sites. Shared hosting is what you'll start with, so ignore any dedicated or co-located hosting plans.


Go to www.netbsd.org/Documentation/bsd/ for more info on BSD.

The actual server computer that hosts the Web sites runs an operating system, of course, just like any other computer. Most hosting services run Linux-based computers. Linux is free and is well suited to running Web servers. Some services are exclusively Windows-based. Some support both operating systems and let you choose the one that best suits your needs. A few hosting services run other operating systems like FreeBSD and OpenBSD. For basic Web sites, the kind you'll create, any of these operating systems will do.

Free Web Servers

See www.memwg.com/apache for more on the Apache free Web server, and www.memwg.com/iis for more on Microsoft's Internet information Service.

The Web server software itself is actually more important than the operating system it's running on. Most Linux-based sites run the Apache HTTP Server, a free Web server, and most Windows-based sites run Internet Information Services (IIS for short), a Microsoft product. Although all modern Web servers work the same way and provide the same basic features, how you configure and manage the server depends on the software used. For example, Apache and IIS have different ways of password-protecting parts of a Web site. In most cases, however, an Apache-based server is the simplest to work with.

The Control Panel

Note that most hosting services provide you with a control panel for monitoring and managing your Web site (Figure 4.11). The control panel lets you control the major aspects of the Web site remotely from any browser.

Figure 4.11. An example of a control panel from the site management page provided by OCHosting.

When you choose a hosting plan, pay careful attention to the monthly bandwidth and disk space limits of the plan. Bandwidth refers to the amount of data transferred across the network to and from your Web site. Every time someone accesses your Web site, it uses up some of your bandwidth. Disk space is the amount of storage available to you on the server computer; the larger your site, the more storage you'll use. If you exceed either limit, the hosting service will charge you extra fees that month. For a simple site, basic limits of 1 GB of bandwidth and 25 to 50 MB of disk space are quite adequate to start with, but if you find yourself exceeding these on a regular basis, you should consider upgrading to a different plan with higher limits.

Free Email Clients

For more on the Thunderbird mail client, visit www.mozilla.org/products/thunderbird/. For more on Eudora, see www.eudora.com.

Email Services

Email services come free with most Web hosting plans. In other words, the hosting service will handle mail sent to and from any domains that you host with them.

The email accounts you get from your hosting service are similar to what you get from your Internet service provider-after all, an ISP offers the same types of services. The hosting service will provide you with an account name and password, as well as the details for setting up your mail client (Thunderbird, Outlook Express, Eudora-any modern mail client that supports multiple email accounts) or using a browser-based mail reader.

Sending Mail

When sending mail related to your Web site, remember to use the email address provided by the hosting service, not your personal address. This is usually done by sending the mail through the hosting service's email (SMTP) server, not through your ISP's. If this capability isn't available, at least configure your mail client to set the “From” and “Reply To” parts of the mail message to the other address in order to mask your personal email address as much as possible.

Basic hosting plans normally come with just a few email accounts, but most offer the ability to created email aliases, email addresses that do nothing but forward the mail they receive to another address. Most plans also have the ability to create a catchall alias, an email address that “catches” all mail sent to an address for which there is no account or alias. Catchall accounts get a lot of spam, however, so you're better off creating individual aliases and disabling the catchall feature entirely.

FTP for Newbies

A good beginner's guide to FTP can be found at www.ftpplanet.com/ftpresources/basics.htm.

Other Services

Besides Web hosting and email, other services may be available:

  • Backups. The service provider should regularly back up your Web site and quickly restore it whenever hardware problems occur.

  • FTP support. Short for File Transfer Protocol, FTP is a standard way to transfer files to and from remote computers. At a minimum, the hosting service will provide you with instructions for using FTP to copy the Web pages you create on your home computer to the server that hosts your actual Web site.

  • Shell/Telnet. Direct access to the Web server is obtained using a shell or telnet account. This is strictly for techies, so don't worry about it.

  • Databases. Large amounts of data are stored and manipulated using databases. Again, this is for techies, as programming is definitely required.

  • Forums and Mailing Lists. These let you communicate with your visitors. Note that a blog may make more sense.

  • Shopping Carts and Scripts. Most hosting services supply pre-written programs that you can use to add shopping carts and other interactive behaviors to your Web site. These all require some programming, however.

Other than backups and FTP support, which are basic services, the services listed above may only be available with the more advanced plans. Some service providers offer various services à la carte as well.

Hosting Discounts

Many hosting services offer discounts if you pay for services on a quarterly or annual basis.

Most of these additional services aren't necessary for the kind of Web site you're going to build, so don't buy a premium hosting plan. You can always upgrade your plan later, if necessary.

Signing Up for Web Hosting

Signing up for hosting services is very similar to registering a domain name. After choosing the hosting service, use its Web site to create a new account with the appropriate hosting plan. You'll need a credit card, of course.

After signing up, you'll receive email from the service with important details about your new hosting account, including:

  • The IP address of the Web server that will host your site. You can use this to temporarily access the site.

  • The addresses of two name servers that the hosting service controls, to update the DNS information for your domain name.

  • The URL of the control panel for your Web site, including the account login and password needed to access it.

  • The addresses of the mail servers, to update your mail client.

Save the email for later reference-you don't want to lose this information. Since your domain is currently parked, head over to your domain registrar's Web site to unpark it. Enter the name server addresses supplied by your hosting service into the appropriate fields in your domain's administration page (Figure 4.12). It will take anywhere from a few hours to a couple of days for the information to propagate across the DNS. In the meantime, you can use the IP address supplied by the hosting service (or an alternate Web address that it supplies) to access your site from a Web browser.

Figure 4.12. Assigning name servers to a domain.

Protect Yourself

If antispam and a ntivirus capabilities aren't included with the hosting package, be sure to protect yourself by installing the appropriate software on the computer where you receive and read the mail.

Wait until the DNS has been updated (at which time you can access your new site using its domain name, not just its IP address) to set up your mail client. You won't be able to receive mail until then anyhow.

Explore the control panel to familiarize yourself with its features. For a simple site, there are few things to worry about. You'll use the control panel mostly to create and manage email accounts.

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