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ISP Web Hosting

At the bottom of the Web hosting options ladder is ISP Web whosting. In this method of hosting your Web site, all of your site's pages reside on your ISP's server, along with the Web sites of other businesses and individuals.

Two Methodologies

As discussed in Chapter 3, most ISPs offer two ways for you to use their servers to host your Web site:

  • Set up your Web site as a subsite of the ISP's main site.

  • Set up your Web site as a virtual domain on the ISP's server.

Virtual Domain Hosting

A Web serving method in which your Web site is served from your ISP's server using your domain name.

Being a Subsite

Being a subsite of your ISP's Web site is the least expensive Web serving option and almost every ISP offers it. Even AOL offers members the ability to create Web sites on the AOL server. (Visit http://hometown.aol.com/ to explore some AOL member pages; see Figure 4.1.)

Figure 4.1. The AOL Hometown page offers tools for building and searching AOL Web pages, as well as links for exploring existing pages.

Here's how it works. The ISP sets up a folder on its server in which your Web site's files—Web pages, images, etc.—will be stored. For addressing purposes, your Web site's URL is the name of the ISP's Web server, followed by a slash and the name of your folder, like this: http://www. wickenburg-az.com/ranchdressings/. (On UNIX-based servers, you may also have to include a tilde character before the folder name, like this: http://www. wickenburg-az.com/~ranchdressings/.) When a visitor types that URL into his Web browser, the default Web page for that folder (normally named index.htm, index.html, default.htm, or default.html) is displayed.

Your folder is secured from unauthorized uploads (or changes) by a user ID and password. To add or change content on your site, you upload new or revised files to your folder via FTP. (I tell you more about that in Chapter 10.)

Virtual Domain Hosting

Virtual domain hosting enables you to have your own domain name without the bother (or cost) of maintaining a Web server and direct Internet connection. To site visitors, it appears that you have your own Web server.

The ISP's job for setting up a virtual domain is a bit more complex than setting up for a subsite. The ISP still sets up a folder for your site's contents on its Web server. But it also sets up domain mapping information so your domain name will be associated with your folder on the server. Meanwhile, your domain name must be properly associated with your ISP's server in the domain name system—something you do when you set up a domain name, as discussed in Chapter 3. Then, when a site visitor enters a URL with your domain name, such as http://www.chromecaballeros.com/, the Web server displays the default document in your folder.

As far as you're concerned, maintaining your Web site as a virtual domain works the same way as if your site was a subsite. You upload files to your password-protected folder to add or change site content.

Additional benefits that come with virtual hosting often include the ability to use your own CGIs and one or more e-mail addresses using your domain name.

What It Costs

Costs vary from one ISP to another. I've seen prices ranging from free to $60 per month or more, depending on the service you need.

If all you're interested in is setting up your Web site as a subsite on your ISP's server, the cost is probably already included in the cost of your dialup connection to the ISP. That means it's free with your dialup account. Be sure to check with your ISP for limitations, including site size and throughput limitations.

If you're interested in virtual domain hosting, expect to pay a setup fee of $0 to $150 (plus the domain name registration fee I told you about in Chapter 3), followed by monthly hosting fees of $15 to $60. One ISP I stumbled across while researching this book, Virtual Avenue (http://www.virtualave.net/) offers free virtual domain hosting. The catch? You have to display an advertisement on each of your Web pages.

Pros & Cons

Why consider ISP Web hosting? Here are some of the benefits:

  • ISP Web hosting is the least expensive way to put a Web site online.

  • Your Web site will have a high-speed connection to the Internet. The actual connection speed varies by ISP.

  • Your Web site will be backed up and protected against power failures and similar problems along with the rest of the ISP's system. All reputable ISPs have some kind of backup strategy.

Sounds great, doesn't it? But there are some limitations to consider:

  • Some ISPs limit the amount of disk space your site can use or charge additional fees if you use more disk space than offered. Most ISPs offer from 5 MB to 20 MB of disk space; this is usually enough for most small business sites.

  • Some ISPs limit or prevent the use of CGIs. This could prevent you from including features on your Web site such as counters, e-mail and other forms, or message boards.

  • Many ISPs do not provide access to Web usage logs that track visitors to your site. As a result, you can't really get an idea of how many hits each page on your site gets.

  • Some ISPs charge an additional fee if your site uses more than a preset maximum bandwidth. This means that the more popular your site is, the more it will cost you to maintain.

CGI (Common Gateway Interface)

A small program that performs a specific task on a Web server, such as processing a form or displaying a hit counter.


The amount of information that passes through a network connection. The more information your Web site displays, the higher the bandwidth it uses.


I discuss the pros and cons related to URLs, branding, and portability for each ISP hosting methods back in Chapter 3. Be sure to read that discussion before deciding which method is right for you.

For most small businesses, virtual domain hosting is an excellent way to get a Web site online quickly, easily, and cost effectively.

Finding an ISP

It's a fact of life: the only way to access the Internet is via an ISP. If you don't have an ISP and want to access the Internet, you'll have to get one.

If you don't have any way to access the Internet, you can start looking for an ISP with your local phone book or newspaper and a telephone. Telephone companies often offer ISP services, too; call the customer service department for your phone company to find out if Internet service is available in your area.

If you have access to the Internet at work or a friend's house, you can check The List (http://www.thelist.com/; see Figure 4.2), a Web site that provides a searchable list of ISPs in the United States and Canada. The List has been around a long time-I remember using it to find my first ISP back in 1994-and it has thousands of entries.

Figure 4.2. The List is a great place to start your search for a new ISP.

When choosing an ISP, make sure it offers a local phone number, high-speed access (at least 56 kbps), and free technical support. For more tips for choosing an ISP, check the August 1997 issue of Macintosh Tips & Tricks, which includes an article titled "Three Cs: Tips for Choosing an Internet Service Provider" by Patricia Delich, MA. You can find it in PDF format on the companion Web site for this book, http://www.smallbusinessonweb.com/.

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