Section 3.3. Getting Web Space

3.3. Getting Web Space

All you need to achieve Web superstardom is a domain name and a small amount of space on a Web server. There's no one- size -fits-all solution when it comes to finding a Web host. Instead, you'll choose the right Web hosting company based on your budget, what you want your Web site to be able to do, and your own capricious whims (let's face itsome Web hosts just have way cooler names than others).

Finding the right Web host can take a bit of searching, and it may require making a few phone calls or just surfing around the Web. Before you start tapping away, it helps to take a look at the big picture.

3.3.1. The Big Picture

Nowadays, Web hosting packages come in three main flavors:

  • Simplified Web site creation . In this case, the Web hosting company offers special software that promises to help you create a Web site in two or three easy steps. These tools range from terrible to awful (see Figure 3-7). After all, if you're content to create the same cookie- cutter Web site as everyone else, you probably aren't interested in HTML, and you wouldn't have picked up this book in the first place. Instead, go for standard Web site hosting and unleash your inner Web artiste .

    Figure 3-7. Page design wizards give you a quick and easy way to make mediocre pages. In this example (generated for an AOL Hometown site), a tool-generated page has plain formatting and an ad banner you can't remove. Another major limitation is the page-creation software. Although it's quite good for a browser-based program, it's still slow and awkward , and lacks most of the features and conveniences you'll get if you use a regular PCbased Web editor, which you'll learn about in Chapter 4.



    Note: There's one case where simplified Web site creation makes senseif all you want to do is create a blog (a personal site that consists of short, chronological postings about anything that interests you). Chapter 17 shows how you can create a blog on your own Web site, or how you can set one up at a free blogging host so you don't need to buy a domain name or pay for Web space.
  • Standard Web site hosting . Here, you're given a slot of space on a Web server to manage as you see fit. You create the Web page files you want using your own computer, and then copy these files to the Web server so that others can see them. This type of Web hosting is all you need to use this book.

  • Web application hosting . This option makes sense if you're a programmer at heart, and you need a Web server that can run your Web applications. A Web application can be quite neatit can perform complex calculations, read vast amounts of information from a database, and spit out made-to-measure HTML on the fly. However, programming a Web application is far from easy. In this book, you'll focus on creating ordinary Web sites, and using third-party services when you need more complex features like an e-commerce shopping cart. That means Web application hosting is overkill.

Web hosting packages usually charge a monthly fee. For basic Web hosting, this fee starts at the reasonable sum of $5$10 per month. Of course, it can escalate quickly, depending on what features you want.

3.3.2. Assessing Your Needs

You need to ask yourself one important questionwhat features do you need? Web hosts are quick to swamp their ads and Web sites with techie jargon, but they don't tell you which services are truly useful. Here's a quick overview that describes what Web hosts sell (and what you need to know about each offering). If you'd like to keep track of which features you need, there's a checklist you can fill out on Section 3.3.2.1, or you can download it from the "Missing CD" page at www.missingmanuals.com.

  • Web space is how much space you're renting to store your Web site. Although HTML pages are extremely small, you may need more space to fit in images or files you want others to download. A modest Web site can easily survive with 20 MB (megabytes) of space, unless you're stuffing it full of pictures or videos . Many Web hosts throw in much more, often as much as 500 MB or 1 GB (gigabyte), knowing you'll probably never use it.


    Note: For the numerically challenged, a Gigabyte (GB) is the same as 1024 Megabytes (MB). To put it in perspective, modern hard drives can offer 200 GB of space or more, which gives you room for thousands of Web sites.
  • Bandwidth (or Web traffic, as it's sometimes called) is the maximum amount of information you can deliver to everybody who surfs to your Web site in a month. Usually, you can make do with the lowest bandwidth numbers offered by your Web hosting company (with 1 GB being more than enough). For more information, see "The Riddle of Bandwidth" on Section 3.3.2.

  • A domain name is a custom Web site address, as in www.HenryTheFriendly.com . If you decide to get a custom domain name, you don't necessarily need to get it from the same company that hosts your Web site. However, it does make life easier, and a custom domain name is often thrown in for a discounted price when you sign up for a Web hosting plan.

    POWER USERS' CLINIC
    The Riddle of Bandwidth

    Most Web hosting companies set their pricing, at least in part, based on your Web space and bandwidth needs. This can be a problem, because the average Web site creator has no idea how to calculate these numbers. It's even harder to come up with realistic estimates.

    Fortunately, you can save a lot of time and effort by understanding one dirty little secret: for the average personal or small business Web site, you don't need much disk space or bandwidth. You can probably take the smallest amounts on offer from any Web hosting company and live quite happily. The only real exception is if your Web site is ridiculously popular, if you're showcasing a huge catalog of digital photos, or if you want to store extremely large files and let visitors download them.

    If you still insist on calculating bandwidth, here's how it works. Let's say you've got a Web site with 100 relatively modest pages that are each about 50 KB (kilobytes), including graphics. Right away, you can calculate your Web space requirementit's 50 KB * 100, or 5 MB.

    To calculate the bandwidth, you need to make estimates about how many visitors will surf through your site, and how much content they'll request over each visit. Suppose your Web site is doing well, and receives about 10 visitors in a day. Say an average visitor browses through 20 pages before leaving. In a day, your bandwidth usage is 10 visitors * 20 pages * 50 KB, or 10 MB. Over a 30-day month, that's 300 MB, still less than a third of the 1 GB bare minimum that most Web hosting companies offer.

    So why do Web hosting companies focus on Web space and bandwidth numbers? It's partly to satisfy large customers who really do have greater requirements, but it's also to confuse everyone else into buying more than they need.

    Here's another scenario: you create a Web site and add links that allow visitors to download MP3 files of your underground all-percussion garage band . You offer up three songs, each of which is a 4 MB MP3 file. Now the equation changes. Assuming a steady stream of 10 visitors a day, and assuming each visitor downloads all three songs, you've hit a bandwidth of 10 visitors * 3 songs * 4 MB, or 120 MB. Now your monthly bandwidth usage tops 3 GB. You're probably still in the clear, because many Web hosting companies offer 7 or 10 GB in their starter packages. However, you'll want to pay more attention to the bandwidth number.

    If bandwidth is important for you, you need to know what will happen if you surpass your bandwidth limit in a month. Some Web hosting companies cut your Web site off entirely at this point (or just show your visitors an explanatory page saying the site is temporarily inactive). Other Web hosting companies tack on extra fees. So ask.


  • Email addresses . Odds are, you already have some of these. But you may want an email address that matches your Web site address, especially if you're paying for a customized domain name. For example, if you own www.HenryTheFriendly.com , you'd probably like to use an email address like Hank@HenryTheFriendly.com. Web hosting companies give you different options heresome may just forward the email to another email address (which you'd need to supply them with), while better packages will give you a dedicated email inbox with plenty of space for receiving and storing messages.

  • Upload-ability how easy it is to transfer files to the Web serveris another important detail. As you saw in the previous chapter, you can perfect your Web pages on your own computer before you upload them. But once your Web site's ready for prime time, you need a convenient way to copy all the files to your Web server. For greatest convenience, look for FTP (File Transfer Protocol) support, which lets you easily copy a number of files at once. Some Web hosts may also provide integration with popular Web design tools like FrontPage and Dreamweaver, allowing you to upload pages without leaving your Web editing program.

  • Frills . In an effort to woo you to their side, Web hosting companies often pack in a slew of frills. For example, sometimes they'll boast about their amazing, quick-and-easy, Web site creation tools. Translation: they'll let you use a clumsy piece of software on their Web site to build yours. You'll end up with a cookie-cutter result and not much opportunity to express yourself. Steer clear of these pointless features. More usefully, a Web hosting company can provide Web site statistics detailed information about how many visitors are flocking to your site on a daily or monthly basis. Some Web hosting companies also offer support for server-side scripts ( essentially , miniature programs that can run in your Web site) with catchy acronyms like CGI, JSP, PHP, and ASP.NET. Although these features are powerful, they require programmer credentials. They're all beyond the scope of this book.


Note: Although server-side applications aren't covered in this book, you will learn about client-side scripts in Chapter 14. Client-side scripts run right inside your Web site visitor's browser, and are much more limited in ability than server-side scripts. They're commonly used for special effects like animated buttons . The nice thing about client-side scripts is that even programming novices can drop a simple script into their Web pages and enjoy the benefits. But you don't need to worry about any of this right now, because unlike server-side scripts, client-side scripts don't require any special support from your Web hosting company.
3.3.2.1. A Web host checklist
________ Web space . 20 MB is acceptable if you're getting free Web space from your ISP, but insist on at least 50 MB if you're paying for it with a monthly fee. If you want to offer photos, audio, or other large files, go for 250 MB to be safe.
________ Bandwidth . You don't need much. 1 GB works for normal Web sites, but look for 5 GB or more if you want to provide large files or are expecting to create a popular Web destination.
Domain name . This is your identitywww.You.com. Ideally , the domain name should be thrown in for free.
Email addresses . These go with the domain name. Look for at least one POP mailbox. It's better to have five or more, because it allows you to give separate email addresses to family members , or use them for different purposes. Also look for Web-based access to your email.

Note: POP stands for Post Office Protocol, which is the standard your computer uses to communicate with the email server. When you have a POP email account, you're able to use desktop email programs like Microsoft Outlook and Microsoft Entourage. (Hotmail and other Web-based mail systems don't provide the same support.)
FTP access . This ensures easy uploading of your files.
Tech support . The best companies provide 24- hour tech support, ideally through a toll-free number or a live chat feature that lets you ask a tech support person questions through your browser.
Statistics . These are useful if you want to check out how popular your Web site really is. If you want to analyze traffic patterns and more detailed statistics, look for a Web host that provides access to raw server logs . You can download these and use them with a high- powered analysis tool.
FrontPage extensions . Useful if you're using FrontPage to create your Web site, and want to take advantage of a few extra frills.

3.3.3. Choosing Your Host

Now that you have your requirements in mind, it's time to start shopping for a Web host. The following sections take you through your options.

3.3.4. Your ISP (Internet Service Provider)

As you may have already realized, your ISPthe company that provides your access to the Internetmay have its own Web hosting services. In fact, these services are sometimes included in the basic subscription price, meaning you may already have a dedicated amount of Web space that you don't even know about. If you're in this situation, congratulationsyou don't need to take any extra steps. If you're unsure, a quick call to your ISP will fill you in. Make sure you ask for "personal Web space." Many ISPs also provide large-scale Web hosting packages for a monthly fee.


Note: In some cases, your ISP may provide Web hosting that you decide not to use. For example, they may not give you enough space, or they may force you to use their limited Web site creation software (which is a definite drag). In these cases, you'll want to use one of the other Web hosting solutions described below.

Obviously, ISPs differ in whether or not they provide Web space. You're more likely to get a small amount of Web space if you have a high-speed broadband connection (cable or DSL) rather than a dial-up account. Often, the space is as little as 5 or 10 MB, which is much smaller than what you receive from a Web hosting company. And no matter what ISP you have, you won't get a customized domain name as part of your package (although you can purchase one separately).

Before continuing any further, it might be worth it to make a quick call to your ISP or visit their Web site to see if they provide Web hosting services. In the meantime, Table 3-1 lists some popular ISPs and their support for Web hosting (at the time of this writing).

Table 3-1. ISPs and Personal Web Space

ISP

Personal Web Space

Verdict

America Online (AOL)

Provides a wizard-based hosting service that anyone can use for free, called AOL Hometown (http://hometown.aol.com). Existing AOL customers have added features, like FTP. Web space is limited, and ugly advertisement banners are mandatory.

North worth the trouble.

United Online (NetZero, Juno, and BlueLight)

No.

No.

Comcast

Yes.

Suitable for small sites.

Earthlink

Yes. Also offers a premium Web hosting service for a monthly fee.

Suitable for small sites.

Verizon

Yes. Also offers a premium Web hosting service for a monthly fee.

Suitable for small sites.

SBC Yahoo!

The only free service is through GeoCities, which has no FTP access and forces you to use advertisements. Better Web hosting is available for an additional fee.

No.

AT&T

Yes (depending on your plan).

Suitable for small sites.

BellSouth

Yes (depending on your plan).

Suitable for small sites.

Road Runner

Yes.

Suitable for small sites.

MSN

Provides a free service called MSN Spaces (http://spaces.msn.com) that lets you build a blog (Chapter 17) or a personal site with pictures. The service doesn't let you upload your own Web pages. Microsoft also offers real Web hosting, but it's a little pricey.

Too limited.


3.3.5. Web Hosting Companies

Technically, anyone that provides Web space is a Web host, but there's a class of companies that specialize in Web hosting and don't do anything else. You can find these companies all over the Internet, or in computer magazines. The disadvantage is that Web hosting companies always charge by the month. You won't get anything for free.

The sad truth is that it's almost impossible to research Web hosting companies online, because the Web is swamped with more Web hosting advertisements than those for cut-rate pharmaceuticals . Fortunately, there are many good choices.

Table 3-2 lists just a few good ones to get you started. If you're curious , be sure to check out these Web sites and start comparison shopping.

Table 3-2. A Few of the Internet's Many Web Hosting Firms

Name

URL

Brinkster

www.brinkster.com

Insider Hosting

www.insiderhosting.com

Pair Networks

www.pair.com

Sonic .net

www.sonic.net



Tip: For a recent PC World article that's packed full of Web host advice (and based on 6,000 reader reviews), surf to www.pcworld.com/reviews/article/0,aid,120341,00.asp.

As you consider different Web hosting companies, you'll need to sort through a dizzying array of options on different Web sites. In the following sections, you'll learn how to dig through the marketing haze and find the important information on the Web sites of two Web hosting companies.

3.3.5.1. A Web host walkthrough (#1)

Figure 3-8 shows how you can assess the home page for the popular Web hosting company Aplus.Net. The company offers Web hosting, dedicated servers, and Web design services. All three options are designed to help you get online, but the Web hosting option is what you're really looking for. The dedicated server option is a premium form of Web hosting. It means that your Web site will run on a separate computer that doesn't host anyone else's Web site. This is primarily of interest to large business customers with high-powered Web sites that chew up computer hardware resources. Most personal and small business Web sites run on shared servers without any noticeable slowdown . The Web design option is mainly of interest to HTML-phobes. It allows you to pay a Web design team to craft all the HTML pages and graphics for your Web site. But where's the fun in that?

The choices don't end there. Figure 3-9 invites you to narrow down your choice based on the type of operating system you want for your Web server. Unless you're a programmer planning to create special software to run on the server, there's no reason to care what type of operating system runs on the Web server. Assuming the Web hosting company does its job and distributes the Web sites they host over multiple computers, your Web site will be just as fast and reliable on any system. When was the last time you asked yourself what operating system runs eBay (Windows) or Amazon (Linux)?

At the end of your search, you've discovered that the cheapest option is currently $6/month for a 50 MB Web site with 1 GB of bandwidth. A free domain and five email addresses are thrown in for good measure. The virus and spam protection is much less interestingit simply indicates that your email will have automatic filtering to catch dubious messages. The Web Control Panel refers to the page where you can configure your Web site settingsbut every Web hosting company offers that. For the final assessment, click "more info " and you'll see mostly the same list with a few more details, including FTP support (Section 3.4.2).

Figure 3-8. There's a lot of information packed onto this page. The Live Chat box at the bottom far right shows that Aplus.Net has solid tech support (in this case Hank), and offers a way for you to get quick answers to specific questions. Click the "learn more" link in the Web hosting box (bottom left) to drill down and take a look at different Web hosting plans.


Figure 3-9. Choices, choices. Unix hosting is the cheapest option on Aplus.net. (Unix refers to the type of computer that powers your Web site; on your own PC, you can stick with whatever operating system you normally use.) The cheapest plan offered (Solo) is $6/month for a 50 MB Web site.


3.3.5.2. A Web host walkthrough (#2)

Overall, the Aplus.Net search turned up a solid offer at a fair price. Discerning Web shoppers may be hoping to save a few dollars or get a little bit more space.

Figure 3-10 shows another Web hosting companyBrinkster. Brinkster's target audience includes personal Web site creators , small businesses, and developers, rather than large institutional customers. As a result, you won't find premium features like dedicated server hosting. However, you just may find a better deal for your Web site.

Figure 3-10. The Brinkster homepage includes a tool for searching for domain names (lower left box), as most Web hosting companies' Web sites do. However, don't start thereit makes more sense to find a package and then get your domain name. The personal package is probably a good bet for most small Web sites. At $4.95/month, it has space for a 500 MB Web site, a huge helping of bandwidth (7 GB), and a free domain name and email addresses thrown in for good measure. And look at the happiness it's brought this group of hip twenty-somethings!


To get the full details, click the More button in the Personal Package box. You'll see the details in Figure 3-11.

Now that you've taken a tour of two Web hosting company Web sites, you're ready to evaluate some more. Or, if you're really impatient, you can set up your Web site using one of the hosting companies you've seen. It doesn't take anything more than a couple of mouse clicks, and you'll be completely online in only a few hours.


Tip: If your Web host is letting you down, don't panic. It's not too hard to switch hosts. The key thing to remember is when you change hosts, you're essentially abandoning one Web server and setting up shop on another one. It's up to you to copy your Web pages to the new Web serverno one will do it for you. As long as you have a copy of your Web site on your personal computer (which you always should), this part is easy. If you're still a little skeptical of the company you choose, look for a 30-day, money-back guarantee.

Figure 3-11. Everything checks out in the listing here, including FTP access. You'll also notice features that every Web hosting company provides (like virus scanning and a control panel for managing your site) and some that aren't that useful at all (like the Website Builder).


3.3.6. Free Web Hosts

Not yet swayed by any of the hundreds of Web hosting companies on the Web? Not tempted by the offer of a little Web space from your ISP? If you're hoping to save a monthly fee at all cost, there is a solution, but it may not be worth the aggravation. The Web has a significant number of free Web hosts. These free hosts are companies that give you a small parcel of Web space without charging anything. Sometimes it's because they hope to get you to upgrade to a cost-based service in the future when you outgrow the strict limitations of the free package. Other times, they may just be interested in the advertisement revenue. That's because free Web sites universally force you to include an obnoxious ad banner at the top your Web pages.

If you're still interested in joining The Dark Side of the Web, Table 3-3 lists some well-known free Web hosts.

Table 3-3. Free Web Hosts

Web Host

Service

Verdict

Yahoo GeoCities http://geocities.yahoo.com

Fair space and bandwidth, but you're stuck with an ad bar and forced to use limited page-creation software. You can upgrade to FTP access (which gives you the ability to upload your own HTML creations) for a monthly fee.

Not worth the trouble.

Angelfire http://angelfire.lycos.com

Fair space and bandwidth, along with FTP support (allowing you to avoid those dodgy Web site creation tools). The ad bar is mandatory, unless you upgrade to a monthly fee plan.

Acceptable, if you can stand the ad bar.

Tripod www.tripod.lycos.com

Fair space and bandwidth, along with FTP support and a mandatory ad bar. Similar to Angelfire, along with the option to upgrade to a fee-based plan.

Acceptable, if you can stand the ad bar.



Tip: Looking to save some money but craving a custom domain name? You could use a free hosting service in conjunction with domain forwarding. But if you shop around, you may be surprised to find a few better deals. If you use the hosting company www.catalog.com, you can get a year of free Web hosting for a flat $35 fee. That price gives a respectable 50 MB with 3 GB of bandwidth, five email accounts, and, best of all, a custom domain name. A subsidiary company, www.onesite.com, offers more or less the same deal, but the first year is free, and students get an impressive five years of free hosting. The only catch? If you decide to transfer your domain name to another Web hosting company, you will pay an onerous cancellation fee.


Creating Web Sites. The Missing Manual
Creating Web Sites: The Missing Manual
ISBN: B0057DA53M
EAN: N/A
Year: 2003
Pages: 135

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