Advice for anyone planning to set up a new website always begins with the recommendation to get a hosting package. But what kind? A new website owner must choose between options such as shared, dedicated, or VPS hosting plans. And, while all of these can provide an online home for that new site, they offer very different services that aren’t appropriate for every website. For new and smaller sites, shared hosting can be the least expensive and most accessible of these options – but it also comes with some significant limitations.
How Does Shared Hosting Work?
Shared web hosting packages are offered by just about every hosting provider. Just as the name implies, multiple websites, often thousands of them, are hosted on a single server maintained by the hosting service. Each user on a shared server gets an allotment of the server’s total available bandwidth, power and memory, and users can set up multiple sites under a single user account. This is, of course, is a very different offering than a more expensive dedicated server hosting plan.
What’s in a Shared Hosting Plan?
A shared hosting plan provides the user with space on the host’s shared server for a monthly fee. Users are responsible for setting up and running their own sites, and a single account can include multiple sites, as long as the total package doesn’t exceed the allotted space on the server.
The hosting provider is responsible for providing customer support, maintaining server hardware and software, including security protocols and updates, and safeguarding against crashes and downtime. These provisions are set out in the hosting contract, which establishes what users can and can’t do with respect to their sites, and under what circumstances the host can suspend or terminate a user’s account.
Shared hosting isn’t for everyone, but this kind of inexpensive hosting can help new businesses, entrepreneurs and independent creatives get a web presence quickly – even if funding is tight.
Low Costs Put Hosting Within Everyone’s Reach
The appeal of shared hosting plans comes largely from its extremely low cost, so that anyone can create and maintain a website with a very modest investment. Those low costs are possible because a hosting provider is carrying so many sites on a single server and collecting money from each one.
Many providers offer promotional specials that allow new users to set up shared hosting for rates that can start at less than $5 per month – although standard rates will apply once the discount period is over. Tiered packages are also available, with additional features included for higher prices. Users can usually upgrade their hosting to a higher tier at any time – or switch to a different type of hosting altogether.
Shared Hosting is User-Friendly
Shared hosting setups can be easy to use, even for a website owner with no experience in website design or development. These plans typically come with basic customer support from the hosting service, and offer options for “one-click” website installs like WordPress, which can create a live site in minutes, while also allowing for some customization. Each site on an account has its own control panel, which provides tools for webmasters to manage their content and basic look.
Although shared hosting allows new users to create a website on a shoestring budget with most basic features essential to running the site, this kind of bare bones service does have drawbacks.
Shared Resources Have Limits
All sites on a shared server operate on a standard allotment of the server’s total resources, including memory, bandwidth and CPU power. But, just as a spike in demand can overload a city’s power grid during a heat wave, a sudden surge of traffic on one site can cause others to slow down, even if they aren’t responsible for the increased use of server resources. To keep things evened out, shared hosting providers may put a cap on the amount of traffic or visitors a site can have in order to stay eligible for its shared hosting plan.
Security Can Be An Issue
In shared hosting, everything related to the maintenance of the servers is the responsibility of the hosting provider – and that includes security. The sites on that server operate independently, but shared technology can make it possible for malicious activity on one site to infect others nearby. Website owners in a shared hosting situation have to place their trust in the security provided by the host, since this kind of hosting package offers no options for users to install their own security measures to protect their sites.
Restrictions Can – and Do – Apply
Shared server hosting accounts typically come with tight restrictions, and users can be blindsided by these provisions if they don’t read the hosting contract carefully. Hosting services can prohibit users from installing certain kinds of plugins or applications on their sites, which limits options for customizing. Promotional offers for extremely low prices can triple once the introductory period is over – and users can be automatically billed for the standard rate.
Hosting providers reserve the right to terminate a user’s hosting account for a variety of reasons, too. If a site “outgrows” its allotted resources by gaining large amounts of traffic that affects other users, the account can be closed. Similarly, if a site attracts malware or massive amounts of spam comments, it can be locked out and site owners must clean up the problem before the site can go live again.
Who Should Use Shared Hosting?
Shared hosting works well for sites that have a relatively low volume of website traffic and don’t require large amounts of memory. But larger businesses or sites with a lot of traffic may not be a good fit for the shared hosting environment, and small sites that become successful may need more resources in order to expand.
When that happens, a site owner could upgrade the plan to a higher tier of services in shared hosting, or graduate to other solutions such as dedicated or VPS hosting. It’s also possible to stay on an ultra low cost shared hosting plan indefinitely, if a site remains relatively small and doesn’t consume excessive amounts of the shared server’s resources. With low costs and minimal features, a shared hosting service can help new users build an online presence quickly, with room to grow.