When you’re thinking about creating a website, you’ve got many decisions to make, from the design of it, to the content, the type of platform and everything in between. One of the other key things to think about, something you can’t avoid, is the hosting. No matter the type, size or design of the website, you need to know where it is being hosted, for the best balance between your website’s performance and your bank balance. That’s why, in this blog mini-series, I will take you through the different types of website hosting you could choose. First stop, shared hosting.
Shared hosting is an entry-level type of hosting, which is capable of providing the perfect number of resources for certain websites, such as a local business, a personal website or a start-up’s website. It is one of the most popular options for new websites right now.
Before we take a look at the advantages and disadvantages, it is important for us to understand what shared hosting actually is. That’s the only way we will be able to decide whether it is the right solution for any given website. First, let’s take a look at the definition.
Shared hosting is a specific type of web hosting, where often hundreds of websites are hosted on a single server (or computer). Each of these websites, or users, makes use of the same resources on this server, helping to keep costs low. Each user gets a section of the server to host their website and has access to the same features, such as databases, email accounts, disk space, traffic etc. The resources of the server, on which all these websites are hosted, are shared on-demand by these websites. This means that whilst the resources are not permanently used by a website, when people are visiting it, it will have access to its share of the resources.
For those of you for whom the definition is still a little confusing, this metaphor may help. Imagine you’ve just landed in Crete (or anywhere else, for that matter) on an amazing package holiday. Once you’ve got your suitcases from baggage claim, you’re directed outside to a vehicle, to take you to your hotel. Instead of a taxi, you’re directed to a coach, which already has other families or groups on board. As the coach leaves the airport, it drops each group off at their respective hotels, one by one. If you were in a taxi, you would have gone straight to your hotel and it would have been much quicker. As it happens, you were on a coach, so your journey to your hotel was much slower, as you had to drop others off at their hotels first.
This is essentially what shared hosting is. Instead of a website having its own fast, dedicated server (the taxi) it is on a shared server with lots of other websites (the coach) which means the resources are shared and it is most likely slower than a dedicated option.
Now that we understand what shared hosting is, let’s take a look at some of its benefits, and why you may find that it is the right solution for you and your website.
Since there are lots of websites or users hosted on a single server, the hosting company’s server costs are shared between all those users. That means that overall, even on a more expensive shared hosting package, it is still much cheaper than dedicated options. You can get shared hosting packages for as little as £30 + VAT for a year, which is fantastic for those on a budget.
When you are on a shared hosting plan, with most hosting providers it is very easy to upgrade (or downgrade, of course) your hosting package at any time, without and issues, which is especially important as your website grows. In fact, if you choose the right hosting provider, all migrations and upgrades will be done for you.
With the hosting being shared, the management of it is generally not done for you. However, that’s no problem, since you are usually provided with a very easy-to-use interface to help you sort everything, very intuitively, without much effort or stress. One of the most common interfaces is the cPanel. That’s perfect if you’re not tech-savvy, or you don’t have hours to spend managing things.
You’ll notice on a lot of shared hosting plans that they state a number of websites you can host with that package. That’s one of the brilliant things about shared hosting. Since a server can host multiple websites simultaneously, you can do the exact same thing with your own account. For example, if you’ve got a website for your business, but you also want to run a website for the local village hall (or anything else) then you can do that from within your account with no issues. You just need to make sure that you connect the domain for that website to your account as well.
It’s one thing managing the website yourself. It’s a whole other thing managing the server, which is a lot more technical. On shared hosting packages, you can leave the technical server management to the experts, allowing you to focus solely on your own website. That takes the stress of server management for the less tech-savvy amongst us, whilst helping to improve things like performance and uptime.
It is important to remember that whilst shared hosting does clearly have many benefits, there are of course some reasons why it may not be the best option. Here they are.
If you’re using shared hosting, it means you’re sharing resources with other users. Under normal usage, this isn’t an issue. However, if for any reason your website starts to get a high amount of traffic, especially in a short amount of time, this will almost certainly impact the performance of someone else’s website. The reverse is also true. It might not even be down to traffic. For instance, if someone has a poorly coded website on the server, which becomes a drain on resources, you’ll almost certainly be affected. Most good hosting providers have shared servers with a much higher physical capacity than required and a fair usage policy, to try and prevent this. Even so, shared hosting is always vulnerable to these issues.
Most shared hosting packages from good providers will have a limit on the number of visitors you can have to your website, to be fair to all users on the server, preventing them from having issues caused by your website, and vice versa. One aspect of this is bandwidth, which is the amount of data that can be transferred to visitors by the server in a year. Whilst a lot of packages state ‘unlimited bandwidth’ what they really mean is that their packages are subjected to a fair use policy, so if your website has too many visitors, it will be restricted.
The other aspect is the hosting CPU. Each visit to your website (i.e., each time a page is requested) a certain amount of processing power is required. With a shared package, you’re generally limited as to the number of CPUs you can use, which means you are limited as to how many users can visit your website at any one time. If the number of visitors to your website exceeds the processing capacity available, your website will be temporarily ‘down’, until the demand has fallen.
In this case, by disk space, we are talking about the amount of ‘hard drive’ space, in Gigabytes (or GB) allocated to your website, a bit like the storage space on your computer. Shared hosting packages generally limit quite strictly how much space you are able to use. Whilst this isn’t so much of an issue for small websites, it can become a big issue for websites as they grow, or when email accounts exist. If your website on a shared host exceeds the amount of space it has been allocated, then you will no longer be able to make changes, or receive emails, until such time as you either upgrade your hosting (to give you more storage space) or you delete something, to free up space within your existing allocation.
We have already seen how just one website on a shared server can potentially cause issues for the other websites on the same server, in relation to performance. The same goes for things like vulnerabilities, and other issues. For example, if one website has a security vulnerability that is exploited (sadly no website is invulnerable these days) it could then have the potential to affect the server, possibly even taking it down for a short while. Any other website on the server would be affected, even if it did not have the issue itself. With most good hosting providers, this is not much of an issue, since they guarantee uptimes of at least 99%, backed up by good security and backup servers, amongst other things.
There are many circumstances in which you might want to have specific, or unique software installed on your server. This could be something as simple as a different type of database. The database software most commonly installed on shared servers is known as MySQL. You may, however, want to use a different type of database, such as PostgreSQL or even MariaDB. Whatever the software, you simply cannot customise it if you are using shared hosting, as the hosting provider will always keep things consistent, for all users on the server. In this instance, you would need to upgrade your hosting to a dedicated version.
Knowing all of this, you’re now in a position to decide whether or not shared hosting is right for you. Generally, if you fall into one of these categories, it would be a great choice.
When you’re starting out, it is very hard to predict just how busy your website will be, but one thing is for sure – until people start to hear about your website, it probably won’t have many visitors. That’s why shared hosting could be the perfect option. Even though the performance might not be great, it is perfect for the tight budget you might typically have when starting a business and it is very flexible, so you can upgrade very easily, once you are aware of your requirements, or as your business expands.
At Digital Lychee, I make sure that I tailor all my clients’ website to suit their individual needs. In your initial consultation (free and no obligation, of course) we will discuss your needs in full and I can advise you on the best type of hosting to suit your needs and how you can upgrade it going forwards, if necessary. If you are interested in my services, or you want to find out more about my blog, I would love to hear from you. You can get in touch with me here.