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Your Own Domain

ALERT 2003: "domainsforpeople.com" or their affilliates are mass SPAMMERS "supposedly" offering very cheap domain registrations. If you use and trust them with your domain name you are nuts!

A large page, this text is about Hosting Services, what having your own site is about and what you can, and sometimes cannot, do with your site. Over the years I have used several hosting companies. The best performer by far for large sites was philex.net and I left with regret - reasons NOT related to Philex.

All obviously large ".com"s aside the general web site will NOT attract what one might call a large volume of traffic. Consider. If your site attracts 200 visitors a week and just ONE places an order then you can consider that a successful site - given that over time you will find ways to attract more sales and increase that success rate a little. And if a private site receives a few emails each week because you just like to connect with other people regarding some particular interest then that also is success. Both examples refer to low volume sites.

On the other hand a site with only a few actual "pages" yet which attracts thousands of users to a single forum of special interest will be considered a high traffic site. Not only would the data base file driving the forum become huge (say 50-100 megabytes++) but the "traffic" passt-hrough might be 30 GIGabytes ! Such sites are to be considered rare amongst the squillions out there, and they do have to "pay" IF the site is to also "perform" well (there is always eventually a price to pay in performance using hosts that compete offering huge volumes or "unlimited" everything at little cost - beware; that's "overselling").

First, how does this "bandwidth" thing work ?
A lot of pages needed to go in to techo depth. But as a simple ol' webmaster you only have to understand that every level of service or "step in the ladder" has to pay the next uplink connection for "bandwidth". That's how much traffic on the telephone lines and cables (in Bytes) will be allowed at a predetermined rate over a given time (i.e. each service PREpays for their predicted consumption). There is no real cyber"space". Someone owns the wires etc connected to each service, someone has to pay staff to maintain it.

Over simplified perhaps, you pay for a max limit of "traffic bandwidth" the host service will allow per month when "serving" just YOUR web pages and images etc. The host prepays the next uplink provider; probably some big mob that owns a squillion dollar high-tech warehouse (complex fire protection, bullet proof, bomb proof, body odor proof - sorry; complex air conditioning management, security services, space for many many computer stations, backup power generation, 7/24 hour technician attendance, and the list goes on). The "host" probably "rents" space for their computers (servers) within these shared facilities along with bandwidth allocations.

But as the path of the digital impulses continues they have to not only traverse cables under city streets blah but also between cities and towns. That environment becomes the next step(s) up the ladder of providers (and splitting into many - i.e. in the US there are many "telcos"). The big mobs that handle all that stuff also charge for "bandwidth" used on their cables/satellites/radio waves.

Still cutting it down for simplification we can then go straight to the controlling organisations keeping the undersea cables happening and maintained between countries. They need money to do that.... everybody pays for bandwidth !!

How much disk space is allocated ? - Megabytes.
World wide there are many different hosting packages on offer. Some services offer three, four or five packages, each with a particular space limit AND variable options availability. While you must consider the possibility of your site expanding further than first expected (compared to initial ideas your site will eventually take you in the directions the visitors want you to), look carefully at the other services/options offered with each package. Commonly the smaller the space allocation, the less there is on offer concerning other facilities. Space can be restrictive for really large businesses in particular. Often the jump in service options between levels is considerable and businesses quickly find the need to increase the cost outlay on presumption of increased sales, not because of increased sales, just because of "utility options".

(This site uses over 100 Megabytes COMPRESSED with way over 100 pages and many Megabytes of images and stuff. Yet for private and small business usage, there will be space to spare from 10 Megabytes with 20 or 30 average pages) Space allocations should also be taken into account with Traffic Limits BUT the two do NOT simply go hand in hand... i.e bigger / bigger.

* On the other hand, a package offering a full range of goodies but affordable without huge initial disk space or traffic allowance allocations should not be a problem as probably only the disk space or bandwidth allocations will need upgrading "if and when necessary".

NOTE almost all hosts offering really large space / bandwidth allocations rely on two simple facts:
1) FEW websites will ever use anywhere near their space limits.
2) FEW websites will ever use anywhere near their bandwidth / traffic allocations.

So, 1 & 2 above allow hosts to cram many more websites on a SINGLE server than one might expect (overselling). Therefore large volumes at low cost WILL mean your sites server is sharing you with some very intensive web sites; no so good. A reputable host will charge more to cover costs when keeping the servers integrity in tact and will not be the cheapest. [top]

Traffic Limits - Gigabytes.
Every byte of information that a server downloads to a viewers browser is recorded by the server log. From the smallest image to the the largest, Java applets, sound files and the page code (HTML) blah blah all add to the traffic count logged. Recorded hits, as reported by server logs, do not just refer to hyperlink clicks TO your web page, but to every file of any kind that the server has to send back to EVERY browser.

A page that downloads the HTML code page plus 10 buttons and 8 other images of various kinds will record a minimum 19 hits every time that page is viewed. Each file sent has a "size" which is added to the "traffic" count. This is also how it works regarding ISP "download" limits too except then it is every byte of data that passes through their service.

Therefore the traffic count in bytes will be the total of all the files sizes downloaded. Seemingly generous limits of 200MB to 500MB per month mean very little to some sites though. Traffic limits of 1000MB and 2000MB (one and two Gigabytes) should be viewed as a reasonable volume for most general sites with a reasonable amount of graphics and downloads involved (but large sound / video files will need a lot more).

Surveys in the past have reported that apparently the average number of pages per site is around 60 - 80 pages (no doubt INCLUDING the squillions of sites used solely for news groups and technical data etc that most of us rarely see).

For large traffic sites presuming many visitors view one third of a sites pages and the average total bytes per page happened to be 135KB, a very popular site with too many graphics soon uses up their traffic allocation. (135KB/page X 25pages X 1000 page loads = 3.375MB/day, X 30 days = 1.01GB/month. But large sites are usually so because they attract MANY hits; exceeding the 1000 a day considerably. Take into account that many pages are viewed two or three times as visitors navigate back and forth. Local browser or ISP cache does not guarantee that the server will not respond to repeated viewing either.

Most visitors come into this site directly to areas within, via search engines and links. So the traffic count is very unpredictable and can only be judged over a considerable length of time. Also, do not rely on page counters and their logs for calculating traffic / bandwidth totals. Page counter scripts can miss hits on some servers, increase counts on others but are good general indicators recording only page hits - comparative to actual server logs recording everything. When first looking for a Hosting service; the price can be low and reasonable, but do NOT skimp on included options. Over time they often become more important[Top]

What else is in the package - options - $$$ ?
Throughout the world there are so many different packages available that the exercise of choosing a Web Hosting company can be mind boggling. A lot of this and a little of that, and a lot that and a little of this, and so forth. Sometimes I see offers that are real traps which will quickly lead people and companies into having to increase outlays very quickly. As mentioned above space and/or bandwidth can be easily upgraded. But if you have to do that just to get the goodies you later need then maybe those big numbers are not so good after all.

?? Months free
What does it mean ? Simply the longer the account period the cheaper it is relative to monthly payments or lesser periods. Just a sales gimmick I believe should not be taken in to account when comparing. The bottom line is what matters considering the period you prefer to look for - unless you tend to fall for car sales hype rubbish too.

Microsoft Front Page.
Like 'em or love 'em, the FrontPage 98 package is very good value for non techo-nerds (oops!) that need to adjust their web pages regularly, perhaps by staff in a corporate office or using an Intranet. Even private sites of many pages are easy to handle once the HTML code is learnt. Many Hosting services used to charge extra for including MSFPEx with their service. If the host can use MSFP extentions, then once set up it is a very easy task to apply the extensions to each domain, and they get it for nix from Microsoft.

Secure Server.
Often an extra cost, this allows for easy setting up of an area used for the acquisition and storage of sensitive information. SSL enables the browser to send and receive all data "encrypted".

"Digital Bits" on the telephone / Cable line can be intercepted and "packet grabbed". So for sensitive data transmission SSL is a must. All Hosting services should include at least one secure area in the overall package, not charge more for it when you need it - and that usually happens fairly quickly. If a site is SSL enabled then usually the whole site is covered.

Secure Certificates.
SSL is of little real use unless there is a "Secure Digital Certificate" available. You will be familiar with these from when the browser asks you, when accessing a secure page, if you want to accept the sites digital certificate. Offering a certificate imparts some sense of security upon the user as it identifies EITHER the web site OR the web sites server.

Realise SSL and digital certificates are necessary for ANY secure transmission. NOT just CCard payment forms and the like !

Realise that using SSL is only part of your responsibility. SSL only encrypts between the browser and the server where it becomes "clear text" again. So what you do with that received data is also very fundamental to secure data transmission - i.e generating that secure? info in an email to yourself negates the whole exercise.

Realise those browser created "login boxes" that appear when entering a protected directory ALSO only send the login info as "plain text". So those directories should ALSO be called via SSL (https://...)

As far as hosting packages go should you need to use SSL secure pages:
1) DOES THE PACKAGE OFFER SSL WITH a shared certificate OR do you have to acquire your own (which can be US$100-US$800+ PER YEAR) ?
2) IF A SHARED CERTIFICATE, does its use come FREE with the hosting package ?

FTP and Telnet.
If you do not have FTP access included in the package without extra cost, forget it. Probably you will have to pay to even just break wind anywhere near your site too ! FTP allows you, or your elected managers, to upload, download and generally muck around with your own files. Sometimes you can obtain extra FTP "accounts" for sub-domains etc for an additional charge, sometimes free.

If the service is Unix based, and most are, then you will possibly need access to the UNIX shell (access via an old DOS like screen) via Telnet to perform advanced site / file / program management. A well prepared and protected server and service will include both in their package ALTHOUGH often these days ONLY Secure SSH2 Telnet is available which may attract an extra once-off or monthly charge. SSH2 access is NOT a toy and should be used with respect. (some non-UNIX based services do include similar shell access facilities).

The older "standard" Telnet access is to be avoided and now fewer hosts will allow same for security reasons; that's why the newer advanced SSH2 secure Telnet access. [Top]

Java, Perl, C++ etc.
Including the allowance for these in the package without extra charges should be expected. Perl is mentioned below with scripts. Java and C++ require the professional creation of Binary compiled programs that will mostly run on the server giving some dynamic response to browsers. You pay for the program creation, but you might be able to implement the free. However, some Hosting services require that they check the programs before implementation.

Long-running programs
Rarely needed, it could cost you heaps. In line with the above, a service that will openly consider the use of full time running programs on the server is usually offering a fair sense of good service and support which costs THEM money (always compare the Hosting services hourly rates too IF they offer "debug" support of programs installed on their servers - few do for good reason)

Data Base interaction.
These days a competitive Hosting service will implement the facilities for low cost data base support. Of course, it is up to you or your elected manager to get it and the web page(s) up and running, but you should not really pay for including common DBI extensions.

The Perl scripting language supported by most hosts is packed with generic db support.

But for MS Windows Servers real time interaction with MS type dB products is quite expensive. Most hosts these days offer popular mySQL support, either free, limited free (number of DBs), or at a cost per mySQL database.

The newer PHP scripting language (now supported by most hosts) has become popular too because it is more "function" based and easier for woodducks to learn. However, easier to learn means easier to abuse.

Far too many available PHP applications are created to use mySQL DBs when not necessary. A mySQL data base is a relational data base as are the MS products, with expensive start up overheads compared to generic DBI available on most servers (related to server resources when each visitor does something that "opens" a database). So I am always sceptical about hosts offering "unlimited" mySQL and server efficiency - remember there are hundreds of other sites on the same server doing the same thing, and only one over used site can drain server resources from all the other sites slowing down everyone !!. [top]

Pop-3 e-mail.
How many Pop e-mail accounts you get with the deal depends on the Hosting service and their competitiveness. Perhaps you can see a need for different departments having completely different e-mail names. However, if you do have to pay for extra Pop accounts, it should be just a one off fee. Most hosts offer a reasonable number for free. Remember each "POP" account detracts from the site space quotas. Also realise, should you get the idea, few hosts will allow you to resell options so "unlimited" email POPs should mean little to most people. Multiple email Pops are most useful to say businesses supporting different departments and execs or maybe clubs for committee members etc.

Email addresses, their "accounts" or Pops, can cause the biggest problems for any web site. In these days of mass spamming blacklisting of uncontrolled use can result in the banning of the WHOLE server, so please listen and be aware. SAME GOES FOR USE OF SUBSCRIBER LISTS. [Top]

E-mail aliases.
These little goodies are really nothing at all. Most services today will offer a large limited number or perhaps unlimited, depending on their servers configuration etc, for free. E-mail aliases (aka "Catch-All") simply allow visitors to use almost any id in the e-mail address and the mail server will send them ALL to the domain default POP. ie wally@yourdomain, jimbo@yourdomain wellheck@yourdomain etc. By placing different e-mail addresses on your web pages, a simple user script can also be set up (ftp / control panel / telnet access) to send some or all e-mails to other specific addresses ie your ISP or another associated company (redirects). So their purpose is mainly to "catch all" emails even if the user enters a few wrong characters.

Auto Responders.
These little goodies should be available also, at no extra cost, although there may be a limit (large). Again by readily changing a script (or multiple scripts usually again at no extra charge, you do the work), every time a visitor sends e-mail to your domain, they get a polite e-mail in return that simply acknowledges and thanks them, or perhaps returns help or technical information. Not every body uses them but they are good, for say, brief periods away on holidays etc - they are that easy to set-up and disable.

E-mail Lists. READ the hosts "policies" carefully.
Not to be confused with Spam and the low lifes that send them, today a competitive service will allow you to manage (again by simple scripts or control panels) the compilation of e-mail lists from people who honestly subscribe to them. What you use them for is up to you and your business. Perhaps it will be for a regular newsletter or notice of price or product changes etc. This can be a very good form of repeated contact with your customers, so long as they allow it and subscribe first. Most modern server set ups should allow the free inclusion of mail lists, at least a couple, in the deal (but most will have perhaps a 1000 membership limit).

"Account mail lists" are different to lists created by some subscriber CGI process you may implement via your web pages. Account mail lists also often allow variations like any subscribers message can be sent to all others in the list; similar to a "news group"

These days SPAM mail is becoming a real pain in the [       ] (you fill in the blank) ! Spam is reportedly (2003) going to get worse before, it is predicted, it gets mostly eradicated within 4-5 years. THAT MEANS if YOU dabble in sending of spam mail you have a good chance of black listing your POP accounts OR worse still and more likely the WHOLE SERVER you are hosted on (meaning everyone else on it too). The latter also means you will soon run out of hosts interested in taking you on because the "word will spread".

Mass sending of emails takes up considerable server resources - it can take hours just to send 10000-20000. So, many hosts ban the sending of ANY bulk mailing - carefully read each hosts policies.

There are hosts which allow bulk mailing of legitimate lists, BUT with a mailing limit - ?? per hour or day.

A better alternative to sever controlled mail lists, when some bulk mailing is allowed, is to brew your own lists via the installation of CGI programs allowing you to place "Subscription" forms throughout your site. Lists are created within your sites own space and can be mailed to also via a decent mail merging CGI program (I offer two popular CGI programs just for the purpose free-to-use).

And lastly, a word again about spam. Just adding an "un-subscribe" option in an email DOES NOT protect you from being branded a spammer, either by your host or the rest of the world. Increasingly unethical unsolicited address harvesting (that is, solicited by and to you directly from a consenting person and provable) is even becoming illegal (sueable) in many parts of the world including, already, some states in the US. [top]

At this point I'll add you will often see features listed you do not have a single clue about. Don't be perturbed, the learning curve will continue as needs be. When/if a web site grows to need complex interaction and so forth it is good to see those extras are available should you need professional assistance in creating parts of your web site beyond a few pages of HTML code. So if you read things like "Procmail support" or perhaps "JSP support" blah blah listed as a feature, just think beaudy and move on. At least it is available whatever.

Optional Extras.
If you are into the star wars series and wish to set up a site covering the topic (sorry, there are already squillions of Star Wars sites), most likely you will want to include sound tracks and video clips (all legally obtained). Rather than wait 37 minutes for a sound track or video file to up load, you can have streaming capabilities included in your site. Real Audio / Video streaming is a CPU intensive environment and so you can expect to pay for it. It is quite acceptable to have to pay for such options. Many Hosting companies will buy extra servers (expensive) that can be used for specific applications and CPU intensive environments, keeping the response times acceptable for other general account users.

Support - sanity
Support expected would be in the form of Phone, Fax and e-mail. But if you are going for a versatile site that will help you go in most directions that your success might lead you, CGI, FTP and Telnet shells etc, then check out the Hosts Free Support Manuals. They will be available online and should be clear but detailed. These days with "control panels" and hosts manuals most website owners rarely have to contact their hosts directly. This is good to know for "global" hosting where you / the host are in different places. But if you do then make sure it is clearly listed before getting the account.

CGI-BIN access - Perl / PHP scripts.
Still probably the most common method of including a dynamic relationship between the browser and server, CGI (Common Gateway Interface) scripts and Perl (a computer language) can be written by many people and companies around the world. From simple Feedback Forms and Guestbooks to Shopping Carts, CGI scripts are everywhere. In fact, many of them can be obtained on the Internet. Mentioned above, PHP scripts are becoming popular too.

The CGI-BIN is a common name for the folder or directory that houses cgi programs on a servers harddrive. Most Hosting services should enable such a folder on your domain, allowing you or your elected manager/company to access it. Again supposedly for security reasons, many Hosting services do not offer this service at all. Others do, but only with their supplied and set up scripts... you are not allowed to play. And again, other services will initialise a cgi-bin for you, if you pay extra. If cgi-bin access is allowed by the service you sign up with, then you are assured of an abundance of support for expansion of your site in areas of visitor interaction and business dealings.

internic - domain registration
Inter what? If you have used the Internet more than a couple of times you will have noticed the boring set of numbers that appear here and there quite often. Those numbers are Domain Names - sort of. Registering a Domain Name is a fairly straight forward transaction where one of many associated companies around the world, records your domain name as belonging to you and that it does not already exist elsewhere. The Name is also registered to be associated with a fixed set of numbers. And it is the four sets of 8bit numbers that is passed around the world when one server is looking for another (ie -
random numbers).

I recommend YOU register your own domains, NOT the hosting company. It IS easy and simple, and a handy learning curve for the future. When you decide on a host they will tell you what to configure at your registrar once your site is activated.
1) you guarantee control of your domain, by yourself only,
2) the registrar YOU choose can "hold" your domain name while you decide on a host,
3) you know your domain name will be transportable to any other host in the future,
4) it is up to you to decide on the competitive cost of registration INCLUDING your own choice of registrar which may or may not be the cheapest but better known and reliable.

When you rent space for your site with a Host service, the world cannot find you without your first obtaining a registered Domain Name. The current cost cannot be quoted as the process has been opened up and competition prevails. Often the first subscription has to cover two years. After that you will be billed for one year at a time.

Because registration is often offered by hosting services getting their cut of the charges (affiliate deals), be aware that there is a big difference in the Hosting service charges billed for this service. Also, make sure YOU will still "own" the domain name if / when you leave that host for another - it does happen ! My recommendation is as above and to do all the registration yourself; it is easy and you have full control. THEN you can take it to any hosting service.

Your new Host company should only charge a small fee for their part in the registration transactions, and you are advised to make sure the REGISTRAR is going to bill you for the following accounting, directly by land mail. People have found that when they leave a hosting service, their domain name is not theirs. Shonky hosting companies have then taken web pages and sold them, because the original owners have no right to them. If using a host to register, clarify this before you pay anyone. You must be registered as the administrator of the Domain Registration. A decent hosting service will set this up without question if that is the way you decide to go.

To be on a virtual server (one site of many on the one server machine) means that your Domain Name is registered with a series of numbers attached to that server. When first set-up by your host and you "activate" your domain name to their server it can take 2 - 5 days for all the worlds DNS servers to find out your new domain residence exists. To have your site on a dedicated server (expensive) means that your site is the only one on that server; unless you add others later[Top]

Protocols ?
Primarily, common sense and a realisation that you are working on a computer, but not your own. And most of what you do is recorded. If you do not know, leave it alone and learn first or ask. The machine you are allowed to share is indeed shared by many who all rely on it, and host servers are very complex affairs. If the Host company supports and serves you well, then appreciate it for they make what you have created, possible.

Remember, learn and respect the fact that thousands of others are also chasing the host companies help every day. If they prove to be un-supportive, arrogant and at the drop of a hat, carry on swinging their hand bags around (the kind that I have dealt with a couple of times), just move on. The people you meet through your site make it all worth while. [Top]

Private sites

A good deal, anywhere in the world, low cost (not necessarily the cheapest) and you have it made. If you can also afford your own domain registration, all the better. By creating and implementing your own working site, who knows, a new career soon, or another if needed in the future. [Top]

Business sites

If you feel at all apprehensive about the topics covered, do not be. To create a complex business site, complete at the start, may require the services of a Web Design company, but many such companies have deals with Hosting companies so be aware of that.

You shop around, understand the lingo and prices and make sure the designing company quotes for all predictable implementations. If they insist that only their Host service is good enough, walk away. If they are willing to look at setting up your site on your choice of servers, then they might be in with a chance. The Internet has broken down the international borders to a large extent, and that brings competitiveness into play more than ever before... it is better to deal with the devil you know than the one you don't know ! [top]

Costs in brief.

The costs will vary enormously between hosting companies. But it should separate into these possibilities.
1. An overall up front cost of hosting your pages for an agreed period of time (I suggest 6 months first up because it takes that time to sort out everything anyway).
2. Often a one off fee will be charged for setting up your domain.
3. Rarely a separate fee is charged for domain registration 'paperwork'.
4. Subsequent $??.00 for domain name re-registration is paid directly, by you, upon receipt of a land mail invoice. (20-30 days grace). I suggest do it all your self.
5. Divorce / Separation settlement costs.... now you have a new toy which will take up all your time. (just joking, I think?)

So I hope I have given you an insight into what might be in store for you and how easy it is to have your own www.your-name domain - so long as you have a professional and ethical host giving you support and service with a competitive package.

Highest cost does not mean best but neither does lowest with big "numbers" ! Listed recommendations do not always work either. A genuine recommending site may have a fairly low traffic volume and / or few graphics files. Maybe their e-mail requirements and interoffice connectivity are very simple.

Like so many situations in life and business, there is no guarantee. But at least if nervous a short 3-6 month initial rental of disk space and the ability to talk 'on their level' will prove an advantage - and you can take your domain with you wherever you go. If a reliable contact recommends your first host then go for 12 months as it is usually cheaper. You will be too busy learning and changing things in that time anyway.

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