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Your Own Domain
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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 ?
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.
(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:
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]
Limits - Gigabytes.
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]
is in the package - options - $$$ ?
?? Months free
"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.
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:
FTP and Telnet.
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.
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]
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 Lists. READ the hosts "policies" carefully.
"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.
access - Perl / PHP scripts.
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.
- domain registration
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.
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]
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]
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]
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.
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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