Beginner’s Guide to Web Hosting Hosting is the process of taking your site from your computer and putting it online so others can see it. Web hosting centers on the server, which is a special computer that stores a copy of your site files (html, css, images, videos, etc.). When someone submits a request for your site (by clicking on a link or typing your site’s address into their browser), the server sends a copy of those files to their computer which then displays them. Getting your site onto a server involves two basic steps: 1. You need to get hosting space and a domain name (the www.mysite.com address). 2. Your site files must be uploaded to the server’s hosting space. Getting hosting space There are three ways to get hosting space for your site. The first is to use free hosting space provided by your internet provider. For example, the Road Runner internet service provided by Time-Warner Cable includes a personal home page option, which gives you 50MB of hosting space. The advantage of this approach is that it’s free; disadvantages are that you have little or no control over how the site looks, and the domain will be www.rr.com/ username (not suitable for a business). The second way to get hosting for your site is to do it yourself. This requires a dedicated computer, server software, a fast internet connection, and a lot of technical know-how. Don’t try it unless you’re a real computer geek. The third way to get hosting is to buy it from a hosting company (which operates a lot of servers). This is by far the best method for a business website; you can pay someone else to worry about all of the technical details for you. Web hosting companies There are thousands of companies that provide web hosting, and they offer an enormous range of services. This can be intimidating to the newcomer, but luckily there are only a few things that you need to look for. Here is a quick summary of important features: Shared vs. dedicated Shared hosting is the most popular (and least expensive) option. Your site shares a server with other websites. Most shared hosting plans offer a good range of popular features, including easy setup, database functionality, and e-commerce capability. This is a good solution for small to medium-sized businesses which don’t expect to have a huge volume of web traffic. Dedicated hosting offers greater control. The server you buy or rent is only used by your site, so it can be configured any way you wish. This also provides greater performance and security. The disadvantage of dedicated hosting is much higher cost, up to thousands of dollars per month. Windows vs. linux/unix Most hosting companies offer plans with either Windows-based or Linux/Unix-based hosting. This has nothing to do with what kind of computer you have. Unless you have very specific needs, always choose Linux/Unix hosting. This is easier to use, more stable and usually cheaper. Uptime guarantees Many hosting companies guarantee that your site hosting will be up (working correctly) 95% to 100% of the time. Websites may be unavailable due to connectivity issues, poor code, or any number of reasons beyond the control of your hosting company. These figures are generally meaningless and should be ignored. Support This is the most important factor in choosing a hosting company. There will inevitably be problems with your site; when this happens, the quality and availability of help is crucial. Look for these things: ■ 24-hour support every day ■ Extensive FAQ library — This is a collection of common support problems and their solutions, and can often help solve problems. ■ Phone support — Some companies offer only e-mail support, but this is time-consuming and often fruitless. There is no substitute for talking to a real person. Do not buy hosting without 24/7 phone support. This should also be quick to respond, in-country (not outsourced), and knowledgeable. Cost Although many hosting companies offer month-to-month hosting, paying for at least a year at a time usually lowers the price. It also frees you from having to remember to renew it every month. There should be no set-up fee. Mail features Your hosting account should include several e-mail features: ■ Webmail — This allows you to access your e-mail from any computer, using a web browser. ■ Forwarding — This allows you to forward e-mail from your site to another address (such as a GMail or Yahoo address you already use). ■ Auto-responder — This automatically sends a pre-made response to anyone who sends you a message. ■ Catch-all e-mail address — This ensures that if someone sends an e-mail to something like “help@mysite. com” instead of the correct address (such as “firstname.lastname@example.org”), the message will get through to you. Access without www This ensures that people who leave off the “www” part of your domain will still get to the site. Subdomains This allows you to create subsidiary sites that are based on your main site. Multiple domains/web sites This allows you to host several different domains (completely separate websites) on the same hosting space — a big money saver if you plan to have more than one site. Most bargain-priced hosting packages only allow one domain (one site) per hosting space; by spending a few more dollars, you should be able to get a hosting plan that allows multiple domains. Alias domains This feature allows you to point different domains to the same website. Site statistics This allows you to track who’s coming to your site and what they are doing there. File manager This allows you to manage your site files on your hosting space (create directories, rename files, etc.). PHP/Perl PHP and Perl are popular scripting languages that let you add interactivity (such as forms) to your site. You may not need this now, but eventually you will. Applications Most hosting plans include access to free applications which add functionality to your site. This includes things like content management systems, shopping carts for e-commerce, and blog software. If you think you might want a blog later, look for WordPress to be included; it’s the most popular blogging platform, and having your hosting company install it is much easier than doing it yourself (trust me on that). Finding a good host There are several websites that review hosting companies and compare features: http://webhostinggeeks.com/ http://webhostinggeeks.com/user-reviews/ http://www.webhostingreviews.com/ http://www.webhostingsearch.com/reviews.php Hosting with GoDaddy.com I use GoDaddy.com for my hosting, and have had good results with them. Right now, they’re hosting three of my client sites, my four sites, and several sites I use for this class. I don’t get paid to recommend them (unfortunately); I do so because they have been a good value for me. Their technical support is very good; they always answer the phone within a few minutes, and have always resolved the problem on the first call. Here are the steps to getting hosting from GoDaddy: 1. Go to godaddy.com and mouse over the hosting tab. When the menu pops up, click on Web Hosting (see Figure 1). 2. The Web Hosting Plans page will appear. If you want to compare the features of their plans, click on the Plan Details link. Otherwise, select either the Economy or Deluxe plan by clicking the button for the length of time desired, and then click the Add button (see Figure 2). 3. The next page will try to sell you a bunch of extras; you can ignore all of these except one: the Add a domain Figure 1 name item (see Figure 3). This is where you search for and buy the domain name for your site. Don’t be surprised if the first thing you try is unavailable. When you find one that’s available, click the Add to cart button (see Figures 4 and 5). 4. The extras page will appear again; just scroll to the bottom and click the No Thanks button. 5. The final checkout page will appear. You should see the hosting plan you selected and the domain name. If you see anything else, you may have accidentally added something at the last page; if so, click the Remove link for it (see Figure 6). Then scroll down, enter your payment info, check the Terms of Service boxes, and click the Continue with Checkout button. 6. The next page will ask for your account information. Figure 2 Make sure you choose a secure password, and write it down in a safe place. Click the Continue with Checkout button. This takes you to the payment page. Enter your payment info and click Continue. 7. The final page shows your order confirmation. Print this out and save it in a safe place. Figure 3 Figure 4 — This is what you’ll see if the domain you want is not available. You may have to try several. Figure 5 — When you find one that’s available, you’ll see this message. Figure 6 — If anything unexpected shows up on this page, click the Remove link to delete it. Setting up your hosting space Once you buy your hosting space and domain, it takes a few days for the hosting company to set everything up and connect the domain to the hosting space, so you’ll have to cool your heels for a bit. You can see when everything’s ready by going to your domain; if it’s not ready, you’ll get a Server not found message. When you see a parking page with GoDaddy info, you’re ready to upload your site files to the hosting space. Uploading your site files To move your site files from your computer to your hosting space, you need to use something called FTP (file transfer protocol). The easiest way to do this is to use a separate FTP program; there are plenty of free ones available. 1. We’ll be using FileZilla, which you can get from http://filezilla-project.org/. Click on the Download FileZilla Client button. On the next page, Windows users should click on the FileZilla_188.8.131.52_win32-setup.exe (recommended) link; Mac users should use the FileZilla_184.108.40.206_ i686-apple-darwin9.app.tar.bz2 (Intel) link. Save the file when prompted. You can find it in your Downloads folder (which should be inside your Documents folder). Double- click on the file to install it; when you’re done, you should Host Username Password Connect see Figure 7. 2. The basic concept of FTP is simple. The files on your computer are displayed in the left window, and the files on your hosting space are displayed in the right window. To connect Files on your Files on your to your hosting space with computer are hosting space FileZilla, you will need three shown here are shown here pieces of information: host, username, and password. 3. Host is your domain, starting with the www. Enter that into the Host box. 4. Username is the name you chose when you bought the Figure 7 hosting plan. Enter that into the username box. If you’re not sure what this is, call the support number and they can help you. Make sure you have your customer number and four-digit PIN handy. 5. Password is the password you chose when you bought the hosting plan. Enter that in the password box. You can leave the Port box empty. 6. Click the Quickconnect button, and a file listing should appear in the right window. In the left window, double-click on the C drive and then navigate to the folder containing your site files. 7. To upload your files, just drag them from the left window over to the right window. A progress bar will show the transfer as it takes place. When you’re finished, the file lists in both windows should look the same (see Figure 8 — there may be an extra file or two on the hosting side; that’s OK). If you are prompted to overwrite any files, choose Yes. 8. Once all of the site files have been uploaded, test it by going to your domain in your browser. Everything should come up correctly, including all images. Check all the pages of your site. If everything looks good, you’re done and you can quit FileZilla. If something is missing, you probably missed a file during the uploading process. Figure 8 You should see the same files in both windows when you’re done.