Hosting the Leading Websites:
Frequently Asked Questions
These Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) and answers are conveniently similar in content to several essays on this website, and cross-links are provided.
Q.: The leading websites, meaning what?
A.: High-tech websites, those owned and managed at the top by institutions and people who are especially knowledgeable about information technology, such as standards organizations, industry members, specialized media, programmers, software and hardware firms, retailers, service providers, computer book authors, individuals, advisory forums, security firms, IT advocacy groups, infrastructural groups, and educational organizations. They are not likely to merely pass off the website stuff to a random contractor and, if they do, they look over the other person’s shoulders a lot, because, when it comes to computers, these IT leaders know what they’re talking about. Later, I may make similar lists for other kinds of leading websites, but first I wanted to know who people who live and breathe computer technology have hosting their own websites.
Q.: You’re promoting your own host, aren’t you? Aren’t you a host at the top of this list?
A.: Nope and nope. I don’t know much on how to host. My Web host probably should be high in the list but is low, meaning less popular among the customers I researched, likely because it seeks a different customer base, customers whose content might be especially controversial. That’s an important mission, but this list tries to answer a different question. And I’ve never hosted any website. Even when I develop websites and view them locally, they’re not aimed at the Internet even temporarily. As far as I can tell, my host, whom I pay at its regular prices, displays them very well.
Q.: I know a fabulous host. Will you add it?
A.: The way to do that is to persuade high-tech customers to use their (or your) website hosting and then wait for me to discover this. I’m more likely to search for customers in additional market segments or similar to those I’ve already researched, rather than re-research the same particular customers over and again. I also think I’ll let at least a few months pass between batches of customers, so that there would be time for trends to change. After researching over 350 websites one by one in the initial research before I posted any results, I notice that the list of Web hosts is beginning to stabilize. This probably does not make it easier for a new Web host to make it up here, but I think it maintains the integrity of my published results.
Q.: Aren’t dozens of these lists littering the Web? They have links for discounts and everything.
A.: I saw a bunch of lists of hosters but most lists don’t say how their authors chose their candidates. I suspect the basis was the willingness to pay referral revenue to the authors for new accounts their readers open. Some of the authors or people they knew likely tested hosting services, but the testing almost certainly was not blind, never mind double-blind, since the hosting services likely knew exactly whose accounts they were and gave them stellar service you won’t get. I don’t think those lists are good signifiers of quality hosting. I don’t think their offers of discounts are reliable. And sometimes their content is moronic, as when they list a negative point that hardly anyone should waste time caring about, but state it so they can pretend to be credible, like a criticism of a marketing tactic that’s not misleading or something else bad. These lists waste our eyeballs.
Q.: Come on, none of those lists are any good?
A.: I got a promotion about one that may have been based on realistic experience with blogging, albeit not systematic experience, not all hosters at the same time, and not by a high-tech user. You can compare that list to mine. I hope more informed comparisons will come down the pike, and sooner rather than later.
Q.: Are you quite sure you got all of the very best Web hosts?
A.: One that had only a few customers surprised me, because I’m sure it’s very good at hosting and is well-known. For example, it was once hired by a foreign military because it could defend itself against cyberwarfare better than that nation’s military could. I don’t know why it had few customers among those I researched. But it did, so it’s low in the list. My guess is that it’s just not a computer firm customers think of when it comes to hosting.
Q.: As of when?
A.: November–December, 2016, was the window for the research.
Q.: Maybe you’re all wrong and these hosts are the worst.
A.: Maybe. Maybe these high-tech people were bored and asked their local pizza shops to find any hosts they could. But I doubt it. Airline pilots don’t just hang any old outboard motor on their planes and then pick up passengers. Not usually, anyway, and I think that’s true of people who can do their tax forms in hexadecimal quartets. When you want to climb Everest, it helps to ask someone who’s done it. That’s basically what I did here.
Q.: Would you do business with all of them? You wrote the list.
A.: Nooooooo. I’m particular about what I want. (And my host is not for everyone, and says so.) The customers I relied on for this research are also picky about whom they trust. The list is a starting point for selecting the best Web host for your needs. Review their websites and their terms of business and contact them to nail down how well you’ll be served and at what price.
Q.: What happened if you didn’t find out the host?
A.: Then I left it off the list. There were very few like that and, in total, they had very few customers from my selection.
Q.: Uh, forgot to ask, but do you mean the host that serves websites or the host that is the domain with potentially a website and subdomains?
A.: The hosts that serve websites, or website hosting services, or hosters. Example.com can have a website and therefore just the domain example.com is itself called a host, but in this website I’m generally referring to the organizations and people who provide hosting for a website at example.com and usually other websites.
Q.: Why don’t you list the customers’ websites you researched?
A.: If someone wants to copy my research data and brand it as their own, I would rather that they did their own research from scratch. They might develop a better method. If so, they would earn my congratulations.
Q.: Parents — what’s that about?
A.: If a domain is owned or controlled by a larger entity, often the controlling entity — that’s the parent — decides who supplies services. I suspect that commonly includes hosting. If the parent is mainly expert on computers, then I consider mainly the parent and not so much the smaller unit. If the parent is mainly expert on something else instead, I omit them both. An example of the latter, that I would omit, would be an information technology department of a government or of a university with mostly non-computer majors. The main limitation on this is whether I find out that an entity is part of a larger entity, since I did only limited research on organizational parentage.
Q.: Why are game sites excluded?
A.: If a game producer mainly develops the entertainment and leaves the programming to someone else, they’d be irrelevant here. If they’re the other way around or they do both on major scales, they would belong, but I don’t know how to tell which firm works which way. I’d have to be inside one of these companies to know how they organize their work and I’m not. And I wouldn’t be surprised to find that many that are interactive multiplayer games are self-hosted, because I expect they’d want hands-on control of their servers. At any rate, the firms that don’t mainly do games reveal a good selection of Web hosts.
Q.: What about hosters as customers themselves?
A.: I include a wide range of customers with high technical skills, except generally for Web hosters as customers, because I assume Web hosts host themselves. That wouldn’t add useful information to the results here, so I focused on customers likely to choose Web hosts and share them. That’s useful for us.
Q.: Why are bulletproof hosts missing?
A.: Sites that offer tools for illegal cracking of computers, copyright infringements, child pornography, and other content targeted by law enforcement agencies are not of interest here.
Q.: Wouldn’t all kinds of customers be a better starting point for research?
A.: Some, yes; all, no. I think many customers would not think deeply about a choice of hosts. Instead, they’d go to whomever can make them a website. I am thinking of adding a couple of customer market segments whose host choices might be helpful to us, and maybe I’ll do that research and include the results someday.
Q.: My designer recommends a certain host.
A.: Many designers connect with Web hosts. I think designers often choose hosts based on financial deals, such as for hosting many websites in bulk, and the availability of customer support, but artists who know graphics would probably not be as knowledgeable on technical issues.
Q.: Is there a national bias in the choice of Web hosts?
A.: Yes. I read English. I don’t know other natural languages and don’t want to rely on translation services. I generally avoided customers who primarily serve only non-English parts of the world. (I do include customers who are bilingual or more multilingual as long as that includes English. I include hosts regardless of language.) The United States probably leads in information technology and that will be reflected in the research results here. And registrars for some country code top-level domains (ccTLDs) do not help identify Web hosts. However, I don’t refuse to consider domains with non-English ccTLDs or websites written without much English if I otherwise know what it’s about. And, once a host is identified, I do not apply a national filter to it or to its rank. For a host’s URL, I give an English-language portal, if found.
Q.: Advertising corrupted your choices, didn’t it?
A.: No, and I don’t intend to let it. I want income from advertising, but if this website is good for advertisers it will be because interested people visit this website. Their visits are likely only if my content is trustworthy. I do not raise or lower a website host’s position in this list according to advertising or other payment or in pursuit of either.
Q.: This isn’t perfect. How can you live with yourself?
A.: Some customers demand especially high levels of security, such as the ability to withstand the scale of denial-of-service attacks that a national government might launch against an international sovereign enemy in cyberwarfare. This list probably doesn’t adequately address that. I suspect researching those customers would be pointless, as they probably have their website hosting provided by themselves or by government agencies, and those services probably are not available to nongovernmental customers.
Q.: You confessed that there’s a host you don’t like. Did you take it out of this list?
A.: No. If it’s there, it earned its way by meeting my standards for this list. I kept my opinion out of that matter. The criteria for inclusion are the same.
Q.: Wouldn’t high-tech sites usually host themselves?
A.: Not normally. They’d know how to select a staff and software, but, likely, it would be too expensive for the volume of traffic they’ll get, so they share hosting with other customers. Some of these customers do self-host, but in general I avoid researching customers who I anticipate will do that. If I don’t anticipate it and it turns out they self-host, I don’t count the self-hosting in ranking web hosts. I count their other customers. All of the Web hosts on the list are serving customers besides themselves.
Q.: Did the research take only a day?
A.: I wish it had, but no, it did not. Research was done in stages. For any single Web host, the research was likely spread over several weeks (in overlapping time frames). The chance that a customer changed its hosting in that time is negligibly small. Considering the substantial size of the customer base already researched, the effect of a Web host change in a short term is vanishingly small.
Q.: You didn’t evaluate the hosts directly, did you?
A.: No, I didn’t, for the most part. But these customers likely did, and do more or less daily, and probably more closely than others do. Considering the selection of customers, this list is evidence of the quality of these website hosts.
Q.: Should I do my own hosting?
A.: Only if you have enough funds and experience should you try it, or if you don’t mind creating an amateur presence or you thrive on risk. You can get your feet wet with high-quality highly reputed free software, a home computer (in my experience $50–150 used or free if found in the trash) connected to the Internet, and a minor experimental website, but many websites, especially brand-name, controversial, and income-earning websites, get attacked and hijacked and you’re going to need good security against hostile parties who are creative and able to change their ways remarkably often, which forces you to keep up to date with them. You’ll need to be able to write programs and patches fairly often, possibly every day. The more complicated your website, the more work you’ll need to do when self-hosting. If you really want to self-host, one compromise is for you to host your own website and also use a separate Web host for the same website, although that may require special arrangements for the DNS records and maybe that you devote time to maintaining two identical websites.
Q.: Is one host enough?
A.: Have a second host, at least have its name in your files and have already checked their terms and offers, in case the first one is unsatisfactory and you want to make a rapid change. Keep an offline up-to-date copy of your website and its underlying software requirements in case you can’t recover your files from your first Web host. However, most of the customers I researched use only one website hosting firm at a time per customer, apparently. Some major sites use two or maybe more Web hosts simultaneously, in case one fails temporarily or so that distant visitors can have a host near them for faster download speeds, although having multiple hosts increases the website’s maintenance burden. For my own websites, I selected a backup Web host perhaps a decade ago, but my current Web host has been reliable enough that I don’t think I ever contacted that spare host. I do keep current offline backups of my websites.
Q.: Can I add an opinion about one host you’ve already listed?
A.: No. I’ve hardly stated any opinions of my own (except on one host that wasn’t chosen by these customers) and am unlikely to add any others except those found through systematic searches applying relatively consistent criteria. There are many websites that welcome the adding of opinions, especially those based on expertise or experience.
Q.: Are other opinions considered?
A.: Some reviews by other people are linked to, for your consideration. I did not use them to determine or change rankings. The opinions are by both experts and customers, though mostly only self-described as such. I didn’t include reviews published in video form or any for which I had to supply an email address or meet some other unwanted condition in order to see the review. More reviews can likely be found through Google and other search engines.
Q.: These reviews — are they useful?
A.: I tried to weed out useless reviews and reviews hosted by competitors (even if they try to pass as credible). Many reviews should be taken with a grain of salt, since many are fluffy, as if they’re relying on the host’s promotional material, or, on the other hand, since some reviewers write as if they didn’t do enough to help solve their own problems themselves, but nonetheless even the enthusiastic ones often include some “cons” or negatives to consider, or have comments by other people at the bottom, and many of them have something contrary to say. While it appears that many hosts compensate many reviewers for reviews that result in referrals for new business, it’s also possible that listing negatives may increase credibility and referrals, so it may be worth reading from top to bottom or at least skimming all of the section titles. A few duplicates may appear, because someone might have posted in a couple of places, but probably that’s rare, and more often a reviewer may have copied or paraphrased from someone else’s opinion, so we get one experience stated twice. Competitors might have posted reviews that are unfairly negative. One means of verification of not being a fake review would be if we knew of a reviewer’s website so its hosting could be verified, but often it’s not identified or time has passed and the hosting may have changed. I ignored star and similar ratings; from the looks of things, they tend to weigh all opinions as equally valid. Some came with charts or graphs that were colorful but, on closer examination, meant nothing.
Q.: Can lay people evaluate a host as well as technically-trained people can?
A.: I included a few reviews from the Better Business Bureau and Yelp. I did that knowing that they probably came from less-technical people who don’t understand tech issues well. People who are more deeply into tech issues tend to use moderately tech-focused websites to state their views, and those are mainly what I linked to.
Q.: Is one thumbs-down review a deal-breaker?
A.: Consider proportionality. The hosts who have more customers tend to have more reviews, including more negative reviews. However, all else equal, a single review is probably less meaningful when it’s about a large host. On the other hand, an unusually serious charge, although it appears only once, should be considered and weighed.
Q.: Are reviews necessary?
A.: It is possible for a small host to be excellent and unreviewed. However, in that case, you should consider whether you know any website manager who would recommend that particular Web host from experience. Allow for differences between that website and yours.
Q.: I caught you adding reviews later. Either you were not systematic in the first search or you’re adding reviews to slant the results.
A.: Neither, but sometimes I made an error, like not copying the URL, and I had to use the other information I had preserved to revisit the review so I could provide the information I did for other reviews. Then I cited the new access date, which is what you saw.
Q.: What order are the hosters in, exactly?
A.: Popularity, in descending order. Percentages of customers are cited. Within each percentage range, they’re sorted by the exact number of customers from my research database. Where that number was equal, the order didn’t matter, so they’re in reverse alphabetical order, because I sometimes like giving people at the end of the alphabet a slight advantage over those who usually come first.
Q.: Some hosts state their compliance with various industry specifications.
A.: It’s good that they at least say so. It means someone is, at least, thinking about it. However, be aware that compliance varies. Often, variation — technically, noncompliance — is for superb reasons. You can ask about it but you may not get very detailed answers. If you’re bringing enough business, you might negotiate a contract clause whereby the host agrees to comply with a standard you’re concerned about. You’ll pay, of course. At the same time, many aspects of hosting are not regulated by those standards (many of which are called RFCs for an unusual historical reason). You’ll generally do well enough by judging the overall quality of the hosting service and looking at performance parameters that matter to you.
Q.: All hosts are alike, aren’t they?
A.: Not by a long shot. Web hosting is complicated. It’s not likely to get easier anytime soon. Every major operating system is complex. Server software has many options. Supporting software, such as might be needed to run PHP files or MariaDB or MySQL databases, has to be maintained. Challenges arise roughly daily and from many quarters, including many who have adverse purposes in mind or are simply reckless. Web hosts have to protect against most of them, even before customers notice a problem. That requires a skillful and devoted person or group of people at the helm of the website host. Someone could start a hosting service in their home without full-time help, but it probably wouldn’t be very good yet and probably is not in this list.
Q.: Okay, but aren’t all full-time well-intentioned Web hosts about equally good?
A.: One host was adding a link to itself on thousands of customers’ websites without telling the customers. They did this in time for Google’s search engine bot to count up all the links and rank the host highly in search results. Then the host deleted the links, but this is still tampering with customers’ websites. Sharp-eyed customers with fortuitous timing discovered this and made clear that they were not amused. (This was years ago.) The host claimed it was done by an employee without permission. I, for one, don’t buy that story, because the employee almost certainly announced their clever achievement to the boss in the first month. The host could claim that their intentions were good, in that rising in search results would produce company growth and better service, but it’s still tampering and wrong. I doubt the Web hosts chosen by these customers would be caught dead doing a stunt like this without permission.
Q.: Is a subsidiary operated just like its parent?
A.: Maybe; it depends. One company that was probably okay started being the subject of many customers’ complaints after it was combined into another company. It appears that its website hosting service was combined into the parent company’s hosting service, and the customers of the latter were probably less demanding or knowledgeable about quality hosting, but the brand was kept separate. Some highly qualified customers, in this list, are still with the subsidiary, so I assume it still does a good job for some. But if a Web host’s history includes being merged or made independent in recent years, the host’s subsequent terms and service should be considered.
Q.: Does the host’s own site give me clues to hosting quality?
A.: Definitely. If the host can’t make their own website work properly, either check in again an hour later (to allow for a rare glitch that surely they’ll fix) or refuse to do business with them. When they need to test or experiment, they can do that with some other machine. The host’s website is proof of their ability to keep a steady hand on their own hosting service. You don’t expect a doctor to be sick out of stupidity. You don’t expect a host to have downtime out of stupidity.
Q.: Does having been established long ago make a host better?
A.: These Web hosts weren’t born yesterday, but if they’ve been around at least three years they’re not newbies. Five years provide for plenty of experience. It probably doesn’t make much difference in quality if they’ve been around for five years or for a lot longer, because technology changes fairly rapidly and people with the needed skills keep graduating from schools or building the experience the Web hosts want. Mergers, when two hosts merge and not when a host merges into an unrelated business, should be considered not from merger dates but from when the hosting firm first started operating under any name and ownership. In terms of business stability, for U.S. entrepreneurship it’s likely that half or more of all businesses fail within five years, so lasting past that point suggests, albeit does not prove, that the host will be around long enough to meet your needs or for you to see some sort of a red flag justifying your jumping ship in time. I have included some reviews that date earlier than five years ago, in case you feel that judging by a longer time frame would be more pertinent.
Q.: Is registering as a company something a host should have done?
A.: Not a bad idea, but their official locations are spread around and determining that may be a challenge requiring legal skills, and it may be easier to rely on other indications of a host being long-lasting. An individual doing hosting from home, at least in the United States, is putting their personal assets at risk and therefore indicates being either new or small, and you should consider that before trusting them with your financial details.
Q.: Is the host’s phone number real?
A.: I was astonished to see someone claim that many hosts use fake or forgotten contact phone numbers on their own websites. A host does not have to offer a phone number, because many prefer online communications, which are efficient. However, offering a phone number that’s useless is bad news. At best, the host is amateurish. At worst, it’s fraudulent.
Q.: A host tells me they’re green, that they’re environmentally sensitive.
A.: Look for specifics. All atoms are recycled and so is almost all water, so everyone can claim to be conservationist and not wasteful. It’s probably pointless to ask a Web host by phone, since their answer is likely to be unaccountable. See if the host’s website makes any specific, recent, and verifiable claim of doing the kind of good you want to see done.
Q.: One host won an award.
A.: Send me the requisite number of dollars and I’ll send you an award for something. Let me know what you want it to say.
Q.: Uptime, downtime: I have to be online all the time.
A.: This is usually described as 99%, 99.99%, maybe 99.999% uptime. That last figure is called “five nines” and is a common engineering aspiration. Translation: In a 30-day month, 99% up means you could still be down, offline, more than 7 hours; 99.9% means down more than 40 minutes; 99.99% means down over 4 minutes; and 99.999% means down over 24 seconds in total during the entire 30 days, which you’ll be hard-pressed to notice even if you’re eagle-eyed and sleepless all month. Decide what’s tolerable for your website. If you demand high uptime, you should set up a monitoring service that’s not tied to your host, that operates from IP addresses in your main visitors’ geography, and that often visits your websites to report uptime and maybe other characteristics. If you’re in your geographic area of interest, maybe you could set up a computer as a monitor, and also have it check competitive hosts, all on your schedule. Downtime has many causes, some beyond a Web host’s control. While a host can take steps to reduce the likelihood of downtime from any cause, some of those steps cost money, which you should expect to pay. An uninterruptible power supply (UPS) to survive short outages or a diesel generator and fuel for long outages, for example, is not exactly cheap. Many hosts probably decline to guarantee an uptime percentage but some may agree to proportionate refunds for falling below a stated threshold (perhaps even offering a service level agreement (SLA)), although you’ll likely pay more for that offer of refunds.
Q.: How about designing pages?
A.: Some website hosts offer design services, often using templates, or provide online tools to make your own designing easier. Some don’t, and for them you’ll have to upload all the files in the way the host tells you. But doing your own work gives you more control. Many independent designers offer their services and you can find them on the Web. Some designers offer Web hosting, often through specialized hosts who sell their services through designers, but the hosts are probably the same ones you can get on your own and you’ll likely get better service by getting hosting and design services separately, finding the best of each and dealing directly with each one.
Q.: Will a host modify my website even if I don’t want that?
A.: Some do. You might have given permission as part of agreeing to that Web host’s service. They might do it in order to improve performance, but I don’t want that kind of service unless they first ask and only if I approve each change. They might add code for advertisements, especially at free hosting providers. Some might do it for sleazier reasons, but I don’t know if any of these hosts do it for that kind of reason. An example of a bad reason was when a website host years ago put a promotional link to itself on about 14,000 customers’ websites. But even among legitimate possibilities, I may not approve. For example, I don’t like minifying unless I approve, because some of my page comments should stay in.
Q.: How’s e-commerce? I have products to sell.
A.: Depends. Ask Web hosts if they support online sales. Simply telling website visitors about your products (this being common for services and one-of-a-kind goods) and offering a way to contact you will not require e-commerce support, but online payments, inventory control, and order fulfillment including shipping and taxes require substantial support. You might need connections to service providers, some software to be installed for you, your own IPv4 addresses, and live phone support 24x7 for you, but not every host offers all of that. I don’t know what you will need. Before you ask about e-commerce, determine your criteria for what you will need.
Q.: Is a content management system (CMS) or content delivery network (CDN) available?
Q.: Is content prohibited?
A.: Even if it’s allowed by law, many website hosts forbid some kinds of content. That kind of restriction is usually within the host’s rights. The host’s legal terms will probably tell you what the host won’t permit. There may be an acceptable use policy (AUP) or something like it. But some hosts will let anything the law allows to be served up.
Q.: I want email service with my domain, or maybe by itself.
A.: A Web host’s own website should tell you what they offer for email service for you, connected with a domain you control. If you need more details, ask. It’ll likely cost you something. Also find out how they handle spam, if they do at all. (If you just want an email address at some other domain, or a bunch of addresses there, go to that domain and find out what they offer. Some are free and some have to be paid for, usually because they have more features.)
Q.: My website is for users who develop new software. It needs a special kind of hosting.
A.: Figure out exactly what you need and ask hosts for that. Or look for websites similar to what you’re planning and see what support they need or get from their hosts. I don’t know how that kind of website works, so I don’t have much expertise on that subject.
Q.: I’m a dissident in a foreign country that the U.S. doesn’t want doing business with yours. Can a host put me online?
A.: Ask. One host said they comply with U.S. laws on point but got a government license granting an exception for one citizen journalist in Iran. If you can communicate safely from your end, it probably won’t hurt to ask a host.
Q.: How are they with making backups?
A.: They probably do, but not for you. What surprises me is that apparently few, if any, of them offer to make backups for customers. They could charge for that and let the customer set the approximate schedule (like daily, hourly, weekly, or on demand), quantity (how many old backups the host should store for you), and type (full or incremental, meaning your whole site or changes only). But they don’t offer it. For many sites, this should be important to you. If a host doesn’t offer it, make your own backups. If you can’t, such as if visitors can edit your website and you can’t access all of the folders, ask the host about doing a custom service just for you for a fee. It should be possible but it may be expensive. You don’t have to be a customer before you ask for a bid for the total service including the backups you want. Then you can compare Web hosts.
Q.: The host said they’d make all the backups and they’ll keep them.
A.: Not good enough, although that’s a start. You also need some backups offsite, in your control and beyond the host’s reach. Hosts can make mistakes and leave you without a website and without a backup. One website manager wrote about their site’s experience that led to almost going out of business. (The URL was as accessed .)
Q.: How often do I need to back up? Every time I breathe?
A.: It depends on how important your stuff is and how often your content changes significantly, plus time and money to make backups. On average, a disaster losing your website will occur half-way between backups, but it could happen at anytime. Imagine if you had a disaster one second before you were about to make a backup and on one of the worst days. How difficult would be to reconstruct all the work since your last backup? That’s all the additions, changes, and deletions. Add to that having to explain to people what happened to their precious work. Or losing customers who find your website suddenly empty. If all that is not much to worry about, then a lower frequency is okay. Otherwise, in general, make them often enough that you won’t have to explain much. Or tell them the president’s pet squid ate your servers. They should understand.
Q.: Will restoring from a backup cost me?
A.: If you have the backup offsite and you restore it yourself by uploading the files, that’s like uploading new content and usually won’t cost anything but your time and effort. But if the host is to do the restoration at your request, you may be charged, perhaps a lot. Ask in advance and figure out how to do your own restoration from an offsite backup.
Q.: Isn’t a cloud what we need?
A.: Sky-high marketing hooray is not exactly a necessity. Here’s what the cloud is: It’s someone else’s server, to which you connect. That’s what the cloud is. That’s all the cloud is. Some have marvelous features, but they’d have them even if they weren’t called clouds. Ignore the word and look for features, problems, and costs.
Q.: Is a virtual server what we need?
A.: Sometimes, but asking is a problem. The central issue is that another customer’s bad website might harm yours. A virtual server is more secure than a shared server, but less secure than a separate physical server, and probably less secure than a physical server that you own and configure as you wish for security, although colocated at the host’s facility. One problem is that any Web host might claim that they offer virtual servers but not really have them, or only have a weak version of the idea, and you have no realistic way of verifying the setup you’re paying for. Microsoft Windows has offered compartmentalization for years, but Microsoft is not generally known for the quality of its security offerings. Virtualization software is available from other software vendors, and some of it probably is very good, but a website host would be unlikely to tell you its security details. Another problem is that security is largely about the quality of monitoring and technical work performed by the Web host’s people, and, because of that, perhaps a shared server can be more secure. Your best solution may be to study your results over time, compared to the amount you’re paying.
Q.: We need our own dedicated server, and maybe equipment we’ll own. How does this list help?
A.: Some, perhaps most, Web hosts offer dedicated servers and colocation to customers willing to pay higher prices. You’d still be asking the website host to do some of the work and you’d be getting some benefits from dedicated hosting or from letting them manage your hardware and software. You should ask how a reboot would be performed, such as if you can do it yourself remotely (requiring more technology to be installed) or have to ask the website host to do it for you (which may be slower and may have to be paid for each time); both ways have security risks. The same question applies to a software upgrade or reconfiguration. If a specialized Web hosting staff would be doing some of the work at a building shared for other customers, this might be worth it to you. In that case, this list would suggest some good choices.
Q.: We want our own software. It has to be in the server and we’re not sure any host offers it now.
A.: Your only choice may be to run your own server and have the Web host maintain your hardware and software for you. That may be expensive, but it’s too risky for a host’s security to install software they don’t know on their servers running their other customers’ files. Don’t expect to simply tell the host that your software is trustworthy; they’ve heard that before. You should assume it will break down, so you should plan for alternative hosting, maybe at the same host but using their other hardware and software configured the way they like. At least you’ll be continuously online until you’re online the way you like.
Q.: Is cPanel or Plesk installed?
A.: I don’t know. Also, I’ve never used cPanel or Plesk. cPanel, in particular, is popular. If you need either one, ask hosts. You can expect that a host will have some kind of user interface (UI) so customers can get their tasks done. I use an unbranded UI at my host and it’s different and it works. cPanel or Plesk costs hosts money, and that will be reflected in the Web host’s pricing of website hosting.
Q.: For several websites, are control panels separate?
A.: My websites at one website host share one set of controls, but information and control are separated according to my website where that helps. If you want full separation even where information is identical, a Web host that offers reseller accounts — not all do — probably offers separate control panels. A reseller account is an account that lets you resell the host’s services to clients of yours. The pricing of a reseller account may differ from that for a single-user account. You may or may not be required to actually have a client in order to have or keep a reseller account; that’s up to the host.
Q.: Do they have enough IP addresses?
A.: If you’re technically savvy enough to worry about that, you may know that two kinds of IP addresses exist. IPv4 addresses are rationed and are nearly all gone. IPv6 addresses are designed to be plentiful and are widely implemented but are not everywhere yet, probably because conversion is technically harder than it may look at first. Determine what you need, then ask your proposed website host if it has it.
Q.: Do they support logging?
A.: Probably. Types of logs, and whether you can download them or only view them online, may depend on the software and the host. Ask the host. Logs can be difficult to read without special software that interpets the data and perhaps even analyzes entries for patterns, and the host may not have that software, in which case you’ll get only raw logs, but you can find that kind of software elsewhere and run it yourself, or you can read and search raw logs yourself.
Q.: Network security at one host is being touted as industry-leading.
A.: The greater variation in security is likely about software issues and remotely-directed attacks. No host that you don’t own is going to tell you about those incidents and their countermeasures. You’ll be informed that they haven’t been successfully attacked since shortly after Attila the Hun was running around with horses. Don’t ask those questions and they won’t tell you lies. Supposedly, you could ask particularly incisive questions that would reveal whether their staff are really experts in this, but the real experts may not be available to answer your questions precisely because they don’t want to reveal their precautions, since that could reveal more sophisticated weaknesses, so they’ll let someone else answer in more general terms. They’d likely rather lose your business than take the chance of telling you new ways to attack them.
Q.: Is DDoS protection good? I don’t need a denial-of-service attack.
A.: Perhaps it’ll be secure. Judging from complaints, some website hosts deal with a distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attack by simply turning your website off and maybe telling you to tell whoever is causing it to stop. If you have to talk to the attacker (assuming you can find whoever it is), you may be vulnerable to a ransom demand, often payable internationally with almost no chance of getting the police to act. Other Web hosts have far more sophisticated methods that try to mitigate DDoS and keep your site online, although they probably charge more for their service. Review complaints and ask hosts you’re thinking of about how they deal with DDoS situations.
Q.: Is SFTP supported for uploading?
A.: It should be, so ask hosts for that support. SFTP is more secure than traditional FTP (File Transfer Protocol). You may want to require that a Web host accept SFTP (Secure FTP or, more arcanely, SSH FTP (SSH is Secure Shell)) in order to get your business. This is not the same as FTPS or FTP-S, which is not as secure as SFTP. You’ll need software on your computer that will let you use SFTP, but that’s not hard. I use Konqueror and other programs are available, many of them free to get.
Q.: Are HTTPS and HTTP both available? Are SSL certificates available?
A.: Decide what you need and ask the host. They’ll cost you. Certificate authorities vary in how they verify identity, so you may want to know which certificate authority a host prefers. You may find a list of authorities in a browser’s security settings. And the host itself should be using HTTPS and SSL for anything that requires you to use a password or that requires you to submit private financial information, such as card details. Since fraudulent certificates have been issued, potentially allowing interception and alteration of transmissions, you may want to check your domains at Google Transparency Report and Comodo’s search tool. (The URLs were as accessed .)
Q.: Software versions — can I just leave them to the host to worry about?
A.: Better ask. The latest stable versions should be running, unless you prefer an older one or a beta version for a particular purpose. Older versions often have security holes and the best solutions for those usually are newer versions. Beta versions are a type of test version, usually considered experimental, and are conventionally designated by verion numbers below 1 (like 0.9) or as beta. Research the software most concerning to you to find out what the latest stable versions are and then ask your Web host what versions it’s running.
Q.: Can I check security at the Web host?
A.: Some checking is good. One customer said a few years ago it was able to use FTP to access the server root level at a large host, giving that customer access to other customers’ files without permission, the customer told the host, and, weeks later, the host still had not repaired that. That means mystery users could access the first customer’s own files without permission. If you discover that at your Web host and it doesn’t get fixed fast, leave.
Q.: Can I do penetration testing to check a host’s security?
A.: No, most likely. Ask your host. You’re more likely to get approval if you are already a customer and you coordinate with the host on scheduling and key parts of your pen test content, preferably in writing. Tiger tests may cost you, especially if the host has to have a technician on hand to repair any damage you successfully inflict so the host can keep their other customers online, and you could hardly object to the host staying in business. If you don’t ask and you get caught, don’t be surprised if they ban you, delete all of your websites and backups without notice, refund nothing, and bill you on top of that. Their terms of service likely have a clause about doing annoying things to their hardware and software and to their other customers.
Q.: A host said their physical security is outstanding and I should choose them.
A.: All hosts are allergic to having their equipment stolen or suck dust. They all have cooling because no one likes their computers to melt like candles. They likely have redundant hardware in case a hard drive or something else physically breaks down, but a visit won’t tell you how much redundancy there is, because you won’t know how many customers they have on the day you visit, how many tebibytes all the customers’ files fill up without mirrors and backups, and how many machines were disconnected that day routinely or otherwise. Well-known hosts will have more security precisely because their fame puts them at greater risk, but that may mean only that their security is proportionate to their risk, which may result in no difference in physical safety between well-known and hardly-known hosts. Some will have their data centers far from likely natural disasters, with alternate data centers far from their primary centers, but they’ll be expensive hosts.
Q.: I’ll keep an up-to-date copy plus backup sof my website away from my hoster and near me, so I can always upload it somewhere else.
A.: No question there. Great idea.
Q.: Windows and Linux hosting differ. Are the hosts equally good with both?
A.: I don’t know. Besides that Linux hosting may really be FreeBSD hosting, Linux and FreeBSD offer open source code while Windows usually comes without any source code, hosts are probably not allowed to extract it from executable object code, and hosts are probably not allowed to patch it. Open source encourages more development and peer review, resulting, I think, in higher technological quality. But some customers want Microsoft platforms at their hosts because they want to use an underlying technology available only from Microsoft, such as support for Active Server Pages (ASP). I have no way to tell if a customer would be just as well-hosted regardless of which platform they have. This list does not distinguish between hosts according to whether they support one or another operating system, and it may not matter, because a host may use FreeBSD or Linux to control network security and also to boot Windows computers. If you need a certain operating system for your files, ask.
Q.: What hardware should any good host have?
A.: Unless you own the host, don’t bother asking. Frankly, they can use an abacus and duct tape if that’ll do the job. What you want is for them to do the job you need, and to do it excellently. Whether all the cases and racks are fashionably matching and whether the employees wear dark blue shirts are not important to running a top-notch host. Computer specs matter, but more may depend on the skills and dedication of the staff and management and on the tools, time, and shared experience they have available, and the only realistic measure is in the results they deliver. Many companies in many industries lie; a host could have three fabulous machines with specs the sales representative-dash-nerd tells you about and a hundred machines with specs they’d rather not think about. Instead of your visiting their server farm and being handed a gift-wrapped chocolate floppy as a memento, spend the same amount of time thinking about what service you want, getting in touch with any of their existing and former customers, doing online research both outside the host and within the host’s website, and setting up ways of monitoring the service at that host and at competitors.
Q.: All right, but software matters, yes?
A.: If they’re offering it to you, yes, because that can determine what kinds of files you can upload so they’ll work, and that can determine how your designer designs your website. For instance, if your website has a page named *.asp, you likely need a Microsoft IIS server. There are other cases that may require a Microsoft platform. Otherwise, the operating systems (*)BSD, Linux, and Unix (the three together are often referenced as *nix) are, technologically, likely better. Other offers also matter, such as which database manager, which computer language tools, and which other kinds of software your website files will need. You may care whether the web server software itself is httpd (usually called Apache because that’s who makes it), Nginx, IIS, LiteSpeed, or something else because you may need to know how to do some configurations specific to a server version (such as in .htaccess files), although a host may help you with that. And you’ll usually want the latest stable versions of each of these (stable rather than beta unless you like living on the edge and can do something about surprises, problems, and crashes). But your main interest is in how you’ll design your website, how you will relate to the host’s services, and what results come from the hosting. Don’t go wading into how the host does its work behind the scenes.
Q.: Are server software details available?
A.: Yes, depending on which server software your Web host runs. Both official documentation and third-party sources are available. For Apache httpd, start at Apache HTTP Server Project; documentation is listed on the left of the page. Nginx comes with two support systems. For the NGINX proprietary software, start at Support for NGINX and NGINX Plus, near the bottom of the page. For the nginx open-source software, start at the nginx home page, with listings on the right side. For IIS, start at the home page for the menus at the top. For LiteSpeed, start at the home page for the Support menu at the top. These were as accessed . Various third-party articles and forums should be findable through Google.
Q.: Does the physical location of a host matter? Or multiple locations?
A.: Maybe. For example, the speed of file downloads may become critical if the host’s facilities are too far from most of your visitors. People will wait roughly a second before losing patience. Or you may also want a backup host in another nation. Or, regardless of nation, you may want your primary host and your backup host to be far enough from each other and from you that a natural disaster, legal demand, or other calamity won’t knock everything out at the same time (this is often referred to as resilience or as business continuity). Or various nations’ laws governing websites may affect a host, so you may need a host to be only in a certain nation for your legal protection. Always assume a host tries to obey the laws at all of its locations and that a host that’s in multiple nations or jurisdictions may be more vulnerable to conflicting laws, so that if you’re hosted in one nation and that host happens to have a facility in another nation then hosting your site may require compliance with both nations’ laws, and that affects you. These issues are up to you to evaluate.
Q.: Some nations are bad actors and I can’t let my Internet connection go through them. Can a choice of host help me there?
A.: I’m not expert enough to be sure, but I doubt there’s much you can do about it without spending a lot of money for your own hosting, wiring, and equipment. If you’re worried about software encryption export restrictions, legal process for seizing information going through another nation, legal jurisdiction over you because of the routing, or spying for someone else’s commercial advantage, both all of your visitors and your website host should be well inland in one large densely-populated wealthy nation with a legal environment that’s on your side, and that doesn’t leave you many choices or, in any case, much assurance. Sometimes, you can add a layer of encryption to what you send, but that is limited to an intranet or sender-recipient agreement, is potentialy expensive, and may protect only against low-intensity spying and not other concerns. Simply asking a website host about routing won’t get reliable information about that subject. The Internet was designed to get around bottlenecks and defects by being resilient in routing, and hosts likely can’t control most of that.
Q.: I need hosting to be in my geographic neighborhood. How can I find out if it is?
A.: Ask the hosts you’re considering about nearness or proximity, although their answers may not be accurate and, in some cases, mainly if they outsource part of their service, the host you talk with may not even know, even if they think they do. It’s likely a host’s servers for its customers (like you) are in the same building as are their home page servers, which may be the same machines, so visit their home page and see if it loads quickly, although bad design of a home page, such as of a large and movie-filled home page, may result in slow loading and a page of legal terms may load faster. Although most of your contact with a host will be through the Internet, phone, and perhaps postal mail but probably not in person, if the whereabouts of a host’s offices or servers is important you should research your choices. There are websites that map likely distances between your computer (acting as a website visitor) and your Web host’s servers, so they might help you. To use those websites for research, you might need to know the domains of a few customers of a given website host. If you’re concerned about speed and you’re designing a website to be accessed by visitors who are far from you, especially in another nation, that kind of research may be more challenging and may need the assistance of a technically-minded person in your intended visitors’ main locale.
Q.: Can I have a bunch of domains at one host?
A.: Sure, but find out how much you’ll pay. At some Web hosts, having domains is free as long as you already have a website there. But, possibly, for all I know, perhaps other Web hosts require a website or equivalent for each domain. Some Web hosts do limit how many domains you can have with one account. That could get pricey. You could need more domains than websites if, for example, you have defensive registrations or you buy domains before you set up websites for them, such as by arranging for newly bought domains to point to existing websites of yours until you develop websites meant for those domains.
Q.: Can I buy a domain through the host?
A.: Probably, but, if not, you can buy one through a registrar or a reseller, and there are many. Then, almost always, you can use that domain through the Web host of your choice. Very few hosts would want to refuse a domain you own. You likely need to have a website technically running before you buy the domain, but you don’t have to have content or a design before getting the domain, and probably shouldn’t. That’s because you may need two IP addresses for your website at the moment you register the domain and your website host provides the IP addresses, but the website can be empty. An empty website can be programmed to display a blank page, a page that says there’s nothing here, or a parking page (supplied by some hosts) of advertising (although you might not earn any income from the ads).
Q.: Do I have to get a domain through the host?
A.: No; or, you shouldn’t have to. If the host tries to force you to use only domains they supply, even if one is free, if you need another it could be expensive, transferring it could be costly or difficult, and using redundant website hosts for one domain for service reliability may be problematic. It’s okay for a Web host to offer domains as long as you have the choice to get yours elsewhere.
Q.: Which registrar or reseller is the best?
A.: I don’t know. A list of registrars approved by ICANN and their contact information is at https://www.icann.org/registrar-reports/accreditation-qualified-list.html (as accessed ). To find a reseller, especially since resellers might offer better pricing or service, since resellers probably have contracts with particular registrars, contact a registrar to find out who their resellers are.
Q.: One top-level domain interests me. How do I get a domain with that TLD?
A.: To register a domain within a specific top-level domain (TLD) and if you want to contact the top organization responsible for that TLD, you may use the contacts linked to on http://www.iana.org/domains/root/db (except that for *.int see http://www.iana.org/domains/int and for *.arpa see http://www.iana.org/domains/arpa) (all three were as accessed ).
Q.: How’s their customer service?
A.: Try it to find out before a crisis. It probably varies a lot and I didn’t evaluate it. Better hosts should let you talk not only with customer service representatives, usually for free if you’re a customer, but also with high-level people at technical and management levels, although you may have to pay stellar rates for calls to stratospheric offices. You should try to be well-informed in order to get better answers to your questions and you should look for books, technical news media, and online forums. Some Web hosts may have additional resources available, such as FAQs (lists of frequently asked questions and answers), their own articles and forums, and email support. The acid test of customer service is in how they handle questions that go beyond the answers in their FAQs, articles, and fora. Ultimately, if customer service is bad, switch hosts.
Q.: Is live customer service necessary?
A.: Some people need it and you may be one. If so, the reviews indicate that some people are, colloquially speaking, furiously steaming over bad customer service by their Web hosts and ready to bite someone’s head off. But even with bad hosting you may not need live support. Decide whether live support or chat is critical or a deal-breaker for you and choose a host accordingly.
Q.: Can I escalate?
A.: If other forms of support are inadequate and you’re on the verge of closing your account, sending a letter may be what you need to do. If writing to the host doesn’t work, write to the host’s CEO by name, postally rather than by email or phoning. If the CEO’s name is not on the host’s website, poking around the Internet may find it. While it may be tempting to fill the missive with motivational prose, focus on facts and be specific about what you want the CEO to do for you.
Q.: Should customer service be open nights and weekends?
A.: If you’re willing to pay for any, consider whether you want it around the clock (24x7, maybe including holidays) or if weekday daytime business hours will be good enough (business hours may depend on the time zone where your host has offices and which days of the week customer service is open may depend on local culture). While usually there’s no separate charge for customer service, that service is expensive to provide and that’s reflected in the total bill. In effect, you’ll pay for it.
Q.: The sales department promised me the moon, so I got an account and paid in full. But the tech people can’t help me get what I was promised.
A.: When you talk with sales people or when you have a problem, take detailed notes, and the sooner after what they describe the better. In severe cases, prepare affidavits. When you’re about to sign up for Web hosting, don’t commit to very much until you’ve had experience with that Web host. If there’s a money-back guarantee and its terms are simple, you can commit to more when you start, but still you should limit your exposure. Take the time to test early and thoroughly, so you’ll know in the first few days of service whether you’re getting what you were promised. Consider if the warranty of acceptability applies to your case in your jurisdiction. Cut off payments, if necessary. If you pay by credit or debit card, try to get charges reversed. Consider using one credit or debit card for nothing but this hosting service, so, if you can’t delete your card information from your host’s records, you can tell your credit or debit card issuer to cancel the card without affecting any other spending elsewhere. Suing usually won’t be productive.
Q.: Their techies speak broken English.
A.: Unless they’re in customer service, don’t worry about it. The techies were hired to be techies and only need to talk with a few people at the company, not you. As long as they know their way around ribbons or recursion, you may be getting high-quality service, interpreted by managers with polished English. I’ve seen good software that was apparently patched by programmers who could hardly write English, and writers have the chance to edit their own words before clicking the “Save Changes” button. What matters is that the system delivers what you need. Stephen Hawking is not just an old guy with a robotic voice. He is also a leading-edge researcher in space science and taught university-level math and that’s what counts. A disproportionate number of people who are top-notch in math or computers are also on the autism spectrum. We probably get better math and computers because of them.
Q.: What are their prices?
A.: I don’t know. Check the hosts’ websites. Over time, see if your experience with a website host matches their promises.
Q.: Couldn’t you please just tell us their major offers and prices? You could make a side-by-side chart so we can compare at a glance. Everyone else does it.
A.: The fine print on every hosting site makes a big difference. I’d have to read all those terms for all those Web hosts and then keep up to date with their changes, especially on prices, especially if they have sales and limited-time offers, which many do, many times. And, while you’d be interested in maybe a few hosts, I’d have to research dozens of them. Most comparison charts are lacking important content or have absurd content (like the chart that measured uptime up to 200%, which is meaningless). I suggest instead that you first decide on your criteria. Set minimum criteria and set criteria for what else you’d like. By the process of elimination, anything else is not worth your money. After you know what you want, look for reviews and other independent information to eliminate the worst of the Web hosts, and then visit the Web hosts’ own websites for what’s good and bad about them and for their offers and details.
Q.: Is the cheapest deal the best? I already chose a host to use.
A.: Often, no. You may manage your usage of Web hosting services to lower your expenses. But to bargain a service provider down to the rock-bottom level often results in bad service, because then there’d be little profit in good service. Low prices can be loss leaders, but loss leaders are supposed to be made up for with other revenue, presumably from you, so look for the catch. On the other hand, the top-price tier often includes services you don’t need and shouldn’t pay for. Determine your needs and buy the package that gives you what you’ll likely use.
Q.: Can bandwidth or traffic be unlimited and still free?
A.: No; of course not. They probably pay their phone company and buy modems and other equipment. (Bandwidth, traffic, and data transfer are almost the same thing; for the website server, the main keyword is bandwidth.) If your website has very little traffic, it can share a host computer and one phone-line connection with a thousand websites. If your website becomes busy, it may need a thousand computers dedicated to your one website, every one of them separately connected to the phone company. You can be sure that if your website becomes busy enough the bandwidth will not be free any more. You may be surprised at how soon you’re told to start paying for it. I’ve looked at terms of service of several hosts and all of them had a catch somewhere that would permit charging higher rates to customers who consume a lot of bandwidth. Once you depend on public visitors, you may not be able to prevent your website from consuming a lot of bandwidth. Those may have been terms of service only from hosts charging for bandwidth, but the language would work quite well for free-bandwidth hosts, too. They can get around being free pretty easily. In another industry, a consumer product company said that unlimited does not mean unreasonable. Inventing definitions just for a contract is legal and binding. I consider this a trust issue, in that I would distrust a Web host that says they offer unlimited free bandwidth. If free and unlimited were at all feasible, high-traffic websites like Google and Amazon would likely happily consider an offer of free bandwidth and ditch their own hardware. I haven’t heard of that happening.
Q.: Is unlimited storage possible?
A.: Run away from anyone offering it. The known universe is not big enough for that. There will be a limit and you will pay more to store more. You’ll pay one way or another. No one’s happy to go bankrupt over you. So, if a Web host says they’ll offer it to you, that host cannot be trusted. Pick another.
Q.: How much storage and bandwidth do I need?
A.: If this is your first website, it’s hard to tell. By creating your own pages, you can figure out storage needs before you get a host, because your own computer will tell you how big the various files are. But estimating traffic is hairy. Traffic depends on popularity, and lots of factors go into that. Spikes will drive up your traffic and your bills, both of them surprisingly fast. You could have bragging rights and an empty wallet. But most websites are small and get small numbers of visits, and they’re affordable for years at a time.
Q.: Should I check the bills?
A.: Yes, definitely. Complaints about overcharges are online already. Compare your first bill and another bill about six months later to see if what they bill is reasonably related to what the Web host said they were going to charge you for hosting. See if they lived up to their word.
Q.: Too many choices at one host: I’m pulling my hair out.
A.: I’ve seen this complaint. I don’t get it. Big fast-food chains put at least 50 choices on a menu. Somehow, their customers still eat and the restaurants make profits. Apparently, choice works. Dig into the Web host’s choices and sort them out until you have what you want or at least something acceptably close enough. If they’re still confusing, maybe the host is deliberately trying to confuse you, and that’s not a good sign, but that’s not common.
Q.: How do I pay? Do I need a good credit rating?
A.: The common methods will likely work with most hosts, and their websites will probably list what they accept. Credit histories probably won’t matter if the financial value is low and you pay what’s due on time. If you don’t pay, it’s easy for a website host to take a website down.
Q.: Do they take bitcoin or another virtual currency?
A.: I doubt it, mostly. I think a few do. Some businesses that accept virtual currency, cryptocurrency, digital money, or privacy coin will want to convert it the same day to dollars, euros, or another traditional currency and converting costs money, which you’ll pay somehow. That means you may save money by paying with a traditional currency.
Q.: Do they take purchase orders or government business?
A.: Some probably do. Ask. If what you need are the unique qualifications of a vendor so you can persuade your purchasing department to select the vendor or Web host you want, ask the Web host to give you the qualifications that set that vendor apart from all its competition. It is possible that a website host will not accept purchase orders itself or accept a government contract itself but will refer you to an office that does, perhaps an office of a separate corporation that charges much higher prices. Presumably, that separate organization contracts with the primary hosting organization so that the technical and customer services are the same, but you’ll have to look into that yourself.
Q.: Can I get a trial period?
A.: Yes or probably yes, in effect. How to get this varies. Some may offer a free trial period, such as through a coupon or promotion on some website or other. Or, you may be able to invoke a warranty of acceptability if, in the first few days, you discover that the service is not what you needed despite your prior due diligence in selecting a Web host. If you had a free trial, you may not be able to invoke a warranty of acceptability, too, so use the free trial period intelligently and intensely. And some hosts, even after starting to charge, explicitly offer a short period in which you can try it out, perhaps a week and possibly as high as three months, and get a partial or full refund for the unused hosting left. You don’t generally get refunds for domains, so if you seek a refund for a package deal it may be a partial refund only. Plan on testing your Web hosting service thoroughly at the beginning, which means plan on designing many kinds of tests, arranging for independent monitoring services to check your site’s performance, and setting aside lots of time for your testing. And, specifically, try to solve a few problems by using the host’s resources to solve them (such as FAQs, articles, forum, chat, and phone).
Q.: Is personal identification required? Is it stringent? What about my company?
A.: This may be for financial, legal, political, or computer-security reasons. Apparently, hosts in one or another nation may be very demanding about this, while in other nations they’re mainly worried about whether you’ll pay. Besides governments tracking people’s conduct, one explanation is that in one nation minors are weeded out because contracts with minors may be void. A computer-security argument is that good identification weeds out customers who might be on the same server that serves your website and who might upload software that damages your website or copies your visitors’ personal information, but that should be handled by security that separates customers so one customer can’t do that to another. If the identification demands are too high, such as if you would have to provide so much personal information that it could be fraudulently misused and you don’t yet trust the party asking you, you might choose a host in another nation or shop among hosts in the one nation to see if they all demand the same thing. One host reportedly does random checks against fraud and one host may demand it before refunding any money.
Q.: Do they support accounting, recordkeeping, and compliance reports?
A.: Probably yes, but ask the website host, based on your exact needs that you determined before you asked.
Q.: Are the hosts’ business models as good as their technical abilities?
A.: I don’t know. I haven’t used most of them, if any, and I haven’t studied their business practices as revealed anywhere. Please do that as you select and use a host. Many have terms of service, called by various names, on their websites, and you should read those terms and not just the page of offers and prices.
Q.: No new owners will swallow my good host, I hope.
A.: Nothing much you can do about that except switch. If you’re a very big customer, you might negotiate a contract that requires telling you about a change, or even closes the account if a change happens, but most customers are not that big.
Q.: The terms of service, or whatever they’re called, are long-winded and complicated, I’m not a lawyer, and no one reads them. I can skip them, right?
A.: You’re responsible for complying with them whether you read them or not. But you can shop around. They range from being so bad you’d rather be barbecued to being worse. As far as I know, none are good. If you read a set that does not require that you turn over your first-born kid, you may be doing relatively well.
Q.: No contract! Yay!
A.: Uh, no. You, almost certainly, have a contract. Maybe not a long-term contract, but still a contract. A violation can be referred to their lawyer, who knows how to send you a nastygram or worse. And, if there were no contract, you’d be at the host’s mercy. It’s not the other way around. Roughly speaking, of course.
Q.: My payment card is being overcharged.
A.: For financial issues, such as credit card overcharges or debit card problems, such as when the host fails to refund a promised amount, you may ask your credit card company or other financial institution for assistance. Recurring charges can be a problem to watch even after you’ve cancelled the Web hosting service, and your financial institution may help you stop future charges.
Q.: Who regulates this? Some government agency, yes?
A.: Some nations filter what crosses national boundaries or within their nations. In the U.S., no government agency that I know of specifically looks at hosts, like they look at banks and physicians, although some agencies look at businesses generally when they may be misleadingly advertising or fraudulent. You can write to one of those agencies with the facts, your complaint, and what you would like done about it. It helps to check what the law forbids first, so you can try to bring your complaint within all four corners of what the law says. Sometimes the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), a local or state consumer affairs agency, or a state attorney general’s office can accept complaints about misleading advertising, fraud, or other issues even though the host is not registered with any such agency. While a human being can provide hosting under their real name and be paid for it, anyone using a different business name or any organization other than an individual human being may be required to have a business permit, permission to use a business name, or other legal instrument, perhaps from a state or municipal agency, and if they don’t have that you may contact the responsible agency. When choosing which agency to contact, one consideration is where the host is incorporated, organized, headquartered, or doing business, rather than where you are. Federal agencies are generally limited to cases involving interstate commerce or commerce going outside of the U.S., while state and local agencies handle what’s within their respective borders. Here are initial contact links: FTC; State and territorial governments, possibly including links to local agencies; Indian tribes in the U.S., possibly including leadership; and for other nations contact those national governments, but, if the issue for that nation is simply the transit of a signal through national territory but not local hosting or local user interaction, the national government may not be able to do much, but you can ask. (The links except for ICANN were as accessed and that for ICANN was as accessed .)
Q.: Do any Internet officials keep watch?
A.: The Internet does not have its own official regulatory system that watches the hosts that connect to it, or not much of one. The Internet organizations do deal with the signals that are sent through the Internet, and if a host misformats badly enough the content might not get through to its destination. Domain registration does have some regulation by contracts within the Internet industry, mainly through ICANN (Internet Corporation For Assigned Names and Numbers) and some hosts offer domain registration, but ICANN does not regulate Web hosting. If the problem is in an intranet (a network usually within one organization), the supervising organization that owns the intranet can deal with the issue, but when the traffic is on the world-wide Internet then that organization may have little or nothing to do with it.
Q.: Can I sue?
A.: Do not count on being able to sue in many cases, because often the distances between jurisdictions, the relatively small monetary amounts involved especially if you have to pay for a lawyer (although small claims court or a government administrative agency might help if you and the host are in the same jurisdiction), and often limitations in the terms of service will make suing either impossible or a pointless waste. Look out for arbitration or a duty to sue far from where you live or work. If suing is out of the question, be aware of that before you sign up with a Web host, so you don’t commit to more than you can afford to lose at any one time. If you need the ability to sue, look for a host with substantial assets of its own; consider the possibility that its most valuable physical asset may be its servers, which may be leased, and, if you seize them to fulfill a court judgment, you may have to pay monthly bills to the computer owner and to pay that owner for moving them to your address without permission.
Q.: Can I scream to the world how awful this host is?
A.: Yep, sure can. To tell the public about your view or your experience, you can post a review at a website that publishes reviews of Web hosts. This website generally does not publish them (or any whether negative, positive, or otherwise), but does link to reviews by other people at a variety of websites, and you can visit those websites to see if they’ll welcome your addition. When you draft your review, focus on what went wrong but avoid personal attacks. Saying that someone violated the law can itself be illegal unless you can prove it in court, and a review website may prefer to delete the review rather than go to court, so stop short of saying that someone violated the law, civil or criminal. Some companies’ legal terms may forbid disparaging comments (I saw that in one overseas firm’s terms), in which case either that’s illegal or you should stay factual. But, in any case, you’re still left with plenty of room to say what’s wrong. Sometimes, companies respond, to explain things, whitewash things, or fix things.
Q.: Can I say how nice and helpful they are?
A.: Yes, definitely. Pretty the same advice as above applies.
Q.: Do you have a newsletter?
A.: No, but here are websites that might be helpful that way, although some stories seem to be mainly from press releases and not from independent journalism, so you should read with care: The WHIR (Web Host Industry Review) (as accessed ), CSO (as accessed ), ITBusiness (as accessed ), The Hacker News (as accessed ), The Hosting News (as accessed ), Web Hosters (as accessed ), WebhostingDiscussion (as accessed ), and The Webmaster. Overlapping but less relevant is Data Center Knowledge (as accessed ). A security firm has a newsletter that’s relatively lightweight, probably because its motivation is to sell products, and they tell about threats but not in depth, but it may be interesting: Naked Security by Sophos (as accessed ). For more wide-ranging coverage of security, see the legendary Bruce Schneier’s website (as accessed )and Krebs on Security (as accessed ).
Q.: I have questions and I want them answered for free.
A.: You’re in luck. Forums are helpful websites where you can ask questions and interested people offer answers, often within a few hours (smaller forums may take longer). Sometimes they’re wrong and often they’re not thorough, but often they’re good starting points when you’re trying to solve a problem. Generally, you should have made reasonable attempts first, mainly by looking up official literature, Googling to see if your question was already answered, and trying your hand (within safety and good sense) at solving the problem yourself. Don’t yell at these people and don’t write subject lines like “Help! It’s broken!!”, because the people answering don’t have to answer and don’t owe you much, even if the forum is at the firm whose product you’re asking about. Draft your subject so they can see at a glance what the problem is and write your question to show what you tried and what exactly is failing to work. If something works sometimes and fails sometimes, try to figure out the circumstances under which it always fails, because that’s easier to solve.
Q.: Where’s your forum?
A.: I don’t have one now, but here are some from several other websites: Web Hosting Talk, ForumWeb.Hosting (open the Forums menu at the top), Digital Point, Hosting Discussion, WebHostingChat, TopHosts, HostSearch Forums, and C|Net. Several fora on different aspects are available at Stack Exchange, including Server Fault, Webmasters Stack Exchange (Pro Webmasters), and Information Security Stack Exchange. For Australia, see Web Hosting Talk Australia. For the United Kingdom, see Web Host Chat (scroll mainly to Other Hosting Forums). I don’t think free hosting is feasible unless there’s someone else’s advertising on your website and you’re not being paid for that, but here’s a forum about it: Free Web Hosting Talk. (The URLs were as accessed .)
Q.: Do we need a staff if we contract for a host?
A.: Small organizations can’t afford any specialized staff and large organizations will have many specialized staff. If your organization is in between, even a wonderful Web host may not be enough, since they want to keep all of your hosting business and also have you come to them for all other services they offer, when that may not be the best choice for you. An expert consultant who makes a living from you just for advice that’s in your interest can be trustworthy and helpful, and can cost less than even one full-time staffer. As your needs and your budget grow, you can add staff as it becomes worth the expense. You don’t have to, so you should do it only if it will contribute to your profits (or surplus for a nonprofit) or if it enhances your mission accomplishments.
Q.: Do you do personal consulting?
A.: I doubt I have enough expertise for technically-proficient prospective clients, but many professional consultants can be found on the Web and through other sources. If you still might want me to consult with you, please feel free to ask me. My postal and email addresses are on the contact page.