Hosting the Leading Websites:

My Host of Choice


I’m struck by how many problems claimed against other Web hosting services do not apply to the hosting service I use for this website. My host is nearlyfreespeech.net. I filed away a name of an alternate host, but in the entire time I’ve been with NearlyFreeSpeech I’ve taken no steps to move out. There are a few drawbacks for some customers, but if you don’t mind those, and I don’t, then I recommend it.

What You May Not Like

Putting drawbacks up front, in no particular order:

— Customers are expected to be technically proficient, at least moderately so. In return, NearlyFreeSpeech is technically proficient, too. Not much hand-holding is available. But the hosting works very well. So does the domain registration service. I had problems elsewhere that didn’t happen here. I don’t recall having more than one problem here that was not my fault, and maybe there wasn’t even one. When the staff once did research they didn’t have to do, the problem they uncovered was something I had caused myself but forgotten about. Various commentators have said that one-click software installations are not available; I believe it. You’ll be using your technical skills.

— No live telephone support or chat; and some email support has to be paid for (if you want email support without a limit on what questions you can ask, then you pay something). But certain email questions are free, the FAQs are extensive, the forum is large and active (people ask questions and other people answer them), the wiki is available and editable, and a Twitter feed and a blog occasionally give technically relevant news. The FAQ and the wiki give immediate answers and, at the forum, I’ve generally gotten a useful reply within a couple of hours, with an email (free) telling me there’s a reply at the forum. To use the support systems, you have to become a member, but that costs nothing. This is quoted from NearlyFreeSpeech’s FAQ: “Is your service easy to use?”/“No. . . . [O]ur service is arcane and complex. We consider this a positive.” What I like is that I feel I know what’s going on at the same time that I save money.

— No billing later. You have to prepay and there’s a small per-deposit deduction. I think this likely lowers costs and prices. Payment methods are flexible; I used money orders and a debit card. You cannot use the host as a bank (meaning no withdrawals while you’re a member) but you’re free to prepay in small amounts if you prefer, although larger deposits reduce your costs.

— Pricing tends to fluctuate, because it is partly based on usage, various forms of usage. However, this probably saves money, because to offer flat-rate pricing requires including a resource margin that would usually go unused but would still be charged for. No one’s going to offer a flat rate where you exceed usage limits for long. It is possible to limit spending at NearlyFreeSpeech by temporarily limiting public access to a website. Hosts that find usage exceeding what you’ve paid for tend to demand that you upgrade to more expensive plans, but NearlyFreeSpeech charges by usage instead of flatly, so, when usage goes down what you pay also goes down. Usage includes storage space that your files use and whether your site is dynamic or static (dynamic costs more). Before a daily charge was added, bandwidth (traffic) used to be a separate charge; now it’s included as long as it’s not very large; when it gets large, expect to pay for how much bandwidth your visitors use.

— Large high-traffic websites are expensive at this host.

— E-commerce is mostly unsupported and no unique IP addresses are supplied, although SSL certificates are nonetheless offered and accepted for HTTPS access. NearlyFreeSpeech does not supply IP addresses unique to one site, because, the host explained, that is contrary to the industry standard for distributing rationed IP addresses around the world. IPv4 addresses have been rationed and the supply is nearing exhaustion and not everyone uses IPv6 yet, at least not fully. However, some credit card companies reputedly don’t like shared IP addresses, so if you want to sell things online you may need to look for another host. Possibly, sharing an IP address also adversely affects ranking in Google search results, because it affects page-loading speed, and Google favors pages that load faster, although the effect may be very small, and, in my experience, static HTML pages usually load fast even from shared IP addresses. Institutional networks that are aware of malware coming from a shared IP address might block all access to that address including to innocent websites, although I haven’t heard of this happening much. I have not tried getting an SSL certificate or applying one bought elsewhere to a site of mine, so I can’t describe that experience.

— No design service is offered, and no templates. I do my own work and you can get your own designer or even design it yourself or search the Internet for free and nonfree templates and design elements like fonts, backgrounds, and buttons. If you want your host to provide screens where you insert your content, NearlyFreeSpeech does not offer that service. You prepare your own files and, generally, use SFTP to upload the finished work into your website.

— You don’t choose the fundamental operating system for your sites, although you may be able to choose from several software environments. No Microsoft Windows here. But I like this. I think this saves on costs, because no customer has to face security holes that can’t be patched until Microsoft uploads its own patch and no customer has to pay for closed-source Windows. A hidden part of the price of a host that offers Windows and Linux platforms at the same price is that, since every copy of Windows has to be purchased from Microsoft while Linux is free for as many machines as wished, charging the same price means Linux customers have to indirectly pay for Microsoft. I prefer open-source software for being free and more secure, so using a host that doesn’t use Microsoft Windows saves me money. NearlyFreeSpeech stated that its OS is FreeBSD, which is free, can be patched in-house anytime, and has had a good reputation for security. I briefly ran PC-BSD and TrueOS at home; they’re FreeBSD with graphical user interfaces. It’s good software. Many and possibly most websites around the world are run on FreeBSD platforms.

— Some software is technically set in ways intended to promote security but that may be different than at other hosts, so a customer may have to understand how the software works and what options are available to the customer. I have not experienced this, but I tend not to need much more than HTML.

— No cPanel or Plesk. I’ve seen complaints that some hosts don’t have one of these particular brands of control panel. I don’t think they’re needed here.

— People with visual impairments using the user interface will find some bugs, like two “Here” links for clicking on pages. There is timed auto-redirection of acknowledgment pages but I set my browser to stop that unless it asks.

On the Plus Side

Advantages of NearlyFreeSpeech as a website host are substantial:

They know what they’re doing. They seem very good at staying within the standards embodied in authoritative RFCs and other published sources, which you can read yourself on the Web (for example, at RFC Editor). My sites seem to run without downtime; I don’t check often but I don’t think I have to. It appears that the CEO is personally technically knowledgeable. The support for us do-it-yourselfers is extensive and helpful.

Since their forums are visible to their members generally, they come across as more honest about their problems. Many companies love to shout about how perfect they are while sweeping complaints under the rug, but you can see how NearlyFreeSpeech handles many of their complaints when you can read forum topics, even ones that are years old. I prefer to stick with someone who acknowledges their own problems, solves them, and tells you about them.

Prices were recently raised, mainly by the adding of a daily charge, for most sites a nickel a day (under $19/year). Even so, prices are attractive. Static sites cost less than dynamic ones, all else equal; you choose. For free, you can become a member and look around.

Storage and bandwidth are virtually unlimited, because you pay for what gets used. NearlyFreeSpeech stops when your on-host website account runs out of money. Since NearlyFreeSpeech does not bill, you prepay or you get stopped at your budget preference. I haven’t heard of anyone being blocked or any website going dark because NearlyFreeSpeech suspected the customer wouldn’t pay or because the host wanted a more expensive plan set up. Your site stays live as long as you have prepaid. Your budget stays on your leash. If you want your website to run for only 37 minutes so your friend can see it or if you get a suspicious spike in traffic and you want to take it offline until traffic is back to normal, you can take care of either case with about a few clicks. For example, I have several accounts for my several websites and I have one other account, which I named no-website. With very little clicking, I can move money between accounts and keep one website under a tight budget while allowing lavish splurges on another. If money in one account runs low, NearlyFreeSpeech emails me at dollar thresholds I set, preventing a surprise, because then I can deposit more at will, on time.

If your website uses ten times the storage and bandwidth this month than it did last month and then it goes down again the month after that, like if your website is for a big annual dinner, all that happens is that you pay according to what you use. You do not have to switch to a pricier plan when it goes up and then somehow try to wangle someone into letting you drop down to a cheaper plan when you use less, and some other hosting firm may not let you, figuring you’ll likely stay with them even at the higher price. Begging NearlyFreeSpeech and yelling on the phone and emailing in all caps five times are not necessary. There are no tiers or whatever other hosts call them. If your site’s size and traffic is on a roller coaster, so is what you pay. You check in to look at patterns, a site goes dark when you want it to, you deposit money when you expect a rise, and your site stays alive. Doubtless there’s an upper limit, but it’s not per customer but is for the whole hosting company, as is true for any host, and I gather it’s unlikely anyone’s going to reach that high a load.

Here’s a tip for managing the money you have on deposit: You’re allowed only one membership per person but you can have several accounts. You put your websites into your accounts. The tip is that you should create one additional account, put no websites on that account, and store most of your deposited money there, moving it between accounts whenever you need to, with clicks. That way, an inappropriate traffic spike at one website does not wipe out a pile of my money. While there is email notification of low balances at thresholds I set, I don’t check my email every day, so this no-website account is a useful control. I call my account that serves that role “no-website”. My deposits all go there first. There’s no charge to have that account.

I haven’t seen upselling or cross-selling. NearlyFreeSpeech says what they offer but, when I want something, NearlyFreeSpeech does not interrupt my pursuit by sidetracking me with sales whining.

Content is your problem, not NearlyFreeSpeech’s, unless the content is illegal and then you both may be liable. I haven’t heard of anyone’s content being deleted at NearlyFreeSpeech’s discretion, such as because someone’s business competitor doesn’t like it. Apparently, NearlyFreeSpeech refuses to do that. Because of that refusal, NearlyFreeSpeech’s top person said he does not vacation in Europe lest he get arrested for violating a foreign law he doesn’t have to follow and NearlyFreeSpeech doesn’t supply foreign country-code top-level domains (ccTLDs) (although NearlyFreeSpeech permits customers to use them independently for sites hosted at NearlyFreeSpeech).

CGI, MariaDB (akin to MySQL), Perl, PHP, scripting, <.htaccess>, and various other things are available or supported. You can back up your website easily, any time. You’d log in, use SFTP (I’ve used Konqueror and FileZilla from a laptop), go to your website’s directory, and copy whatever you want to your own device and keep it as long as it pleases you to keep it. No charge. Logs can be downloaded with only a few clicks and a brief wait for rotation, free and raw (interpreting logs is up to you to figure out). (You can save on storage costs by moving old logs to your own storage media.)

Per-alias site root is a feature that apparently allows putting several websites into one. It seems to be unique to this host; I didn’t find another host offering it when I Googled. It may save you money and doesn’t cost more. I didn’t try it because I didn’t need it, but the forum has some discussion of its ins and outs.

Dealing with domains is straightforward. While NearlyFreespeech plans to become a direct registrar, so far it is a reseller for a registrar. I have not had games played on me by NearlyFreeSpeech or its linked registrar. (The registrar did have an annoying habit of issuing new terms apparently every day, forcing me to skim or read them each time I bought a domain, but NearlyFreeSpeech found a way around that.) I have not used the proxy service, so I can’t tell you about that from experience; I own all of my domains directly. When, in the past, I let a domain go and a parked page appeared for it, the advertising on it was not particularly offensive; I appreciated that. If you don’t want to buy a domain, you can use a subdomain of a domain belonging to NearlyFreeSpeech, for free.

DNS service is available. I haven’t given close attention to it and can’t say much about it. It works and is unobtrusive.

Email forwarding is available. I haven’t used it, so I can’t say much about it. It relies on forwarding inbound emails to a regular email account that you’d have somewhere else, like at Gmail or Yahoo. NearlyFreeSpeech’s system is designed to discourage anyone from sending out bursts of mass spam through NearlyFreeSpeech.

The user interface (UI), including the controls and information about my website, appears to be a custom design and very neat and efficient. It’s not cPanel or Plesk and you don’t have to pay for cPanel or Plesk. Pages load quickly. Instead of flying 3-D graphics and Flash movies, I see simple sentences, telling me what I need to know. Choices are well-organized. I doubt it matters what browser you use, or what viewport width if it’s at least 625 pixels (for some pages, or maybe less if scrolled horizontally). I visit the host’s UI on a laptop and it probably works fine on a tablet, so you won’t need a separate app, but I don’t know about cell phone browsers.

Payment can be by money order, PayPal, debit card, credit card, and bitcoin, for example. Credit and debit card security looks tight. I found it secure with a debit card. The host deletes the card details as soon as they’re no longer needed after one transaction. I don’t think there’s a choice about that. That’s probably true for credit cards, too. You enter the details each time. That makes cracking security to copy everyone’s card information pointless. It’s rarely in there, so a cracker is likely to come up empty-handed. That’s security the way it should be.

The terms of service are simpler than at many other hosts. The domain registrar’s terms are as complicated as usual but that’s probably true of most registrars for the same top-level domains (TLDs) and NearlyFreeSpeech doesn’t control the registrar’s terms. Your ownership stays intact. Ownership can be a problem with hosts that make everything super-easy for naive customers who wind up not owning some of their content or their domain, but NearlyFreeSpeech doesn’t do that.

Privacy is noticeable. While many sites say they put your privacy high in their concerns and I don’t depend much on anyone to protect my privacy, NearlyFreeSpeech gives hints of really meaning it, to the extent it can. NearlyFreeSpeech discusses it in places where it could be silent, openly says it won’t answer certain kinds of questions about its members, has opposed a proposal from ICANN to open up privacy and proxy ownership details on private people (discussed on NearlyFreeSpeech’s blog), offers several degrees of login security for members to choose, accepts bitcoin for payment, and offers to consider requests for anonymous hosting for people who reside outside of the United States and would be in serious danger if their identities were public because of their content and their nations’ repressive and retaliatory policies. To my knowledge, most hosts don’t go that far.

Nearlyfreespeech.net is also reachable as nearlyfreespeech.com and nearlyfreespeech.org.

For a far larger scale of service with more customization and price and term negotiability, NearlyFreeSpeech is associated with a provider that, as far as I can tell from its website, may have the same top leadership and degree of technical skill, GridFury. GridFury is unlikely to host just a single website but might agree to larger-scale work related to it. I have not used its service; I’m just assuming reliability by association.

No Disclaimer Needed

NearlyFreeSpeech is not paying me or discounting what I pay because of this page and NearlyFreeSpeech didn’t ask for it, discuss it with me, or write it. I pay NearlyFreeSpeech to host this page and this website and I pay the regular rates in advance. I wrote this because I like this host’s service and because I was surprised at the complaints I saw against the Web hosts that were most popular in this website’s list, surprised at both the content of the complaints and the frequency with which they arose against multiple hosts. They talked about complaints that I don’t think apply to NearlyFreeSpeech, which led me to wonder why some more websites are not hosted at NearlyFreeSpeech. Some probably should consider it.

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Other Online Information

Note

Referencing to <.htaccess>, which is a file intended for use with httpd, website server software from The Apache Software Foundation (httpd is often colloquially called Apache), is not meant to disfavor any other website server software that may not use a file with that name.

Sources

The URL for NearlyFreeSpeech is as accessed . The URL to the NearlyFreeSpeech home page is as accessed . The quotation about “service” as “arcane and complex” is as accessed . The URLs for SFTP, FreeBSD, PC-BSD, and TrueOS are as accessed . The URL for RFC Editor is as accessed . The URLs for MariaDB, Perl, PHP, scripting, <.htaccess>, Konqueror, and FileZilla are as accessed . The URL for the NearlyFreeSpeech blog entry on the ICANN proposal is as accessed . The GridFury URL is as accessed .