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Saturday, November 26, 2005

Hosting and domain registration

Domain registration and choosing a host for your website can seem daunting for the beginner webmaster. Actuallly it's quite easy, and once you have been through the process once, you'll find it much easier in the future.

Choosing a website host

It's often best to choose your website host before you register your domain name. During the domain registration process you'll need the nameserver information from your hosting company and having that ready can speed up the process of getting your domain up and running.

What is a host? Basically a host is a computer (server) that contains all your website pages and images and makes them viewable to the public. There are various kinds of hosting accounts, servers and platforms to choose from. Your website requirements will dictate which hosting package you should choose.

Shared hosting or dedicated server?
Shared hosting means that multiple websites are hosted on the same server. The server is not reserved solely for your website. Packages like these are much cheaper than a dedicated server, but if you have a very active site you might experience slow loading times. For most people a shared hosting package will be more than enough and you might never need to upgrade to a dedicated server.

A dedicated server means that only your site is hosted on the server. All the resources available on the server is available to your site alone, this means that you can run processing intensive scripts and processes without worrying about slowing down your site. Dedicated hosting is the best option for very active sites with hundreds of thousand visitors a day. The drawback of course is that dedicated hosting is extremely expensive.

It would be best to start out with a shared hosting account and then, as your site grows, upgrade to a dedicated server if needed.

What to look for?
When choosing a hosting package you need to take various things into consideration. Below you will find some of the more important aspects:

Bandwidth: Bandwidth refers to the amount of data your site is allowed to send and receive and is shown in GB per month e.g. an account that offers 6GB of traffic will allow you to download/upload 6GB of data a month. Each time a person visits your site and downloads a page from your site or you upload new pages, a bit of your bandwidth is used up.

Most hosting accounts provide you with a certain amount of bandwidth per month and then charges you an extra fee for any bandwidth usage over that amount. The price charged for each extra GB uses is often very hign and it could end up being very expensive. It's best to choose a hosting package with more bandwidth than you think you will actually need. For a relatively popular site with a few images and largely text based content a bandwidth allowance of around 20GB - 30GB should be enough.

Beware of companies offering unlimited bandwidth. There is often a catch somewhere, and in the end you get what you pay for.

Storage space: This is the amount of storage space you can use on the server to store all your website pages, images and other data. Depending on the package this could be a few hundred MB or GB of data. Once again it' s best to choose a package that provides you with more storage space than you actually think you will need. That way you provide room for further growth.

Databases, PHP and other scripts
If you are planning to use a CMS or program a database-driven site you will have to make sure that your host has the necesarry software and database support. Most CMS require MySQL and PHP to be able to run. Check the documentation listing the requirements and compare that to what the host is offering.

Most hosting companies advetise an uptime of 99.9%. It would be best if you investigate their claims further. Do they have adequate protection against hackers, fires, and power failures? If the server is down, your site is unavailable to the world and that can mean that you are losing out on possible revenue or sales.

This is one of the most important aspects for new webmasters and sadly it is often overlooked in the process of finding the cheapest option. Support from your hosting company is extremly important. If you experience any problems it's vital that you can contact them and receive a quick and timely reply. It's no use havign a hosting company that takes a week to help you sort out a problem.

Now that you know what to look for you can do some searches for hosting companies on the Internet. Good hosting packages can start from around $6.00 per month for shared hosting and $100 for dedicated hosting. The cheapest choice is however not always the best choice. Remember that in the end, you'll get what you are paying for.

Domain registration
Domain registration has become much easier and more affordable. There are lots of companies that will handle all the tedium for you.

When choosing a domain, be sure to make it easy for people to remember. Keep it short and sweet. You might be tempted to cram the domain name with as many keywords as possible, but that will only make it harder for people to remember your site URL.

To register your domain, you will need to know the nameserver information of your host. It normally takes the form of NS1.Yourhost.com. During the registration process enter the nameserver information when prompted and your new domain should be up and running in around 24 hours once the DNS information has been propegated.

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