Web Hosting service primarily give you space to store your files which are displayed to the user when they open the website. In addition to this basic service, they offer additional frills for making a good website. A good web hosting package may cost between $2-$4 per month. The number of such web hosting companies is simply huge, each offering a plethora of services and features. In this melee, it becomes difficult to shop for a package which meets your present and future needs at a affordable cost. We look at each of the desirable feature to see what it means, the options we have and what to look for.
This refers to the amount of hard-disk space that the hosting service will allot for you. A rule of the thumb is to estimate the space you are going to need and buy a package with atleast double that space. Getting too much extra web space does not make sense as most hosting services upgrade you to a higher plan on request.
A text file with hand-coded HTML usually takes roughly 2-4Kb for a page spanning a few screens. It may be more if the design is complicated, i.e., the content-to-html_tags ratio is low. The same file generated by a software like MS Frontpage may take 10 times more space. Image files take larger space but the requirements can be greatly reduced by choosing the right image format. Jpeg is best suited for pictures and images with lots of colors. A typical 640 x 480 jpeg picture takes 30-40Kb. Gif is ideal for diagrams and graphics with just a few discrete colors. A simple 640 x 480 gif diagram may take less than 10Kb
Most web servers also count the space taken by access logs, database and other documents. Leave a margin for them when making an estimate of the disk space required.
Web hosting services have a upper limit on the data that is accessed from the website. They have to do this because huge transfer of data puts to much load on their servers. The more the bytes transfered, the more the load.
Common limits on transfer is typically 1Gb/month. This is about 33Mb in one day. So if the average size of a page is 10Kb, then you are fine if the number of page views in a day is less than 3300.
Almost always, the choice is between Microsoft Server and Linux. The cost is often the same for both. Sometimes Linux servers are priced lower because most of the softwares for it are available free of cost.
Linux is proven to be more powerful, efficient, fast and robust. This is the natural choice for most, especially if you want terminal access to your site. More importantly, you dont need to know anything about Linux or UNIX to host your site. They hosting service will explain the simple procedures for maintaining your site.
You can also create Email accounts for your domain name. Say your domain name is www.fruitseller.com, then you can create emails like email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, etc. This creates a very good impact if you are setting up the website for your business.
You may be charged a fees for setting up email accounts. You can still ask users of your website to send mails to your regular yahoo or hotmail account. However, the email accounts associated with your domain name has its advantages. It will most probably have POP3 support, so you can user your favorite email client like Eudora, Outlook, etc, to read and send mails. The emails are stored in your web folder, so you have all the space available for the mails.
In addition to the static content of your page, you may want to add features like Guestbooks, Feedback forms, etc. To be able to run these, you need access to some programs on the web werver. Such programs are also need if you want to generate content dynamically, on-the-fly, for your website. E.g., you want the same header and footer generated automatically for each page.
PHP is one of the simplest, powerful, and most hassle free scricpting language for this purpose. Another good candidate is Perl/CGI. Other possible choices are JSP or ASP. Make sure you have access to a tool of your choice if you intend to do more on your site than just a few static pages.
There may be times when you want to store information, say the entries of a form. Though you may store data in flat files, storing them in a database makes retrieval easier and using this data, you may generate pages on the fly.
Even if the web site hosting provides you one database, it is fine because you can create multiple tables in it. The usual choice for database is MySQL. It is very easy to connect to it using PHP, among other things.
And then, you would like to know how well your site is doing. To do this, you need to know how many visitors are coming to your website, which pages are they looking at, where are they coming from, etc. Most web hosting services throw in a statistics page as part of the package. Some provide more sophisticated tools at an extra cost. The default tools may do but you may want to better tools if you want to monitor things closely, like following the links a user clicked as he browsed the site.