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Linux Shared Hosting Shopping Guide

written by: Chad Anderson•edited by: Eric Stallsworth•updated: 5/20/2011

Avoid a shared hosting horror story by finding out what you need to look for when searching for a suitable host for your website. Discover why shared hosting costs differ so much from provider to provider and how you can determine the perfect host for your needs.

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    Why Shared Web Hosting?

    There are numerous advantages to shared web hosting. The primary reason that many consumers decide to go with the shared hosting option is because of the price. With the cost split between dozens of websites, consumers can find themselves paying as little as $3/month instead of the hundreds that a dedicated server would cost them. Since most businesses do not need websites that serve dynamic content or run web-based applications, shared web hosting is a cost-effective solution. Choosing a Linux host over a Windows one even further reduces operating costs.

    The second reason to go with shared web hosting is to avoid having to manage a dedicated or virtual private server. Not only do day-to-day server operations take time, but they take dedication and a watchful eye on recent security vulnerabilities and patches. Most consumers don't know how to manage a server, have no desire to learn how to, and would rather leave that in the hands of a team of professionals.

    Finally, the majority of websites do not need the processing power or the amenities that a dedicated or virtualized server can provide. Depending on a shared host's features, most websites, even ones serving complex web applications and dynamic content, can run perfectly in a shared hosting environment.

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    Discovering What Your Website Needs

    The primary thing when shopping for a shared hosting provider is software. You need to compile a list of what your website needs to serve content effectively. If you are running a WordPress blog, then you are going to need a host running PHP5, MySQL, and either the mod_rewrite module for Apache2 or another web server instance that supports "pretty" URLs to make your blog search engine friendly. If you are going to be running a simple company page with contact information and services offered, then you are not going to require much more than a simple, static web page.

    After finding where your site will be able to function, you need to estimate your average bandwidth consumption and the disk space required for your website to function optimally. Most shared hosting providers will provide you with more bandwidth than you could ever use, but it's still important to take a look. If spikes in traffic are common for your website due to product releases and information, then you may want to look into the cost of overage charges as well. Some shared hosting providers will charge ridiculous overage fees, making your $3/month price suddenly jump into the hundreds.

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    Keeping Yourself Flexible

    There's nothing worse than being stuck in a contract or situation that is hurting your business and causing you grief. Impulsively jumping on deals and sales while shopping for shared web hosting is an easy way to find yourself in trouble later on. Package deals and the terms surrounding them should be well examined before purchase. Many package deals will include several free domain names, a number of other secondary services, and an enticing price point to wrap the deal up in. The deals are excellent too, sometimes less than $50/year for multiple domains and near endless amounts of bandwidth. All of this seems good, but problems arise when you attempt to transfer out from your current hosting provider. The contracts surrounding package deals from some providers allow them to essentially hold your domain hostage, considering the domain a part of the package. This transfer difficulty can cause a lot of headaches if you find you do not like the provider you have chosen. All package deals look like gold, but not all have the terms and conditions to back them up.

    Additionally, you should make sure that your provider can easily transition you to another hosting option if need be. The ability to upgrade or downgrade and move away from plans that you are not fitting your website's needs should be considered paramount. If your website goes viral and you go over your bandwidth or resource limit, you need to be able to upgrade quickly and without hassle. Any decent web hosting provider should be able to upgrade your plan within minutes.

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    Hosting Horror Stories

    Always look for reviews on a company before purchasing a package from them. There are literally hundreds of shared web hosting providers out there. The majority of them use Linux-based servers to get the job done. The web services are easy to set up, cheap to operate, and easy to swap out. Many companies, attempting to be competitive and keep their prices low, oversell their hosting machines, providing horrible service for every tier of their customer base. These companies provide web hosting to thousands of people at the price of only $3/month. Their service and support reflect that price point in the end. A little research can go far in the long run.

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