Skytopia > Projects > Technology/science articles > Choosing a web host to build your website

Choosing a web host to build your website

There are a bewildering array of web hosts out there. If we look at, there are over 1500 (paid and free) web hosts at the time of speaking. We at Skytopia personally covered 63 hosts and rated them all in our article - "Finding the best web site host the Googalistic way". After much painstaking research, and Googling, proved to be the overall winner for paid hosting and for free web hosting, but naturally the exact web host and deal you'll end up with will depend on your requirements. Are you looking to start a hobby site, blog, business or build up a killer website? Do you care about such features as PHP or FTP access? Should you? How about the available bandwith and disk space? How much will you need?

To pay or not to pay

That will all depend on the kind of features you want, and the eventual size of the site. It's true that you get what you pay for, although it's impressive what you'll get for free these days. Usually, free hosts make their money in two ways. First off, they might force popups or advert banners on the site. This can ruin the design of the page, and make it look cheap. Some hosts use text ads (eg: Google Adsense) instead of graphic banners, and these are of course an improvement. The second way hosts make money is by hoping you'll upgrade at a later point to one of the their paid hosting schemes once you've outgrown the free hosting. Later, we'll discuss whether you should opt for a free host, or go paid, but before we do, let's look at what features you'll be wanting for your web site.

Okay the features...

There are lots of things to consider. We'll run through them to see what best fits your requirements.

  • Own domain (top level domain) versus sub-domain
  • Disk Space and Bandwidth
  • Shared hosting versus dedicated hosting
  • PHP, MySQL, CGI/Perl, ASP
  • FTP, Frontpage, and web page creation

    Own domain (top level domain) versus sub-domain.
    If you have your own domain, then that means you can have a site such as "" or "" etc. A subdomain on the other hand is a name off an existing domain such as: ...or

    If you want a permanent website home, then go for your own domain name (this will cost though, maybe 10-20 dollars a year). In theory, this is a separate process from obtaining a web host, and requires going to a seperate site such as to register your domain. But paid hosting sites such as Dreamhost will chuck in this step automatically while you sign up for the hosting.

    As for this actual site (, I started off from a Geocities account for a short while before I went for my own domain, and basically moved all my old pages to the new site. Just as long as you realise that when you start promoting your site, and other sites start linking to yours, then if you move domain, you'll lose all the links you built up to your old site's URL (the URL is "" or whatever). So to be on the safe side, you might to choose a name you're gonna stick with.

    Disk Space and Bandwidth
    How much is enough? Think of the disk space like your own hard drive - it represents the amount of stuff you can put on your website. HTML pages are relatively small, so you can fit hundreds of those into 10 megabytes of space. However, once you start uploading pictures, and especially MP3s, animated GIFs, or videos onto the site, then these will eat into that disk space much quicker. For small hobby sites, 50-100 megabytes of disk space should be enough. Even 10-20 megabyte is sufficient, providing you keep graphics to a minimum, and have relatively few pages. Business sites or those with lots of multimedia however, will want something closer to around 500 megabyte, and maybe even 5000 meg for some top-end sites.

    Bandwidth on the other hand is perhaps more difficult to judge. It represents the amount of stuff that can be downloaded by visitors to your site per month. When I first started out creating Skytopia, I had 1 gigabyte of bandwidth a month, and this seemed plenty at the time! However, as more and more visitors started coming, this shot up to 2, then 5, and now I need 50 gigabyte of bandwidth to allow me enough for the thousands of visitors I get each day.

    It's important to note that the amount of bandwidth depends on a site's content, not just the number of visitors it receives. For example, a small HTML page with text (say 5k big) visited by 500,000 people will eat up 2.5 gigabyte (2500 megabyte) of bandwidth. On the other hand, a page with an MP3 up for grabs (3 megabyte approx) downloaded by only 1000 people will eat up more than that - 3 gigabyte of bandwidth!

    Shared hosting versus dedicated hosting
    For most users, shared hosting is the way to go, being much cheaper than dedicated hosting. Basically shared hosting means that your site is on the same server computer as other sites. This means that they're all competing for the processor, memory and bandwidth. This is fine for most people, since small to mid-range web sites don't generally eat up many computer resources. However if you are running intensive scripts and providing to millions of users, then dedicated is the way to go. Just be prepared to pay at least ten times as much!

    PHP, MySQL, CGI/Perl, ASP
    If you want useful little programs to provide your site with guestbooks, visitor tracking (such as AXS), forums (such as phpBB), counters, polls, and other goodies, you'll want at least one of these. You can even create your own programs if you know the basics of programming! For example, I was able to create an online program to convert MIDIs to become louder, quieter, faster, or higher pitched using simple PHP.

    Other goodies you might want to research include Shockwave or Flash, often used for online games or 'programmed' animations and video. MySQL capability is useful for certain applications requiring the MySQL database such as the phpBB forum.

    FTP, Frontpage, and web page creation
    First of all, always keep a second copy of your site on your own hard drive, just in case the host decides to delete your site and everything along with it! In fact, actually WORK on the web site from your hard drive, and count it as the primary location, and the site as the 'backup'. This way, it'll be quicker to test pages, as you can load HTML pages into your web browser even if you're offline, and it's much quicker!

    All paid hosts will have FTP uploading, but many free web hosts only allow you to upload via their own website. FTP is quicker, more efficient, and you can upload multiple files and folders in one go. The one I use is Core FTP. It's practically free, and uploads files more easily than rival software.

    There are many ways to create your web pages, from Dreamweaver and Frontpage, to Microsoft Word or Notepad. Yes, you can even use a simple text editor - Notepad - to create web pages, though you'll need to learn how to program HTML ( is a very good resource if you do, because it displays the HTML side by side with the code - very useful). Many hosting sites such as Tripod contain their own site creation tools online, so that's something else to consider if you don't want to learn HTML.

    Downsides of free hosts

    Free hosts are great when you're just starting out, or if you don't intend to build giant sites with millions of visitors, but there are downsides. As well as limited bandwidth and diskspace, there will often be restrictions on the type of file you can upload. File types such as MP3, ZIP, EXE, MOV, AVI, MPG, or WMV may be excluded, unless you use them in very limited ways (and with some hosts, not even then). Invariably, you won't be be able to upload large file sizes (some hosts limit to 250k, some are more generous with 3 megabyte, and very few free hosts don't have any restriction), and many won't allow remote hosting/linking ('hotlinking') which means you can't link from another website directly to a picture, or file from your own site.

    There will also be the obvious things such as low disk space/bandwidth, forced adverts, and lack of features such as PHP, CGI/Perl, MySQL, or the inability to use your own domain name. Perhaps these aren't important to you, but if they are, then there are many free hosts which do support these goodies.

    Finally, the support you receive will be limited. Many free host providers even threaten to delete your site after a period of inactivity (often around 30-60 days). Additionally, the site downtime, general speed of the site, or even the ability to log into your site may be temperamental.

    Advice to avoid many of these pitfalls? Look out for free hosting providers with forums, as that means they're willing to help their visitors or risk the wrath of angry forum posts! Also search in to look at the history of the site so as to make sure they're established, and not a 'fly by night' company. Google too, may return clues from people who have already signed up, sometimes negative, sometimes positive. Finally, always read the "terms of service" so as to see what features they limit, and what you can or can't do with your web space.

    Where to start looking

    For a paid host, you could do much worse than For free hosts, I'd advise doing some research at One of the most popular free hosts according to my research on this page seems to be Directnic, so that's worth a look too.

    If you want a paid host, then I would strongly suggest looking at our heavily researched article - "Finding the best web site host the Googalistic way":


  • Finding the best web site host the Googalistic way - We conduct an extensive experiment using Google to find out the best web host!
  • - One of the most comprehensive host information resources out there, and what appears to be one of the most reliable from what I can see. Also read their section on host finding
  • Webhostingunleashed - Decent resource for host hunting, though should be up there!

    Skytopia > Projects > Technology/science articles > Choosing a web host to build your website

    All research on this page is copyright 2006 onwards Daniel White.
    If you wish to duplicate any of the information from this page, you must contact me for permission.