Features to look for in a web hosting package

Features to look for in a web hosting package

Web Hosting Providers & Packages

What features to look for in a web hosting package

In order for people to view (download) your website content on the internet you need a Web Hosting Provider, also known as a Hosting Company, to host (store and display or store and run) each website file that makes up your website content. A website file can typically be a HTML file, CSS file, PHP file, JavaScript file, Image file, Audio/Video file and so on.

Even though one HTML file for example is known as a web page, as can be one PHP file, collectively a group of website files (i.e. one HTML file, one CSS file and one Image file) are also known as a web page.....usually by the general public.

What Is A Website?

Behind the scenes a website is just a folder, on the web hosting provider's computer (server), that is named after your domain name (i.e. dorciaweb.ca). Within that domain name folder (also known as your Web Space root folder) will be a sub-folder called public_html. It is the content of that public_html sub-folder that the general public will view via their web browser (i.e. google chrome), with your permission of course.

This is because even though your domain name points to (connects to) your Web Space root folder, the folder that was named after your domain name (i.e. dorciaweb.ca), a web browser and more specifically a website address can only point to (view the content of) the public_html sub-folder.....in normal circumstances. In other words, typing your domain name into internet explorer will point you to the content (i.e. main web page) that is inside the public_html sub-folder. You will not see the content of the Web Space root folder.

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Which Web Hosting Provider?

You will know which web hosting provider to use when you have looked at the prices of their Web Hosting Packages and the features that come with it (i.e. PHP Scripting and MySQL Database). A web hosting provider has two main jobs to do.

The first job is to maintain your Web Space (main folder), which has specific web hosting system files inside it as well as your public_html sub-folder, so that your public_html website content is viewable for everyone to see on the internet 24/7.....with your permission of course. This job also involves them looking after their own computers (servers) and making sure your website content is safe and secure.

The second job is to maintain your Control Panel (set of Tools) that comes with the web hosting package, so that you can create MySQL Databases, E-Mail Accounts and so on (depending on the features of the web hosting package).

Shop Around - Avoid FREE & Cheap 'N' Nasty

When looking for a Web Hosting Provider to host (display) your website on the internet, and more importantly when looking at the features inside their Web Hosting Packages, it pays to shop around. The old saying "If it's too good to be true it probably is" should be in the front of your mind.

Dismiss the sales talk about features such as "Unlimited Bandwidth", "Unlimited Web Space", "1002s of FREE Templates" and "Website Builder" because these tend to be gimmicks - A company does not give for free unless they are taking from somewhere else and/or someone else. For example. "FREE Templates" that everyone else is using (so your website is not unique/bespoke to you). "A Website Builder" that supposedly does everything for you (so you get a useless/limited Control Panel).

Many "FREE Website Hosting" packages do not allow you to create a MySQL Database or use PHP Scripting for example. Other packages host (display) your website content for "FREE" with the condition that your web pages contain their selected advertisements. Some limit the features of the Control Panel, Bandwidth and so on. These tend to be hosting companies that advertise "FREE Website Builder" and "FREE Templates".

In other words. They give you software that builds and publishes your website, catered for the Absolute Beginner, without you realizing you should be getting a better control panel for example. There are plenty of free, and very affordable, templates and tools on the internet that can also build you a website in minutes. So do not pay for something like a Website Builder for the sake of a limited control panel.

Affordable - With Basic Features

A good Web Hosting Package should be affordable but definitely not "FREE", and definitely not "Cheap 'N' Nasty". Above all else it should contain YOUR basic requirements. So consider spending $5 to $10 a month on a standard web hosting package. This should get you the Basics. Ask yourself the following questions:

Do I need 10, 20, 40 or 80+ Email Addresses?.

Am I going to need a Forum (Questions & Answers Board), Blog (Diary Articles), Guest Book and/or Media (Audio/Video) Gallery?.....that may need a MySQL Database and/or PHP Script. One thing to remember here is that these features can take time to create and may need ongoing management time too.

How much Website Space do I need?.....for my Web Pages (HTML Files - Text, Pictures, Audio and Video), Forum, Blog, Guest Book and so on.

How many Website Visitors am I expecting each month? The more visitors you get the more Bandwidth (Download Units) you will need.

Below I have explained the major features inside a standard Web Hosting Package, in order for you to answer the above questions and to give you a better idea of what features you should be looking to use. At the bottom of each description I have noted the standard you should be looking for when paying $5 to $10 a month. These are based on Quality web hosting providers (see Quality below).

The Control Panel

Although all web hosting packages have a web based Control Panel of some sort it is the control panel that is overlooked. A good control panel is the key to a good web hosting package and more importantly to an easier life in terms of managing your website. The more tools in a control panel the better.

A part from the features entitled Bandwidth, Web Space and Quality (below) all the other features mentioned below should be accessible through a control panel. The control panel itself is installed, and updated, by your web hosting provider. Many use the popular cPanel (cpanel.net) control panel.

Features to look for in a web hosting package

Bandwidth (Monthly Data Transfer)

Bandwidth (also known as Monthly Data Transfer) is the amount of Data that can be downloaded from your public_html sub-folder, onto a customer's computer via internet explorer for example, each month. It is measured in GigaBytes - A standard Web Hosting Package should allow you at least 2 GigaBytes of bandwidth per month. Bandwidth can also be contributed to uploading your files to your public_html sub-folder, which means Bandwidth is really your upload and download usage.

What does all this mean? It means if one customer downloads a 4MB Music File, for example, from your public_html sub-folder it will cost you 4MB in bandwidth. So if ten customers download the 4MB Music File, or one customer downloads the 4MB Music File ten times, either way it will cost you 40MB of bandwidth in total. However. It is not that simple because each web page viewed also costs bandwidth.

If you have a Music Product Web Page that consists of 1MB of Introduction Text and 1MB of Music Pictures for example it will cost you 2MB of bandwidth each time that Music Product Web Page is viewed (downloaded into one customer's web browser, from your web space to their computer). Therefore, each time a customer views (downloads) the 2MB Music Product Web Page and then downloads the 4MB Music File it will cost you 6MB of bandwidth in total. Times that by ten customers and it would cost you 60MB of bandwidth in total.

5,000MB (5GB) of web space divided by 6MB (1 Music Product Web Page and 1 Music File) equals 833 possible customers. It is not that simple though. Why? Because not all 833 possible customers will download 1 Music Product Web Page and 1 Music File, especially if they have to buy the Music File.

Some might view (download) the Music Product Web Page more than once (i.e. read it more another day) while others might download the Music File more than once (download it for their family and friends), especially if it is free to download. So you might end up with customers who view the Music Product Web Page only but do not download the (Buy Now!) Music File and vice versa. Hence why selling something on the internet is not guaranteed - It costs bandwidth and money.

5-20 GigaBytes. 30 GigaBytes maximum.....before the package price changes to something even better. Dorciaweb's basic web hosting package offers 30GB Bandwidth.

Add-On Domains

An Add-On Domain is a normal domain name (i.e. software.com) that points to (connects to) a sub-folder within your main domain name's public_html (website) folder. That sub-folder is normally named after your add-on domain name (i.e. software.com). So if your main domain name is computers.com and your add-on domain name is software.com your web hosting provider will create a new sub-folder called software.com inside the public_html folder of computers.com and then point/link (redirect) software.com to that new sub-folder called software.com.

This means that anyone typing software.com into their web browser will be taken to a sub-folder called software.com within the public_html folder of computers.com.

The advantages of an add-on domain name are that 1) It has its own folder which means it can be classed as a website within its own right and 2) It saves on buying two web spaces (two pure websites). However. The overall disadvantage of hosting two domain names (a main domain name and an add-on domain name) is that they share the same web space and bandwidth.

This has serious side-effects if you want to have video on one or both websites (domain names) because the web space and bandwidth might be shared unevenly, which means a customer might miss out on a download. For example. A free video download on software.com might take up the bandwidth for a buying customer on computers.com.

1-3 Add-On Domains

Parked Domains

A Parked Domain is a normal domain name (i.e. software.com) that points/links (redirects) to your main domain name (i.e. computers.com) only - It has no web space folder or bandwidth of its own because it shares the same web space and bandwidth allocated to your main domain name.

A parked domain name is typically set up when you want a .ca and a .com for example to go to the same web space. So if you have computers.com as your main domain name and computers.ca as your parked domain name, visitors who type computers.ca into their web browser will be sent to the same web space that computers.com is using and therefore see the same website content (the same web pages, video and so on).

1-3 Parked Domains

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FTP Accounts

Having a FTP (File Transfer Protocol) Account means you can use a web browser (i.e. Internet Explorer) or a FTP Program (i.e. FileZilla or AceFTP) to transfer your web pages, and so on, from your computer to your public_html sub-folder (website).

Depending on your web hosting package and its Control Panel you might be able to create additional Anonymous Log-In FTP Accounts or FTP Accounts with UserName & Password so that you can set up a FTP Account for your members for example - This is good if you intend to allow your members to upload content to your FTP Server (the File Transfer part of your web space). Most good web hosting packages offer at least one FTP Account for your own file transfers and those that do not usually offer a File Manager or Website Builder program that emulates a FTP Account.

4 FTP Accounts and upwards is adequate these days.

MySQL Databases

MySQL Databases are databases in their own right. You can set one up via your Control Panel or by using phpMyAdmin (if your Control Panel supports it). For example. You could have a database for your customers, business contacts, blog, forum and so on (if you know what you are doing). MySQL has many levels - Easy-ish Management via phpMyAdmin to Nightmare-ish Complex Programming.

MySQL is also closely associated with the PHP scripting (programming) language. Many Forums, Blogs, Guest Books and Mailing Lists for example use a PHP Script and at least one MySQL Database. Therefore, when choosing a web hosting package you need to consider that a Blog, Forum and Mailing List will require three MySQL Databases. If you are short on databases you can get around this problem by using one MySQL Database to create three separate Tables (Databases technically).

MySQL and PHP are a good team. PHP Scripts normally set up and/or initialize MySQL Databases for you. So do not be put off by MySQL.

10 MySQL Databases and upwards is adequate these days.

Web Space

Web Space is the actual storage space allocated for your entire website - Storage space for your Emails, FTP Storage Space, Forum, Blog, Mailing List, MySQL Databases, Guest Book, Media Gallery, Internal (Web Host) Files, Web Pages (HTML files - Graphics, Text, Music and Video) and so on.

If your website is going to sell an Offline Product, such as Shoes, you should be looking at web space in the region of 50-100 MegaBytes. This should be enough space to store a reasonably sized photo based catalogue on. And for a website selling an Online Product, such as Music, you should be looking at 100-500 MegaBytes of web space depending on the number of music files and their file size combined of course. Dorciaweb's basic web hosting package offers 2GB Disk Space.

50-500MB Web Space

POP3 E-Mail Accounts

POP3 is the protocol (format) used to describe Incoming/Receiving E-Mail Accounts that can be incorporated into an E-Mail Client (program) such as Outlook Express, Windows Mail and Mozilla Thunderbird. In other words. You can read your website e-mails from within those programs using the POP3 protocol.

The number listed next to a POP3 Accounts description will be the maximum number of E-Mail Addresses (E-Mail Accounts) you can set up for your website. IMAP is another protocol.

The minimum number of POP3 E-Mail Accounts needed in todays climate should be at least four - sales@..., info@..., contact@... and support@... Not to mention any e-mail addresses you need for employees, family members and so on.

20 POP3 E-Mail Accounts and upwards is adequate these days.

Mailing Lists

A Mailing List allows you to create a list of e-mail addresses for your members, clients and so on. Once created you can then compose an e-mail and send it out to all those in the mailing list, in one go if your web hosting provider and ISP (Internet Service Provider) allows it. So if you needed to send out a "Special Offers" e-mail to 40 e-mail addresses for example it would be wise to create a mailing list for those 40 e-mail addresses first.

So why not just use an e-mail client such as Windows Live Mail or Mozilla Thunderbird to do the job for example? Well you could in theory but mailing list software is much more dedicated to your mailing list needs.

Due to people/companies spamming/junk mailing people these days some web hosting providers and/or ISPs do not allow a certain amount of e-mails to be sent in one go. So check with them first what their e-mail limits are because both might have different limits. Sending 40 e-mails should not be a problem though, especially if you use Authentication with your e-mail address. In other words, they should allow 40 e-mails to be sent because they know it is you.

1-4 Mailing Lists should be adequate for a standard business/website.

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Shopping Cart

Having a proper Shopping Cart on your website allows you to accept/receive Debit/Credit Card information via email/website notification. By proper I mean it may have been installed/built using your Control Panel but has later had its PHP Script(s) programmed/tweaked by a programmer to blend in more with your website and/or your language. In other words. With a proper shopping cart (such as Agora) you are in control of the coding and credit card side of things but they require programming knowledge.

The opposite of a proper shopping cart is to build your own shopping cart web pages, in HTML/CSS code for example, and then attach a Payment Merchant's buttons to them - BUY NOW, VIEW CART and so on. A Payment Merchant is a company, such as PayPal), that gives you the facility to carry out Online Bank Transactions (i.e. Withdrawals and Deposits) and create HTML buttons that, once clicked on, take care of the purchase/payment for you. So in some respects the proper shopping cart is not always the best approach.

A good Control Panel will have a Library Of Scripts inside it that allows you to install PHP Scripts/Programs such as a Guest Book, Forum, Blog, Shopping Cart and so on. Alternatively. You may be able to find a particular, updated, PHP Script/Program on the internet and install it yourself.

1-3 Shopping Carts

Standard Features

These features should be standard and a part of your Control Panel. If they are not listed in the web hosting package ask the web hosting provider if they are supported/included. If they are not, look for another web hosting provider.

Folder Password Protection - Allows you to create separate Folders in your web space, with a Title, UserName & Password which is good if you want to have a private area of your website for members or family only for example.

Perl / CGI Support - Besides PHP and MySQL Databases other programs are written in the Perl programming language which goes hand-in-hand with CGI. Basically, Shopping Carts and so on use Perl and CGI.

SSL Support - SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) is basically the Security PadLock you see on a web browser's Address Bar edit box. When you are paying for something online the URL (website address) of the payment page changes from http://whatever to https://whatever and then a Security PadLock appears at the end of the Address Bar edit box (after the URL). So if you want a secure payments web page for your Shopping Cart for example you need to ask the web hosting provider to host your website on a SSL Server (Secure Computer), as it is standard practise to put newcomers on a non-SSL hosted server.

MIME Type support - To display Pictures, and play Audio/Video, from your website you need to make sure you have the MIME Types (File Formats) tool in your control panel. Although most of the common MIME Types will have been set up for you this tool will allow you to delete old MIME Types and add new MIME Types as you see fit.

Website Statistics - Your control panel should come with some sort of Website Statistics tool that allows you to analyze visitor data (Number of Visits, Web Browser used, Who is linking to your website, Keywords used to find your website and so on). AWStats is one of the better statistics tools.

Hot Link Protection - Allows you to stop people from linking to your files (i.e. images) and stealing your bandwidth. For example. If someone links to your image (i.e. computer.jpg) in order to display it on their website this is known has bandwidth theft. Why? Because people visit their website and see your image (computer.jpg), that had to be downloaded from your website using your bandwidth and not theirs. So they are stealing your bandwidth and your image really.


A Quality web hosting provider should have the following.

24/7 Support - A good web hosting provider will give Telephone and/or Email support 24 Hours A Day, Seven Days A Week. A sign of quality here is the response time. An answer within 20 - 40 Minutes is excellent.

Daily Backup - This means your web hosting provider will backup your website once a day, as opposed to weekly for example. This in turn means if their server crashes/freezes they can restore your previous day's website. Saying this, you should always have a copy of your website files on your own computer, on a cd, on a flash drive and so on. If a programmer did your website ask them for the original codes (templates, web pages, images, etc).

Operate Own Servers - If a web hosting provider operates their own servers they will be in a better position to fix any, networking, problems (crashes/freezes).

99% Uptime - This means your website should be live on the internet 99% of the time, with only 1% risk of it not being live on the internet. Or put another way, your web hosting provider's server should only crash/freeze 1% of the time. This ideally means your website should never be unavailable. And if it is, it should only be unavailable for a total of 3-4 days of the year and only unavailable for 1-3 hours in each of those days.

Established - Look for a web hosting provider that has good knowledge, experience and expertise of Networking and Programming. It is not good if they have a beautifully set up network but with no in-depth knowledge, experience and/or expertise of CGI, MySQL or PHP programming for example. In other words, you do not need a "Call Center" type of web hosting provider whereby you contact them and they go through the Standard-Procedures book before telling you "We cannot help you.....We cannot emulate/fix your problem".

They should have an engineer around, or at least a book to hand, for example that can emulate general problems and/or fix general problems, within a reasonable length of time in order to back up their claims of 99% uptime. Or put another way. They should not flog you off with excuses when things go wrong and when they cannot fix your, general, problem. As an inexperienced website owner you might delete a folder/file one day that breaks some part of your blog for example. Having a good web hosting provider that can guide you towards fixing that blog is a sign of quality.

General Notes

Some control panel tools can be substituted by downloading/installing, updated, versions of them or by downloading/installing similar tools to them. For example. If your control panel comes with the Blog called WordPress 2.0.5 (old version) you could delete it from your website (making the control panel side redundant) and then download/install WordPress 2.9.2 (latest version at present time). The same applies to other tools.

You could replace your mailing list with phpList 2.10.10 for example. Although your web hosting provider may seem to give you a lot of control panel tools, a lot of them might be out-of-date by as much as a couple of years. It depends how good the web hosting provider is at updating control panel tools.

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