No, You Can’t Edit Your Server. And Here’s Why
If you are in a typical shared hosting environment, there are a lot of limitations on what you can do with your site and your server.
Though you can add domains, install PHP and other scripts and generally upload things to your site, you can’t make any actual changes to your server. If a script or a plugin requires a new server feature, an updated version of a language or a different Web server altogether, you can’t install it yourself and you have to ether convince your host to put it on your server, transfer you to another machine or simply do without. As you can imagine, many find this situation very frustrating.
But that’s the reality of a shared hosting environment; it’s one of the reasons your hosting is so cheap and why it’s still, despite sharing a server with 1000s of others, so reliable.
But if you still don’t understand why you can’t edit your server, here are a few of the more important reasons to keep in mind – hopeully, they’ll help you feel less frustrated the next time your host tells you ‘no’.
1. You (Probably) Don’t Know What You’re Doing
Most hosting customers lack the technical expertise to modify their servers. Being able to manage a website does not qualify one to edit Apache settings or install new languages. This is especially true if you don’t know why you can’t install things on your server or why your host might be reluctant to do so.
But even if you do know how to make the changes you need, Web servers are highly-optimized and tightly-configured and even small, simple changes can have a drastic impact on performance or reliability.
That, in turn, can create a much bigger support problem than one angry customer, especially if the changes manage to take an entire server offline.
2. It’s Not Just Your Server
Any changes you make to your server wont just affect you, your account and your sites; they will affect anyone on the same physical machine.
In a shared hosting environment, every person on the same physical machine shares the same software, settings and features. In short, any tweak, installation or other change can have a cascading effect all of the way down the server.
Considering there is no telling what the other users of the same physical machine have installed, it’s almost impossible to tell if and how the change will affect them, making it more important to keep a stable hosting environment than it is to have the latest and greatest of everything.
3. Your Host Couldn’t Support it
Your hosting company’s entire support process is built around a specific hosting platform, making a change to that platform means that their existing support system either has to be modified for you and your server, or engineers with a greater degree of expertise and knowledge have to be available at all times.
In short, a good support experience requires that your host knows what your site is built upon. If different servers have different settings, there’s a tremendous problem as every server has to be handled a bit differently, creating a major and expensive headache for the host.
4. Do You Really Need That Upgrade?
You probably don’t need to make any changes to your server. Most sites are run off a fairly standard set of scripts, so a basic hosting setup is fine for well over 99% of all hosting customers.
Your server is probably already well set up to meet your site’s particular needs and any plugin or script that requires a change to your server is either superfluous or could be replaced by a similar script that doesn’t have any such requirements.
In short, your server is fine as it is; therefore, it’s probably best to leave it alone.
All of this being said, there are actually plenty of hosting accounts that will allow you to manipulate your server. Known as giving you “root” access to your server, this is actually a common, and necessary, feature of VPS or dedicated server accounts. These accounts are designed to enable you to install your own software and, to do that, you have to be able to configure the setup.
However, these accounts are significantly more expensive than shared hosting accounts, especially if you want it “managed” or supported. This is because they require a much greater level of expertise and more time to provide support for because every hosting “account” is different.
Still, this is possible with these accounts because every “server”, whether virtual or physical, serves only one customer. Therefore, any change you make on your system will only impact your account. Since you can’t crash or break other customers’ sites, hosts can turn over root access to you and let you make whatever changes you desire.
That being said, if you don’t have any specific reason you need to edit your server’s settings, you probably don’t need an account that lets you. If you need a specific feature to make your site run, one that not every host has enabled or installed, ask around and find one that does have it to sign up with.
That little bit of headache when searching for a host can save you a lot of time and money once you have the site set up, versus paying for a VPS and having to manage much of the server yourself.