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What is Image Hosting?

Image files must be uploaded to a server to be displayed on the Web. Image hosting services allow you to do just that. You’ll find many different image hosting providers online. Hosting may be offered for free, as a fee-based subscription, or as a pay per storage.

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Popular image hosting websites include Flickr and Imgur. There are also a number of more serious services with for professionals and enthusiasts, often with content monetisation models. Shutterstock is one such service.

Images may be uploaded one of several ways, depending on the provider you’ve chosen. File transfer protocol (FTP) tends to be accessible only with paid image hosting service. More commonly used are Web-based upload interfaces. Smartphone and tablet applications for uploading photos are also very popular. Instagram began as a smartphone app, solely for uploading photos to host and share with others using the same application.

Points to remember

Beyond simply displaying your images on a website, image hosts offer other features.

Depending on the host you choose, you can order paper prints and a variety of other products featuring your photos. You may be able to set licensing for your photos, allowing others to use them for personal or commercial use, with or without attribution, and with or without manipulating the image. Creative Commons licensing options are available to Flickr users.

Another feature some image hosts offer is hypertext markup language (HTML) code for linking to your image or embedding it in a Web page. Other possibilities for your images include creating photo galleries and slideshows.

As far as technical requirements go, image hosting is relatively straightforward. Most dedicated image gallery software suites require a PHP/MySQL environment. They tend to rely on FTP and HTTP for upload, while some have added Flash and Java uploader support, so the requirements vary depending on what sort of software you choose.

It is more or less a matter of available storage and the way you want to implement it on your site. The popularity of free content management services (CMS) and perhaps more importantly familiarity with platforms like WordPress has led many users to employ them in this role as well.

What's on offer today

You will find image hosting built into Web hosting packages from many hosting providers.

You can purchase packages with software for image hosting, photo galleries, and photo blogging installed, with technical support included. This option is perfect for those of you who need to get your site up quickly, as well as anyone who may need some trained assistance along the way.

A wide range of different plans is available, starting at a few dollars a month for entry-level plans with limited storage and shared hardware. More elaborate VPS and dedicated plans offer more features, bandwidth and storage. When it comes to storage, it is always a good idea to read the fine print when looking into entry-level plans with promises of unlimited disk space and bandwidth.

Keeping up with the times

While this is good news for novices, more demanding users may have different requirements. Traditional image hosting has evolved and the use case for many services has changed (or disappeared altogether).

In recent years, social networking, personal cloud storage and smartphones have altered the landscape drastically. It is important to bear this in mind, along with other factors. However, the changes have also opened up new niches.

Social networking and popular mobile services like Instagram have a number of limitations, making them unsuitable for many uses (especially for professionals). Cloud services that seamlessly sync with mobile devices are a godsend for many users, but they can also suffer from some shortcomings.

A lot of people and small businesses still need their own image hosting for a number of reasons and this won't change even if free services improve, or if gadget makers convince even more people that their 20-megapixel smartphones can go toe to toe with proper cameras.

However, social integration, hassle-free access via mobile platforms (including mobile uploads) are very relevant even for niche services. It is crucial to make sure your hosting plan can keep up in case you decide to expand or deploy new standards and technologies.

While image hosting remains relatively straightforward, it is always a good idea to go for scalable and flexible plans.

Image Frequently Asked Questions

  • What are some good reasons to use image hosting? When you host your own images on the server of your website, you can dramatically reduce the time it takes a web browser to load your individual web pages, which is better for your search engine optimization efforts. Bloggers and online publishers will find greater efficiency on their bandwidth usage by hosting their own images, too, as opposed to constantly linking to images hosted on other websites. If you are a professional photographer, image hosting is great for centralizing the location of images. When you centralize your images, you can control who can view them and monetize your photos without fears of having your content reused without your permission.
  • Are there any reasons not to use image hosting? The only reason to avoid using image hosting would be if you have a way to gain from hosting your images on another source. There are a couple examples of when this might be applicable - if you are using a third-party source like iStock or Getty Images to sell your photos and want to promote them on your blog, if you would like to share memes or other embeddable content from a social network on your site, if you have photos you want to create a slideshow but have no interest in integrating a new plugin onto your website.
  • What are the alternatives to image hosting? If you don't want to host images on your own site, the most frequently used alternative is a photo sharing website like Flickr. In this setup, Flickr hosts your images on their servers, and then you either embed the images on your site with their code or link directly to your image using the appropriate HTML code. Another alternative frequently used is a cloud storage provider like Dropbox. The process of hosting the images on a cloud storage solution is very similar, but there may not be an embed solution - make sure you know the appropriate HTML coding.
  • Do I have to know how to program to use image hosting? Depending on what you have selected as your content management system for your website, you may not need to know much programming to be able to host images. However, image hosting is a lot easier if you know basic HTML coding for publishing images, aligning images and adjusting the sizes of images when you start hosting them on your site.
  • What are the requirements for image hosting? Image hosting requires server storage and proper mapping on your server for location and rendering of the image files. This is a fairly standard operation for most servers. However, if you are concerned about the image hosting capabilities of your hosting platform, please consult your hosting provider to find the right solution.
  • Can I host images on a shared hosting plan? Absolutely. On a shared hosting plan, you might have some limitations as to how much storage space you have on your server for images... but hosting an image is entirely possible. However, you shouldn't have any problem hosting images on a shared hosting plan. If you run into issues with uploading images to a server on a shared hosting plan, there are likely limitations to how much storage space you have, or a max file size that you are able to upload. Consult with your hosting provider to learn these parameters if you find trouble hosting images.
  • What does self-hosted mean? I don’t have to run a server myself, do I? Self-hosted websites do not require YOU to personally own a server and manage it to host your site. Instead, self-hosted simply means that hosting is not provided directly by the development team that created your content management system. If you are hosting images on your website, then your images are hosted on a "self-hosted" platform. However, your images are likely sharing the server space with the rest of your website content.
  • Do I need managed hosting in order to use host images? The answer to this question depends on your answer to the question "how much responsibility are you willing to accept for the maintenance of your website?" However, most sites that offer managed hosting also require a fee to provide the management. The more complex your site becomes with plugins and additional features, the greater your need will be for professionally managed website hosting. This is the case with any self-hosted content management system - not just a website that includes image hosting.
  • How does Flickr compare to self-hosting images? Flickr is a free platform with 1TB of storage included in a free package. In addition to hosting your images, Flickr has added several options over the last few years to make photo editing possible online. However, if you use Flickr over self-hosted images, your content will be hosted on a 3rd party website. Because of that, some problems with your page speed and presentation of your content can occur. Many times you will also need to add a plugin for rendering embeds to your website, which may have compatibility issues with your existing setup for content management.
  • How does Dropbox compare to Flickr or self-hosting images? Dropbox offers a lot less free space for storage of images than Flickr (2GB versus 1TB), and there are no photo editing capabilities with their platform. So, if you are selecting between these two platforms for image hosting and you don't already have a software like Photoshop or GIMP on your computer for photo editing, choose Flickr. If you already have the capability for photo editing and want to save on the storage on your hosting platform, Dropbox should be a fine option. However, if you are choosing between Dropbox or self-hosting your images on your own server, you may be better off hosting from your own server. Content management systems like WordPress come with image hosting capabilities included, so finding and posting your images is much easier than storing them in Dropbox. If you do decide to use Dropbox, keep in mind that you will have to know how to code HTML markup for images in order to host from Dropbox, as there are no embedding features there.

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