There are many thousands of hosting companies and they almost all offer Linux hosting. This makes it very hard to figure out the right hosting company for you. In this article, we try to take some of the chance out of the process.
What is Linux?
Linux is the most popular operating system (OS) used by Web hosting providers. This versatile and powerful alternative to Microsoft Windows is available in a variety of free, “freemium” and commercial iterations.
Many hosts — particularly shared hosting providers — default to Linux for hosting packages, so it’s by far the market leader. It’s also the operating system used by Google to run its vast banks of servers: more than 15,000 and counting.
The GNU/Linux operating system came into being in 1991.
Finnish system engineer Linus Torvalds worked on his creation as part of his computer science degree and was named after him — albeit by someone else. Over the next few years, Torvalds’ Linux kernel combined with all the GNU tools that made it an operating system became incredibly popular among the developer community.
In 1996, it gained its famous penguin logo in homage to a penguin that bit Torvalds at Australia’s National Zoo.
Over the years, Linux has been split, merged, reinvented, repackaged and forked again and again, and it owes its success to a massive user community that maintains and improves it continually.
There are various Linux distributions, and many of them are free, so you might see Linux referred to as CentOS, Fedora, Ubuntu, RedHat Linux and so on.
This proves its huge following, but not everyone is a fan. Microsoft’s Steve Ballmer notably referred to it as having “characteristics of communism” at a Seattle event in 2000.
Linux Is Free Software
Companies can adopt Linux and develop their own operating systems from it. Google’s Chrome OS is effectively a version of Linux, and Android owes a lot to it too.
Microsoft has softened its views and now uses Linux on its X range of Nokia phones. Dell now sells laptops with Ubuntu pre-installed. Canonical — owners of Ubuntu — are marketing a Linux smartphone.
Why Choose Linux for Hosting?
Host web servers run some form of Linux
Many people buy web hosting without giving much thought to the technical details. If you have a low cost shared hosting plan, chances are it’s provisioned on servers running Linux. You benefit because:
It’s secure, assuming it’s kept updated, so you have fewer hacks to worry about
You can use industry-standard web hosting software, such as the popular cPanel control panel, so moving host is less disruptive
It keeps costs down for the host, which allows them to pass on savings to you
The way things work is pretty standard from host to host
There are multiple distributions of Linux from which you can choose, so you can find an operating system that fits your needs (rather than the other way around)
In modern web hosting, Linux is configured according to the LAMP standard. LAMP stands for:
Linux, the operating system
Apache, the web server application
MySQL, the Structured Query Language database application
PHP, a programming language that enables the development of dynamic web content (often the P stands for Perl, Python, or something else).
This standard gives you everything you need to run a perfectly acceptable, modern website. You need to learn about things like Linux file permissions, but there are plenty of guides on the internet to help.
Why Do Hosts Choose Linux?
Hosts like Linux because:
It scales well for most purposes
It’s usually free
It’s supported by a large user community
It can be used on old servers
It can be customized by the host
Control panels like cPanel hide the OS from the customer, so they don’t mess things up quite so often.
Hosts Have Invested in Linux
Additionally, many web hosting companies have invested heavily in Linux, making Linux administration a desirable skill for developers and technicians to have.
There are certifications, like the RedHat Certified Engineer program, which prove the candidate’s Linux ability, and hosts can focus efforts (like technical support) on just one platform that everyone in the company recognizes.
What to Look for in a Linux Web Host
Choosing a Linux web host won’t be hard.
This is because of its popularity among web hosting providers. Almost any shared hosting plan that you come across will likely be Linux-based.
When considering hosting providers for Linux, it’s important to consider what else you’re getting with their hosting packages. You’ll need to know things such as the bandwidth and disk space options, control panels, e-mail features, and e-commerce functionality.
Many companies that offer Linux hosting will have an uptime guarantee. This is usually between 99.9% and 99.98%. This is a great thing to look for in a hosting provider because it means their servers are fairly reliable. When you experience extensive outages with these hosts, these companies often reimburse you for your downtime with a free month of hosting.
A User-Friendly Control Panel
Since most shared hosting plans are used by people inexperienced in this area, it’s important that the host they choose provides a user-friendly control panel. Often, Linux hosting options include a customized version of the cPanel control panel.
This control panel allows users to select tools, manage their websites, views statistics, and conduct numerous other important tasks. cPanel will also give you access to your e-mail accounts. This is another thing that most hosting providers include. Many will even give you unlimited email-accounts with their shared hosting plans.
Before you put a website up online, you need to have a registered domain. Most web hosting companies offer this in some way. You can find many plans out there that include a free domain. If not, a hosting company will likely give you the option to purchase one separately.
Some rare hosting companies may not offer domain registration. In that case, you will have to purchase one elsewhere and point it to your chosen host. This is much more complicated than just buying one through the hosting provider you choose. But if you need to do this, you can easily and quickly purchase domains from GoDaddy.
A Host Package That Suites The Needs of Your Project
If you’re looking for Linux hosting, there are numerable things you could be doing online.
Due to its security, Linux hosting is a good option for e-commerce websites. People setting up a website for the first time will also enjoy that Linux results in cheap host plans. This makes Linux hosting great for small business web hosting as well as personal hobbyist websites.
Also, if you’re starting a blog or otherwise using CMS software, you’ll need to choose a web host that provides a MySQL database. This is where posts, images, and comments will be stored.
A lot of shared web hosting plans will include unlimited resources, if only on their highest-priced shared host plan. Unlimited bandwidth and disk space are useful for small businesses who experience sudden and unexpected spikes in website traffic.
Instead of being charged fees or being cut off when you use excessive bandwidth, unlimited plans will adjust shared server resources, so your website can handle extra traffic once in a while.
Limits to “Unlimited”
Though, larger businesses and complex websites may need more bandwidth and disk space than shared servers allow. In this case, your host company will contact you and help you upgrade to a VPS or dedicated server plan.
Linux on VPS and Dedicated Servers
Linux web hosting isn’t reserved just for individuals and smaller businesses on shared hosting plans. You can find Linux for VPS plans and dedicated server plans as well. These types of host services are better-suited to larger businesses and people who desire more control over their hosting environment.
But, VPS and dedicated servers are also more expensive. This is because they provide allocated bandwidth and disk space that is reserved just for your use, providing faster and smoother hosting for larger projects. If this is what you need, check out InMotion hosting. They have some feature-packed VPS plans on their fast Linux SSD VPS Hosting servers.
Good Customer Service and Support
People looking for a web host should also consider the quality of their support page and their customer service availability. Many people on shared hosting plans will be completely new to hosting. If this is the case for you, an organized knowledge base of help articles can be your best friend.
Many hosting companies also offer free, 24/7 customer support via phone or live chat. Look for a company that offers this if you like to have real human assistance.
Linux vs Windows
Not all popular scripts and languages require Linux. WordPress can be installed on a Windows server, as can Perl (via Strawberry Perl) and PHP. However, they aren’t so well supported and may not be as stable in practice.
On the flip side, Linux servers don’t support ASP, .NET and IIS, so that’s a very good reason to choose Windows. Additionally, Windows is a good all-rounder, running most applications reasonably well and making it a practical alternative.
Cheaper, since Linux is open source
More expensive due to Microsoft licensing fees, but you get Microsoft support
Stability varies depending on the distribution running on the server
Tends to be more stable due to extensive testing conducted by Microsoft
Steeper learning curve
Familiar to most people due to its ubiquity
Depending on the distribution your choose, your operating system can be very lightweight, resulting in performance increases
Windows is a large product
My Choices: The Top Three Linux Hosts
Linux hosting with SiteGround via WhoIsHostinThis.com
SiteGround is the best option for hosting if you’re looking for many include features and fantastic support.
Their cheapest plan even includes free daily backups, unlimited e-mail accounts, unlimited bandwidth, and unlimited MySQL databases. Their unique version of cPanel will make it simple for anyone to manage their hosting plan and access numerous useful tools.
They provide 24/7 live chat and phone support and have one of the best knowledge bases I’ve ever seen. And, with an uptime guarantee of 99.9%, you know their servers are reliable.
Linux hosting with InMotion via WhoIsHostinThis.com
For a free domain name and unlimited resources, InMotion Hosting is a perfect option for businesses.
With InMotion Hosting, your website will run on speedy Linux SSD drives. With a 90-day money-back guarantee, you can try out their hosting services to the fullest extent without risking being locked into a full year plan.
The company also has some fast and affordable VPS plan options. Their Linux dedicated servers are much more expensive but come with a 100% uptime guarantee.
A2 Hosting is another reliable hosting provider with a 99.9% uptime guarantee.
Their shared plans also include unlimited bandwidth and disk space. With their highest level of shared hosting, your website will be hosted on a high-performance turbo server.
This can give you 20x-faster loading speeds than other hosting companies.
Other features in Operating Systems for Web Hosting: Linux vs Windows
Linux is a computer operating system. There are different types of Linux, called distributions, with their own brand names. Some Linux distributions are free.
What is LAMP?
LAMP stands for Linux, Apache, MySQL, and PHP. This combination of technologies is sometimes called the ‘LAMP stack’. It’s a combination of operating system, server software, database, and coding language designed for the publication of websites.
Why is Linux so popular in web hosting?
Some versions of Linux are free, which is one reason why so many web hosting companies use it. Businesses can set up large numbers of Linux servers without the cost burden of buying licenses.
It’s also secure; most developers strongly believe that Linux is more secure than Windows, although this does depend on the knowledge of the user that’s operating it.
Is Linux hosting difficult to use?
No. With Linux hosting, you don’t really need to actually use the operating system, particularly if you’re a beginner. Most of your hosting management will be done through a control panel, which is designed to be easy to use.
What does a Linux hosting package typically offer?
With a shared hosting package on a Linux server, you’ll usually get a chunk of server space and a set bandwidth limit. Your host will give you access to the software you need to upload and publish a basic site. In addition, you can install approved scripts for things like CMSs, forums, and wikis.
What programming languages does Linux support?
It isn’t possible to give a generic answer to this, because every host is different. Also, hosts support different versions of the same language; some will allow you to choose the version you need.
As a general rule, the majority of hosts will support one or more versions of PHP, Python, and Perl.
All hosts should offer a detailed list of all the languages supported on each plan.
Does it matter which Linux distribution I have on my web hosting plan?
In most cases, it doesn’t matter. Basic web hosting functions work the same way on all Linux distributions.
The biggest noticeable difference between distributions is the graphical user interface (GUI) on a desktop computer, but you never see this on a web hosting account anyway.
I use Windows on my computer; do I need a Windows hosting account?
No. You can use any operating system for hosting, and Linux is the best choice because it’s the cheapest option that supports the broadest range of software and scripts.
The only time this would really matter would be if you were developing large Windows applications.
What software will I need to install on my computer?
Once you have your Linux hosting plan, you can create a website in many different ways. You could choose to code the whole site yourself, or install a CMS or blogging application on your server, and build the site in your browser.
Should I choose Linux or Windows for my WordPress blog?
WordPress can be installed on Windows or Linux in theory, but most people find it much easier to install and manage on Linux. It’s also easier to find support material for WordPress on Linux because it’s the most common configuration.
Is bandwidth and storage really unlimited?
Many hosts market Linux shared hosting plans with unlimited or unmetered resources. A majority of customers can get on and run their site, without worrying about hitting hard limits.
But in practice, unlimited or unmetered resources aren’t truly unlimited, because the host has a set range of resource usage that it considers to be acceptable.
Few customers will fall outside the acceptable range of resource usage on an unlimited plan. If you’re in that small group, your host will probably ask you to upgrade to a VPS, so that your site doesn’t negatively impact other customers on the same server.
It’s less common to see Windows plans with unlimited resources, but some hosts do provide them.
What are the alternatives to Linux?
In a web hosting environment, the only practical competitor is Windows. Windows hosting is not as common as Linux hosting, but it’s fairly widely available.
A tiny number of hosts offer hosting on Macs, but it isn’t a mainstream service.
When should I use Windows instead of Linux?
In short, anything that requires Windows-specific technologies requires a Windows server to run. So if you plan to learn .NET or ASP, you need Linux.
How do Linux file permissions work?
Linux uses a file permission system that looks strange to Windows users. It’s worth learning how it works so that you can properly secure your files, and prevent script errors caused by incorrect permissions.
Each file has a permission level represented by 3 digits, each one from 0 to 7. The number shows the read, write, and execute permission for that file. FTP software allows you to transmit a CHMOD command to change the permissions on a file.
There is more to file permissions than this, but there are plenty of guides on the internet that explain the concept in detail.
Can I install IIS on Linux?
No. if you need IIS, you’ll need a Windows server.
About Ji Guo
Ji's background is in journalism, digital marketing, and internet startups. He has studied at various places, including Yale University. His work focuses on digital marketing, growth, and internet startups. He has written widely for publications including Newsweek.