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Recommended Host for Linux
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 History of Linux
The Linux operating system was forked from UNIX 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 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.
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. Caconical - owners of Ubuntu - are marketing a Linux smartphone.
Why Choose Linux for Hosting?
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
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 (PHP: Hypertext Preprocessor), a programming language that enables the development of dynamic web content
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's powerful
- 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 customised by the host
- Control panels like cPanel hide the OS from the customer, so they don't mess things up quite so often
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, that prove the candidate's Linux ability, and hosts can focus efforts (like technical support) on just one platform that everyone in the company recognises.
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. Here's some information about WordPress on Windows vs Linux.
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.
Linux Hosting Frequently Asked Questions
What is Linux?
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.