How to Get the Perfect Shared Hosting for Your Site
What is Shared Hosting?
Almost all hosting companies offered shared hosting, and it is the most common kind used. So it is probably the hardest kind of hosting to choose. But with our help, it should be a lot easier to get the hosting you need.
Why Choose Shared Hosting
Shared hosting provides a cost-effective, but still fully-featured, way to create a professional website. By storing the websites and associated content of multiple sites on one physical machine, shared hosting providers can cut costs while still providing quality service to their clients.
The Place to Start
Shared hosting is essentially an entry-level service, offering the resources that a personal site or startup will require.
If you’re looking for your first web hosting package, you’ll almost certainly buy a shared hosting plan.
Hosts for Your Needs and Budget
Choosing a hosting provider that fits your needs can be challenging if you’re on a budget or just starting out online.
Dedicated or Virtual Private Server (VPS) options offer plenty of power and total control over your own (virtual) machine, but these perks come at a premium price — often a hundred times the price.
Just How Cheap Is Shared Hosting
If you’re looking to keep costs down while still building a professional website with the latest web applications, shared hosting may be the way to go.
SiteGround shared hosting plans panel screenshot via WhoIsHostingThis.com
Shared hosting takes the powerful resources of a modern web server and parcels them out among many clients.
The Apartment Analogy
Imagine an apartment building with ten apartments. Each apartment has electricity, cable, and water services, but all of them are fed these services by tributaries branching off from the main lines that connect to the building itself. And each of them are limited. You can’t turn your apartment into a sauna for the winter.
You have control over, your water, cable, and electricity, but all this is included in the price of your rent.
Your Provider Is Like Your Superintendent
Furthermore, when a big issue turns up, like a water main break, you call the super, who’s responsible for maintaining the building and its environs, and making sure the whole thing doesn’t come crashing down around the heads of the tenants.
How the Host Works Like the Apartment
The same principle applies to a shared hosting server.
Everyone on the server share a specific amount of storage space, processing power and Internet bandwidth dedicated to the health and operation of your website.
The Server Administor
The Apartment has a super or superintendent.
The shared hosting server instead has a server administrator, who’s responsible for making sure the server’s hardware is in good working order. They also make sure that its operating system (OS) and related software (including any software offered as part of your hosting package) are up to date.
Your Own Control
Even though the management of the server is up to a professional administrator, you’ll still be able to make some changes to your site, just like you would be able to make changes to your apartment.
Through a control panel, you can make changes to your hosting plans. But your power is much greater than it is when renting an apartment. For example, you might be able to add a domain name to your plan.
Shared Hosting Features
Fundamental Hosting Features
Professionally managed administration
Administrator takes care of basic server administration tasks
Database (usually MySQL)
Handles data storage
Other programming languages like PHP, Perl or Python
Can be used for creating dynamic websites
With many shared hosting plans, you’ll have a choice of operating systems, usually Windows or Linux. Some hosts will run exclusively on one system.
Linux Is King on the Internet
Since the Internet has historically run on Unix-like operating systems, you can usually assume shared hosting providers support Linux in some capacity. The LAMP (Linux/Apache/MySQL/PHP, Python, Perl) stack is very popular on the web.
Some hosting providers will not give you a choice of operating systems, only one or the other. Most of the time, if providers support only one operating system, it will be Linux.
This is not a problem since Linux has such wide support from other web application developers like WordPress. These providers are betting you won’t care what the underlying operating system is.
Most of the time, they’re right. The choice of operating system is only one point to consider among other factors like price or uptime.
Customer and Technical Support
An often overlooked, but extremely important, option is customer and technical support. If you’re new to building websites, you’re going to need a lot of handholding to smooth out any problems you’ll encounter.
It should be easy to get in touch with your provider if you need help. Many of them offer web chat. This lets you get help without having to wait on hold on the phone.
For common queries, providers typically also have self-help documentation.
This generally takes on three forms:
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) and their answers
Knowledgebases where you can search a database of information
Videos that deal with common issues.
Other Reasons for Picking Shared Hosting
Shared hosting will probably be the best, most affordable option for you if you don’t plan to do extensive, custom application development. Additionally, if you won’t require the resources necessary to support a popular, high-traffic site. (But this can be a reason to pick a host that will allow you to upgrade to VPS, Cloud, and Dedicated servers when the time comes.)
Shared hosting is also a great way to “test drive” a particular host without committing to a long-term contract or expensive hardware lease.
You should seriously consider a shared hosting plan if you are:
Inexperienced with web hosting
Trying out a new hosting provider
To keep costs down
Designing a small, personal site
Don’t require extensive web programming.
Beginners Won’t Use Many Resources
When the site first launches, you probably won’t attract masses of traffic without a major marketing campaign. So your site will likely require very little in terms of bandwidth.
There’s Lots You Don’t Know
When you start a website for the first time, it’s difficult to predict the amount of space you’ll need, or the size of the images and content you will produce.
Shared hosting is the ideal solution to these unknowns.
But You Must Remember You’re Sharing
You essentially share a server with dozens (or hundreds, even thousands) of other customers, all of whom have small sites.
Since all sites are relatively lightweight and require few resources, the server never feels the strain of hosting them all together.
Which Is Why It’s So Cheap
The web hosting company can pass on huge savings by selling hosting this way, and customers enjoy hassle-free, cheap hosting for their small sites.
Shared Hosting Is for Those Starting Out
Coming back to the apartment analogy, shared hosting, like an apartment, is ideal for people just starting out. Living in an apartment will work fine for people for a while, as will shared hosting.
But as you gain more experience with hosting a website, you’ll notice things you want to change but can’t because you don’t have control over the server, similar to how you can’t make DIY projects in an apartment. When you want more flexibility, you’ll have to move on to a more advanced hosting plan.
When It’s Time to Move Up
If you want to do more complicated things than running a personal website or a blog, you’ll want a more advanced server.
If you’re running an e-commerce site or a web app, a more advanced server will give you much more control than a shared hosting plan can offer. You’ll be able to pick the operating system, databases, scripting languages, and so on.
Beyond the LAMP Stack
Most of the shared hosting plans will run on a standard LAMP stack. You might want a more powerful server if you want to run different software.
For example, you might want to run FreeBSD for the OS, Nginx as the web server, or PostgreSQL for the database. If the shared hosting plan doesn’t offer these, you’ll need your own server (physical or virtual). Most of them use PHP and MySQL, as most of the popular blog and CMS engines are designed to work with them.
Why Is Shared Hosting Cheap?
Shared hosting won’t make a dent in your budget. Most packages cost less than $100 per year. But given the technology involved, shouldn’t shared hosting be more expensive?
The key here is volume. Hosting companies put masses of customers’ sites on the same server, so everyone’s contributing towards the cost of the server by chipping in a few bucks. Few sites use their full quotas, too, which means the host is able to cover the cost and make a decent profit on top.
Many hosts actually oversell their servers, which means they pack in more accounts than the server could handle if all the websites used all their resources.
Overselling sounds like a risky practice, but the truth is that most websites use very few research. On a server that has a thousand websites, it’s common that only a half dozen or so use the vast majority of the server resources.
The practice of overselling gives me a great opportunity to talk about something you’ve probably seen a lot of: unlimited disk space and bandwidth.
Is Shared Hosting Unlimited?
Shared hosting is often advertised as “unlimited.” Hosts will claim that customers get unlimited amounts of disk space and bandwidth. There are other features that are unlimited as well, such as email and FTP accounts,
Are these for real?
The answer is simple: yes! Also: no!
How Unlimited Resources Work
Obviously, there is no such thing as unlimited resources. Resources are always limited. This is the basis of the entire field of economics.
Hosts use a little poetic license: they know that small websites can’t possibly tax a server that much, so they make certain assumptions about the amount of capacity the average customer needs.
Since hosting companies are professionals, they’re usually correct in how many websites they can host while still offering each of them as much disk space and bandwidth as they want.
Most Websites Are Really Small
Many of the people who buy shared hosting set up personal blogs, localized sites, or niche resources that will have a relatively low readership.
It isn’t unusual for a website to only get a couple hundred visitors in a month. What’s more, a lot of websites are disgarded with the owner imagining that they will get it restarted soon. Websites can stay in that state for years. And at three bucks a month, it’s hard to blame them.
So they won’t have any real impact on the server’s resources. They could never cause an issue, so the host doesn’t bother putting a limit on their activity.
High Priced Plans Provide More Resources
This means that the plans for shared web hosting plans are limited compared to full-fledged plans on VPS, Cloud, and dedicated servers. Websites might only be able to transfer a certain amount of bandwidth in a period, or some features in a CMS might be disabled unless you sign up for a more expensive plan.
Shared Hosting Tiers
Within shared hosting plans, providers often have pricing tiers that offer different features to different customers. Customers at higher tiers might get more storage space or a higher priority in technical support departments.
If your site begins to stray wildly outside the defined range that the host considers acceptable, you’ll be asked to upgrade your hosting package — most likely to a Virtual Private Server (VPS). This may happen if your site gets huge amounts of traffic, or a script causes the server to slow down. You can also cause issues for others if your visitors download masses of content. Frogpants, a podcast site, ran into this problem because its visitors were streaming and downloading big files.
Many hosts redefine the word “unlimited” in the Terms of Service document. Others skip the unlimited claims and set high, but finite, limits. Essentially, these packages are all the same, and you’ll be asked to upgrade to another type of hosting if your site grows beyond its virtual resource ceiling.
Naturally, this low-cost solution has its limitations. But for many customers, it offers the perfect balance of adequate resources and an affordable price tag.
In Praise of Shared Hosting
So unlimited hosting has its problems, but that’s not to say shared hosting isn’t worth buying. Shared hosting is ideal if you’re:
Starting your first website
Running a small business or startup
Experimenting with coding and web design
Making sites for family and friends
Studying WordPress, Joomla and other key applications
Making the most of a limited budget for hosting.
The vast majority of hosting companies take great pride in their shared hosting packages, since they’re the primary route of entry for customers that stick around for years — or even decades.
Pros and Cons of Shared Hosting
Every kind of hosting has good and bad aspects to it. I’ve laid out the major ones for shared hosting.
Easy to set up a website
Great for first-time web developers
Plans are very cheap
You can “test drive” a host before moving to a dedicated server.
You’re limited to the software and features of the host
You can’t really host your own web apps on a shared host
Some features of frameworks or rates might be limited, forcing you to sign up for more expensive plans.
My Choices: The Top Three Shared Hosting Providers
While looking at shared hosting plans, several providers bubble to the top.
SiteGround shared hosting control panel screenshot via WhoIsHostingThis
Siteground offers a competitive price and good features for an introductory hosting plan.
Like many other shared hosting providers, the company offers several tiers. The lowest tier starts at $3.95 a month. The bandwidth and storage should be adequate for a low-traffic site. At the same time, they offer more experienced users some generous terms in the premium tiers.
The price is hard to beat, at the introductory level. For this reason, I recommend SiteGround. Features on the higher tiers include backup copies, more space, more visitors, and premium SSL certificates.
Web Hosting Hub shared hosting control panel screenshot via WhoIsHostingThis
A2 Hosting’s shared hosting offers one website with up to five databases, with unlimited storage and unlimited transfer.
You also get free SSL and the sites are hosted on SSD drives. The databases are useful for running blogs, as well as the cPanel control panel program.
The lowest tier starts at $3.92. All the tiers have the same basic set of features, but the highest tier offers a “turbo” mode that claims to make sites up to 20 percent faster.
Web Hosting Hub
Web Hosting Hub shared hosting control panel screenshot via WhoIsHostingThis
If you’re looking to save money. Web Hosting Hub’s plans have the cheapest prices starting at $2.99 a month with discounts.
Customers get up to two websites at the lowest tier, and up to 10 databases, either MySQL and PostgreSQL The servers use SSD drives for faster page loading. The higher tiers offer unlimited parked domains and subdomains.
The presence of pre-installed popular options like WordPress and e-commerce also make it a good choice for newcomers. An unusual perk is SSH access, which lets you log in to maintain your site remotely.
In one way, getting shared hosting is easy. All you need to do is find a host with a good reputation and sign up. In fact, if a friend asked me, I’d just say, “Get SiteGround’s cheapest plan and see how you like it.”
Hosting Compare Tool
But as I’ve discussed, different hosts offer different features. So if you are looking for particular things, just use the tool on the left side of this page. It allows you narrow down the hosts that provide the features you want:
Scripts & Languages
One-Click Install Applications
With our tool or just trusting my judgment, it should be pretty easy to get the right shared host.
Other features in Types of Web Hosting: How to Choose
Shared hosting is a type of website hosting where many customer accounts are run from a single (physical or virtual) server.
How does shared hosting work? Wouldn’t our files and applications get mixed up?
Each account’s files and applications reside in a separate partition on the server, with its own file directory tree. Users for each account have no access to either the root or to each other’s files. Computing resources and the web server are shared by all accounts.
Does shared hosting mean all the websites will have the same IP address?
Typically, yes. Most shared hosting plans are, by default, “name-based virtual hosts.” This means that all the accounts share an IP address, and routing is done based on the domain name. But it is possible to have your own IP address with shared hosting.
Will sharing an IP address affect security?
Not directly. However, you can not use an SSL security certificate with a name based virtual host. Instead, you will have to get your own IP address.
Why can’t an SSL security certificate be used with shared IP hosting?
When a browser connects to a server through the HTTPS protocol, the security certificate check and encryption handshake occur before the client sends the complete request header to the server.
At that point in the process, there’s no way to determine which domain name the security certificate is supposed to be for.
Are there any other potential problems with sharing an IP address with web sites from other web hosting companies?
Many firewalls and anti-spam applications use IP addresses to identify bad actors. Because of this, it is possible that you could find your IP address the target of blocking or anti-spam filtering due to the actions of others.
How many websites can be hosted on a single shared hosting server?
A lot. Generally, hundreds but sometimes thousands. It is essentially unlimited from a technical standpoint.
Each web hosting company determines the density of their shared accounts based on the ability of their machines and their experience with actual usage statistics.
Can I get my own IP address on shared hosting?
Yes. Many web hosting companies sell plans which they describe as “Dedicated IP.”
With these plans, the routing is done through “IP-based virtual hosts,” which allow multiple IP addresses to be handled by a single web server. In this case, you have your own IP address, but are still sharing all the computer resources.
What computer resources are shared in shared hosting?
All of them. Disk space, bandwidth, processing cycles, web server priority, memory.
Does sharing server resources in a shared hosting plan have an impact on my website?
Yes. A web server can only handle so many requests for content per second. It’s possible for a single website to get so much traffic that it starts to lag with completing requests.
With shared hosting, there may be hundreds of websites, each contributing to that same load on the web server. If more than a few of them become particularly popular, there can be a serious problem for all of them.
The same thing can happen with processing and memory. Many websites rely on interpreted languages like PHP and calls to a database. These require memory and processing time, and if there are too many of them, they can all be negatively impacted.
Processing and memory can be more prone to ill effects than the web server because poorly written applications and slow database queries can cause problems even for sites with minimal traffic.
Are there any other drawbacks to using a shared hosting plan?
Yes. You don’t have access to the server or operating system directly, which means that sometimes you cannot install applications you need or want, or change environmental settings.
Most shared hosting environments are optimized for PHP and MySQL (and more specifically WordPress), and it can be a serious hassle to run applications using things like Ruby on Rails, Node.js, or MongoDB.
It’s also difficult to set up deployment and version control technologies like Git, or to do anything resembling continuous integration.
Should I avoid shared hosting plans altogether?
Not necessarily. For all their drawbacks, shared hosting plans do provide a very affordable way to get a basic website or blog up and running very quickly. Most websites will never need anything more.
Is there anything I can do to improve my shared hosting experience?
Use a Content Delivery Network (CDN) to offload some of the web server work.
If you run WordPress or a similar content management system, use a caching tool to save processing cycles.
Run organizational email through a third-party like Google apps, and use a separate email marketing service like MailChimp instead of sending mail through your shared server.
If you have any issues related to illicit behavior from others sharing your IP address, contact your hosting provider. You might also consider getting your own IP address.
What are the alternatives to a shared hosting plan?
Virtual Private Servers (VPS) are the most common alternative, and more than adequate for most applications.
Another option is better shared hosting. Not all shared hosting is the same. Some hosts offer shared plans that greatly limit the number of websites that are hosted.
How does shared hosting compare to VPS?
VPS will generally be better than shared hosting. But you may not need or want the additional expense. What’s more, VPS hosting comes with more responsibility to manage your server environment. In that case, shared hosting might be better for you.
About David Delony
David Delony is a technology enthusiast based in the Pacific Northwest. He has experience with various web technologies going back to his teen years. David has experience covering technology topics ranging from networking to video games to operating systems.
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Who's Best for Shared Hosting Hosting?
We think SiteGround is the best choice for Shared Hosting.