Google Drive Hosting Closure: Your Alternatives
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As you may have heard, effective August 31, 2016, Google Drive can no longer be used to host websites. In this guide, we'll cover alternatives to using Google Drive to host websites, including paid and free options.
What Feature of Google Drive is Being Discontinued?
Beginning in 2012, Google Drive could be used to host static websites.
The ability to use Google Drive in this way to host simple websites is what is being discontinued. This change also ends the usefulness of related Google Drive site building utilities such as Editey and Gweb.io, as well as URL shortening and masking services, such as GDriv.es.
How to Move from Google Drive to Paid Hosting
Switching to professional web hosting isn't as complicated as you might think. Web hosts have made creating a website intentionally simple, to the point that transferring your site from Google Drive to a web server only requires a few steps.
Step 1: Download your website files from Google Drive. Head over to Google Drive, locate the folder that contains your website files, and download all of the folder contents to your computer.
To avoid breaking links within your website it is important to preserve the file and folder hierarchy when you download your website files and folders.
So if your website is currently organized into one main folder that contains one or more subfolders, be sure to download the files and folders without changing their organization.
Step 2: Pick a hosting provider. There are many web hosts you can choose, which can be overwhelming, but you can narrow the list considerably by looking at user reviews posted online at websites such as WhoIsHostingThis?
Step 3: Sign up for a hosting plan. When you select a plan you will either register a new domain name, or if you already have a domain name you can easily point the domain at your hosting company's domain name servers.
If you've never done that before, that might sound a little intimidating, but your hosting provider's technical support team should gladly help you out with that step if you need the help.
Picking a hosting plan can also be a bit intimidating since there are lots of features to consider. As long as you pick a reputable host as suggested in the previous step, the entry-level plan they offer will be more than enough for any site previously hosted on Google Drive.
Step 4: Move your website files. Some hosting companies will offer to move one website for you when you sign up for a new account. If they offer that service, the easiest way to transition your site is to take them up on the offer. If your hosting provider does not offer to move the site for you, moving a static site is still a very easy process, but first, you'll need to get an FTP client set up.
Simply download an FTP client such as Filezilla or Cyberduck, and install it on your computer.
Then access your hosting control panel, find FTP settings, and configure your FTP client to match the settings provided by your hosting provider. Once again, if you have trouble, your hosting provider should be happy to help you with FTP configuration.
Once you have your FTP client set up, connect to your hosting account and drag your website files into the appropriate folder, which will be titled "public_html".
That's it! Once your website files finish uploading, head to your domain and you'll see your website, which is now hosted on your professional web hosting account.
Step 5: Select and install a content management system. This step is optional, but to truly take advantage of the power offered by your professional hosting account, you should do some research and select a platform to convert your static site into a dynamic website.
The three most popular options are WordPress, Joomla, and Drupal, but there are many other platforms you could consider depending on the purpose of your website, and your level of technical fluency.
Installation will vary depending on which platform you select, and is a topic for another day and another tutorial. However, most platforms are surprisingly easy to install, and once you get one up and running, you'll wonder why you didn't make the jump sooner.
The Problem with Hosting on Google Drive
How many websites do you frequent that are hosted at Google Drive? Chances are the answer is zero. No webmaster who is serious about building a useful and popular website uses Google Drive as their hosting solution.
It's a neat service for a short-term project site, or as a staging area where you can view HTML and CSS elements live in your browser without pushing them to a final site, but it isn't a great hosting option for a published website.
No matter the size of your website, or your plans for future expansion, you will be better served by switching away from Google Drive to professional web hosting.
Hosting your website for free with a file storage service like Google Drive is fun, a good learning tool, and it has its place. However, it is far from an ideal hosting environment for the vast majority of websites for several reasons.
While all websites make use of the client-side languages, the vast majority also make use of server-side languages such as PHP, Ruby, Python, ASP.NET, and Perl. However, if your website is hosted by Google Drive, you can't use server-side languages, severely limiting what you can accomplish with your website.
Second, because you can't use backend or server-side languages, you don't have access to website building software including content management systems such as WordPress and Joomla, e-commerce platforms such as Magento and AbanteCart, and forum scripts such as phpBB and MyBB.
A single webmaster, with only moderate technical chops, can build an impressively full-featured website by using these free apps, but without access to backend languages, all of these products are off the table.
Third, when you are limited to client-side languages your site is completely unscalable. Anytime you want to make a change that impacts multiple pages of your website, if it's coded entirely in static HTML and CSS, you will have to open each and every file to make the change.
Now imagine your site grows to include hundreds of pages, and think of how many hours it would take to make a simple change to each file.
When you have access to server side languages you can build your site with software that will let you make the same change in minutes or even seconds, and have it pushed to every page of your website automatically.
Fourth, when you use a service like Google Drive, you end up with a very clunky and immemorable domain name.
You can always buy a custom domain, and use domain forwarding with masking to make it look like your website is hosted on a web server, but if you don't understand what you just read getting this set up correctly might be tricky, and it won't result in ideal search engine ranking results.
For these reasons, the demise of hosting on Google Drive is the perfect time to upgrade to professional web hosting.
If you've never purchased hosting before, you'll be surprised at how affordable it can be, and if you want to grow your site, hosting your site on a web server is far and away a better choice.
Benefits of Professional Web Hosting
Professional web hosting provides access to features you may not even realize you are missing out on.
While every hosting plan is different, they all include loads of features that you won't get when you host your site with Google Drive. Some common features packaged up with most hosting plans are:
Backend scripting: All web hosting accounts include access to space on a web server capable of running a variety of programming languages which may include PHP, Perl, Python, Ruby, ASP.NET, and more.
Easy app installation: Free and easy installation of popular content management systems, e-commerce platforms, forum applications, and much more is included with virtually all hosting plans.
Website building applications: If you don't want to use a content management system or e-commerce platform, and aren't well-versed in HTML and CSS, most web hosts provide access to a website builder that is easy to use, includes many attractive templates, and will produce a professional quality website.
Website visitor statistics: Get a handle on the amount of traffic your website is experiencing, where that traffic is coming from, and improve your website based on that information, with free statistics included with most hosting plans.
Custom email accounts: Most hosting plans include email addresses using your custom domain. So if you register www.mysweetwebsite.com, your email address can be [email protected], or whatever else your heart desires.
Technical support from web hosting experts: If you're nervous about the learning curve, you aren't alone. Lots of first-time hosting customers are a bit intimidated by the process. The good news is that when you sign up for a new hosting account you'll also be getting access to that host's technical support team, who will be glad to help.
Website backups: Many web hosts provide automatic backups of your website and all of it's content on a periodic basis. So one of the added features you'll get with professional web hosting is greater peace-of-mind.
A free domain: Lots of hosting plans include a free domain as part of the package. Not only will you be able to easily set up a custom domain, you won't have to pay extra to get it.
Unlimited domains: Depending on the plan you select, you may also have the option to host multiple websites from a single account.
Server monitoring: Uptime is a big deal in the hosting world. When you sign up for an account you'll have a team of Engineers watching the server your website is hosted on very carefully to keep it running as smoothly and as consistently as possible, ensuring your website visitors get the best experience possible.
The bad news is that support for website hosting with Google Drives is on it's way out. The good news is that this is the perfect opportunity to make a jump to professional web hosting.
Make the jump and you'll get a great deal more than what you're getting from Google Drive, at a price that is much less than you expect.
Questions and Answers
I really don't want to pay for hosting. Are there any free options?
You'll be happier in the long run if you move to an affordable professional hosting plan. However, if you absolutely cannot do that, there are a few alternatives you could consider such as Dropbox, Amazon S3, and GitHub Pages, though none are ideal.
Can I use Dropbox to host my site for free?
Maybe. In order to use Dropbox to host your site, your Dropbox account needs to include a Public folder.
All accounts created prior to October 2012 include a Public folder automatically. If you don't have an account that predates October 2012, you can create a Public folder, but only if you have a paid Pro or Business account.
If you don't meet either of those criteria, and don't plan on upgrading your Dropbox plan anytime soon, you'll want to look for a different option.
Keep in mind that the domain naming scheme used by Dropbox is far from ideal. Unless you buy a custom domain and have it forwarded to your Dropbox site, it will be virtually impossible for you, or anyone else, to remember your Dropbox website URL.
How do I switch from Google Drive to Dropbox?
Assuming your Dropbox account includes a Public folder, making the switch from Google Drive to Dropbox is easy. Here's what you need to do:
Upload your entire website to the Public folder.
Right-click on the file that is your homepage and note the public URL associated with it. That is your website URL.
If you were using a custom domain to point at your Google Drive site, just adjust the forwarding instructions to point at your Dropbox website homepage URL.
Can I use Amazon's cloud storage service to host my site for free?
You can use Simple Storage Service (S3), part of Amazon Web Services (AWS), to host a website in similar fashion to the way Google Drive and Dropbox work, but the setup process is considerably more complex.
To get access to S3 you'll need to sign up for an AWS account, which is free for the first 12 months. Thereafter, the service is offered on a pay-as-you-go model, and if you only ever use S3, the pricing is very modest.
However, if you branch out into some of the other services offered as part of AWS, pricing can climb very rapidly. A simple static site, that drew a few thousand monthly hits, would cost very little as long as you were careful not to slip into some of other AWS services.
However, unless you venture into some of the other very pricey services offered by AWS, when you transfer your site to S3 you'll still see the same limitations that face Google Drive hosting.
How do I switch from Google Drive to Amazon S3?
Here's your fair warning: setting up a site using Amazon S3 is harder than Google Drive or professional web hosting. However, if you want to take a shot at setting up your site with S3, here's what you'll need to do:
Create an AWS account.
Create an S3 bucket from your AWS management console.
Access the bucket properties, click on Static Website Hosting and make the following selections: enable website hosting, tell S3 which file to use as the index document, and note the Endpoint that S3 has assigned to the bucket.
Access the bucket properties again, click on Permissions, and add a bucket policy making the bucket contents public. The bucket policy is something you'll want to copy and paste directly from the help files and instructions provided by Amazon, and linked to above.
Upload your website files to the bucket.
Visit http://example-bucket.s3-website-region.amazonaws.com, replacing example-budget with your bucket endpoint, and region with the name of the region where you deployed your bucket.
If you've followed all the steps correctly your site should now be hosted on Amazon S3. If you've been using a custom domain with your Google Drive hosted site, you can do the same with your Amazon S3 hosted site by adjusting the domain forwarding settings with your domain name registrar.
Can I use GitHub Pages to host my site for free?
Any site previously hosted on Google Drive should be transferable to GitHub. GitHub makes hosting a site pretty simple if you already know how to use the service, but if you're a git newbie, get ready for a steep learning curve.
GitHub is a site and service designed for professional coders and programmers, and as such, it intentionally glosses-over steps a beginner might need help with. If you've never used GitHub expect the site setup process to take some time as you work your way through steps you've never taken before.
Keep in mind that when you set up a website with GitHub pages you'll still see the same limitations that apply to Google Drive hosting.
How do I switch from Google Drive to GitHub?
If you're ready to give GitHub a shot, here's what you'll need to do:
Sign up for a GitHub account, and choose your username carefully, since it will be part of your website URL.
Create a new repository. The name of the repository must be formatted exactly like this: username.github.io. For example: if your username is user1234, then the repository must also be called user1234.github.io.
Once you have a repository set up the next steps will vary depending on whether you're using a terminal or the GitHub client. Our recommendation is to download and install the GitHub client, and the rest of these instructions assume that's what you're going to do.
Navigate to the new repository you created on GitHub and click on the button that says "Set up in Desktop". The GitHub client will open on your computer, and once it does, save the cloned repository.
Now go find your website files, move them into the repository in the GitHub client, click on commit, and then sync your changes. This will upload your files to the repository on GitHub.
That's it! You can now access your site at http://username.github.io.
If you were using a custom domain with your Google Drive site, just adjust the forwarding settings to point at your GitHub address. With GitHub you can also add a CNAME file to your repository.
The result will be that if someone accesses your site by going to http://username.github.io, once the site loads it will display the address as http://yourdomain.com.