What is shared hosting and should I use it?

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If you are looking to host a website, you have many options to choose from. You could rent an entire server, an expensive proposition, or perhaps use shared hosting to defray costs. Let’s take a look at what shared hosting is and how it works.

internet and servers

The Internet runs on servers, powerful computers that can do all sorts of things. Some route connections or, in the case of VPN servers, redirect them, while others store and retrieve files. It is this type of server that hosts websites, which are really just a bunch of files grouped together in a useful and aesthetically pleasing way.

If you want to host a website of your own, maybe just as a personal business card or to show off your baseball card collection to the world, you need to find a way to host it. You have several options here, including reusing an old PC to turn it into a server. But, for most people, most of the time, it makes sense to simply rent server space.

Note that we said “server space“Not just a” server “. If you wanted to rent, or worse, buy, an entire server, it would be a ridiculously expensive proposition. Not only would you have to pay for the hardware, but you would also have to pay for the costs of electricity, cooling and server internet connection.

On top of that, these machines can handle thousands (if not more) visitors at the same time. As cool as your baseball cards or personal resume are, they won’t attract as many people. Getting your own server would be like renting out Yankee Stadium for a Little League game. That’s a lot of money to spend on empty seats.

How shared hosting works

Instead, hosting providers, companies that rent out web servers, will take a server and break it up into smaller parts. Different clients can rent one of these pieces instead of all. This is a great way for smaller businesses or individuals to host their own websites at a reasonable price.

This is the main attraction of shared hosting: it is cheap. We’ve seen single dollar a month plans to get started on small sites, and even midsize sites can expect to pay less than $100 a year. It’s great for anyone who wants to start small. Once it grows, you may want to switch to another solution.

This is because shared hosting has some drawbacks. The first and most important is that everyone who uses a shared server, and it can be hundreds of people, uses the same infrastructure. So if another site suddenly experiences a spike in traffic, it’s very likely that your site’s performance will suffer.

Think of it like a cake – eating a whole one will probably make you sick, so you share it with three friends. If one of those three turns out to be a glutton who eats more than his fair share, the others will end up with less cake than they would have liked.

Most decent web hosts will limit users’ bandwidth if they use too much or even migrate a busy site to a different, less crowded server, but there is a risk there. It’s not just load times and bandwidth that suffer. There are also some security issues.

Shared hosting security

When you use shared hosting, you share all the resources of a single server. As such, it stands to reason that if a site is attacked, you’ll also feel the heat. The most prominent threats are DDoS attacks, which overwhelm a site’s server with requests and crash it. If you are sharing a server with a site that suffers from a DDoS attack, chances are your site will go down as well.

Another problem is any attack that focuses on inserting information into a site’s home directory, such as SQL injections. If your “neighbor” is on the receiving end of such an attack, chances are your files are compromised as well.

Shared hosting vs. VPS

To be fair, web hosts do their best to avoid these kinds of mishaps, but they can still happen. If you are concerned about these risks but are not yet in a position to get a full server, you might consider using a virtual private server or VPS.

While you’re still only inhabiting part of a server, as with shared hosting, each server is divided into a number of separate smaller virtual servers. Basically, this splits the infrastructure, which means you’re not sharing resources.

The downside to using a VPS is that they take a bit more experience to set up and can be a bit more expensive. Generally speaking, if you’re running a small site with very little money and not much knowledge, shared hosting is the way to go, at least for people starting out.

If you’re interested in shared hosting, you might consider checking out web hosting providers like SiteGround or GoDaddy. For a VPS service, you can check out DigitalOcean, although in both spaces there are plenty of others to choose from.