What (really) is Shared Hosting?
So you have finally decided to make your own website. You turn to the internet for research, and the words shared hosting keep coming up. You see shared hosting plans on various websites, and it seems like you could get your website up and running at very nominal rates. But a shared hosting environment isn’t all that you need to set up your own website.
It’s indeed a popular hosting choice among first-timers, and it’s very cost-efficient, but there’s more that goes into building a website. In the following article, we will explain exactly:
- what shared hosting is,
- how it contributes to website development,
- what you can expect from hosting providers, and
- what else you need to make your website go live and stay healthy.
What (really) is shared hosting?
Let’s start with an analogy.
You get married and want to find a place to live. You are on a budget so leasing a house isn’t an option. Instead, you rent an apartment. There are hundreds of other apartments in the complex, but every single one is an independent, self-contained housing unit. All of them have their own utilities, their own rooms, their own bills, and their own residents. You might not have the best parking facility, and you might have to wait a few minutes at the elevator every morning, but at least it’s cheaper to rent and maintain than a house. The graphic below compares the analogy:
This is exactly how a shared hosting environment works. Your website lives on a server (think of it as a powerful computer), which’s also home to other websites, but you get your own share of resources and storage. It’s far cheaper than getting an entire physical server for your website.
However, simply renting out an apartment doesn’t get you a home. You have to clean it, furnish it, secure it, and buy appliances to make it livable. Similarly, shared hosting will only get you the space for your website to be hosted; it won’t actually set it up. How you design, develop and secure your website is your own responsibility.
The host will allocate CPU, RAM, storage, and a database for your website. It will implement fair-usage policies that ensure that all server tenants always have access to their allocated resources; nothing more, nothing less. It will also run, manage, and secure the overall server for you. However, it won’t implement security policies for your website. This means that if you accidentally install malicious plugins or themes, or get hacked because of any breach/vulnerability, the host will not be liable.
Advantages of shared hosting
Here are some of the benefits of choosing shared hosting for your website:
The costs of the server are distributed across multiple website owners, making the individual rates quite low.
Hardware and infrastructure are managed by experts
Most shared hosting providers offer 24/7 server monitoring, and support via various communication channels (live chat, email, phone etc.). So there’s no need to worry about system or hardware upgrades, ensuring availability, or creating backups either.
It can host dynamic websites
Dynamic websites are those that appear differently, depending on the device you are viewing them on. For example, Facebook, Twitter, etc. and websites using dynamic Content Management Systems (CMS) such as WordPress, Joomla! etc. look different on laptops, smartphones, and tablets. This is achieved using modern programming languages such as PHP, Python, Perl, React, and Node.js; all of which can run on a shared hosting environment.
Most shared hosting packages come with a control panel (e.g., HOSTAFRICA offers cPanel) which provides a user interface to easily manage the administration, monitoring, and configurations of your website. Make sure your host of choice includes this in your package as separate licensing costs can be expensive.
Image source cPanel
Plans are flexible
If at any point you feel like upgrading your hosting plan (add more resources or subdomains etc.) or you want to downgrade, all you need to do is contact our support department.
Some are purpose-built for CMS and e-commerce platforms
Some hosts (like HOSTAFRICA) provide hosting packages designed specifically for CMSs like WordPress, Joomla! and e-commerce applications such as WooCommerce, Shopify, PrestaShop and OpenCart. Our servers have been fine-tuned and preconfigured to deliver the best CMS and e-commerce experience.
How to get the most out of shared hosting?
As mentioned above, how you manage your website and allocated resources is completely up to you. Here are a few tips that can help you get the most out of shared hosting:
Take security seriously:
Why? Once you’ve bought your new domain, which is your website’s address online, anyone on the internet, anywhere in the world can find your website. This means your website is discoverable by thousands of hackers running scans for sites with vulnerabilities all day, every day to compromise or take advantage of your website. “Why? I’m not important, who would want to target me?”, you ask. Hackers can use your site to mine; spam others; steal money, client card details or identities; or simply shut it down and render your site useless just for the fun of it.
Just like your apartment or home or brick-and-mortar store, your website’s security is entirely your responsibility, and if you intend to use it for e-commerce you have a responsibility to your clients to make your site secure, as your host will not be liable for any negligence on your part. As mentioned above, your host is only responsible for the server’s overall security, not the personal wellbeing of your website, emails and files.
Good Password Practices: Passwords for all your administrative dashboards should be strong and as long as possible. You should also change all passwords from time-to-time and, if possible, use Two-Factor Authentication (2FA). Read our article on how brute force attacks work and how to create secure passwords.
Have I Been Pwned? allows you to check if you have an account that has been compromised in a data breach.
Keep everything up to date. Moreover, always keep your CMS, software and tools, plugins, and themes up to date. Many updates and patches fix security vulnerabilities and bugs, which can otherwise be exploited by hackers, or cause your website to malfunction (in which case you would not blame your landlord for someone breaking into your home if you left it unlocked, and likewise it is not your host’s responsibility to fix your compromised site. Support Engineers help thousands of clients with important issues daily, they simply do not have time to spend vital hours away from other clients to help save your neglected site).
It’s beneficial to everyone to hire a security advisor or take the time to do the research to secure your site and data yourself.
Plugins are a great way of adding functionalities to your website. However, when installing one, make sure you can verify its authenticity. Here are a few steps you can take:
- Visit the publisher’s website and check their history and/or track record.
- Check the user ratings, comments, and reviews. Anything under 4/5 should raise red flags.
- Ideally, “Last updated” shouldn’t be over a year ago (as this likely means they are no longer maintaining the plugin), and the downloads should at least be in the thousands.
cPanel is the one-stop control panel for all your website management needs. There are plenty of informational blogs and technical manuals on the cPanel website that you can use to get better acquainted with it. We’ve also written a super simple guide to cPanel to help you get started.
Unless a hosting provider expressly states they offer Website Design Services, hosting providers do not design your website for you. Most shared hosts only provide server space, meaning you will either have to:
- Find a host who also provides a web design service to build it for you or a DIY website builder service (more on this below).
- Hire a web design company or web developer who specialises in website design and development.
- Learn web development yourself. Without this knowledge, you may struggle at various stages of launching and/or managing your website.
Is shared hosting the right choice for me?
While choosing a hosting plan for your website, there are a few considerations to make:
If you are on a budget, and it’s your first time managing a website, then shared hosting is the right choice for you. But if you can afford better alternatives like dedicated servers or VPS (more on this in the next section), then go for them.
Projected web traffic
The resources you get with shared hosting are always limited. If you expect your website traffic to be extremely high, shared hosting might not be the best choice.
Extent of customisation
While you will be able to use a CMS or programming language of your choice, you will not be able to install your favorite operating system, or a different database server.
Limited support options
With shared hosting, you don’t get access to support engineers who will spend hours trying to secure and optimize your website. This makes sense because you are paying a very nominal fee, which only covers server-level support.
Limited disk space
If your website features a lot of images and/or videos, the limited disk space of shared hosting plans might be a problem for you.
When choosing a hosting provider, it’s best to check if their servers are located in your country to ensure the lowest possible latency. HOSTAFRICA’s web hosting servers are located in South Africa.
Shared hosting alternatives
If for any reason you are having doubts about shared hosting, you can consider the following alternatives:
Website builder package
If you don’t have web development experience, and can’t afford a developer, buying a website builder package might be a better option for you.
Along with the hosting, you get a drag-and-drop website builder (click on the image below to try out the interactive demo), SEO tools, email accounts, templates and much more.
If you want more control over your web server technology configuration, or think you’ll need a higher limit on your website traffic or server resources, getting a VPS might be the best choice. You can select an operating system of choice (CentOS, Debian, Ubuntu), have root access to the server, and experience much better performance on a VPS if your operation is resource-heavy.
If you aren’t a fan of virtualisation but want a significant amount of resources and even more control and customisation, you can go for a dedicated server for your website or operation.
Other than shared hosting, what do I need to make a website?
After you have bought shared hosting package and selected a domain, there are two additional steps to ready your website:
- Create, curate, or prepare content for your website. This can be articles, blogs, landing pages, or multimedia etc.
- Design and develop the actual website. You can use a content management system (CMS) like WordPress or Joomla! to get a quick start or develop everything from scratch. The latter will require you to have web development experience or hire a developer. You may also check out HOSTAFRICA’s site builder package.
Stay tuned for our upcoming blog which will help you get started building your own website.