How to Pick a Free Web Host - Making sense of features
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The most obvious feature you want to look for in selecting a free Web host is the amount of space available. Most hosts offer anywhere from 2 MB of storage space to a gigabyte or more. If you will be hosting streaming media files or large graphic files on your site, you should look for the maximum amount of space you can find. If, however, you are just looking for a place to put up a home page with a few HTML pages and simple graphics, the chances are slim that you will need more than 5-10 MB of space for your site.
Another important feature to look at is the allowable traffic. This usually is expressed in terms like "data transfer" or bandwidth. This refers to the amount of traffic your site can take. If you expect your site is going to have thousands of visitors, you will want to look for a host with unlimited traffic. For simpler Web pages, it is unlikely that you would bump up against the usual limits, such as the 3 GB data transfer limit on free Geocities Web pages.
Consider, as well, how you intend to generate your site. Do you like the idea of creating your pages and posting them on your site through a site-building interface? If so, you will want to look for site building and creation tools when choosing a free host. On the other hand, if you prefer to code your HTML by hand or use a tool such as Dreamweaver to create HTML files on your PC before posting them to the Internet, you may want to look for a Web host that allows FTP file transfer.
A less apparent but still important factor is the formatting of the URL for your free Web space. The best type of URL is probably a subdomain, which would let you have a URL like http://yourspace.freehost.com. Most of the leading free hosts do not offer subdomains, however, so it's more likely to expect a URL like http://www.freehost.com/yourspace, which is not too unwieldy. Watch out for hosts that give you convoluted URLs like http://www.freehost.com/members/subdirectory1/subdirectory2/
~yourspace. You don't want a URL that's going to take you forever to type, not to mention that if you are using the site for anything other than a hobby, shorter URLs tend to make a better impression on your visitors.
Beyond the above items, most features within free hosts are fairly standard. Here are some other things to look for:
- Does the host offer CGI scripts? If so, are you limited to preformatted scripts or can you upload scripts of your choice?
- Do you get any free email addresses as a part of the package?
- Is there tech support available if you should have a problem?
- How often do you have to update the site? (Some hosts will expire your account if it goes a specific amount of time with no activity).
- Does the host offer you traffic figures, or the ability to use a hit counter?
- Does the site allow domain hosting?
- How reliable are the servers? A free Web site does you no good if it's never up and running.
Warning signals of sites to avoid
As mentioned above, free Web hosts are a dime a dozen and the features are different among all of them, but even if you find two hosts with an equal feature set, that doesn't mean the hosts are equally good options.
The biggest risk you run when choosing a free host is that the host may go out of business, taking your site with it. This is also true of inexpensive paid hosts, to an extent. It's wise to always keep backups of your files on your own computer, but who wants to be changing URLs all the time every time a host goes out of business? For this reason, it can be a good idea to stick with a company that has a proven track record and has been around for a few years rather than a company you haven't heard of.
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