If you dont own one, you are fully dependent on the company that gives you the address (e.g. yoursubdomain.hostcompany.com or hostcompany.com/yourdir/). Should something go wrong or you are no longer affiliated with the company (either will happen, sooner or later) - and you lose all your visitors and popularity because your pages no longer have URLs they used to be at; your work is wasted; your readers cannot find the pages they want.
No, there is no way around it. The most common pitfall is domain redirection schemes: you host your site wherever you can (usually for free), register your own domain name and pay a small fee to a company that makes your site appear to have your domain name. Unfortunately, no redirection technology works exactly the way a normal hosting does. At best, it will lead to unpleasant surprises and technical problems to some of your visitors and your site will never be indexed correctly by the Internet search engines (that alone is enough to not use redirection).
No, there is no free lunch. These services intrinsically cost money. There is a company that offers second-level domain names for free, supported with massive advertising, but make no mistake - they own it, not you, and its indeed they who dictate the rules. Why waste time. Pay a moderate amount and get the real thing. Its more than affordable today (domain name and decent hosting costs $100-150/year; if you get into temporary financial straits later in your life, you can always switch to free hosting with redirection while keeping your domain name, $15-25/year). Have respect for your readers and for yourself. Enough said.
Feel free to take my example of redirection page as a template. Note that you need to edit URL in three places in the page source to replace each of your pages. It didnt take me long to replace a hundred pages on my site by hand; if you know Perl, you can write a script and publish it here. I also replaced every image file on my old site with a small image-notice (JPEG or GIF) in case somebody linked to images directly or used them on their pages. Still, youre creating small inconveniences to a lot of people (including yourself) and youd better set your site up the right way as soon as possible.
By now Ive dealt with six hosts (four of them commercial) and four registrars, so its time to sum up this little experience.
Looking for a good domain name may take time. Most common words and short domain names have already been taken.
Web site hosting is a different service. Firms offering it are in abundance (just look around) and it is very competitive, because it takes little effort to move your site elsewhere in the world. Look for "own domain name" option in the hosting plans. Let me name one directory where you can search through many providers and plans: HostSearch. Or, if you prefer a listing less obscured by business front-ends and greed for customers, here is a list of some of the worlds largest physical hosting providers from Netcraft.
Almost always, you can register a domain name when you sign up for a hosting plan. Even if the hosting company is not a registrar, they will handle it for you through another firm that is a registrar. Some companies offer hosting and are registrars at the same time, but thats not necessarily an advantage.
Most people are using slower connections, so this is actually not very important. Still, local hosting improves response times and consistency: there are fewer clogged networks to go through.
My Experience with Individual Firmshas been a series of unpleasant surprises. Indeed, you remember problems and not flawless operation. Every problem takes your time away from developing your site.
Quick summary (note that this is only a tiny slice of the vast Internet service providers market):
In short, I tried to host with three shitty providers until landing at one of the world largest (pair.com) where I happily continue to be now. End of story
Of course, to get the full picture of what was good and what was bad with a particular service, and how it applies to your needs, you may want to wade through the details below (listed not quite in chronological order).
My journey into the world of commercial services started in 2000 when our department server died. All pages on the department site, including mine, were returning 404 File Not Found error for a week or so. Not Found response is worse than not responding: people and search engines think these pages are gone and delete their links. I repeatedly emailed the system administrator and in his last reply, he said that restoring Web hosting was not the first priority. So I turned to those who had 24x7 operation their only priority, besides making money on you, of course. Not that I didnt understand what I described in the beginning of this page, but this trouble just showed me the issue in all its ugliness: your site is removed and you cant do anything.
Somewhere on the Web I saw a tiny banner with attractive price for a 50MB hosting plan. I clicked it and found that the expiration date of the offer was yesterday, but it was still possible to fill in the form. Its weekend, I thought, so they will be back to work on Monday and remove it. So I signed up in hurry. In the process, there was $40 non-refundable setup fee and they used an expensive registrar (Network Solutions, another $35/year fee), but I ate it.
On Monday, the special was extended. I was not lazy to check it regularly
for the next eight months since June 2000
and they just kept changing the expiration date every week or so.
The company is Tri Star Web,
in case you like this kind of advertising.
Noted in 2003: wonder why there is a porn site there? Thats what happens to domain names when the company sinks.
Slow response and low download speed (comparing to the server standing in the next room) was another rude surprise. Ive since learned that this actually was normal performance for most hosting plans. A month later I asked them for a configuration change that I would have been able to do on the department server if my site had still been hosted there. After a bounce-type answer and my repeat request, they finally replied that this feature was available only on their most expensive hosting plan ($50/month). Ive since learned that it was not the worst: at least, they did reply to every question.
A nice bonus was NetTracker statistics they provided for every account. Comparing to widespread tools that generate only overall reports from your server logs (e.g. free Analog), NetTracker allowed to easily follow footsteps of visitors and track trends. My site had relatively few users, so browsing detailed visit reports was possible. I found it very entertaining and useful. In a sense, it was like being in users shoes, despite all claims to the contrary. Good statistics is important. Unfortunately, NetTracker is quite expensive unless your provider includes it.
My site, which youre on now, was hosted with Tri Star Web for almost a year. Then the hosting quality quickly went down the toilet. First the statistics server started to hang up, losing old reports, and was often not including logs for days. Then the main server became very unreliable. There were two weeks in a row when my site was mostly unavailable, despite intensive communication between me and the tech support, and I just had to move it to pair.com. I monitored my old account by IP number for some time: regular downtimes persisted. They couldnt even properly record my cancellation notice submitted through the account control interface, and continued billing me.
In the process of moving, I discovered that Network Solutions did not really care about users making changes to their domain name records. Five years of absolute state-granted monopoly built them a brand recognition and large customer base, which now guarantees profit no matter how little they care about their users. With every other registrar, who charges half the price, changing nameservers would take at most five minutes with password-protected on-line form. I spent half an hour just trying to figure where to do it on Network Solutions site. Then I called their tech support. Another half an hour holding the line - and we observed how their authentication scheme failed because my email address they had was different from what was now in the From: field of my emails. Not wanting to mess with faxing a request complete with photocopy of my passport just to fix an email address, I moved my domain name to EasySpace. Bad usability cost the company a customer.
The unfortunate side of this story is that I couldnt change nameservers listed with my domain name for about a week - exactly when I most needed it. Moving between registrars is not a quick operation. I therefore advise you to check that you can change nameservers easily with your registrar.
After signing up with Tri Star Web, I didnt quite like it,
so when I had to host another site
I chose a local Norwegian registrar and hosting company,
Active ISP (they were just running a special).
Another person who writes Norwegian well and I managed to
go through the order form at fourth or fifth attempt (it was timing out
before we were able to submit all the necessary info).
After few emails, a month of waiting and two phone calls,
they finally registered the domain name and set up the account.
The site control panel didnt work in Netscape, only in Internet Explorer,
but much worse, all our pages in Russian encoding were
severely handicapped in Netscape: the text displayed in wrong encoding until
all images on the page completely loaded.
They used Microsoft Commercial Internet System on their server; on my other accounts with UNIX/Apache
the problem didnt exist.
It was not the first time I saw Microsoft screwing up everybody else
and neglecting compatibility,
but I demanded to fix it because 30% of our site visitors were using Netscape.
Their answer was to install Internet Explorer.
I hope you understand that nobody controls what
browser a visitor to your site uses.
After a couple more emails and two phone calls, they finally admitted in writing they
couldnt fix it for Netscape. So, two months after signing up,
the new permanent address of the site was not ready for publicizing and I was looking for another host.
To make things worse, it turned out that Active ISP did not support domain names for sites
that are hosted with another provider (i.e. did not allow external DNS servers),
so I had to transfer the domain name to another registrar. There are things
you wouldnt realize until there is a trouble.
Later note: It took us eight months and numerous emails and calls to Active ISP to explain that they should drop the full one-year hosting fee from the bill they kept re-sending to us. For that they got my bad and annoying rating.
Deja vu: exactly a year after the first sign-up, we received an invoice for reneval of the hosting and registar service (cancelled long ago). Did they assume it would be overlooked and paid them automatically? This just stinks.
Subscriber forever: they got extra credit for continuing spamming me their newsletter, after all the above.
Forced to find another host, I moved the site to IICNet (web229.net) physically located in Los Angeles, fully expecting low performance and support at the price it came. What was fun, they also had a prominent special ("double your disk space") with regularly refreshing expiration date. In the next few months, my expectations were more than confirmed (by prolonged downtimes in particular). In March 2001, I left them for pair.com, after a recommendation from a reader of this page that can be found below.
In 2001, I wanted to secure skazka.org domain name, in addition to skazka.no.
Then if somebody tries to guess it, there are better chances he comes to the right site.
Filling in the order form on EasySpace registrar site
was a breeze and redirection worked within a day.
Everything seemed easy and flawless until I tried to recommend EasySpace to a friend of mine.
He had an old browser - Internet Explorer 2.0 - on his lab PC and when I typed
www.skazka.org, an ugly Easyspace ad page appeared instead of our site.
The URL remained www.skazka.org and there was no hint of our site, just somebodys
flashy advertising. I then tried it in
(an emulator of the Internet access device that is currently being sold) and got the ad page again.
After fierce complaining to Easyspace about stealing my domain name, they
said it worked correctly in WebTV viewer they installed
on their computer (was it a lie?) and refused to fix it for old browsers
(without explanation, of course; I later learned of "name-based" vs. IP hosting myself).
They suggested to host the site properly instead and
offered to refund the redirection fee ($7.99/year) if I do it.
It was one more argument against using redirection.
Another small problem occurred when half a year later I finally went to the form that changes nameservers for this domain name. It became inoperative for a couple days because the clueless EasySpace cleared its DNS records immediately after the form was submitted, but the requests were still routed to the old nameservers for some time (which was normal: thats how Internet works). The redirection is now done within my pair.com account (here is .htaccess file that does it).
In 2005, the growth of my collection of Russian anthems forced me to look for a host with cheap bandwidth. MP3 files that generated a lot of traffic (estimated 150 GB/mo) had been staying at the university servers until then. Unfortunately the collection was growing over the disk space allotted for me at my university. Another account was needed for further aditions to the collection. Pair was out of question because of relatively expensive bandwidth prices; the site itself was hosted reliably on pair but MP3s were all delegated to external accounts. I needed to find a reasonable compromise between quality of service and the costs for hosting these MP3s. The first host I tried, WebHostingBoy, while featuring the bottom prices for bandwidth, simply did not work. The server went down for days, and I was also unable to pay them (they didnt take credit cards directly). So I went looking for a bit less cheap hosts, and found ZestHost, which seemed to work reasonably well for the purpose (it was not of pairs uptime standard as the dotty uptime records collected over a couple subsequent months showed, but most of the time it was up and working).
2005... registering a .ru domain name! Why, oh why, Russian registrars do not care about the convenience of their customers? They either want you to come to their Moscow office in person to sign the service agreement (I live in St. Petersburg). Or, if you absolutely dont want to travel to Moscow just to buy a .ru domain name, you can mail them a mandate, bearing your physical signature and notarized by a lawyer (notarization costs more than the domain name first payment; mail takes several days). And yes, no, they dont take credit cards, for that youd have actually go to a Russian post office and make money order (or international bank transfer if you have to. Just not credit cards, they dont handle them). I would probably ditch the idea of getting hymn.ru were it not for a single registrar (out of the grand total of six of them accredited for .ru domains, as of March 2005, tried them all) that did not require all of the above. It was still a small pain in the ass to go through: the interface was cumbersome, I had to call and recite the credit card number to be able to use it on their site, and then I had to call once more just to figure out whats the next step in the registration process (the emails didnt say it). After I had paid the annual fee and become their proud customer, I got spammed with monthly account statements that were invariably showing the $0.06 remainder on my account, every fucking month... just to keep me informed that I still own this domain name, I suppose :). All this is ridiculous in comparison with a ten-minutes, all-online-fully-automatic, you-wont-hear-from-us-until-the-next-payment-is-due registration of .com/net/org domains youd expect from pretty much any registrar today.
Last updated in July 2006
See also: Webmaster FAQ on skazka.no (written by me)
...In a sense, I hope you had a run of bad luck -- in that I hope not many people suffer as much as you have.
Ive been a bit luckier, but perhaps only because my requirements have been simpler. Im hosted at pair.com, on their cheapest scheme. What appealed to me about pair.com was the combination of low price and openness about which corner was being cut. Its phone support. Either they wont supply it toll-free or perhaps they charge for it -- I forget. Anyway, I didnt care, because
- being in Japan, I knew I wouldnt want to pay a transpacific phone bill, and
- using just ftp, I knew I wouldnt have any questions to ask. (What should go wrong? "Uh, hello, your server seems to be down." "Yes, we know, were working on it." "Um, do you know when it will be up again." "No, sorry, we dont" [perhaps with the muttered addition "and if it werent for idiots like you asking this same old question, wed fix it much more quickly"].)
A friend is in the software distribution business. He reports that product support is a major drain on the company. One phone call (with an intelligent or stupid question) more than wipes out the profit on that box.
I dont say that this is a panacea, but its worth asking yourself if you need support by phone; and, if the answer is no, looking for a company that openly says it doesnt offer this support.
-- Peter Evans, January 28, 2001
I have been using pair.com for several years and also recommend them. My aim in having my own domain name was to have the same
For a cheap and efficient registrar, I recommend Total Registrations (crashes Netscape -VM).
-- Martin Kellerman (email@example.com), March 12, 2002
...I could highly recommend ICDSoft as a web host. The best prices, bandwidth and tech support in the business. I am in no way related to them and am just a customer - but a very very happy one - as most of their customers are.
-- Norman D. Letow, NYC, USA, August 17, 2002
I thought it was impossible to get a domain name hosted totally for free. However, it turns out that it is possible. Portland Communications offer this service, and you dont even have to have an advert on your website. The only drawback is that web sites download slowly.VMs comment: they dont include any useful amount of data transfer on their free and low-cost plans. Its a teaser. As soon as your site has more that a few visitors per day (literally), youre up to pay for a normally-priced plan.
Its quite useful for little experimental websites.
-- Martin Kellerman (firstname.lastname@example.org), March 3, 2003
...have no idea if youre still interested in reports on specific hosts, but I just felt I should mention that Ive found aplus.net to be pretty good. Used them off and on for years, costs me about ten bucks a month, decent web-based control panel, etc. Good uptime, no real complaints that I can think of. I, too, have run the gauntlet of hosts ranging from good to terrible, and as far as cheap hosting goes, this is one of the better ones Ive found.
occlusian (email@example.com), September 7, 2008