Friday, October 07, 2005

Web Hosting Service

Windows versus Linux for Web Page Hosting

What OS Should You Use for Your Web Pages
When looking for a Web hosting server, one of the first things you often have to consider is what operating system the server will run. Now, this article is not about proving that one OS is better or worse than another, and if you already have a bias, then I would recommend you stick to it. This article is not trying to convince you to change.

Several Operating Systems to Choose From
Linux is one of the more popular operating systems on the Web, mostly because it is so cheap to install and get up and running.
Macintosh hosting servers are very uncommon. In fact, if you want to host your site on a Macintosh server, you'll probably have to look into hosting it yourself.
Unix is very similar to Linux, but not as common on Web hosting services, usually because it is more expensive and the hardware is more specific.
Windows is another popular operating system for Web hosting providers because it has a lot of support.
For the purposes of this article, I'll be talking primarily of Linux and Windows Web hosting services.

These are the two most common and readily available operating systems, and there are many good reasons for using both. Unix systems are very similar to Linux (and Mac OSX systems are as well) and as I mentioned above, Macintosh systems are few and far-between.
Accessing the Server
The first difference that most people notice with Web hosting operating systems is how you access the server. Both Windows and Linux will offer FTP access to your files, but only Linux will generally offer telnet or ssh access. (It's possible to set up telnet access on Windows, but very few hosting administrators offer it.) FTP is a way of transferring your files from your hard drive to your Web server. Telnet or SSH are a way to open a window directly on the Web server and manipulate files right there, usually using Unix command line commands.

Writing Your Pages
Both Windows and Linux servers will serve HTML pages and JavaScript. Typically, Windows servers use files named *.htm while Linux servers use files named *.html, but there is no real difference between these names, just what you prefer.

FrontPage extensions are often cited as the reason to use a Windows server. But there are Linux servers that offer this service as well.

CGI and Perl access are often found on both Windows and Linux servers, but it is more typical on Linux. If you need to program forms, you should make sure that your hosting service provides CGI or another way to process them.

Other Server-Side Scripts
But you're not stuck with just Perl if you need to process forms. Many hosting systems offer PHP, ASP, and ColdFusion. These server side scripting options give you a lot of flexibility. PHP is more often found on Linux systems, while ASP is more often found on Windows. ColdFusion can be found on both.

If you're going to run a dynamically driven Web site, then you'll want a database. The two most popular are mySQL and Access. mySQL runs on both Linux and Windows, but is more often found on Linux servers. Access is only available for Windows.

Many people will argue that Windows servers have more vulnerabilities than Linux servers. But the reality is that they both have security problems. Security is more important at the hosting service's administration level than it is at the operating system level. If you have good administrators, your server will be more secure - regardless of OS.

The Bottom Line
The differences between the operating systems is much less than you might think. I would recommend, when choosing a hosting server you find one that has the options you want, rather than worrying about what operating system they are running on the back end.

Free Web Hosting

You need to find a home for your masterpiece. While technically you can run your own server and host your site yourself, this requires a lot of technical know-how, not to mention money and equipment. I don't recommend it.

Free Web Hosting vs Paid Web Hosting

So, one of the first decisions you need to make is whether or not you want to put your Website up on a free service, such as GeoCities, or whether you're willing to pay to have someone host your site. A third option is to take advantage of sites that host designer's portfolios for free, such as .

I recommend that you pay to have your website hosted. Free services tend to have annoying pop-up ads. Also, if something looks to good to be true, it normally is. Today's free service could begin charging you tomorrow.

If you're willing to pay, there's still some decisions to make. You can have your ISP (Internet Service Provider) host your Web page. Most big ISPs, such as EarthLink, include space for a Web site in their monthly fees.

Or you can have your Web site hosted by a company that only host Web sites, and doesn't do any dial-up services at all. The advantage here is that most likely your site will be served faster: there aren't users like yourself dialing into the service to get access to the Internet. The disadvantage is that you'll still need to keep your ISP to access the Internet, so you'll be paying two separate companies: your ISP for your Internet access, and your hosting service for hosting your Web site.

Get a domain name. If you're doing a search for lawyers on the Net, who would you choose: or

If you register a domain name through Network Solutions, the cost is $70 for two years. After those two years you're billed $35/year. That works out to approximately ten cents a day for your domain name.

With the opening of the domain name services business, you can register your own domain name even cheaper. In fact, one option is to use a company like DirectNIC. They'll only charge you $15/year, and you can have your domain point to any URL on the Net.

See "Domain Name Registration Services and Tools" for more information on registering your domain.

Hosting Services

What should you look for in a hosting service?

You can fit an awful lot of Web pages into 10 MB space. You probably don't need more than this.

Access to CGI-BIN. If you want to install your own counter, guest book, or other custom scripts, you'll need to have access to the CGI-BIN directory. Some Web hosts don't allow this. If yours doesn't, make sure that at least they provide you with a CGI to email script. If they don't and you use a form, the completed forms emailed to you will have a lot of code in them.

Email forwarding or POP3 accounts. You want to look professional, so you want your email to look something like Even if your ISP is Earthlink, you can still have a email address with email forwarding — you just tell all your email to be forwarded to your Earthlink email address. The advantage is that even if you change providers, your email stays the same. A POP3 email account is what your provider gives you. If your Web site is hosted with a different service, you should still be able to send and receive email by connecting through your ISP.

Autoresponders. You've probably been the recipient of "I'm out of the office until . . " emails. That's an autoresponder. You can take these further, though. Let's say you have something you send out all the time. For instance, you have standard pricing for logos, but you don't want to put it on your site. Prospects can click on "request logo pricing" and automatically receive your pricing. That's an autoresponder.

Statistics. You want to know how your site is doing, right? Your Web host ought to be able to provide you with statistics on how many hits your getting, broken down in a variety of ways.

If you don't want to learn HTML, some of the free/large hosts have their own proprietary systems so that you don't enter HTML at all.

Support. Can you reach a human being 24/7?

How much of the time is your Web site available? Many hosting services will boast something along the lines of "99% up time". There is no service that is up 100% of the time, but they shouldn't be down long.

Some hosting services charge you extra if you go over a certain transfer amount (the number of bytes transferred to the viewer when he calls up your site). Unless you have a very highly trafficked site, chances are whatever the default is shouldn't be a problem for you.

You may be interested in reselling Web space. If you're doing Web design, I highly recommend this. Normally, you buy a certain of space, and then you're free to resell that space pretty much however you want. It's a relatively easy way to make money, and helps you become a "one stop shop" for your customers. Other companies give you a percentage on each new site you sign up.

Other things to consider are FrontPage Extensions, necessary if you're using Microsoft Front Page, and possibly a shopping cart. Chances are you won't need a shopping cart, though (used in online bookstores, for example, to place your books into a "cart" as you shop, and then when you're ready to buy, you proceed to "check out".

You can view a screen capture of this format, or browse my portfolio (please don't email me that it needs work, I know it does!).

File Transfer Protocol (FTP)

Now that you've chosen your service, you need to get your files over to the server (upload your files). Your hosting service or ISP should provide detailed instructions on how to do this, so that's the first place you should turn to for help.

Files are transferred or uploaded by file transfer protocol (FTP). Programs like Adobe GoLive and Macromedia Dreamweaver include FTP in the program. There are also popular shareware programs, such as WS_FTP (PC) or Fetch (Mac). All of these programs will ask you for some basic information:

Host Address (this is the URL that you are sending your files to).
User ID
Initial Remote Directory (this is the folder you will be placing your files into).
Initial Local Directory (this is the folder your files are stored in on your hard drive).
Host-Type (most FTP programs will detect this automatically).
In addition, you may need to tell your FTP program what type of file your transferring, HTML or graphics. Most FTP programs can detect this automatically, but if they can't, it's important to chose the correct type: ASCII for HTML, Binary for graphics.

Some services, such as AOL, have their own proprietary systems for uploading files to your server space.