Sunday, December 14, 2008

Recommended web hosts

Which Web Host Do You Recommend? (FAQ)
by Christopher Heng,
Updated: 24 April 2008.

I worry a lot about this page. I originally set it up to cut down the amount of email I receive at asking me to recommend a web host. However, over time, I have found that I had to revise this page numerous times as a result of changes in the web hosting scene. The worst thing is finding out that the quality of hosting at the hosts I had earlier mentioned here had deteriorated. Naturally those hosts are no longer listed below.

The best way to treat this page is to regard the comments I make here about web hosts as merely the opinions of one person given at a particular point in time. I recommend that you investigate thoroughly any host before signing up. You can find a list of things you should look for in a web host in my other article How to Choose a Web Host.

Note that I only mention commercial and free web hosts providing shared hosting (where yours is not the only website on a particular machine). Since I have no direct experience with leasing a dedicated server or getting a virtual private server (VPS), this page will not mention any companies providing such facilities.
Commercial Web Hosts: My Personal Favourite

At present, is hosted at FutureQuest, and indeed has been on this host since 2000. So far, I have found them to be reliable, honest and competent, with the people at the helm appearing to be people who understand the software and issues that surround running web servers. Their prices are not the cheapest around, but I find that they are well worth the price. The old adage, "you get what you pay for", seems most appropriate in their case, and I would rather pay that few extra dollars for their reliability and competence than to find my sites down for long periods at a stretch, costing me more money than the few bucks I can save in hosting fees.

Things I like about them include the automatic availability of a secure shell account (SSH) without requiring me to ask for it, numerous Apache modules (including the important mod_rewrite module), Perl modules and other developer facilities. Also, no other customer with an account on the same server as you can read and copy your scripts by simply telnetting to their account and changing to your directory to read/copy them (something which, you might be surprised to learn, you can do on many other web hosts).

And then there are the intangibles, which are hard to quantify. For example, there are things like their competence which has been demonstrated in the way they manage their servers, plan ahead, etc. I also like their honesty, even in things like automatically refunding for downtimes that exceed their 99.5% uptime guarantee (not that there's much of downtime) - something which many hosts not only require you to prove (very hard to do) but often even deny. It's little things like these that increase my confidence in a host and make me willing to trust my website (and credit card number) with them.

Of course there are numerous other features in their hosting packages, but those are fairly standard among most other hosts (like a control panel to manage your email addresses, PHP, Perl, etc), so I'm not going to bother to mention them here. In fact, simply doing a feature versus price comparison of web hosts is not really very useful since most people only use a subset of all features offered (and web hosts know it, and so bloat their feature list to get customers). Far more important, in my opinion, are the above things.
Cheaper Web Hosts

Very often, when people ask me about web hosting, they want to know if I know any cheap but good web host. This particularly applies to those who are just starting their web site and are not willing to sink a lot of money into it.

My problem with this question is that although I'm willing to answer it, my experience with cheap web hosts have not been entirely favourable, so it is difficult to recommend the cheap ones where I have actually placed sites on.

As such, at this point in time, if you really want dirt cheap hosting, you will have to evaluate them for yourself. Sorry. There are a number listed in's Annotated List of Budget Web Hosts.
Free Web Hosts

I previously had a section mentioning free web hosts that I had found noteworthy. However, as I have not had a major site hosted on a free web host since 1999, my knowledge of good free web hosts quickly became dated, and is now hopelessly obsolete. Since the free web hosting scene changes even more rapidly than the commercial web hosting scene, with web hosts disappearing every now and then (sometimes even within the month they start), it is best to check out (and evaluate) for yourself any free web host you come across. A number of them can be found on's Free Web Hosts page.

Before you rush out to sign up for a free web host, you should read my article on All Those Disappearing Free Web Hosts.
Price and Web Hosting

Price is always a factor in choosing web hosts. You would be fooling yourself if you told yourself otherwise (unless you have lots of money to burn). However, higher prices do not mean that you'll get a good web host. Higher prices do, however, mean that you have a better chance of getting good support, since at least they will have the money to hire more staff if they want to.

There is always a trade-off. At least for me. There's no way I can afford to put all my sites on my "ideal" web hosts. For sites that are not so critical, I am willing to pay a cheaper price at the cost of a little more "down" time and inconvenience than my more important sites.

In general, if you run a business on the web, you will not want to take that kind of risk. Bad support and "down" times have a habit of occurring at the worse possible moments (such as during your peak ordering seasons).

One (cheap) host (not listed above) that used to house one of my non-critical "play" sites has had over a period of a few months numerous problems: repeated periods of "down" times (sometimes running even for hours with them not only unaware of the situation but also unreachable), email problems (their email system was down so mail from my visitors could not reach me), FTP problems, and so on. If you're running a business, I suggest that you weigh the costs of your site being down against the cost of paying a few dollars extra per month for a good web host. When your site is "down", you will lose your sales and customers for that period. If you're earning from your website, it may be worth your while to pay those extra dollars. After all, as long as your site is "up", you stand the chance of getting additional sales which will more than make up for the additional cost of a few bucks. Remember: no site, no sale.

As for free web hosts: you just got to swallow whatever you're dished out. Support is often non-existent for free web hosts. It never ceases to amaze me to hear from people who complain of free web hosts that have lousy service. You didn't pay a cent, so what do you expect? Frankly, I don't suggest that you run a business site on a free web host. Hobby sites and personal sites are probably okay. You might still want to consider getting your own domain name though. If you don't know why this is so, see my article, My Biggest Website Regrets.

My personal policy, however, is that if it's an important site, don't be penny-wise and pound-foolish. Saving one or two dollars per month is not worth the loss of a few hundred or a few thousand dollars when your site goes down.
Other Issues in Web Hosting

So that you do not get tricked by web hosts who are less than upfront about their packages and practices, you may also want to read these other articles:

* The Fine Print in Web Hosting: Resource Usage Limits
* The Real Meaning of "Unlimited" in Web Hosting

And Finally...

Best wishes for your site!

Copyright 2000-2008 by Christopher Heng. All rights reserved.
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