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Web Hosting Features Explained!

What are the basic hosting features that you need to know? This article outlines the entry-level hosting features that can be found in most of the web hosting providers:

Key Features
- Disk Space, Bandwidth, Host Addon Domains, Password Protected Directory
Server Side Functionality
- CGI Scripts, JSP, ASP, PHP, SSI
FTP
- FTP Accounts, Anonymous FTP
Email Features
- Email Accounts, Email Forwarding/Alias, Autoresponders, Mailing List, Spam filtering
Platform & Software
- Server Platform, Control Panel, Website Statistic
MySQL Features
- MySQL database, PhpMyAdmin
Domain Features
-Subdomain, Domain Redirection
e-Commerce Features
- Shared SSL, Shopping Cart



Key Features

Disk Space
Disk space is the amount of disk storage provided to you to store your website on the web server. Generally, it is ranging from 1,000 MB to 10 GB (1 GB = 1,024 MB). To put that into perspective, assume that each web page with HTML files and images is approximately 30K in size, you can store about 33,000 static web pages for 1,000 MB disk space. The average website uses approximately 5-50 MB of disk space.

Normally, the disk space provided is not only allocated for web pages alone but also count into the emails storage, archived web log files and database files. Due to the low hard disk price today, most of the web hosting providers can afford to give out sizeable disk space for you. For example, disk space of 10,000 MB is not uncommon for the hosting plan of only US$7.95 per month. Unless you have a 'big' website with a lot of video, mp3 or picture files, otherwise 500MB - 800MB of disk space is adequate for most of the websites. Should you overuse your disk space in any case, you can always purchase extra storage. Typically, the charge for extra storage is $2/month per 25MB.

Bandwidth
Bandwidth or data transfer allocated by web host is the amount of allowable data transfer per month for a website. When an online user visit your website, your web page is transferred from the web server to the user's web browser. The higher the number of visitors to your website, the more data is transferred from the web server. Obviously, high traffic website will need very high bandwidth requirements.

Some web hosting service providers claim to allocate unlimited amount of bandwidth. You have to be careful and make sure you read the 'Terms of Service' thoroughly. Think about it, bandwidth is an expensive resources (Typically, a T1 Internet connection can costs around US$1200 per month). Therefore, web hosting providers have very limited resources at their disposal. As such, there are restrictions to qualify for 'unlimited' bandwidth. For example, your website will only be qualified to enjoy unlimited bandwidth if it does not provide huge audio/video/images download.

In shared hosting, 'unlimited' bandwidth is made possible based on the statistical fact that not all websites on a web server use up to the limit of the bandwidth. As a result, the 'unused' bandwidth will be allocated to other high traffic websites, thereby, achieving the claim of unlimited amount of bandwidth. However, only reputable web hosting providers can live up to that promise. For small web hosting providers or reseller hosting, you must be careful not to fall into such marketing trick.

On average, bandwidth provided by web hosting providers can range from 20 GB (1 Giga Bytes = 1024 MB) to 300 GB per month. How much bandwidth you need will depend on the size of your web pages and the traffic to your website. For example, if you estimate that you have 10,000 visitors per month to your website and average each visitor browses 10 web pages and average size of a web page is 30K. Then, your bandwidth requirement will be 10,000 x 10 x 30K = 3,000,000 KB or approximately 3.0 GB per month.

If your website overuse the bandwidth, you will risk your website being shut down or alternatively you will be charged additional fees for the extra bandwidth that you used (for example, $3.95 per extra GB). In most cases, a bandwidth of 20 ĘC 40 GB per month is more than enough for majority of small and medium business websites.

Host Addon Domains

When you signup a hosting account, most of the web hosting providers only allow you to host one website (that is one domain only) per hosting account. Of late, numerous web hosting providers are offering multiple domain hosting where you can host multiple domains (or so called Addon Domain) in a single web hosting account. Now, you simply add your various websites onto one user account. Each website of different domain are independent from each other. Each website has it's own FTP access, email accounts, CGI/Perl, SSI, PHP, mySQL database and etc. In a nutshell, with purchase of one hosting account, you can now host all your websites. Think about it, it's a lot of saving! Here are web hosting providers that offer unlimited Addon domains.

Password Protected Directory
By password protecting specified directories, general web users are prevented from gaining access to directories selected unless they have an assigned user ID and password. Usually, getting a directory to be protected can be done easily within the Control Panel. However, some web hosting providers require you to go down to low level configuration to get your directory password protected, this include creating and modifying ".htaccess" and ".htpasswd" files.

Server-Side Functionality
Server-side functionality, as its name implies, are applications that executed or performed on the web server. These server-side technologies including CGI scripts, ASP, JSP, PHP, and SSI which executed on the server will generate the HTML contents dynamically. In contrast, client-side application is downloaded and run on the web browser. Examples of client-side applications include JavaScript, Java Applet, Macromedia Flash animation and DHTML.

One of the main problem with client-side applications is the web browser incompatibilities problem. Different web browsers (Microsoft IE, Netscape) will behave differently hence making client-side applications a less favorable choice compare to server-side application. However, if server-side application is overuse, it will consume valuable server processing power and increase the load of the server. Nevertheless, this should not be your concern as a website owner, it is the responsibility of the web hosting providers to handle server overload issues. The flexibility of generate dynamic web content hence reduce your website maintenance load is often the main reason server-side applications are used extensively nowadays.

CGI Scripts
CGI (Common Gateway Interface) programs and scripts are commonly written using either Perl (one of the most widely used CGI scripting languages), C, C++ or any programming language. A CGI script commonly uses either the GET or POST method in send web users information from client browser to the web server. Therefore, CGI has been used to handle form processing such as surveys forms, counter, guest books, feedback and etc.

JSP
JSP (Java Server Pages) is a Java technology created by Sun Microsystems that allows scripting securely executed on the server side and dynamic HTML page is then send back to the client browser. When a server that includes a JSP engine comes across a web page with a .jsp extension, it translates the page into a Java servlet; then forwards the dynamic page to the web client. The client then views the page as an ordinary HTML file. This translation occurs in the background through the JSP engine, which is an add-on for web servers.

JSP is a key part of the Java 2 Enterprise Edition (J2EE) specification where extensive features of the Java language can be used. The latest version of JSP also include comprehensive XML support. JSP is similar in concept and appearance to Microsoft technology, ASPs (to be explained below). If you are planning on adding basic features onto your website, JSP may not be a good option especially for non-programmers as Java takes time to learn. Either Server-Side Includes (SSI) or JavaScript will be suffice for basic features.

ASP
ASP (Active Server Page) is a Microsoft technology that has been widely used by many web businesses. Similar to JSP, PHP or CGI, it enables a dynamic HTML page to be displayed from the server when the page is requested from the client browser. With ASP, developers can combine HTML pages, script commands and COM components to generate dynamic and interactive web server application. ASP can be developed using default scripting language, VBScript, or any language that support ActiveX scripting.

ASP has been integrated with the Microsoft IIS (Internet Information Server) platform. The ASP engine is started on the web server when a file with an .asp extension is used. This engine resides in a DLL file called asp.dll that runs in memory along with IIS. You can develop ASP pages through Microsoft FrontPage and test your ASP pages on IIS running on a local Windows NT or Windows 2000 workstation before you upload them to the server.

ASP .NET is a Microsoft programming framework that built on the common language runtime on the web server to build powerful web applications. Both ASP and ASP .NET applications can run together on a server independently because they have different file extension (.asp and .aspx) and different configuration models (registry versus XML-based configuration files). In additional, these two systems have totally separate processing engines. If you want to learn more about Visual Basic, ASP .NET and other technologies related to the .NET platform, there is an online video tutorials website with over 500 video tutorials that you can watch to build your skills on .NET at LearnVisualStudio.Net.

Since ASP and ASP .NET are Microsoft technology, you will need to find a web host that provides Windows/ASP hosting which support Microsoft Window Server in order to host your website created in ASP .NET or ASP. But, you can run ASP applications on Linux-based server environment too. Application such as "Sun ChiliSoft ASP for Linux" if installed on the Linux server will be able to support ASP application.

PHP
PHP (PHP Hypertext Preprocessor) is a popular open-source scripting language with specific PHP tags that can be used together with HTML pages to generate dynamic content. Therefore, it is similar to other server-side technologies that generate dynamic contents such as SSI and Perl. The syntax used for PHP is quite compact when compared to either JSP or ASP because it is not based on a specific language.

Files that contain PHP coding normally will have an extension of either .php (if using PHP 4), .phtml or .php3. Using PHP, you can track and authenticate users, serve up XML pages, add additional functionality to forms, and much more. Likewise, PHP is also popular to support a wide range of databases. A popular database that is used with PHP is MySQL.

Server Side Includes (SSI)
Server Side Includes is a group of simple comment tags that can be placed directly in the HTML pages. So that the server can include variable values in the HTML file before it sends it to the requestor, thereby send out the web pages dynamically. SSI commands allow you to perform functions not available through HTML.

For example, with SSI you can embed another web page into your main web page, the date a file was last modified or the current date and time. It can even work with CGI program. Typically, html pages that include SSI tags will have the file extension of .shtml. This unique file extension will effectively instruct the server to parse the SSI tags in the page. The " Cheap Web Hosting Reviews" website that you are reading now was developed using SSI. We find that the main advantage of SSI is that it helps to cut down the website maintenance time. By modifying just a HTML file, for example the header navigator file, you can reflect that changes to all the web pages instantly.

FTP Features

FTP accounts
Usually, you create your website (HTML files, images) on your personal computer. When you are done, you need to upload these HTML files, images and so forth to your web server using FTP (File Transfer Protocol) software. Some popular FTP program include CuteFTP and WS-FTP.

The web hosting providers will supply a user ID and password to you for accessing your FTP account. If they support 'Multiple FTP Accounts', in that case you can setup multiple ftp access accounts as you wish for other users. Normally, one FTP accounts is enough unless you have more than one person managing your website.

When you run the FTP software, you have to fill in your website domain name, user ID and password provided by the web hosts. Once you are connected to the web server, you can start uploading files to the web server.

FTP is not the only method to upload files to web server. If the web hosts also support FrontPage Extension, you can actually use Microsoft FrontPage instead of FTP to upload or download files directly within FrontPage software.

Anonymous FTP
Some web hosts also support anonymous FTP, where your website visitors can download or upload files to your website without a password. Due to security concerns, some web hosts do not support this feature.

Email Features


Email accounts
For every web hosting account that you sign up, range from 400 to unlimited number of email accounts will be provided with your unique website domain name in it, for example, sales@your-website.com. In general, this email system also supports POP3 access where emails can be downloaded directly into your Microsoft Outlook or Eudora. Alternatively, you can access these email accounts using web browser through the Web-based Email feature. Even though web hosting providers with unlimited email accounts sounds a lot better than 400 email accounts, but in reality, you can hardly use more than 20 email accounts from our experiences.

Email Forwarding / Alias
If you have a large number of email addresses and don't want to check all of them separately, you can use the email forwarding feature to forward all your incoming email messages at various email addresses to a single email address that you specify. This is similar to forwarding for your phone calls.

Autoresponders
An autoresponder is a specific email address that has two functions. First, any user sending an email to that address will receive an automated response. Second, the original incoming message is forwarded to another specified email address.

Mailing List
Capturing a customer email address is important in Internet business. Once you legitimately obtain the permission to email the customers, you can regularly send them product information, company news or newsletter. All the email addresses captured through the website sign-up form will become your mailing list. The mailing list feature provided can be used to send out any messages you want to all your customers. You can send out your email messages at fix interval or whenever you want.

Spam Filtering
With so many junk email received today, some web hosting providers offer spam filtering software, which designed to help you remove junk mail from your in-box. This is a valuable tool to give you more time to deal with your web business instead of spam emails.

Platform/Softwares

Server Platform
All commercial web servers required to run on an operating system or so called server platform. The popular server platforms are UNIX and Microsoft Windows NT/ 2000. Unix is a proven, multitasking, multi-user operating system that has been popular as a low cost alternative to Windows operating system running on Intel-based processor. Unix has been commercially available in the market for many years in various versions, AIX, BSD, HP-UX, SCO UNIX ...etc. It is the open-source version of UNIX varieties that are popular with web hosts, including FreeBSD, NetBSD, OpenBSD, and Linux version. Of the open-source UNIX, BSD has been available for the longest period of time and many web hosts consider BSD implementations to be among the most stable and FreeBSD has the most installations.

Microsoft continues to gain ground as a server platform for the web hosting market because of the familiar GUI Windows interface, enhanced scalability (especially Windows 2000) and the inroads it has made in the business world. Web hosting with Windows NT/2000 typically is more expensive than Intel-based implementations of Unix such as Linux and FreeBSD because of site licensing and hardware issues.


Control Panels
Control panels are a popular tool to help you to manage your web account details like create/protect specific directories, manage subdomains, create/delete email accounts, access site statistics, access/configure log files and add numerous optional functions onto your website. The control panels features vary from web hosting providers because different control panels software packages are used. The popular control panels for Unix system including CPanel, Ensim and DirectAdmin. While popular Windows control panel are Plesk, Parallels Helm. In addition, you can also find customized version control panels that are specific to certain web hosting providers.

Website Statistic
Whenever web visitors visit your website, all their browsing activities will be tracked inside a server log file. It is very difficult to interpret and analyze these vast number of low level log records. Therefore, most of the web hosting providers offer website statistic analysis tool. Some of the most common packages include Webalizer, AWStats (Advance Web Statistics), FastStats, HitList and WebTrends. This website statistic software allow you to know:

  • number of unique visitors to a website by hour, day, week, month and year

  • where are the visitors location

  • how well a website is performing with search engines

  • where are the external links to the website

  • which web pages are the most popular

  • ...many more


MySQL Features

MySQL
MySQL database, the world's most popular open source database, is a relational database management system which is extremely fast and easy to customize due to its architecture. It uses a subset of ANSI SQL (Structured Query Language), which is the most common language used to access databases. Website with dynamic pages and/or shopping cart software often use MySQL as an underlying database structure.

phpMyAdmin
phpMyAdmin is a written in PHP to administer MySQL database over the web. Using phpMyAdmin, you can create/drop databases, create/drop/alter tables in the database, delete/edit/add fields in the database, execute any SQL statement and etc.


Domain Features

Subdomain
In DNS hierarchy, a subdomain is a domain that is part of a larger domain name. A subdomain, also known as a 'third-level' domain as it appears before the main domain in the URL. For example, if you have a website URL address of "www.yourwebsite.com" and you have a subfolder in your website called articles to store all your articles, "www.yourwebsite.com/articles/". Then, you can create a subdomain name, "articles.yourwebsite.com" without the prefix of "www". This way, your web visitors could reach this articles folder by just typing "articles.yourwebsite.com" instead of having to type in the longer URL. Hence, subdomain is a excellent technique to create memorable web addresses for various areas in your web site.

Domain Redirection
Domain redirection, also called domain pointer, allows you to set up a redirection where the user types in one URL will automatically be redirected to another URL. For example, when a web user browses the URL of "cheapest-computer.com" or "low-cost-computer.com", his/her web browser will be pointed to "cheap-computer.com". That is to say, you have redirected the two additional domain names to the same content. This is an excellent way to increase your visibility on the Internet.


e-Commerce Features

Shared SSL
SSL (Secure Sockets Layer) is a security technology that is commonly used to secure server to browser transactions. This generally includes the securing of any information passed by a browser (such as a customer's credit card number or password) to a web server (such as an online store). SSL protects data submitted over the Internet from being intercepted and viewed by unintended recipients.

Whenever a browser connects to a web server (website) over https:// - this signifies that the communication will be encrypted and secure. In order to get SSL for your website you first need an SSL Certificate. Your SSL Certificate is installed onto your web server and allows you to access the security functionality of your web server and ultimately let your customers know that your site is secure.

To use this feature you need a merchant account. There is no need to make this a priority if you have no merchant account because you can use a third party payment processor such as PayPal.

Shopping Cart
A shopping cart is an e-commerce software that allows you to implement an online shopping store. Web visitors can browse through your virtual storefront and add or remove product items from the 'virtual' shopping cart. The e-commerce software handles order information, billing information, shipping information as well as process secure online payment. Some of the common shopping cart software provided by web hosting companies, include osCommerce and Agora shopping cart.


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