What Is Shared Hosting, and Should You Use It?

If you’re looking to host a website, you have a lot of options to choose from. You could rent an entire server—an expensive proposition—or maybe use shared hosting to defray costs. Let’s take a look at what shared hosting is and how it works.

The Internet and Servers

The internet runs on servers, powerful computers that can do all kinds of stuff. Some route connections—or, in the case of VPN servers, reroute them—while others store and retrieve files. It’s this type of server that hosts websites, which really are just a whole bunch of files lumped together in a useful and aesthetically pleasing manner.

If you want to host a website of your own, maybe just as a personal calling card or to show off your collection of baseball cards to the world, you need to find a way to host it. You have several options here, including repurposing an old PC to turn it into a server. But, for most people, most of the time, it makes sense to just rent server space.

Note that we said “server space,” not just a “server.” If you wanted to rent—or even worse, buy—an entire server, that would be a ridiculously expensive proposition. Not only would you have to pay for the hardware, you’d also be on the hook for the server’s electricity costs, cooling, and internet connection.

On top of that, these machines can handle thousands (if not more) visitors at the same time. As cool as your baseball cards or your personal resume are, they’re not going to attract that many people. Getting your own server would be like renting Yankee stadium for a Little League game. It’s a lot of money to be spending on empty seats.

How Shared Hosting Works

Instead, hosting providers, companies that rent out web servers, will take a server and divide it into smaller pieces. Different customers can then rent one of these pieces instead of the whole thing. This is a great way for smaller companies or individuals to host their own websites at a reasonable rate.

This is the main draw to shared hosting: it is cheap. We’ve seen plans of a single dollar a month to start for small sites, and even medium-sized sites can expect to pay less than $100 a year. It’s great for anyone who wants to start small. Once you get bigger, you may want to shift to another solution.

This is because shared hosting has some drawbacks. The first and most important is that everybody that’s using a shared server—and it can be hundreds of people—are using the same infrastructure. Thus, if another site suddenly sees a spike in traffic, there’s a good chance that your site’s performance will suffer.

Think of it as a cake: eating a whole one will probably just make you sick, so you share it with three friends. If one of those three turns out to be a glutton that eats more than their fair share, the rest of you end up with less cake than you would have liked.

Most decent web hosting providers will cap users’ bandwidth if they use too much or even migrate a busy site to a different, less crowded server, but there is a risk there. It’s not just loading times and bandwidth that suffer, either. There are also some security concerns

Shared Hosting Security

When you use shared hosting, you share all the resources of a single server. As such, it stands to reason that if one site is attacked, you’ll feel the heat, too. The most prominent threats are DDoS attacks, which overwhelm a site’s server with requests, locking it up. If you’re sharing a server with a site suffering from a DDoS attack, your site will likely go down, too.

Another issue is any attack that focuses on inserting information into a site’s main directory, like SQL injections. If your “neighbor” is on the receiving end of an attack like that, chances are your files are compromised, too.

Shared Hosting vs. VPS

In all fairness, web hosting providers do all they can to prevent these kinds of mishaps, but they can still happen. If you’re worried about these risks but still aren’t in a position to spring for an entire server, you could consider using a virtual private server or VPS.

Related: What Is VPS? What a Virtual Private Server Can Do for You

While you’re still inhabiting only part of a server like with shared hosting, each server is partitioned instead into a number of smaller, separate virtual servers. This essentially splits the infrastructure, meaning you’re not sharing resources.

The downside to using a VPS is that they need a little more expertise to set up and can be a little more expensive. Generally speaking, if you’re running a small site on a shoestring and you don’t have too much know-how, shared hosting is the way to go, at least for people starting out.

If you’re interested in shared hosting, you could consider checking out web hosting providers like SiteGround¬†or GoDaddy. For a VPS service, you could check out DigitalOcean, though in both spaces there are plenty others to choose from.

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