What is Shared Hosting?

Shared hosting is your basic bread and butter hosting. The provider sets up a server and hosts a number (often a large number) of user accounts (and web sites for each account) on that machine. Good providers limit the number of accounts on one machine to something reasonable; and monitor those accounts careful to ensure than no one user uses up so much processor time and memory that all the web sites hosted on the server slow to a crawl.

Modern servers can host many hundreds of static web sites (web sites coded with only html and javascript) and still provide great service. However, many sites aren't static, they are dynamic. That is, the web site requires the server to run a program (usually coded in php, perl, asp, or other languages designed for web sites) just for that web site to display the pages of that web site. For example, sites that run blog software like Wordpress, forum software like Phpbb or vBulletin, wikis like Mediawiki, etc. are dynamic sites. A dynamic site that has relatively few users and uses software designed to be light on server resources can do well on shared hosting. However, if the site gets popular and starts having a number of users online at one time, it will probably start using too much processor time and/or server memory. This will cause the entire server to slow down giving the users of every web site hosted by that server a poor experience. A this point the provider usually steps in and tells the site owner that they will need to move the website to another plan -- like a virtual private server plan. If the provider offers the needed plan, they can usually move your site to the new plan (on a new server) and all you will have to do is pay the higher hosting bill -- Dreamhost is an example of a provider that is very good at this). If they do not (Fatcow is an example of a good host that does not offer any non-shared plans), you will need to find another web host with a suitable hosting plan and move your site there.

There are two major types of shared hosting: Linux shared hosting and Windows shared hosting. With Linux shared hosting, the operating system on the server is Linux (or another variety of unix), while with Windows shared hosting the operating system on the server is an edition of Windows Server. Linux shared hosting is usually somewhat less expensive as Linux is free while Windows Server must be purchased from Microsoft. Unless you are using Microsoft-based web software (software coded in ASP, for example) which requires a Windows server to run, Linux shared hosting is generally the best and most cost-effective shared hosting solution. It does not matter which operating system you use on your computer, you can work with Linux or Windows shared hosting on your server just as easily whether you use Windows, MacOS, or Linux on your personal computer. No real knowledge of Linux is required to use Linux shared hosting nor is any real knowledge of Windows Server required to use Windows shared hosting.

This article may have made it sound like using shared hosting is a bad idea. That simply isn't true. About 85 to 90% of the web sites currently live on the Internet would be a good fit for shared hosting from a good hosting provider. Shared hosting is a great place to start as the only thing you have to manage is your web site and the provider takes care of maintaining the server and its software. If you are just starting out, shared hosting is normally the place to start. It's inexpensive (often coming with unlimited bandwidth and storage), easy to use, and may be good enough for your site for months or years -- even if it is a dynamic site.

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