Hosting services: a guide for choosing the best solution for your website
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What are the criteria for choosing a web hosting service? We analyze management, security, and email features you need to take into account before buying.
The choice of the best web hosting service for your project is essential for any type of online activity. A personal blog or a showcase site for mainly offline activity doesn’t need configurations like those for operations of an e-commerce store or for an audio/video streaming platform.
Are there general criteria to help you find the best web hosting service for your internet activity? Here are some features to take into account before you decide.
The domain name, or simply “domain,” associated with a website gives a brand identity to a project. Professionals and companies often use it for their email addresses. The extension chosen allows you to specify the type of activity carried out (.com, .org…) or the geographical area where you work (.it, .eu).
Before choosing a hosting service, you should check that the service also offers domain registration, preferably included in the price, and that among the supported extensions is included the one you want.
Web space and bandwidth
How much space is needed for a website? If a platform manages large volumes of images, video, and audio files internally, storage may be a significant expense and a criterion of choice.
You need to take into account the fact that, generally speaking, a hosting service is also used for e-mail and database stored information, another reason why there is a frequent need to upgrade.
If basic hosting offers 1 GB of space, how much would it cost to buy an additional GB? Comparing rates charged by various providers before deciding could maximize your investment effectiveness.
Another important element is related to available bandwidth. That gives an indication of the traffic that a hosting service can handle without slowdowns or malfunctions. Some providers offer unlimited traffic, others offer increasing amounts depending on the price range of the requested service.
What operating system is installed on the hosting server we want to buy? Is a Database Manager System (DBMS) available for data management? If so, what type? What development and programming languages are supported? What web engine manages the system of requests and answers between browser and server?
To understand the importance of these questions all you need do is refer to the world’s most common Open Source CMS (Content Manager System) for website realization: WordPress.
For peak operation, WordPress needs an optimized environment, similar to the one its developers use to implement functionality. So if you want to build or migrate a site based on WordPress, you should buy a hosting service based on Linux, not Windows, with support for the PHP language that provides a DBMS MySQL and offers the Apache Web engine or NGINX.
The same requirements are provided by other widely used CMS, such as Joomla and Drupal, as well as popular e-commerce platforms such as Magento and PrestaShop.
Being able to upload Internet pages and files to your host server might not be enough to manage a website. Often you need to use more advanced features such as database creation, definition of new DNS records, setting up of FTP accounts, antivirus or antispam configuration and more.
For this reason, you need to orient your choice towards services that provide a control panel for hosting management. From this viewpoint, the two most popular solutions today are: cPanel and Plesk, both characterized by intuitive and easy to use interfaces. Instead, some providers offer their own panel. That is why you should check that all the useful tools for managing your project are available.
Similarly, it is good practice to opt for offers that include a visual interface for database management, such as PhpMyAdmin. That can be used to perform in visual mode operations that would otherwise require complex command line instructions.
Security: HTTPS and SSL
Security is essential, even when it comes to hosting. You should remember that today all main browsers for Web browsing have been implemented to signal connection security to Internet sites on HTTPS (HyperText Transfer Protocol over Secure Socket Layer) and insecurity over HTTP.
The difference between these two standards lies in the fact that HTTPS allows encrypted connections between browser and server, while HTTP only allows the exchange of “in clear” data. For that reason, it offers no guarantees in terms of confidentiality and integrity of communications. Encryption is possible in HTTPS thanks to the availability of an SSL (Secure Socket Layer) certificate issued by an accredited CA (Certification Authority).
Many providers provide a free default SSL certificate installed at the server level. So, to date, there is no valid reason to forfeit creating a site on HTTPS or having to buy an SSL certificate separately to integrate it into a basic hosting service where it is lacking.
As we mentioned earlier, the domain name is often used to create branded mailboxes. Before buying a web hosting service, you should look into the features available for email.
It might be useful to ask yourself some questions, for example: how many emails will we be sending? How much mail do we plan to handle? What devices will we use to handle our email? Will messages be managed through a client (like Outlook) or via browser?
A company, even a small one, may need an email address for each employee and others for back-office, customer support, supplier contacts, website feedback and so on. So, it’s good idea to have enough boxes to activate.
The web space available for mail can easily become inadequate when a business grows and business processes multiply, so it’s wise to focus on services that allow you to easily upgrade when the need arises.
You’ll also want to manage mail directly from your browser, through a Webmail service that allows you to read and send messages regardless of the geographical area where you work and the device you use.
Cost shouldn’t be the only relevant factor when choosing a Web hosting service. There are several criteria to be taken into account before buying, starting with the features the providers offer for both management and security.
Rather than identifying the absolute best in hosting services, you should try to find the most suitable service for the project you want to develop.