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Important Features to Consider When Choosing a Web Host


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In this article we explore the various features to consider when selecting a web host and associated hosting plan.

Operating System

Web hosting companies provide plans that run various operating systems. The most common are Linux and Windows, although you can also find UNIX, Solaris and Mac OS X operating systems too.

The operating system you select is important because it determines which web servers, databases and programming languages you can use. For example, if you want to develop your website using ASP or ASP.NET, then you will need a Windows operating system. Unix and Linux hosting plans are often less expensive than those running Windows.

The operating system you choose should be one that you and your web site developer(s) are experienced and comfortable with.

Bandwidth / Data Transfer

In website hosting, bandwidth or data transfer is the amount of information downloadable from the web server over a prescribed period of time. Web hosting companies often quote a monthly bandwidth limit for a website, for example 100 GB/month. When the monthly bandwidth is exceeded, then additional bandwidth charges are incurred, which can be expensive. It is best to choose a plan with enough bandwidth to avoid these charges. You will need to check out the hosting company's policy and costs when bandwidth is exceeded.

Be wary of web hosting companies that tout "unlimited bandwidth" as they will have some sort of "fair use policy" or "acceptable usage policy" that somehow defines "unlimited bandwidth" to be limited, so you should ask for their policy on bandwidth and read it carefully.

Disk Space

Getting ample disk space should not be an issue with any hosting plan or dedicated server unless your site has a lot of multimedia or graphics files or very large forums. Currently, you can find $4.99 a month plans with 100 GB of disk space. This is more than enough space for most websites. What is important is to know the space you need prior to signing up for web hosting, so that you buy the right plan.

Databases

Many websites require one or more databases to store the information to be shown on the website and information users enter on the website. Which database you need will depend on the development languages used for your website, the operating system used and in some cases personal preference. If the web hosting company is setting up the database, then it must be one that they support. So, before choosing a web host, you need to decide which databases will work. If you are using a web development company, they should be consulted to make sure that they have experience with the database selected.

Programming Language Support

You may need your host to support multiple programming languages for your website needs. Here are a few to consider: CGI, Perl, PHP, ASP, ColdFusion, and Ruby on Rails. Also, you should make sure the host supports the version of the language(s) you need.

Domain Names

Independent Domain Names

In the past, some hosting companies would give you a domain name off of their domain name, like www.hostcompany.com/yourwebsitename. Today many hosting companies include one or more domain name registrations with your hosting plan. We recommend that you use a company different from your hosting company. This way, if you change hosts you will not have any issue with transferring your domain name to the new host.

E-mail Accounts and Features

E-mail Accounts

There are two main e-mail account types: POP3 and IMAP. You should make sure that the hosting plan supports the e-mail type you want to use.

E-mail Alias

Your host should provide E-mail Alias accounts which forward all e-mails to another e-mail account. Using e-mail aliases is a way you can have unlimited e-mail addresses to meet your needs with only a few actual e-mail accounts.

E-mail Catch-all

E-Mail catch-all is a nice feature where incoming e-mails with misspelled or incorrect names will go to an e-mail account you select rather than being returned as undeliverable. This way, e-mails to you will always be delivered, even with a typo or the wrong address.

E-mail Auto-responders

An e-mail auto-responder allows you to automatically generate customized responses whenever a specific e-mail address receives a message. If you are on vacation, unavailable, or just want to let your customers know that you have received their e-mail, you can set up an auto-responder.

Spam and E-mail Virus Filters

Most hosting companies provide Spam and E-mail Virus Filters for the removal of spam and computer viruses.

Bulk E-mail / Mailing List Features

Many web hosting plans provide tools for you to setup and maintain a mailing list of customers or friends so you can easily send e-mails or newsletters to your list.

Webmail

Webmail is a Web application that allows users to access their e-mail through a Web browser from any internet connected computer.

Server Side Includes (SSI)

Server Side Includes is a server-side scripting language primarily used to include the contents of a file into another, via a Web Server. If your web site uses SSI, then you need to make sure that the web hosting plan you purchase supports SSI.

FrontPage Server Extensions

Microsoft FrontPage is a WYSIWYG HTML editor and web site administration tool from Microsoft for the Windows operating system. FrontPage Server Extensions are server-side scripts that extend the functionality of FrontPage. To use these extensions, make sure that the hosting plan you select supports them.

FTP

FTP or file transfer protocol is a protocol for exchanging files over any network that supports the TCP/IP protocol (such as the Internet or an intranet). FTP is a way to transfer files between two computers independent of the operating system that each computer is using. For web hosting, it allows web site files and data to be easily uploaded to or downloaded from the web host server.

Web Analytics

Web analytics tracks the behavior of visitors to a website. For businesses, it is important to track which aspects of the website work towards the business objectives; for example, which landing pages encourage people to make a purchase. Many hosting companies provide web analytics software.

Secure Sockets Layer (SSL)

Secure Sockets Layer (SSL) is a cryptographic protocol which provides secure communications on the Internet for such things as web browsing, e-mail, Internet faxing, and other data transfers. The protocol allows client/server applications to communicate in a way designed to prevent eavesdropping, tampering, and message forgery. If you plan to process credit cards or similar secure transactions over the internet, then you will need a hosting plan that supports SSL.

Shopping Cart / E-commerce Features

Shopping cart or e-commerce features are software used to assist people with making purchases online. Similar to an actual retail store shopping cart, the software allows online shopping customers to "place" items in the cart. Upon "checkout" the software calculates a total for the order including shipping and handling and taxes, if applicable, and allows for payment via credit cards or other electronic means.

About The Author:
Harold Leahmon writes for Ingenuity Network. This article is part of The Ultimate Guide for How to Choose a Web Host. Please note that our community of WebHostingUsers is continually updating this guide and making it better. View the latest, unabridged guide here: http://www.webhostingusers.com/article2-unabridged Visit our website at www.webhostingusers.com for user to user web hosting ratings and web hosting help.

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