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A Host of Options in Web Site Servers

Building Your Own Web Page. Today: Picking the right provider.

February 22, 2001|CHRISTINE FREY | clfrey@aol.com

Editor's Note: Today begins a 10-part series on building your own Web page. Each week, we'll walk you through the steps of getting your stuff on the Web, starting with where to host it.

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Before you build a Web site, you need a place to put it. The data that make up a Web site reside on servers. When people visit your site, they are really downloading the archived data from the part of the server dedicated to your site.

Some Internet service providers include Web hosting as part of their basic service. Though hosting through your ISP may be convenient, it won't provide a permanent home for your site. The ISP supports your site only as long as your account is active.

Hosting your site independently from your ISP--on one of the hundreds of Web site providers found on the Internet--allows you to access it regardless of where you get Internet service.

For first-time Web publishers, free site hosts such as GeoCities or Angelfire are the least risky. Most offer more space than your ISP--up to 50 megabytes in some cases--without charging a monthly service fee.

However, because they are free, such hosting services may restrict your site's creativity.

Most of these services make money by placing advertisements on the sites that they support, preventing you from displaying ads of your own. Some might limit your site's design, requiring that you use an online form or specific design tools to create your pages. They also prohibit adding some applications, such as e-mail or message boards.

Free Web site hosts are adequate for most personal Web pages, but those looking to create more professional sites might want to be hosted by a paid service.

Costing a few dollars to a few hundred dollars a month, hosting services such as EarthLink do not place ads on your site or prohibit you from doing so yourself. They also allow you to add applications and use your own domain name, rather than an extension of a free Web host.

The type of server your host provides--shared or dedicated--will determine the monthly cost. On a shared server, the computer hosting your site is supporting several others as well. A dedicated server hosts only your site.

Signing up with a shared server is less expensive than a dedicated server, but your site is more susceptible to interference from those sites on the same machine. If a site with which you are sharing space receives a lot of traffic or has technical problems, it is possible that your site will be affected as well.

Because of their monthly fees, shared and dedicated servers offer technical support that most of the free Web-hosting services do not. Some hosts will monitor your site, checking every few minutes for problems, and most provide backup services to keep the site up and running. However, help with other technical issues may cost extra.

If you are not ready to sign up with a hosting service, you can still secure your domain name for a minimal fee. Sites such as Network Solutions at http://www.networksolutions.com will reserve your name for about $40 a year.

Regardless of where you decide to host your site, read the service agreement for privacy, ownership and liability issues before signing on. Search engines such as http://www.hostindex.com provide specific criteria by which you can find a host best suited to your needs.

Christine Frey is a freelance writer.

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