Everyone loves a bargain, but the only thing people love more is something for nothing. But when you are considering getting web hosting that's free of charge, perhaps you need to step back and consider the cost. There is no doubt that free hosting has come on since Web 1.0, and many free web hosts offer a viable service with solid servers and decent bandwidth. There is, of course, a darker side to free hosting where the complete antithesis is true.
Is free for me?
When you are contemplating whether you need a free hosting service, perhaps the first place you need to start is what you need the service for. In the past people used to build personal, private websites that basically contained nothing but information about themselves, and perhaps updates and what's been happening with friends and family. These days though a plethora of social media sites do the same job free of charge. Facebook, Google+, Instragram, and to some extent Twitter, do a sterling job of getting your face out there on the Internet. If you are one of the growing masses of people who are rebelling against mainstream Social Media because they treat you more like a product than a person, then a personal website on a free hosting service might just be what you need. However, just because you have stepped away from social media, don't think that you won't be exploited. In addition, if you want to set up a website for a company, free hosting often prompts more concerns.
How do they make it pay?
Free hosting is only free to you – of course there is a cost attached to it. Often, free hosting is supported by advertising, and that means that in much the same way that Facebook adds adverts to your profile, your website could very well be displaying adverts. Unlike Facebook, your free web host very likely has limited reach. This means that where the adverts that appear on Facebook are tailored to the interests of the people who visit your profile (controversial), free hosting advertising goes to the highest bidder and this COULD (and I am not saying always does) mean adverts for porn and other less salubrious areas of daily life (much more controversial). If you are a business selling cupcakes, the likelihood is that I won't be doing business with you if you (indirectly) sell Xannax or steroids as a sideline.
While some free hosts are advert driven, others offer free hosting as a loss leader for their regular paid hosting services. This means you get a free service, sometimes with adverts that are restricted to promoting the provider's services, or a service which offers a reduced level of resources (bandwidth, processing power, disk space, etc.) with the option to 'upgrade' to paid services. For a personal site, or a site that is going to have a very limited audience, this type of free hosting might just be what you need. But if you are a business, trying to get your name out there, lack of resources could kill your website.
What do I need server resources for?
Free hosting is fundamentally shared hosting. This means that a large number of websites are hosted on a single server. Each of these sites vies for the disk space, CPU power and bandwidth a server offers. If there are a number of sites that are at all successful on a server, they are going to get more visitors, and obviously use more of a server's resources. Even with some standard shared hosting, this can mean that websites slow down to a point to which they are unusable. With free hosting, this could mean a complete shutdown with no access to any of the websites a server houses. Obviously, this is not the best introduction to your products and services.
What do I do when my website goes down on a free server?
Depending on the provider, the level of support you receive from free web host when such problems occur could range from none at all, to hardly any, or to only a moderate level of service. With revenue based on advertising, free hosts often can't afford the 24/7 support teams that paid hosts have on hand. And with limited budget, obviously the technology free hosts use can be lacking, and that might prompt a range of problems that you really need some help with - and there just won't be anyone there to talk to. Whereas most paid hosts offer a guaranteed uptime (meaning they guarantee your site will stay online), with free hosts you can pretty much expect guaranteed downtime (but again, to what extent that is clearly depends on the provider you use).
How do I build a website anyway?
Virtually all paid web hosts have tools available that their customers can use to build websites. Whether a free web host has the same facility is up for grabs. If they don't, then you will have to rely on your HTML, CSS, PHP and other skills to build your site – and if you have those skills, likelihood is you wouldn't dream of using a free hosting service! If your free hosting service does offer a site building tool, then ensure that you can download the finished item or you will be stuck with that particular provider forever. Another option is services like WordPress.com and the more recently launched Joomla.com.
WordPress and Joomla are Open Source (OS) Content Management Systems (CMSs) and they pack a punch. If you add them to your server you have most of the tools you need to create a great website, and you can add even more functionality through modules and add-ons. You pick out a template that you like for a website design you prefer, and off you go. Both systems have free services where you can kick your website off under a sub-domain – yoursite.wordpress.com or yoursite.joomla.com. Although they offer stripped down of the software with fewer options or choices of templates, both are good and reliable, and they have 'themed' templates that are right for certain types of businesses. Both offer good upgrading opportunities.
How do I know if a free service is right for me?
As free hosting is free, it won't cost you anything to try it out. You can spend some time building sites on a number of services until you have a proper feel for them. However, if you want to avoid the hassle of dealing with a substandard service from the outset, you need to ask members of the web hosting community. Fortunately, FindUKHosting.com has an extensive directory which covers free hosting and offers comments from people that have used a particular host's services. In addition, there is a – if you have questions about a particular host, ask members who have used its services to make a comment. In this way you can quickly and efficiently 'separate the wheat from the chaff'!