Definition: Shared Hosting

Shared hosting means a website is hosted on a server which also hosts other (typically dozens if not hundreds) websites.

Every website needs a certain amount of hard disk space for storing files (e.g. html, image jpegs, php or other scripting languages). It also needs a certain amount of computer processing from the server’s cpu and it needs a certain amount of bandwidth to send webpages out to the website visitors over the Internet.

The amount of hard disk space needed is simply a function of the size and complexity of the site. The computer processing load and bandwidth are a function of the number of visitors to the site and whether it has a lot of image files or a lot of programmatic functions (Imagine how many financial transactions are being handled by Amazon at any given moment).

The vast majority of the websites on the Internet are neither large enough nor get enough visitors to justify having their own dedicated server. So the vast majority of websites use shared hosting.

Shared hosting has the following advantages and disadvantages:

Advantages

  • Less expensive: because one is sharing the cost of the server with many other websites, the cost per website is much reduced. A typical cost for a shared hosting account would be $10 per month, a dedicated server would cost on the order of $300 per month.
  • Preconfigured: the company providing the shared account will have provided the tools and capabilities needed by a typical website including a control panel, email services, webstatistics, means of installing various web applications (e.g. blogs, image galleries, etc.) With a dedicated server, it is assumed that you want to, and are capable of, configuring the server yourself.
  • Security: the company providing the shared hosting server will be responsible for maintaining a secure environment, and making sure that the operating system is properly patched. With a dedicated server, you will get some support from the hosting service but you will share the responsibility of keeping the server secure.
  • Reliability: because the shared hosting server is hosting dozens of websites, it is in the interest of the hosting service to ensure that the server stays operational and that it is returned to service ASAP if there is a failure. With a dedicated server, the hosting company will certainly assist you with problems but, since you will be the only customer involved, they may not give you priority if there are problems on their other servers.
  • Availability: there are literally thousands of companies offering shared hosting which is one of the reasons the cost is so affordable.

Disadvantages

  • Flexibility: because a share hosting server is pre-configured for the “average” website, one may find that it lacks certain capabilities that one needs… And that it may be difficult or impossible to add them. Typically this will be in the area of scripting languages. For example, most shared hosting will not have python or ruby (scripting languages) integrated with the webserver… Or the shared hosting server may not use the latest version of PHP.
  • Security: even though the hosting company takes responsibility for overall security, the fact that there are dozens of websites on the server means that each one constitutes a potential vulnerability. The entire shared hosting server (and all the sites it hosts) can be brought down by a vulnerability on a single site.
  • Reliability: as mentioned above, there are thousands of companies offering shared hosting at very low prices but finding a reliable hosting company can be very challenging.

On balance, of course, shared hosting is the best option for most websites. It is important to find a reliable hosting service and it is important to review the various packages offered to make sure they meet your needs.

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