What free hosting options are there?
You've probably been on the internet long enough to know that there's not really such a thing as a free service, especially when it comes to your hosting plan, which is rarely free without significant drawbacks. Before building out small business websites on this type of platform, then, it's important to understand the free business model, and as such, what you can expect your portion of disk space and bandwidth will really cost you. The free website builder usually provided by any free web hosting solution can be tempting but it's also a way to retain you as a customer afterwards, since you can no longer easily move your content or design.
Successors to blogging services like MySpace or Friendster, this type of service has the advantage of being transparent: your content is hosted on a giant site on which you host your site but isn't yours: you are just a renter dependent on the good will of the owner of the website, including for any upgrades or updates. If you opt for the free Wordpress.com hosting plan, this is exactly the type of hosting you will get.
The free plan for web hosting with an easy-to-understand logic is when this kind of hosting plan is a springboard for a paid solution with the same web hosting provider. These trial offers can be limited in time, and it's not hard to understand that the interest of the best free website hosting provider is to convince you to upgrade the free version to a paid hosting plan.
The limits of free web hosting sites
Among the free web hosting services that you can find, many have limits on the capacity of your site in terms of providing content to your website's visitors. These limits can be related to:
The space alotted to your data on the server
Your alotted storage capacity is often restricted, to 500 MB for many free hosting plans (compared with the dozens of GB of disk space offered in basic paid plans). This free websites solution requires you to limit the size of your project and restricts your ability to include multimedia or other elements that an e-commerce site, for example, might require.
These limitations in the data stored in your free web hosting plan are not theoretical and can be a very concrete barrier to the growth and development of your project.
Another technical limitation is bandwidth, measured in monthly data sent to all of your visitors. If you review the various available free website hosting solutions, you'll notice that this value is capped at various points btween 500 MB and 6 GB.
Paid hosting plans like Gandi's, for example, don't set this kind of limitation, and only verify, when traffic exceeds several thousand GB, that this anomaly isn't related to abusive use or site compromise.
Constraints on accessibility and security
A domain name that doesn't necessarily meet your needs
Whatever your web project, it only really takes shape when your content is available at a particular address. However, free host providers don't usually include the option for a free custom domain name. Certain free web hosting services only provide you with a subdomain like "yourwebsite.freehostingprovider.com". Plus you won't be able to have email accounts linked to this domain name. If there's some chance your website will become more professional in the future, not having a custom domain name will be a setback.
Lack of certainty when it comes to security
The role of a hosting provider is also to guarantee the security of your content and your sensitive data. It's not likely that your free web hosting service will offer two-factor authentication or regular PHP updates. It's also difficult with free hosting to know where your data is stored.
With paid hosting, on the other hand, you can expect greater transparency about where your website data is hosted.
The real risk with hosting platforms is that they don't have any contractual obligations to you and can, just as unexpectedly, terminate their business without making arrangements to preserve the sites hosted on their servers. In that situation, you will also be left without technical support, which is rarely offered to users of a free service.
Control over ads
Distribution of ads
Another constraint of certain free web hosting solutions is the displaying of ads that enable your "free" web host can monetize the traffic you create. These ads risk detracting from the users' experience on your site, but you also don't have the ability to choose which ads are displayed and what they look like.
Some free website hosting solutions include ads only in your dashboard, which are not visible to visitors of your site. But these solutions generally come with other limitations as well.
The inability to monetize your webpages
Increasingly, the best free web hosting providers will spare you from having ads on your website or in the backend, but few, if any, will let you implement your own monetization solutions on your websites, like Google Adsense, Media.net, or PropellerAds. Your website's potential profitability is something to consider ahead of time: if your project grows enough that you might want to make some money off of it and thereby be able to devote more time to it, you'll run into this limitation.
Comparative table of free web hosting vs. paid hosting
|Available disk space|
Available disk space
Usually limited to 300 MB, 500 MB, or 1 GB
Available disk space
May be limited to between 500 MB of disk space and 6 GB
Usually the host's subdomain
Ability to link any domain you own or a free domain included
On your website or your dashboard
If you want it
2 email accounts with 3 GB of storage (linked to the free domain)
|Customer support services|
Customer support services
Customer support services
|Free website builder|
Free website builder
But not possible to export your code somewhere else
Free website builder
You own your code and can move it any time on another platform
In what situations should you go with free web hosting?
As we've seen, free website hosting solutions are not very compatible with many website projects. Some reasons you may want to consider this type of hosting, though, include:
Developing a personal project
With all this in mind, you should be able to start creating within the limitations of most free hosting options. Be careful, though, to make sure you understand the constraints, especially if you're hoping to learn about website development along the way: many of the key controls will be beyond your ability to manage, and you'll miss out on a majority of the experience of website management and creation.
Carrying out tests
You might consider going with free website hosting options in order to test aspects of your website, whether that's particular themes or specific plugins. With this solution, the limits imposed by the cheapest hosting services shouldn't pose any problems. However, you might also consider using an offline development tool so that you don't have to worry about your hosting or domain.
"It doesn't cost anything to try"
It might be tempting to develop websites with a free web hosting service by telling yourself that if all else fails, it won't cost anything. The investment of time and energy that you'll have to commit to these sites will, in large part, be lost if you realize at some point during the development of your project that the free web hosting solution isn't suited to your needs and you'll need to move to a paid version. In that situation, you may end up stuck with your web hosting provider and be restricted to using the paid version of the free hosting plan you are already on or have to start over building your website and your community of readers. "Free is expensive," or so the saying goes, and that can be especially true when talking about web hosting.
FAQ / frequently asked questions
What criteria should you look at when choosing web hosting?
The best suited hosting for your own website should meet the following list of important criteria:
- Reliability: if your website is not online, even for a short period of time, it sends a very negative signal to your visitors and to search engines. Make sure you go with a hosting service that has plenty of customers, has been around a long time, and whose server locations are known so that you can be sure to count on their reliability
- Technical requirements: whether buying a computer or buying a web hosting plan, you'll need to compare disk space and processing speed across similarly priced options. These are the technical characteristics that will make it possible for you to develop your website—or multiple websites—whether that's a blog, a brochure website, or an online store that will need to make calls to different MySQL databases
- Customer support: your hosting service should have an effective customer support team if, for whatever reason, one of the previous criteria comes up short. Be sure there's always someone available to help
How much disk space do I need for my website?
With an average size per page of around 2 MB:
- For 100 pages on your website, the space required on the web server would be 200MB
- For 500 pages on your website, the space required on the web server would be 1GB
- For 1000 pages on your website, the space required on the web server would be 2GB
- For 2000 pages on your website, the space required on the web server would be 4GB
This table only includes the pages that you will publish and doesn't take into account the space you'd need for your CMS. If you want a WordPress site, for example, you'll need 30.8 MB for the core WordPress software, a database whose size is related to the number of pages (and which can take up several hundred MB for certain databases like MySQL), between 1 and 10 MB per website theme, and between 50 and 100 MB for each plugin.
You should also consider that your pages will very likely include multimedia files. You can, of course, host your videos on YouTube or Dailymotion and embed them on your pages without using additional disk space, but it's much harder to similarly host your images, which can take up a significant amount of disk space. You should also note that some free hosting providers impose a size limit per file, which further restricts the spectrum of possibilities available to you for developing your website.
What's the best affordable web hosting service for a blog?
Once you have defined your editorial line and determined a publication rate, you'll need to pick the best suited web hosting solution to bring your blog posts to the whole world.
You might decide to code your blog yourself and maintain complete control over your site and your database. But you might also concentrate your content by going with a blog hosting solution that includes and automatically installs WordPress, with 20GB of data storage, 2 free email addresses, a free domain name, and a free SSL certificate.
What's the best web host for an online store?
You have already determined your brand name, and established a catalog of your products, you'll now need a technical solution to make it possible for potential customers to find your products. The best E-commerce web hosting provider should link your custom web address to your e-commerce site, provide free email accounts, and make it possible for you to manage your catalog with a custom tool.
You have the choice between the e-commerce option available for your WordPress site via the WooCommerce plugin and the Prestashop CMS, which though less affordable, is better suited for large product catalogs, or an e-commerce shop that you code yourself, at your convenience, but with a considerable investment in time, money, and work.
WordPress's e-commerce solution can be implemented with basic hosting, 20 GB of storage, two free email accounts, a free SSL certificate, and automatic installation. As for the Prestashop solution, we recommend going with a more robust solution, with the same basic properties but with 50 GB of disk space, up to 5 websites possible, and access to FTP accounts.
What is shared hosting?
Many free web hosts offer a type of hosting called "shared hosting." Usually the shared web hosting plan is the most affordable web hosting plan that a host offers. With this type of hosting, resources are "shared" between multiple customers. The resources that are shared might include data storage, processing power, and the network. This means that shared hosting can often mean that when other sites on the same shared hosting service experience peaks in traffic, or otherwise use up resources on a server, it can impact the other websites hosted on the same shared hosting instance.
Gandi's hosting infrastructure is built differently from the typical shared hosting arrangement described above. Our premium hosting service consists of completely isolated instances, with their own allocated resources, meaning that you can have the advantages of shared hosting (particularly affordability) without the drawbacks.