What is Shared Hosting?

You’ve probably seen the term “Shared Hosting” quite a bit. The tricky thing is that it’s often simply used in advertisements, without the companies in question making much effort to explain what it actually means. Without any explanation, the term could mean that you and someone else get 12 hours a day each at using your domain name.

(Tip: it doesn’t!) In fact, shared hosting – sometimes known as shared web hosting or virtual hosting – refers to a state of affairs where there is just a single physical web server, which hosts the resources allocated to a number of users. These resources are then shared out between those users, depending on each user’s limits regarding particular services. Exactly how they’re shared out depends on quite a few things. Disk space is one of the most obvious, but things like databases, email and FTP accounts, and the amount of traffic each site gets per month are also thrown into the mix. So, as far as these things are concerned, you don’t have to share.

Your allocation is yours and yours alone. What makes shared hosting a cost-effective method for most people is how the performance resources are shared out from the server. This is where the reason for its “shared” name becomes clear – components such as the processor and memory, Apache (the software that runs most servers), as well as the email and MySQL servers, are all shared between everyone. That gives you the first big advantage of this method of hosting. The fixed costs that apply to each server are shared out between a lot of users, and that means that the customer – that’s you! – has to pay less. In other words, using shared hosting can give you a very nice ongoing saving in terms of your site’s running costs.

While the cost saving is probably going to be the biggest issue for most people considering shared hosting, there’s also the fact that someone else will be taking care of maintaining the server, leaving you free to get on with running your website rather than having to take time and effort to learn Linux admin skills. That makes shared hosting particularly attractive for smaller sites. What you’ll still need to do yourself is to use the provider’s Control Panel to configure your site – though it would be a good idea if you actually uploaded it first, otherwise you won’t have anything to work with! Using the Control Panel is pretty straightforward, which is important as this is where you’ll create your database, email accounts, etc.

You’re probably asking, “What’s the catch?” Well, for many people there really isn’t one – but yes, there are some disadvantages to using shared hosting. The biggest of these is the basic fact that you are sharing server resources. That means that, if someone else is using a whole heap of CPU time, say, then your own performance is going to be limited to some extent. You do also lose a little bit of flexibility by going for this type of hosting, since you don’t have a server of your own that you can do whatever you want with. For example, you’re unlikely to be able to install specialist modules that you might want, say to run scripts. For most people, especially those will smaller websites, this won’t be a problem, but it’s still useful to bear it in mind.