Rhodri Marsden: Cyberclinic

What should I be paying for web-hosting?
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The Independent Online


Q. There seems to be a huge disparity in the various prices companies charge to host a website. What actually represents a good deal?

A. A number of people have e-mailed to express dismay at the money they're paying out to companies who are happy to host their website, but not quite as happy to help when it stops working. "I just get put off with jargon," writes George Rose, "which is easily done, frankly, as I don't have much idea of what my money is being used for."

Most people who have tinkered with HTML and slung together a website have explored the "free webspace" option at some point - either as part of a deal from their internet service provider or via one of the free web-hosting companies that make their money by slapping large advertising banners across all your pages. But, as Simon Chadburn writes: "If you're half-serious about your site, it's definitely worth paying for an independent hosting company with proper technical support and, above all, generous bandwidth." Indeed, many companies offer huge amounts of server space which you'll never fill, but will complain bitterly if your site becomes swamped with visitors.

This needn't be expensive. Assuming the site is designed and ready to roll, you need server space for your site to sit on and a domain name. The domain shouldn't cost you any more than £5 a year for a "co.uk", or between £8 and £13 a year for a top-level domain such as ".com", ".net", ".biz" and so on. Bearing in mind that hosting companies can overcharge for domains, and that if you ever dispense with their services it can be a pain to wrestle yours out of their clutches, it's often better to buy them from a specialist service such as freeparking.co.uk. "This gives you complete control over where to host the site," suggests Martin McIntyre, "and lets you easily switch - should you need to - without protracted and nerve-racking negotiations."

For the server space itself, just make sure you shop around. Don't automatically drift towards your ISP; web-hosting is a service completely independent from your internet subscription. And don't restrict yourself to UK businesses; you'll never have to pop round and inspect the computer that's doing all the work. Deals are available with companies such as Dreamhost which allow you to host dozens of domains under a single plan, and with lots of little extras such as webmail, for just $7.95 (£4.25) per month; if a group of you club together, it's peanuts. Admittedly, if your website suddenly becomes flavour of the month, you might have to pay for some extra bandwidth, but the majority of us should be paying no more than this to support our relatively unpopular online vanity projects.

Diagnosis required

Next week's question comes from Matthew Wolfe: "Once again, I've been left looking stupid after suffering a computer crash without having backed up any files for months on end. Is there a truly foolproof back-up strategy?" Any comments, and new questions for the Cyberclinic, should be e-mailed to cyberclinic@independent.co.uk.