Tips and Tricks for Selecting a Website Host

A  Guest Tutorial by Chris K. Houg

Xara Xone Guest Tutorial 100 – Edited by Gary W. Priester – 15 OCTOBER 2011

You just created a killer website or maybe you have a client you just created a website for. What you need now is hosting. A quick search on Google produces 120 million results. You have an endless choice of hosting companies, so how do you know which one to select?

First, ask people you know who they use for hosting. I can’t think of a better way to narrow down the choices for any product or service. Websites are people’s businesses in a lot of cases. A personal recommendation is much better than trying blindly to select a host.

Typically, a hosting company will provide :

  • Drive space
  • Bandwidth
  • A control panel
  • FTP access
  • Email accounts/Fowarders
  • Databases
  • PHP and CGI
  • Crons
  • Multiple domains
  • Subdomains
  • Easy Script installation of common open source scripts
  • Backups

Read the fine print. No matter all the hype they have on their sales page, unlimited this, unlimited that, the fine print may say otherwise or have some other limitation that would prevent you from ever using a significant amount of bandwidth or drive space. Typically, the claim will be you are using too many server resources and suspend your account often without any notification. The server resources would be CPU cycles and to a lesser degree, physical memory. Static pages not using any server side scripting use very little resources.

An HTML page with associated images, videos, audio, are just files that are transferred to the visitor’s browser and the browser does all the work in the formatting and displaying of the content. There isn’t much in the way of server resources being used. A busy forum or blog, for example, does a lot of processing and typically uses a MySQL database, which can use a lot of server resources.

Another claim may be that video or audio files are against their policy. These files are typically quite large and use not only a lot of drive space, but, a lot of bandwidth. It is common for the drive space to only be used for files related to running your website and NOT for file storage or backups.

Are backups done daily and do you have access to them? First of all, I can’t stress enough on keeping your own backups. With a website that uses static pages, this typically isn’t much of a problem. You normally make the changes, publish or upload your site and the data doesn’t change. And you have a copy of the site on your computer.

Most hosts put a limitation on the number of emails going out by the hour or by the day. Sending an email to a large list puts a strain on a server. Limiting the number of emails going out can prevent damage control on a compromised site that is sending out Spam. 500 emails per hour is a common limit but this number will vary with the host. Such a setting would not present any problems with a typical site but may present a problem for a site sending a newsletter to a list of members.

A site using a database, such as a forum, blog, membership site, or an e-commerce site, has dynamic data changing daily. Backing them up yourself daily can be a chore. It’s not uncommon for daily backups to be done by the host on a secondary drive attached to the server used solely for the purpose of backups. Depending on how critical the site is, you may want to invest in an off server or even off site backup. Your host may offer such a service and may well be worth the insurance.

Having access to it is important also. I field a lot of requests where the client requested a certain file on their site as they accidentally deleted a file or changed a file and don’t have a backup of the original. Typically I’ll restore or send the file to them from a backup, but, at a minimum, the host should be able to give you the backup so you can extract the file yourself.

TIP: Upload your Xara .xar or .web file to your hosting account. There is typically space that isn’t accessible to visitors, called the home directory. Create a new directory and upload the Xara file to it. If for some reason you later can’t find the file or lost the file, you simply need to download it to work on the web site again.

The three most common website hosting options are:

  1. Shared Hosting
  2. Virtual Dedicated Server
  3. Dedicated Server

Shared Hosting. Shared hosting is sharing a server with other hosting accounts. The server is maintained by the hosting company. One hosting account could affect the performance of other hosting accounts on the same server. You may have experienced this yourself with some site you are visiting having a slow response time and sluggish on one visit, and then be normal the next time you visit.

Virtual Dedicated Hosting. Virtual Dedicated Hosting, often called simply VPS, is a step between shared hosting and your own dedicated server. A VPS is a self-contained “Virtual Server”. It operates like a full dedicated server, with limited drive space, bandwidth, and CPU but anything else on the same server will not affect the performance of the hosting sites on your VPS. You may have as many hosting accounts on your VPS as your resources allow.

You normally have a choice of operating system and control panel to be installed on the VPS. A server may contain other hosting accounts and/or other virtual servers and also requires management for configuration, updates, and performance tweaks. A host will commonly offer management at an extra monthly cost.

Dedicated Server. Your very own server. The only sites on it are the sites you put there. You determine the number of processors and the type/speed of the processors, the amount of ram, size and quantity of the drives, and the amount of bandwidth the server has (typically 2,000 to 3,000 gigabytes come standard). You also determine the operating system, control panel, and other software to be installed on the server. The server will require configuration.

Most website hosting companies say they offer the best technical support in the business. But do they? Technical support is one of the most important considerations for any website hosting companies. If they list an 800 phone number, call it, and ask a question such as do I need to publish my files to a specific directory. If you receive a prompt easy to understand response, then this is a good sign. If the person talks to you as though you are an idiot, then shop elsewhere. If you can, submit a support request from the website and see how quickly you get a response. Good support is important. Timely support is

Reseller Account. A reseller account is a shared hosting account that allows you to have multiple hosting accounts with their own control panel and login. This differs from an add-on domain where an add-on domain is installed in a subdirectory which is then used as the “web root” directory. Add-on domains share resources with the main hosting account domain and typically share the same control panel and ftp login, though additional ftp users can be created which limits the user to a specific directory.

A reseller account is attractive as it allows you to provide independent hosting accounts to your clients. There are typically bandwidth and drive space limitations set for your reseller account and more expensive than regular hosting accounts. This is ideal for designers who wish to offer hosting for their clients.

Price is a consideration and there are attractive prices, but at what cost? There is nothing more embarrassing than to go to your website and see a “This account is Suspended” page which can have dramatic effects on a business. Know your requirements, pose questions to your possible candidates, read the fine print, and ask trusted sources for their experiences and recommendations.

TIP: PHP integration.

PHP is a server side scripting language and is processed by the server where your website is located. PHP was created to work seamlessly with HTML. You may modify the extension of any html file to .php and the file will run as it did before and you may also intermix php and html within a file. Here’s a short example:

  • <html>
  • <head>
  • </head>
  • <body>
  • <b>
  • <?php
  • echo “hello world”;
  • ?>
  • </b>
  • </body>
  • </html>

This simply prints out “hello world” in bold print on the browser screen.

A question one sees often in the TalkGraphic forum is how to parse php in html files. One of the ways is to simply rename the file and change the extension to .php. You can rename the page and extension within Xara in the Website Properties > Page > Title area so the saved file name has the php extension. Or you can just rename the file on your computer before uploading or on your website. The advantage to doing this in the Page > Title section is you don’t have to rename the page every time you republish.

Another option which may be much less of a problem is to instruct the server to parse your html files for php. You do this by adding a statement to your .htaccess file, if you have one, or by creating an html file if you don’t have one.

NOTE: Use a text editor (such as Note Pad ++) for editing a php file, html files, or htaccess file. A word processor will add formatting to a file which can cause an error page to show up. The htaccess file name must have a period in front of for the name as follows:


For testing, I normally just create a new directory so it won’t affect anything else on the website. Create a php file with a text editor with the html/php mixture shown earlier. If you name it index.html, it should just load automatically when you visit the directory. Upload it to your test directory and point your browser to it. Without the htaccess file, it won’t display anything unless the server is set up to parse php in html files automatically. If you view the source, you will see the php command in the source.

Now try adding one of the lines below to the .htaccess file and refresh your browser. Only add one line at a time until you find one that works.

AddHandler application/x-httpd-php5 .html .htm

AddType application/x-httpd-php .htm .html

AddHandler application/x-httpd-php .htm .html

AddType application/x-httpd-php5 .htm .html

If the first one works, great. If not, try the next one. Some hosts may require both directives. If the above didn’t work, try:

AddType application/x-httpd-php .htm .html

AddHandler x-httpd-php .htm .html

If the last one didn’t work, try changing the php to php5.

Have you ever wanted to easily replace some text or an image just by uploading a file? This can be accomplished by using placeholders and the php “include” function. The include function loads a file and possibly executes any php commands it finds.

Here’s a quick page layout I created to demonstrate the use of placeholders and using php to display the content of an external file.

Figure 01

The 3 black squares are placeholders and each will load a different file. The first placeholder loads a file called news.php which only contains:

This is the latest news.

The second placeholder file named news2.php has some html in it:

This is the news box


The last placeholder names news3.php has both html, css styling, and does some simple addition using php:

3 + 3 =

Figure 2

The above screen shot shows the code you would enter to load a file called news.php. indicates the end of php. The semi-colon indicates the end of a command and is required. The file name should be in quotes.

The other placeholder content is identical except for the name of the file, which uses news2.php and news3.php respectively. The files themselves could have other extensions, .txt or .html, for example and still work the same. The files are relative so in this case would be in the same directory as the file loading them, in this case index.htm file.

Now time to see the results. I published my page with a name of index.htm to my test directory, which will also show that my server is parsing htm and html files with the command I entered in the .htaccess file. I created the news files using a standard text editor and uploaded them via ftp using an ftp client. The screenshot below shows the results:

Figure 3

Through a recommendation, I purchased Xara XXP4 and joined the TG forum back in 2008. I am NOT a graphic designer and have no such talent. Xara is great for the drawing-impaired as I often use it for resizing graphics, saving in different file formats, tweaking existing graphics, and of course doodling or doing a tutorial which is the only way I'll be able to create something halfway presentable.

I enjoy going to the TG forum as an art enthusiast would enjoy a trip to a museum and enjoy the "master pieces" presented on the forums.

I wish to thank Gary for the opportunity to contribute and give back a little.

I have owned and operated LotsMoreHosting.comsince 2008 providing shared hosting, VPS, and dedicated servers to my clients. I also project manage development of complex php based websites.

©2012 Chris K.Hoag All rights reserved.