Things to Keep in Mind When Signing a Web Hosting Contract

Hosting is the most important thing for running your website after you have created it. Okay, choosing a domain is also something without which the online presentation of your business won’t be “alive”.

In this article, we won’t dwell long on the story about a domain, because you can read more about it here. We’ll just say that domain and hosting are connected to each other like a pair of shoes and both are necessary if you want your website to be visible in the digital world.

What Is Hosting and How to Buy It?

Hosting is a space on the Internet where your website is placed, or more accurately, where all the files that make your website are placed. It’s offered by companies called hosting providers, which host and store websites. The quality of hosting varies from company to company, so some companies are more wanted than others.

However, a higher price doesn’t necessarily mean that that specific hosting is better than the others. Thanks to good hosting, your website will run fast and won’t crash due to the overload that happens when it gets many visitors at the same time.

How to purchase hosting? You can purchase it in the same place as your domain or separately, it’s up to you. Some opt for the second solution because they can go cheaper if they combine, while for the others, convenience is important, so domain registration and hosting lease are done at the same company.

Hosting companies offer several packages of different features for your website. What’s in the package is clearly specified in the contract with the hosting company and you can read it before you put a signature on it.

As soon as you pay for hosting services, you become the owner of the hosting and domain you have chosen. You should know that when you buy a domain and hosting you haven’t done it for a lifetime, but for a specified period, mostly for a year. Although, often, the companies give a discount if you lease for two years or more.

After the expiration of the determined time period, you’ll have the opportunity to renew the contract. If you weren’t satisfied with the services, you don’t need to stay with the company and can easily switch to someone else.

The companies offer numerous features, various server parameters, opportunities, and the price, which is usually the most important for many clients. But, if you don’t understand some items in the agreement well, it’s best to consult with an expert or check what the term that’s confusing you means in the IT world with the help of Google.

Basically, you need to choose the package that will best suit your website type: shared server (for simple websites, landing pages, blogs or small e-commerce shops), VPS (for projects, medium websites, and e-commerce shops), or dedicated server (for complex websites, social media, and internal corporate applications).

Important Items in Web Hosting Contract

The offer of web hosting companies on the Internet is gigantic and often it’s hard to tell which one is a quality host and which isn’t because they all look good from a glance. Besides doing your research, what makes a huge difference when choosing a web host is paying attention to the so-called fine print or Terms of Service (TOS).

However, apart from this, here’s the list of the things that usually exist in a contract with a hosting company and which you need to look into thoroughly.

1. What Operating System to Choose?

The specification that’s most commonly misunderstood in web hosting is the difference between Linux and Windows hosting. Linux and Windows are two types of operating system (OS). Windows is the most popular OS for PCs, but for servers, Linux is the leading OS.

A common misconception when choosing a hosting package is that the server where your website is hosted must be the same as the platform you run on your desktop environment. Instead, the type of operating system that you choose for hosting depends on the programming language or the type of database you need to build your website on.

Always lease service that supports both Windows and Linux platforms because, sometimes, you won’t be sure which one you need and sometimes, a host charges you with a certain rate for a Windows or Linux plan, but increases it later on. Here’s how to understand when it’s best to use which OS.

Linux Hosting

Linux is by far the most popular OS for hosting as it powers nearly 97% of servers. Linux is the optimal platform for hosting if you want to run a MySQL database, but also if you use PHP, Perl or Python scripting.

There are many MySQL hosting providers that will create your MySQL database for free but, in most cases, you’ll get one database on the basic plan. Since databases make up only one piece of a modern hosting solution, don’t expect to find a good provider for free or cheap so easily, but there is a list of worthy and reliable services out there. That’s if you want it to keep your information safe and secure. So, when it comes to MySQL databases, in general, don’t fall to the “unlimited databases” fairytale of web hosts. Expect that you’ll have up to 75 databases on a single shared server.

Given that there’s a limit to the number of databases that a server can accept at one time, if there are too many requests in a given period, database error will occur. Make sure that you read the TOS to see how many databases you’re allowed to have on your server.

Back to Linux hosting - it’s also the best solution if you’re using any of popular content management systems (CMS) such as WordPress, Drupal, Magento, Joomla, and others.

Windows Hosting

Windows hosting is required if you want to use Microsoft ASP.Net languages to develop your website, and also if you want to run an MSSQL database. Windows-compatible CMS platforms include Umbraco and Kentico.

2. Technical Considerations

Storage

The most common question, which many website owners want to know the answer to, is “How much disk space would I need?” Data storage or disk space is the amount of space needed to store your files, images, videos, pages, etc. The space you are given is usually in gigabytes (GB) or terabytes (TB).

For example, if you want to have a lot of content and images on your website, then you need to consider a disk space ranging from 1 GB to 2 GB. If you use too much storage space, this can cause your account to get suspended for using too many resources. It should also be noted that data storage may reside on a hard disk drive (HHD) or solid-state drive (SSD). The latter is better because it allows faster access to your website’s data.

Unlimited Bandwidth

Basically, bandwidth is a term for calculating the speed of traffic and the data allowed to flow between users and your website. It’s a benchmark for maximum data that can be transmitted at a given time, usually measured in seconds.

For website owners looking for a web host, the amount of bandwidth offered by a hosting company can usually serve as a good indicator of capabilities of that specific host - the higher the bandwidth, the faster the speed, network, connectivity, and systems. What about unlimited bandwidth? Many hosting services offer cheap hosting plans that include “unlimited bandwidth”.

Simply put, it’s impossible. If hosting companies would actually offer unlimited bandwidth - it would be too expensive for them because it would provide unrestricted access for every client. Still, most companies are in the “normal range” of using bandwidth by default, and this range is what hosting providers use when creating their “unlimited” packages.

There’s absolutely an upper bandwidth limit included in the price of that package; the trick is to know what’s the limit. By comparing the actual bandwidth of your website with the bandwidth offered in an “unlimited” offer, you can better determine what level of hosting you really want and whether a particular provider will really meet your needs.

The bandwidth requirements depend on the expected traffic. If you expect to have heavy traffic, then you need to have a lot of bandwidth, which means ranging from 40 GB to 100 GB every month. “Unlimited” shared plans are especially sensitive to exceeding bandwidth. Any shared plan can handle up to 2 GB of bandwidth per month. If you use that much or more, your website will be shut down in a heartbeat.

Choosing a service with little disk space and little bandwidth only, you may end up spending more money on hosting in the end if your website skyrockets traffic-wise. So, leave the room in a contract to upgrade it if necessary.

3. Performance Considerations

CPU

One of the things that’s unlimited in theory in hosting plans, but actually isn’t, is the central processing unit (CPU). In short, usually, if you’re using more than 25% of the CPU on your server, your host will likely require you to upgrade it to a plan with more resources. Pay attention to this item in the contract, especially if you own a dynamic website – it will be using more CPU cycles than static websites.

RAM

Random-access memory (RAM) is something that’s always in the TOS of hosting companies. Exceeding numbers specified in the agreement will result in their request to upgrade your web hosting plan. So, ask them how much RAM is on the server you’re using and be aware that, unless you leased a dedicated server, all the RAM on the server is shared.

4. Internal Functionalities

Customer Support

Good customer support means not only their availability 24/7 but two more things that you need to make sure of before signing a contract:

1) Answering the questions of prospective customers (meaning they are open to inquiries of people before they bought any plan). This will show you if they’re hard to work with, or aren’t when you have issues.

2) Check business hours of customer support because there’s nothing more frustrating than having a technical problem over the weekend and waiting for it to end to reach out to the support. What might stand in the fine print of agreements is that they charge extra for more help. So, check this, too.

Website Transfers

Hosting companies are well-equipped and have a team that will transfer your website’s data to another host in case you decide to migrate it. Since there are hosts who make this service for free, look for those, or at least see what contract says about it.

Using a control panel (cPanel) is also a service that can be found for free, mostly with shared plans. Don’t let yourself be stunned to see that the hosting provider charges for this service. The fine print is the place where hosts usually put this item and request you to pay a yearly licensing fee.


Illustration: Freepik / Fullvector.

Read next: Who owns the most domains?

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