Free Web Hosting vs. Free Hosted Services
But before that, let’s clarify that by “free web hosting,” we’re referring to space on a web server, housed somewhere in a server farm or datacenter located anywhere in the world, made available for users without a fee.
This is so you could “self-host” your blog, website, files, or any supported software application in a web server rather than in your own computer. You are responsible for creating, installing and maintaining these files and applications — what the free web host provides is the space and the tools to get these working and accessible via the web. Easy site builders or one-click installation tools may or may not be included depending upon limits placed on your free account.
Don’t confuse this with hosted blogging platforms or website builders that offer free or freemium/pay-as-you-go services, such as WordPress.com, Tumblr, Wix, Weebly, Squarespace, About.me and other web-based services so popular these days.
Technically speaking, these services allot you free space on web servers that they own or maintain. But in this type of hosted service, you don’t need to worry about the setup or upkeep of anything other than your account—you just sign up for an account and you go straight into blogging, selling your goods, showcasing your portfolio, posting your photos and videos, etc.
To use an analogy, using hosted services is like renting or using for free a living or office space in a serviced building; everything is already built, all you need is to move in, decorate the place a bit, and do your thing. Getting free web hosting, on the other hand, is like being given a free patch of land or space to build your house, shop, gallery, or whatever it is you want to build – but you need to do some construction work first.
Now that you know the difference, let’s move on to the reasons behind free web hosting.
Why do web hosting companies offer free web hosting?
Hosting consumes a lot of resources, not just internet bandwidth, disk space on computer servers, or electricity. Purchasing and maintaining hardware, paying for maintenance and support staff wages, leasing or building a physical office space, and paying for other overhead can be very expensive.
Free web hosting may be at no cost to you, the user, but for the company providing it, it costs a lot. Web hosting providers are businesses that expect to profit. So you should wonder: “Why would any company provide hosting for free?”
Here are a few reasons:
It’s marketing – To get customers to sign up, some hosts would offer a free tier and later on upsell a paid plan or a related product (for example, domains, email). The paid/premium service is what affords the business to offer the free service, and they expect a portion of their free customers to upgrade to their paid hosting plans or other paid products later on. This is true even for hosts that offer free hosting to startups or small businesses; they expect that as the business grows, so will their need for more hosting resources.
It’s for testing - Some web hosts may offer part of their services for free to test a feature or their overall service.
- It’s a business strategy –To distinguish between the free and the paid service, sometimes these companies create separately branded “sister sites,” sometimes they operate as different companies. But often it’s just the same folks and machinery operating behind the scenes.
Understanding these reasons can help you set the right expectations about this kind of hosting. It would be unrealistic, for example, to expect that you’ll get answers to support emails right away, or that they’ll have a support hotline—they may not have the resources to hire additional support staff.
Pros and Cons of Free Hosting
Is free hosting for you? Let’s take a quick look at what its advantages and disadvantages:
The biggest advantage is, of course, you don’t need to pay a single cent. This is great especially if you’re new to hosting your own sites, and you’d just want to poke around, learn about web hosting, and test software scripts from a web server. There are also no contracts, so you can terminate your account anytime.
The operative word here is “limited”. Expect that your free account may lack a lot of features, such as one-click autoinstallers, software scripts, SMTP email, edit DNS settings, root directory access, and other common features that even the cheapest hosting plan might have.
If these are present, note that your host has other ways of limiting your resource usage. Your free account has a cap on bandwidth and disk space, so don’t upload huge files or you might find your site suddenly offline or your account suspended without notice. While this is also true with paid hosting plans, the odds are your free service is of lowest priority.
As already mentioned, many free web hosts are ad-supported. Some don’t force ads on your site, but may ask you to support them by visiting their affiliate sponsors, or becoming an affiliate yourself.
If a web host offers unlimited features similar to paid plans without seemingly asking for anything in return, be suspicious. Remember, running a hosting company costs a lot of money.
Ask these questions:
- How is the web hosting company paying for their upkeep?
- Do they have other sources of revenue?
- How long will this company last?
- Is my site safe and secure with them?
So is free web hosting for you?
Free web hosting is good for: individuals, beginners, learners, testers, or those who don’t want to commit to long-term contracts.
Get it if…
- You’re a newbie to self-hosting, and you want to explore this option first without shelling out any money. Take note that many web hosting companies offer trial periods that you can take advantage of.
- You lack cash but would like to get started immediately with your website project. However, you must be prepared to accept the risks that accompany free hosting.
- You’re okay with frequent downtimes and figuring things out on your own because of slow or lacking customer support.
Free hosting is not for you if…
- You expect fast and quality customer support.
- You have low tolerance for downtimes, server crashes, ads, limits on your account, etc.
- You need a lot of features. Consider signing up for almost free, cheap web hosting instead. You can also use coupons to get discounts.
- You plan to create a huge site with lots of traffic.
- You need to scale quickly. Free hosting is definitely not for you. Why not try cloud hosting?
- You are a profitable business. (Don’t be a cheapskate!)
Free web hosting sounds like a great deal at face value, but don’t jump right in blindly. Don’t fall for marketing hype and hyperbole. Assess your needs first and see if the hosting provider meets your needs. This way, you set your expectations right and your web host might serve your ends better.