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Web Hosting 101 (and CMS systems)
Assignment for students in COMS 326:
Your final project must have an off-campus component, either a fully-hosted "mirror" of your radford.edu-hosted project (the contents of your coms326/final folder) or a supplementary off-campus site related to your Radford-hosted site. (For example, a blog or page done with an off-campus content management system.) The goal is get a little experience publishing on the Web outside the "radford.edu" domain.
2. Read the rest of this page: Some of the organizations linked to this page provide free hosting, but will put ads on your pages or limit your design options. Some offer both domain name registration and hosting for an annual fee. Some make Web publishing even easier than posting pages at Radford, but those sites usually restrict what you can do in some way.
Sites that offer you the most control will mention "command line" or "shell" access to their Unix Web servers, and will let you use SFTP (Secure File Transfer Protocol) to upload a whole site of finished pages. Some hosts will use a Web-based FTP similar to the "Files" tab on MyRU, but others may expect you to use an "FTP client" program. FTP clients are built into systems like Dreamweaver and Kompozer, or you can install single-purpose FTP programs like Filezilla. (Most are somewhat similar to the FTP program built into Radford's MyRU "MyFiles" tab. Even if you don't use Filezilla, its help page will give you a good overview.)
YouTube has a bunch of FTP and FileZilla tutorials. This one seems clear and straightforward enough.
3. Most hosts also offer Content Management Systems (CMS) with complete site-themes and templates, combined with "dashboard," "control panel" or "edit this page" access within your browser. Here's another list of popular CMS systems. On the Radford campus, official university pages are managed with a CMS called Day CQ/5, which the university's webpages just refer to as "the Content Management System." (For a good overview, see this 26-page administrator's guide.) Also popular locally is one of the most widely used CMS systems, WordPress, which you can use for free at wordpress.com or download for free from wordpress.org and install on any hosted server. (It has become so popular that most hosting services pre-install it for you.)
WordPress "themes" are built with the PHP scripting language as well as HTML and CSS. Adobe is gradually building tools for editing WordPress themes into Dreamweaver. But there are so many attractive and flexible themes available -- free or for sale -- that many users do not need Dreamweaver or a lot of HTML and CSS experience to build successful sites with WordPress.
Read my WordPress tips page and WordPress notes for an introduction. WordPress is "not just for blogs." Around here, The Tartan, Whim, New River Voice, BlueRidge Muse and TheBurgs all use WordPress. Professional media organizations like IGN are using WordPress.com VIP.
See the WordPress and full-service hosting sections below for more about WordPress.com and other providers of WordPress hosting.
The friendly folks at Lifehacker asked their readers to identify their Favorite Personal Hosts and their Favorite Blogging Sites and came up with five-best lists. Prices for some of the hosting services may have changed, but watch for special sales, especially around the holidays. Unfortunately, class isn't in session on Black Friday, but there may still be Cyber Monday deals -- or even Spring Specials.
Some hosts offer tools that provide a fill-in-the-blanks approach to making pages, from simple HTML templates to all-Flash sites with advanced graphics. For your class projects, don't rely on such "we do it all for you" sites, but try them and learn from them. Be curious! Experiment and ask yourself, "How did they do that?" and "How can I do that on my own pages?"
At the end of your reading assignment and some experimentation (in and out of class), you should know the vocabulary of hosting, and some of the pros, cons and differences between services below. Among other topics, watch for information about issues and services including "MySQL databases," "e-commerce features," "CMS software" and "domain privacy." You should learn most of that language as you go along.
If a hosted CMS isn't technical enough for you, some hosts will sell you plain-vanilla server space, similar to a university Unix account -- leaving it up to you to install your own HTML pages or install and administer your own copy of one of the popular CMS systems.
But you don't need a server to learn: You can practice on your own computer first. Many CMS systems are based on open-source or free software that you can install on your own computer. Then you can experiment with the system's control panels and administrative tools, even if your computer isn't set up to be a server. (Packages like MAMP and WAMP help by installing underlying PHP and MySQL scripting and database programs for you.)
Well-known names like Microsoft, Google (example) and Apple also host Web publishing servers of various kinds, but on this page we're mostly interested in organizations that specialize in hosting. Unfortunately, hosting services come and go. Recent or impending departures include veteran hosts AmericaOnline, GeoCities and Radio.Weblogs.com. Always keep backup copies of information you put on free sites!
Warning: I have not used all of these services, and this page does not constitute any testing-based endorsement. In fact, comparison-testing of some of these sites would make an interesting course project. For example, you could compare monthly and annual costs, including whether they include free domain registration with a hosting contract. You could describe the "site building" tools they provide, explain whether you can edit your pages from the Web or have to edit locally and upload them, describe any library of page-design templates (and how attactive they are), or interactive tools like forms, mailing lists, shopping baskets etc.
Bob's bookmarks and hosting service experiences
My main bookmark list, keyword "hosting": http://delicious.com/bstepno/hosting
Free hosting sites I've read about or tried:
I haven't tried this FTP-based hosting service myself, but I'm ready to, as of November 2012, at http://coms326.net78.net. Up above, that's a YouTube demo by another user of the provider, http://www.000webhost.com/ -- which assigned my new site the "net78.net" subdomain.
Zymic.com hosting for "yourname.zxq.net" sites
I haven't tried this FTP-based hosting service either, but it looks promising -- and has free sub-domain sites as well as a variety of paid plans. The parent company is in Germany. Joe Elliott is trying it out at his Web Design Portfolio.
My http://coms326.zxq.net is a one-page demo, with Zymic's full-site Dreamweaver FTP information.
Freehostia offers a wide variety of free services, plus text and audio tutorials explaining hosting terms and techniques. See http://www.freehostia.com/blog/webhosting/meaning-of-web-hosting-features-part-1.html
Sorry, but this one is no longer recommended for simple site transfers of HTML pages. My demo is still there at http://coms326.webs.com at webs.com, but just in time for final exams spring 2012, Webs.com was discontinuing the "HTML Only" version of its service to new users, requiring everyone to use its site builder and templates instead.
Similarly, Yola's free hosting service lets you build template-based sites, but apparently not upload your own HTML. I tried it at http://coms326demo.yolasite.com
My Google Sites demo page is a quick example of this popular service from Google. You don't get to design whole pages, but templates can be modified in very interesting ways.
Free Web services come and go, so please let me know if any of my quick demo page links no longer work. In your own Web building, use them to learn whether you want to use a site's paid services, but do not trust them to be around forever. Keep copies of anything you might want to move to another server.
WordPress.com and other free CMS sites
http://wordpress.com -- From the creator of the free software CMS WordPress. I've built several sites using it. Free WordPress.com-hosted sites give you no control of the advertising space at the ends of stories. Removal of ads, custom domain names and other services are available for various fees. Local examples of wordpress.com sites:
- http://stepno.wordpress.com and its WordPress Tips page
- http://bstepno.wordpress.com, where I test new WordPress themes
- http://rstepno.wordpress.com, demonstrating WordPress without a blog front page
- http://jheroes.com, a blog and podcast hosted at WordPress.com, but registered with its own domain name for an annual fee.
- http://rucomm.wordpress.com, a 2011 supplement to the Radford University School of Communication website, which (fall 2011) we are experimenting with using the WordPress site's RSS headline feed in a box on the front page.
WordPress.com offers free hosting with the opensource CMS WordPress, which is also available for download and installation on other hosting services. Additional services are available at WordPress.com for various fees, including virtual hosting at your own domain name. Even a free site provides a choice of templates, modifiable page headers, sidebar widgets and plugins, but you cannot edit the CSS or PHP code for the overall site.
Mindy McAdams at UFL has WordPress tips and links for journalism students
http://blogger.com -- the original "Blogger," where you create blogspot.com sites for free.
http://typepad.com -- from the creators of MoveableType blog software.
http://tumblr.com -- popular photo and media-sharing blog software.
Full-service hosting and domain registration
- http://dreamhost.com. Not the cheapest ($9 a month) if you're just doing a single domain, but it has free trials, special offers, and free hosting for officially non-profit organizations. See its Web hosting page, how-to documents and glossary defining hosting features.
- http://www.bluehost.com/ has video tutorials and is used by New River Voice.
- A Small Orange in Durham, N.C., has a $35 a year "Tiny" starter plan (big enough to hold a small portfolio or "brochure" site), $5 a month "small" plan, and enthusiastic supporters on Twitter.
- JustHost.com is cute about "secret" discounts (see the bottom of its page).
- http://ixwebhosting.com with promotional "expert rate" without some bells and whistles
- http://www.site5.com/ (advertises free trial month, video tour)
- HostGator.com has low $4 a month start-up rates, FTP access and WordPress hosting.
- GoDaddy.com advertises a lot on television, has WordPress hosting, and has low rates (See its "WebSite Tonight tool.)
- http://www.siteground.com, many tutorials and templates, including Wordpress, Joomla, Drupal & more
- http://www.hostmonster.com/, advertises its non-outsourced support staff and script installers.
- Webs.com calls itself "The most popular solution to create a free website" and has a fairly simple pricing structure for its premium plans.
- http://www.squarespace.com, with 14 day no-commitment free trial.
- http://www.bestofthewebhosts.com; compares many of these sites and has library of background articles.
- http://www.freehostia.com offers a wide variety of free services, plus text and audio tutorials explaining hosting terms and techniques. See http://www.freehostia.com/blog/webhosting/meaning-of-web-hosting-features-part-1.html
Well-known for its use in "citizen journalism" and social-action group sites, Drupal is a flexible CMS also used by news publishers, individuals and organizations.
Not just for blogs, WordPress has a huge developer community creating free and for-a-fee themes, add-ons and widgets galore. If you run your own server, go to wordpress.org for free installable software; otherwise many hosting services provide pre-installed WordPress with various levels of customizability. The site WPDesigner has reviews of 10 WordPress hosting sites.
- http://wordpress.org/hosting/ (a list of popular hosts)
- WP.com recommendations for WordPress hosting elsewhere
Wix is my only example here, and quite a few students have had fun with it. Let me know if you run into more examples of this category... Adobe's Flash creates very dynamic sites, but Apple iPads and iPhones do not use Flash and a multi-page Flash site may have usability and searchability problems. (Browse the results of a Google search on the phrase "Flash sucks" for more arguments.) Wix has responded with several pages about usability and testing.
More free hosting services
(Expanded from Sam Jennings' list from past years of coms326; I haven't tried all of these myself.)
With SQL/PHP (also FrontPage Extensions) support
- http://www.freehostia.com/ See Free FTP hosting page