Web Hosting Free Sites: A Guide To Free Web Hosting Solutions For Web Developers
For new businesses or web developers that are just getting started, choosing affordable, reliable, and performant web hosting can be a challenging experience. The internet has become such an indispensable part of our lives that it’s hard to imagine a world without it. The internet has reshaped the way we do business and communicate, it has revolutionized the way we learn, work, and play, and it has changed the way we live our everyday lives. And yet, most people don’t think twice about the web hosting that houses their personal and business websites.
Free hosting solutions are not just for hobbyists. If you’re looking to quickly set up a free blog, free hosting is just the way to go. There are numerous free web hosting solutions available online. In this article we will discuss some of the different methods to web hosting free sites. Additionally, we will talk about some of the benefits and limitations to free web hosting as a service.
What Is A Web Hosting Server?
A web hosting server is necessary for every business and personal website that needs to be online. Most people don’t know that a web hosting server is also the most important part of any website—without it, the created content can not be delivered to those looking for information. Without a web hosting server, your website isn’t possible.
Traditionally, web hosting servers are made up of multiple components that I will call a tech stack. For example, a web hosting server needs to have some type of hardware to run on. Even cloud services all rely on an underlying hardware infrastructure to run the server applications. A web hosting server must also include software to handle hyper text transfer protocol requests. HTTP and HTTPS protocol is how computers request resources from the world wide web. ln most cases, a user-agent such as a web browser will initiate a request for a web page and the web server will respond to the request by sending the requested resource. This communication is all done because the user-agent and web server can communicate due to the fact that they share a common language in the http protocol. Software such as Apache, Nginx, and Caddy are specialized to handle incoming HTTP requests and respond with the appropriate page.
Types Of Web Hosting
There are three types commonly used for web hosting: shared hosting, VPS (Virtual Private Server), and dedicated hosting.
Shared hosting is often called a “shared” server, as this type of hosting is often owned by a third party and shared by many different websites. “Shared web hosting” (or “Shared hosting” or “Shared hosting plan”) is a type of web hosting that allows multiple websites (typically one domain name per shared hosting account) to be hosted on the same server, usually for a reduced price. The shared hosting plan allows the customer to use the server resources and bandwidth within a specific server hosting plan, which enables customers to share the same host with multiple websites (a.k.a. “cPanel Shared hosting” - which is a type of cPanel hosting).
Virtual Private Server Hosting
Virtual Private Server (VPS) hosting is one of the most popular choices for hosting a website. It is a type of web hosting that allows a user to get the benefit of a dedicated server at a fraction of the cost of a traditional dedicated hosting package. The VPS hosting environment allows to the user to install their own software, such as Apache, Mysql and Php, on a virtual server. The server is then run as an independent entity and is not under the control of the hosting company.
Although resources are still technically shared, they are pre-allocated to the owner of the VPS instances. This has an added advantage over shared hosting. It means your resources are yours upfront and guaranteed for you. Shared hosting doesn’t have any guaranteed resources. This has a significant downside: if someone else on your shared server is getting a lot of traffic it can adversely affect your website.
Dedicated Hosting Server
Many people confuse a dedicated hosting server with a virtual private server. They are two completely different things, although they may seem similar on the surface.
A dedicated server is a physical computer that exists in a data center somewhere and is rented out to you by an Internet Service Provider (ISP). The plan you choose to rent it on will depend on how much traffic you expect the server to handle. The more traffic you expect, the more expensive your plan will be. If your website receives an unexpected surge in traffic, your ISP will upgrade your plan for free to deal with the extra load.
Web Hosting As A Service
Many web developers, internet marketing services, and digital agencies offer web hosting as a service. Much of the time, this is going to be reseller services or they will be purchasing and setting up web hosting on your behalf with some of the methods that I have already mentioned. This is convenient because you don’t have to worry about setting up the server and maintaining it. They will also help you with tasks such as securing a domain name, SSL certificate, and setting it all up.
Web Hosting Free Sites
Many of the methods I have described so far are very traditional. Now, we are going to discuss a relative newcomer to the hosting arena. Web hosting free sites is relatively easy if you know how to use Git. Git is a version control system that was created by Linus Torvalds, the same guy who created the Linux kernel. Git allows you to save snapshots of your code in case something goes wrong, so it’s great for hosting websites.Git is a version control system that was created by Linus Torvalds, the same guy who created the Linux kernel. Git allows you to save snapshots of your code in case something goes wrong, so it’s great for hosting websites. Typically, the way these sites work is pretty straightforward. The site lives within a Git repository. When the site is updated, the git repository is also updated via git push command. When the repository update happens, there will usually be an action script that runs that tells the git repository provider how to build the page and deploy it.
Git-based web hosting is a popular free method but there are also others. The rest of the article will look at the free web hosting services that are available to us all. Also, we will mention some of the more affordable paid options.
Github pages is one of the most popular free web server hosting options. GitHub Pages is a service of the code hosting site GitHub. It provides free hosting for static web pages through Git repository.
You can use your own domain name with GitHub Pages, or you can use a custom domain hosted by GitHub. If you plan to use your own domain, you’ll have complete control over your site’s content and presentation. You can even install custom themes and plugins, if you like.
If you’re looking to build a website as a personal portfolio or online resume, using your own domain would be perfect. Even if you’re looking to build more complex apps, Github pages can help you.
Gitlab Pages is a part of Gitlab, an open source software for git repository management. With Gitlab Pages you can serve web pages, host code and data for your project, or do whatever you want, on a domain you own.
Vercel is a popular choice for web hosting free sites. Not only does it easily handle statically generated websites, you can actually deploy more complex frontend apps with it. This is great if you have a React, Vue, or Angular project that is more involved than a simple static website. It comes with starter templates for 36 different types of applications but if you don’t see your type you can create a custom project deployment as well.
Vercel is one of the many edge web hosting services that are coming to the market. This means that when you deploy your application, it come ready with baked in support for content delivery network delivery. The idea here is to replicate your application across the globe and store cached copies of it on nodes. When someone request your resources, rather than having them sent every time from the origin server, the cdn delivers the cached copy from a node that is closer to requester. The intent here is to speed up delivery of your application to the end user.
Vercel pricing is straightforward to understand. If you are a solo freelancer or hobbyist there is a generous free tier. Vercel works off of the “pay as your grow” scale. This means developers and small businesses can get started hosting websites for free and only need to start paying when you upgrade to one of the team plans.
Another popular choice for static website generators. With more than 700,000 sites on their platform and a growing list of big name customers, Netlify is one of the fastest growing cloud-based hosting services for web development.
With Netlify you can host any type of website, including Wordpress, Jekyll, Hugo, GatsbyJS, static HTML sites and much more.
Netlify offers wordpress users something interesting: statically rendering and hosting Wordpress websites. Most businesses and organizations have chosen wordpress for a variety of reasons. Usually because as a CMS it is first class. Nevertheless, dynamically rendering php pages can grow slower over time. Netlify can be used to statically host your Wordpress website. This gives you the advantage of a static website (speed) but also, after it is all set up, the convenience of using Wordress’ built in cms to update your page.
Vercel vs Netlify: the differences
I will direct you to a well written Snipcart article if you want to see an in-depth comparison between Vercel and Netlify: https://snipcart.com/blog/vercel-vs-netlify
One key difference is that Vercel does not permit e-commerce on the free tier. So if you are planning to host a cheap e-commerce store, than look to Netlify to be a part of your deployment pipeline.
Both of these servers use git to fetch, build, and deploy your projects. Additionally, they both have great support for serverless functions. Serverless functions are essentially api endpoints with built in logic support. Many consider this to be a safe way to achieve some backend functionality but in a serverless environment.
One thing that a lot of developers like about Netlify is that forms are dead simple to handle. All you need to do to get forms up and running on Netlify is at a data attribute to the form template and Netlify will know what to do.
Web Hosting at Google
Web hosting at Google can be achieved via the free tier on Google Cloud Console or through Firebase hosting. Firebase hosting has a free tier as well as a pay-as-you-grow plan. This is an attractive plan to developers because it is easy to integrate the back end.
Google Cloud Web Hosting
Google Cloud also has a free tier. I wouldn’t recommend Google cloud if you are a beginner or have no sysadmin experience. Google Cloud is an advanced cloud platform for deploying more complex applications. It does have a generous free tier, but it is possible to go over it and incur cloud hosting fees. If you are only hosting a simple static website, this is not a good option for you.
However, if you have a complex web application, and you need a more robust technology stack to make your application work, Google Cloud is a good way to get started.
Firebase Web Hosting
A huge range of Google services are now supported by Firebase, a backend-as-a-service (BaaS) platform that helps developers build and scale their apps. Firebase is easy to integrate with iOS or Android apps, supports multiple languages, and offers many features for analytics and user engagement. A free account gives you access to 10 GB of storage and 5 GB of bandwidth per month.
If your application needs a more robust infrastructure, Google Firebase can help you achieve backend functionality.
Web hosting on AWS
Another pay-as-you-grow web hosting solution comes from Amazon Web Services. Amazon has one of the fastest growing web hosting ecosystems there is and it comes with first class support and hardware. Nevertheless, this is again a service that if you have never started hosting a website before, I would not recommend it to get started. Amazon has a TON of options at your disposal. If you have never been exposed to a lot of these concepts, it will most likely be a very overwhelming experience for you.
Amazon EC2 is a web service that provides resizable compute capacity in the cloud. It is designed to make web-scale cloud computing convenient and simple for developers. Amazon EC2 eliminates the need to invest in fixed infrastructure, so you can deploy applications faster and with less expense. EC2 enables you to run Linux/UNIX systems, Windows Server, or a combination of operating systems across a large suite of AWS compute instances in our data centers. This has a generous free-tier of 750 free hours a month!
Amazon Lightsail is a virtual private server (VPS) provider that enables users to run web applications on a scalable architecture, with minimal costs and in the cloud.
Amazon Lightsail is a great option for startups who need to launch quickly and have minimal capital. It is also a good choice for users who are tech-savvy enough to keep track of their server.
Lambda is the AWS platform that allows you to choose a function and have it run without having to worry about the underlying infrastructure. It’s similar in practice to AWS Lambda, Google Cloud Functions, Azure Functions, and IBM OpenWhisk.
Once you’ve written the code for the function, you just configure the trigger (what event will trigger your function). This can be an API call, a message queue item, or a schedule. When the trigger occurs, your function immediately executes on AWS Lambda and then terminates.
Remember that these services do offer free tiers but be careful of the terms of service. It is easy to misunderstand the limitations of the free-tier and end up with a sizeable bill at the end of the month. More about Amazon Web Services here: https://aws.amazon.com/free/webapps/
Web hosting at Godaddy
GoDaddy is a website hosting service provider, which was founded in 1997. It is famous for its Super Bowl commercials featuring supermodel Bar Refaeli. GoDaddy has become the largest ICANN-accredited registrar globally.
In 2012, GoDaddy reported over 69 million domain names under management and over 7.5 million customers. It also provides services like domain name registration, website builder, parking services, cloud hosting and email services.
The company is headquartered in Arizona and employs more than 1,900 people worldwide. In March 2015, GoDaddy received a $4.2 billion buyout offer.
GoDaddy has a free web hosting solution tied to their website builder service. If you are a developer, I do not recommend GoDaddy. However, if you are a small business owner and need a cheap site, GoDaddy will get you started. These services typically have a downside. Website builders are not very customizable for the most part. Once you scale your website, you will still most likely need to hire a developer to help you tweak the site.
The Godaddy free tier is pretty limited but you can upgrade to one of their service plans for $6.99/monthly.
Web hosting with Wordpress
I won’t go over the all of the options to host your Wordpress site. I personally recommend 3 paths. If you are a beginner go with a service like Dreampress from Dreamhost. https://www.dreamhost.com/wordpress/managed-wp-hosting/
One of the best options is using a managed wordpress service like Local By Flywheel. Whether you need automatic installation, Wordpress staging, or one click admin features, Local By Flywheel is really easy to get started with. They host your Wordpress site on a well optimized wordpress instance and they are generally quite fast.
The next option would be to look at something like an un-managed vps. Vultr, Linode, and Digital Ocean are all great options if you want to experiment with hosting your own Wordpress instance on a cloud vps. This is an advanced option that I don’t recommend for new developers. It requires having the knowledge and skillset to maintain your server and harden it against security attacks.
Web hosting On Azure
Microsoft Azure is a cloud computing service for storing and managing data, web applications, and mobile applications. It allows users to build their own custom apps or use Microsoft’s pre-built apps like Office 365. Speaking with experts in the industry, Microsoft Azure has the benefit of having more options available than other platforms, which can help enterprises with innovation. However, it also comes with sizable price tags for storage and CPU allocation.
Nevertheless, it is possible to host static websites from an Azure storage container. See details here: https://docs.microsoft.com/en-us/azure/storage/blobs/storage-blob-static-website
Azure, like AWS and Google, has many of the same web hosting services. It can help you host static files as well as complex applications. Azure is one of the top cloud service providers for hosting websites, so it may be the perfect service for you. Hosting a website on Azure can be done in minutes, leaving your business with a seamless transition to this platform. If you’re looking to host a website in a cloud-based environment, then Azure is a viable option.
Web hosting at low cost
Web server hosting does not have to be expensive to get started. There are many no-cost and low-cost solutions out there. It is important to understand that this is a pay for what you get industry. The more you are willing to invest, the better performance, uptime, and usability the web sever hosting will have. I would say pick your web hosting services with scalability in mind.
Shared hosting options are great to get started with web hosting at low cost. For many people, these options will work. If you have a low traffic website, such as a personal portfolio that is just getting started, this will work for you. However, if you start to get more than 100 visitors a month, I would re commend upgrading your web server hosting.
Web hosting sites for small businesses
If you are a small business, I would recommend some type of managed web serer hosting. Business owners are very busy running their business and they need to focus on what is important to the success and longevity of the business. Certainly, getting started with free or cheap web server hosting is a good solution in the beginning. However, as your business scales, you will find yourself not having enough time to manage your web server hosting by yourself.
This is why I recommend outsourcing your web design and development to a professional or possibly hiring a freelancer to supplement your business goals. If you are a small business I would recommend staying away from site builder solutions and hiring a web developer to give you a dedicated brand image and functionality to better interact and engage with your website audience.
Web hosting for nonprofits
Web server hosting solutions don’t typically have non-profit plans. However, work towards non-profit websites and the costs associated with running the server can often be written off. I am personally not an expert in this field and I would recommend speaking with a certified public accountant to learn more about web hosting for non-profits. Businesses like Kinsta do offer dedicated hosting plans for nonprofits, but each organization is different in terms of how they handle their non-profit hosting packages.
If your nonprofit is a new entity, I would say look into many of the free options I laid out in this article.
This is just a small slice of all of the web hosting solutions. It is important to vet a web hosting solution before your commit to them. Be careful or reseller plans that are just designed to put money in a middleman’s pocket. The web hosting industry is constantly changing and evolving, providing new options for developers and businesses alike. In the above article, we’ve highlighted a number of platforms that are worth considering for your next project. If you have questions about which platform works best for your needs or would like to discuss how we can help with your next project, feel free to contact us today via email or phone.