For first timers and casual webmasters (like myself) free services are particularly appealing even if they are restricted and lacking in features. These days there are hundreds of companies who offer free web hosting but most them of them have some sort of a catch in order to force you into opting for one of their paid plans to gain greater freedom on the net.
The following is a beginners guide to web hosting mentioning a list of features that are available for free and are particularly helpful to webmasters.
1. MySQL and PHP support.
MySQL and PHP are very important and you can run a very limited number of applications without them. For example even a basic WordPress blog requires a MySQL database and PHP support. Apart from this a lot of popular applications such as Movable Type require Perl for proper functioning.
2. FTP Access
FTP access is very important to maintain a website because every time you need to upload something you will be needing it. Even if you have browser upload facilities it is not always very reliable, specially when dealing with relatively large files, in which case FTP is the best and easiest method to achieve your end.
Bandwidth is basically a measure of the maximum amount of traffic that your website can receive within a given frame of time (usually one month). Assuming that you are hoping to get at least a few visitors to your website apart from yourself and family you should look for a web host which provides bandwidth in excess of 200MB/month at least. For a very realistic estimate a text-based website which has received around 200 page views will expend 90MB bandwidth.
If you are considering photo blogs or Vblogs (video blogs) you should only consider web hosts providing over 500MB data transfer per month.
A lot of free web hosts monetize their service by forcibly placing banner or pop-up ads on your website. Some include a footer text like “Click here for free web hosting”. If it is a purely personal blog these advertisements hardly pose a problem. But otherwise it somehow seems to undermine the credibility and authority of your website, not to mention become tiresome to your readers.
Depending up on the nature of your site this may be either your most important or your least important concern. For most purposes a disk space of above 500MB should be quite sufficient and a lot of web hosting companies provide more than that. However, if you are planning on creating your portfolio and get your high resolution photos or HD videos online you might be a touch hard put to find a free host with sufficient amount of disk space. (the maximum I’ve ever heard of is 50 GB and that’s a bit rare).
6. PHP cURL and fsockopen enabled are two other important features for a web host but these are very rare in case free web host provider. I’m not sure exactly what purpose these two features serve, but I can guarantee you one thing: If you are looking to use any auto blogging applications chances are they won’t work without cURL and fsockopen enabled.
This is basically all you need to know in order to find yourself a descent web host. In case you get stuck, never mind, I’m planning to do another article discussing my experiences with some of the larger web hosting companies that provide free hosting.