A free hosting service is a type of hosting service where you are allowed to host your website for free.
A number of hosting companies provide free hosting services. Some will even give you a free domain name of the form yourName.theirName.com.
Some social networking sites such as Facebook, Instagram, and Linked-in too allow you to build and host your web pages on their portal for free.
There are primarily two types of companies that provide free hosting:
Hosting companies who also sell paid plans and want you on-board. Due to intense competition they are compelled to provide a free plan to grab potential future paid customers.
Companies that operate some sort of community portal (e.g., Facebook) and want more and more people to post content on their portal. These posts are read by a large audience, and they recover their costs by placing targeted advertisements on them.
They make money by posting advertisements on your website pages. By providing free hosting, a hosting company gets free content hosted on their platform. You make the effort to generate content and they monetize it by placing ads on your content pages.
Some hosting providers may provide a starter hosting plan for free, with the objective to grab customers at an early stage. They know fully well that eventually, the customer's requirements will grow and they would upgrade to a paid hosting service.
Some hosting providers may provide an elementary free hosting plan when you buy a domain name from them. This is again a marketing strategy to grab customers early on.
Here is a short list of free hosting providers and a brief note about what they each provide completely free. For more information you can check their respective websites.
Free web hosting (freehosting.com): They provide a lot of features and tools you need to create a website. Their free hosting plan is valid for life - so they claim. They allow you to host your own registered domain name. They provide hosting on a LAMP platform (Linux - Apache - MySQL - PHP) so you can even host a light-weight web application and test it’s performance on their shared hosting platform.
Google’s Blogspot (blogger.com): This free hosting platform is primarily provided to enable bloggers to create a blog site. They provide a free sub-domain of the type - “yourname.blogspot.com”. You can even setup your site on a custom domain. However, this free platform can only be used for a blog site.
HyperPHP (hyperphp.com): They claim to provide 1 GB free hosting with PHP/MySQL support and a control panel. However, when I visited their website, I found that their own website is not secure. How would you trust such a company for your website?
Freehostia (freehostia.com): They provide ads-free plan with 250 MB disk space & 6 GB monthly bandwidth. Support is provided for PHP/MySQL. They have option to upgrade to a paid plan.
InfinityFree (infinityfree.net): They too provide ads-free plan with 5 GB disk space & unlimited bandwidth. PHP/MySQL is supported and they have the option to upgrade to a paid plan.
There are several other free hosting providers out there. Just do a google search and you will find many.
While discussing the pros and cons here, we are comparing free hosting only with shared hosting, as free hosting is essentially a type of shared hosting.
Also, these pros and cons are generic in nature, and not all of them may apply to all free hosting providers.
The biggest plus is that it is completely free.
For a beginner, it can be a good playground for experimenting with the basics of building their first website and deploying it on the web.
If you are a person who likes to try things out first before paying, a free hosting plan that has upgrade option can be the way forward. You can test your website or blog, and get a first-hand experience of the quality of service of the hosting company before loosening your purse.
Ads-free hosting plan with an upgrade option is also good for a small shop owner’s website. Now-a-days, the amount of disk space and bandwidth that some companies offer in their free plan, is sufficient for most small to medium size websites. It may take several months before your website picks up enough traffic and starts seeing a good number of regular visitors - your potential customers. It is then that you can consider upgrading to a paid plan.
Although a free hosting plan may give only 1 or 2 email accounts, this should be good enough for a small shop owner or a blogger. Most small self-run businesses prefer to operate with just one email account.
Hosting your website on a free host may result in loss of credibility, especially if your free host is placing ads on your website pages, or if they asks you to include their banner saying something like - “hosted by xyz free hosting company”, or if you are using their sub-domain such as "myname.freehost.com". Your visitors (potential customers) may form a negative impression of you and your site.
Ads placed on a free hosted website are usually contextual. This means that, in all likelihood, your visitors will see ads for your competitors on your web pages. This can be disastrous for your reputation.
Search engines are smart enough to recognize a site using free hosting service and may treat your site as non-authoritative. This means your site will find it very hard to get a top ranking in search listings.
The facilities provided by some free hosts are limited and very basic. You get limited disk space and bandwidth. Limits may also be set on the number of pages you can host. In most cases, you may be allowed to host only static web pages. Some hosts may allow you to run PHP or other scripts on their server, though to a limited extent.
Free hosts also usually restrict you from uploading large-sized files. So, if your site requires you to provide an e-book or other informational material as a pdf download, you may not be able to do so.
Free hosts usually do not allow you to use any mail-sending program to send out auto-generated emails via your website script. So, you will not be able to implement features such as contact form, site referral form, or a sign-up form.
Your website may not be SSL enabled. Now-a-days, if your website is not ssl enabled, browsers show a warning when users visit your website. People abandon such a website immediately, and this can be bad for your reputation.
The performance of such hosts is usually quite poor. Free servers are generally overloaded and, hence, websites hosted on them are usually sluggish. They can even by down for long hours and you cannot complain since you are not paying. Relying on a such a service can cost you dearly in terms of loss of business.
If you face any issues or problems, the support would also be limited or not available at all.
Free hosts usually hold the right to terminate your account anytime and delete all your files without assigning any reason. And if you did not keep a local backup of your site, your days of hard work will be lost for ever.
Free hosting is fine if you are hosting a personal website, a hobby site, a small blog site, or simply learning the fundamentals of building and hosting a website. In such use cases, especially if you are a student, you would not like to spend any money. It is strongly advised not to opt for such free services for hosting a business website.
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Rajeev Kumar is the primary author of How2Lab. He is a B.Tech. from IIT Kanpur with several years of experience in IT education and Software development. He has taught a wide spectrum of people including fresh young talents, students of premier engineering colleges & management institutes, and IT professionals.
Rajeev has founded Computer Solutions & Web Services Worldwide. He has hands-on experience of building variety of websites and business applications, that include - SaaS based erp & e-commerce systems, and cloud deployed operations management software for health-care, manufacturing and other industries.