If you want to start a blog, create a portfolio site, launch a small e-commerce site or you simply need a landing page for a specific event, you need a hosting account. In simple terms, this is the web space on a server where the site files are located.
There are a lot of hosting companies on the market and each one of them offers multiple hosting plans. Choosing the right plan may be overwhelming – what if the plan you purchase is too powerful and it turns out you will not need most of its resources, or if you choose one that cannot support the platform you used for building your website at all? You will have to ask for a refund and lose time while you wait for your money – if the company offers refunds at all. Wouldn’t it be easier if you simply go for a free hosting plan? You will save money and you can simply stop using the service whenever you want to.
Is free hosting really worth using, though? Let’s have a look at some of the features you will (not) get if you use a free plan or even some of the cheaper plans you will find on the market.
Most people will probably start with comparing the system resources of free and paid hosting plans. No matter how powerful an account is, however, it will be useless if something unforeseen happens and you cannot get timely support. This is why, we decided to list support (or the lack of it) first.
If you use a free plan, the hosting provider doesn’t have any incentive to provide you quality support in a timely manner. Depending on the company, a support request may take between 24 and 72 hours to be handled. Even if you use the account for a small personal website, having a problem for a couple of days while waiting for assistance can be both frustrating and annoying. Unfortunately, due to the volume of support requests, some of the largest hosting providers reply in a day or two even with their paid hosting packages. In such cases, any 24/7 support claim usually means the support team will receive your query, not that they will assist you instantly.
If you need a reliable web hosting provider, you should look for one that provides quality support whenever you need it. As quality comes at a price, this will be possible only if you use a paid hosting plan. If you have any questions about your service, your email is not working or your website is down for any reason, and you want the issue to be resolved as soon as possible, you will not want to wait for a day go get assistance. When it comes to support, there is no doubt what plan to get if you have to choose between free and paid hosting.
Many free hosting providers place ads on the websites they host. After all, they should be able to sustain their business and ads are one of their sources of income. Even if you have only a single web page or a small personal website, having text or image ads on it can be quote annoying, though. They are usually positioned at the top or at the bottom of the website, but some providers add pop-ups, which will likely discourage many people from coming back to your site.
Usually, the only way to remove the ads is to upgrade to a paid hosting plan or to pay a one-time fee. If you have to pay, however, wouldn’t it be better to go with a host that focuses on providing quality paid services anyway instead of one that offers a service only with the idea to upsell you?
Limited system resources and features
Free hosting plans usually come with limited system resources. The first things that come to mind are the disk space and the monthly traffic. This is expected as the hosting providers should have some way of upselling their customers. Some of them do not display ads on the sites they host, so they do not receive anything in return for the service they provide. As disk drives and bandwidth have become much cheaper these days, however, the disk space and monthly traffic that free plans come with, are often more than enough for a small website. This is why, some hosting providers actually advertise these two features, but limit other resources. You will often find out about a particular limitation only after you have started building your site. Here are a few examples:
- File size limit. This is not the first thing that comes to mind when you think about hosting limitations, but it is in fact a significant one. If you want to build even a simple WordPress website, for example, you will have to add a theme or a plugin. If the host limits the maximum file size to let’s say 200 KB, 500 KB or 1 MB, you will have to use FTP to upload a theme folder, which may take hours as an FTP connection will be established for every single file. You will not be able to upload a zip file and unpack it on the server as it will exceed the size limit. For the same reason, you will not be able to add a larger image on the website either.
In comparison, paid hosting plans usually do not have a limit for the file size. You can easily add themes and plugins, songs, etc. Here at ICDSoft we go further as we do not limit the size of the content you can have in your hosting account at all, so you can even keep a backup of your personal files in your account. In contrast, many paid hosting providers do not allow large files that are not a part of an actual website to be stored on their servers even if you use an expensive package.
- Very limited CPU usage. Every time anybody opens your website, the server spends some processing time executing the site source code. This generates some load on the server. Free hosting plans come with very low load limits as a single server usually accommodates a very high number of users. As a result, even if the plan comes with a high traffic quota, your website may not function properly even if a handful of visitors browse it in the same time.
If you plan on using the site for something more than testing your web design skills or you hope to get a lot of visitors even for a single landing page, you will definitely need a paid hosting plan. Depending on the type of website you plan to build and the expected traffic, you may need either a shared hosting plan, or a virtual server. This way, you will not have to worry if the account can handle the load. In the general case, any paid hosting plan is many times more powerful than any free hosting plan you can find.
Limited or missing services
- No outgoing emails. This is a common limitation, but it is still something that is usually not advertised on a provider’s home page and you usually find about it only after you actually need to use the email service. Since no payment or identity verification is required to open a free hosting account, the service can be abused by spammers and scammers. As a result, the reputation of the mail server will be hurt, which will affect all customers using that mail server. This is why, free hosting plans usually have no outgoing emails, no matter if you want to use SMTP or PHP mail ().
Usually, the email service can be activated if you pay a one-time fee, but you will still use a free hosting plan with all its limitations, which may include a small mailbox size and a very limited number of emails. This is why, if you plan on using emails, it is better that you buy a paid hosting plan. You will be able to use the service right from the start, with much higher size and message quotas. You will also share the mail server with less people, not mentioning the much higher number of messages you can send with a paid plan. The latter can be quite important if you run an online business and you want to send newsletters and other updates to your customers. When it comes to emails, a free plan cannot match the professional email service you can get with a paid hosting plan.
- No backups. If you delete anything by mistake or if an update of your website does not go as planned, you may have to start building the site from scratch. Very few free hosting providers offer backups and they are usually very limited – they back up a few megabytes out of all your content, or they keep one weekly backup, for example. As with other things, you will have to pay an additional fee to get regular backups, but if the other features remain limited, such an upgrade would be pointless.
Paid hosting plans usually include regular backups as a part of the service, so you will not have to worry if something unforeseen happens. Some providers like ICDSoft even offer two daily backups and extended backups, that are available for a whole year.
- No cron jobs. While this is not a feature that you need, it is one that can be quite useful. A cron job is an automated task that runs in the background. Crons can be used to send out a newsletter at a particular time or to generate a daily report of new sales on a website, for example. If you ever need to set up a cron job, you will definitely need a paid hosting plan.
Lack of PHP support
This is not valid for all free providers, but many companies do not support PHP and MySQL with their free tier plans. If you use such a plan, you will be able to build only a simple html website without any dynamic content or advanced functionality. You will not be able to use popular platforms like WordPress, for example, as it is a PHP-based application. As a result, you can create a simple website, but if you decide to expand it by adding a blog, you will either have to upgrade the plan, or buy a new account and move your website. You will be better off if you simply sign up for a plan that supports all programming languages you need from the very beginning.
To prevent abuse, many free providers limit the hostnames you can create or add to an account. Depending on the provider, you will find different options.
- You have to use only service subdomains that are provided by the host, such as your-name.provider-host.com, and you cannot use your own domain name. Such a policy prevents abuse as spam/phishing domains cannot be added to a free account. The downside for you as a client is that the URL for your website will look quite unprofessional, so you can use a host offering such an option only for a test site.
- You have to add a domain name, and you cannot create service subdomains. The advantage for the hosting provider from such a setup is that they may sell you a domain name and make some small profit. In addition, their own hostnames will not get bad reputation if their clients host malicious content.
- You have to add a domain name, but you cannot use domains with certain extensions. These are usually free TLDs, but some paid ones are often forbidden as well, since they are often used for phishing or illegal websites. This way, due to other people’s wrongdoing, you will not be able to create a website using a free hosting plan with a free/cheap domain name.
If you use a paid hosting plan, you will be able to host any domain name regardless of its extension.
Lack of various tools and services
Hosting providers need some source of income to be able to operate, so if they offer a free service, they should either display ads, or offer paid packages as well. As there should be some difference between the different tiers and clients should have some incentive to upgrade, various features are often available only with paid plans. Here are a few examples of things you will likely not find with a free hosting service:
- Website builder. If a hosting provider offers such a tool, they either pay a license fee to a developer company, or maintain it themselves as an in-house product. In either case, it would be very unprofitable to offer a website builder with a free hosting plan.
- Script installer. The above is valid for script installers as well – most such tools are either paid, or developed in-house. Offering an installer involves expenses that cannot be paid off if the tool is included in free hosting packages.
- Server-side caching. Such a feature can speed up a website significantly. Many companies offer different server-side caching solutions, but no company has any interest to offer it with their free tier plan.
- SSH access. You will not be able to access your account via SSH if you use a free hosting plan. What is more, many hosting companies offer SSH access as an optional upgrade even with their paid plans. In comparison, ICDSoft offers SSH access with all hosting packages by default. If you have two or more accounts, you will even be able to manage the access to all of them using SSH keys in one place.
So, is free hosting worth using at all?
In fact, it is if you want to build a very small website or if you are learning how to build simple HTML-only websites, for example. Of course, you will have to make compromises with the performance and with the lack of various features. For any other purpose, however, you will be better off with a paid hosting plan. No matter if you want to create a wedding site, a portfolio, a landing page or an online store, the paid plan will usually give you everything you need in terms of resources – enough disk space and monthly traffic, support for major web programming languages, a script installer or a website builder, and tech support in case that you experience any problems.
While free hosting may not really be an option for running a website, you can build an online store for free without investing a dime for the site software: