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Going out to find a place to put your web site can be a truly daunting task. That's because pretty much any competent system administrator can set up a web hosting company. So the selection is extremely broad. This video talks about what makes a good web host for Drupal sites and how to avoid common traps. First, here are the quick details for those of you who are already web geeks. You can find the complete list of requirements by going to drupal.org/requirements. But in brief, here they are. You'll need at least 15 megabytes of disk space.
Now that's for the program only. Any files that you have such as downloadable files or graphics are going to add to that requirement. You'll need atleast 32 megabytes of memory dedicated to PHP. You'll need Apache 1.3 or better, or Microsoft IIS as your web server. You'll need PHP 5.2.5 and MySQL 5.0.15, and again, you can use later versions if you like. If you're running Drupal 6 or an earlier version of Drupal, then you may have different requirements, and again, take a look at that on drupal.org.
So that's what web geeks need to know. But let's say this is the first time you've gone shopping for a web host. I break down the criteria into five categories: Capabilities, Access, Speed, Price, and what I call the Human factor. Let's look at each of these. Although drupal.org gives certain requirements, realistically, you're going to need quite a bit more. I like to have at least 1 gigabyte of disk space, 10 gigabytes of bandwidth per month, and 64 megabytes of PHP memory. To give you some comparison, I typically run about 5 to 10 sites at a time, including tomgeller.com, which is fairly active.
It also includes a lot of graphics and downloadable files, and yet my total disk usage is only about 3 gigabytes, and I use about 10 gigabytes of bandwidth per month. When you shop, also make sure that you can create databases and that you can create more than one database, because, of course, you'll need a different database for each site you have. I prefer to get a host that will allow me unlimited databases so I know that I can build as many sites as I want. Take a look also to see how large a database you can transfer, and I'll show you how that works in just a minute. Also, make sure that the server versions are up to date.
Generally speaking, any large web host will keep them up to date. But just to be sure, compare them against the numbers that you see at drupal.org/requirements. Of course, you'll need a way to transfer files between your development machine, that is, your desktop machine, and the web host. I like to use SSH or FTP, although some places use something called cPanel or some other web-based system. I'll show you how those work a little bit later on in this course. But again, my personal preference is for these basic tools that have been around and used in the UNIX world for many years.
On that note, I prefer to have access to the command line myself, that is, for UNIX or LINUX. It may be up to your preference, but I found that that's the best way to have the largest amount of control. Finally, you need to have access to a database either through the command line or phpMyAdmin, which is a web-based program. I prefer to have both forms of access, of course. One thing you'll notice about phpMyAdmin is that its appearance differs quite a bit from one web host to the next. For example, here's what it looks like using Acquia Dev Desktop.
It's version 3.3.9. Where as here's what it looks like on my own web host, 3.4.9, and as you can see, the interface looks quite different. The features should be pretty much the same. However, you won't have all of the same access depending on which web host you use. Again, going back to Acquia Dev Desktop, I have this option to create a new database which I don't have on my web host. I have to do that through their web interface. One important part is how large a database you can import as I mentioned. If you click Import here, you see that right up here, in this case, it's 20 megabytes, whereas here on my local machine, it's actually quite a bit smaller, but I can change that since I have access to the MySQL settings files.
As for web site speed, this is something that's really hard to judge until you're actually on the web host and get a sense of how easy it is and how fast it is to access your site. What I recommend you do is ask around a little bit. See what your friends are using and whether they're happy with it, and how much they're paying. There are three types of hosts generally. The most common and the cheapest is shared hosting. Shared hosting is kind of like having a roommate. You theoretically each have full use of the apartment, but that doesn't mean anything if he's always hogging the TV.
I personally use shared hosting though. It's slow and it's not as reliable, but my sites are fairly small and personal and they don't really need the high reliability that company web sites might need. The second version is dedicated hosting. That's more like having your own house. You have full control but you also have full responsibility. Technically speaking, there may be others on the server, but you have a specific server slice and a certain guaranteed level of reliability and speed. The third kind is cloud.
This is a sophisticated form of sharing pooled resources and it's sort of like shared hosting, but generally at a higher level and with certain safeguards in place to make sure that you have all of the speed you need. It's sort of like owning a condo. You're guaranteed use of a certain space, but a neighbor's pool party can still inconvenience you. Just to give you a sense of how much all these things cost -- and these are in 2012 dollars by the way in the United States -- shared hosting starts at around $10 a month. You can find it for a little bit less, you can pay a little bit more, but that's about what you'll end up paying.
Dedicated hosting starts at $50 a month and can go way, way, way up. Cloud hosting is similar. Again, it starts at about $50 a month and can go up to the sky really. But whatever one you choose, make sure that you can take your data with you whenever you go. You don't want to be locked in to any one host. The last factor to consider is the human factor. This is how well the people who are running the web host understand Drupal. Is it really a Drupal web host? Do they advertise that they host Drupal sites? Do they offer Drupal support? That's very uncommon, by the way, where they'll actually help you debug your Drupal site.
Do they have any special tools or features? Quite a few web hosts, for example, have a one-button install for Drupal so you don't actually have to download it and so forth. You just say point it here, click the button, and suddenly you have a Drupal site set up. The last thing to look at is -- are they actively involved in the Drupal community? There are two reasons why they should be. One is because they're more likely to be informed about Drupal and updated in such a way that they know that they can keep your Drupal site running well. The other is that they may be giving back to the Drupal community, which means Drupal itself continues to get stronger.
Some places to take a look for that are drupal.org/hosting, drupal.org/drupal-services, and the drupal.org profiles of any people who are involved with the web host. The last thing I'll say is that you should apply the same criteria you'd use for any other purchase of ongoing services. I recommend going with a month-to-month plan at first until you feel comfortable with the web host, even though long-term plans are usually cheaper. Ask your friends who they use and if they're satisfied. Better yet, ask people in the Drupal community.
For example, through the message boards on drupal.org, you'll find those under Community.
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