In our context, "hosting" refers to providing the hardware and software platform on top of which customers can deploy web sites and web-based applications.
There are several general categories of web hosting:
For more detailed help, check out our Ultimate Hosting Guide.
Shared hosting is a form of web hosting in which many web hosting customers share a single (virtual or physical) server.
The customers in a shared hosting environment are partitioned away form each other, so (when everything goes well), they have absolutely no access to each other's files, and are ideally not even aware of each other.
Shared hosting allows for a high customer-to-hardware density, which makes it a very inexpensive way to run a website — shared hosting is the cheapest form of hosting, and relatively high-quality shared hosting plans can be had for less than $10/month (sometimes less than $5/month, with a good coupon).
The problem with shared hosting is that a limited pool of computer resources is being shared by a large number of customers. This can cause slow-downs and site outages if one or more sites on a shared hosting server gets a lot a of traffic.
To prevent this, shared hosting providers usually institute some kind of throttling — even on so-called "unlimited plans." This usually kicks in if your traffic spikes, which makes shared hosting plans a terrible idea if you are trying to build a highly-scalable, well-trafficked website.
Usually, yes. The question is whether you want to.
If you are launching a more-or-less basic site which will have limited traffic — such as a personal blog, a homepage for a small offline business, or a website for local non-profit organization — then shared hosting is a great way to go. It will provide all the hosting power you need for up to several hundred visitors a day, for a reasonably low cost.
If you need a website that will work with larger traffic numbers — several thousand a day, especially highly engaged visitors on an interactive site (like a store or web app) — then shared hosting is going to be a terrible experience for you. You would be better off, in that case, with a VPS hosting plan.
Because of its popularity, most shared hosting providers are well-equipped to handle a WordPress blog. Many even offer a simple one-click installation script, allowing you to get set up with a new WordPress site very quickly.
You can use our hosting features comparison tool to find hosting providers that support WordPress.
In theory, yes. In reality, probably not.
Most shared hosting providers that support WordPress can also handle the installation of WordPress Multisite. As long as you can edit the the .htacess file and the wp-config.php file, you can get Multisite working.
However, a well-functioning Multisite installation usually requires more active server management, and more custom configuration, than is usually available from a shared hosting provider.
Moreover, a successful Multisite installation will likely have dozens, perhaps even hundreds, of websites running at the same — each with their own set of users and administrators.
Even when a shared hosting provider advertises "unlimited sites," the resources you are provided with on a shared hosting account are allocated based on the assumption that you will be running one site. With WordPress Multisite, you are further dividing those resources up, attempting to host many sites on a platform intended for one. This is usually a recipe for disaster.
A better solution for WordPress Multisite is a VPS hosting plan.
In theory, yes. In real life, usually not.
Many shared hosting providers claim to support Ruby on Rails, and have it available to be installed. But that doesn't mean it will actually work well.
One problem is package management. Ruby on Rails depends on a complex automated dependency management system called the Ruby Gems system. This system makes sure that you have all the libraries, scripts, and third-party modules you might need installed are actually installed, and upgraded to the correct version. It's magical.
It also just doesn't work very well on shared hosting. Many of the shared hosting providers claim that it does, but after reading through too many help articles and forum postings, one starts to get the feeling that very few people have managed to deploy it successfully.
Another problem with Ruby on Rails and shared hosting is that Rails consumes a lot of resources, compared with other apps, like WordPress or Drupal. This makes the limited resource pool of (even an unlimited) shared hosting plan unlikely to keep up, especially as traffic and user engagement increases.
While there are other potential problems (server configuration, workflow management, automated testing), the biggest problem with Ruby on Rails in a shared hosting environment is really tied to the essential nature of Ruby on Rails and shared hosting.
Rails was designed, and is primarily used, to build SaaS (software as a service) applications. Shared hosting is designed to put up personal blogs and small business websites. The level of resource allocation, the types of access granted, the whole configuration of the shared hosting server as well as the tools and interfaces presented to customers are all geared toward mostly non-tech-savvy blogger or business owner.
So, even when you can run Rails on a shared hosting environment, you are almost certainly better off using VPS hosting.
As long as your site traffic does not get too heavy, shared hosting is capable of handling a wide variety of popular applications, including:
If you're looking for a hosting provider that supports a specific application you are looking for, you can use our hosting features comparison tool to search for one.
It is good for some uses.
Most shared hosting providers have optimized their offerings to provide service to a fairly narrow user profile (which, though narrow, accounts for the vast majority of hosting customers). The typical shared hosting customer is:
If you fit all those points, you will find shared hosting to be the easiest and most economical way to get online quickly. If you hit all but one of them, you can probably get by on shared hosting, at least to begin with. If two or more are not right, you are going to have a really bad time with shared hosting and should probably be looking at a VPS hosting plan.
Shared hosting is only bad if you need something different.
Shared hosting is intended as a platform for blogs, small organizations websites, and other similar functions. It is well-suited to those uses, but is not a good fit for high-traffic sites or SaaS web apps.
There are several potential difficulties that shared hosting customers can face if they are trying to use for a project to which it is ill-suited.
The biggest problem is the lack of computing resources — memory, storage, bandwidth, processing cycles. If your site traffic gets too high, or if there is a large volume of concurrent requests, page load times can slow to a crawl. This negatively impacts both user experience and SEO ranking. If that starts to negatively impact other shared hosting customers on the same server, your hosting company may throttle your access — making the site unavailable when it is drawing the most attention.
While it's true that you can often upgrade directly to a VPS plan at that point, it's also true that the lag between the need to upgrade and actually upgrading can cost you in ways which are hard to recover from. You don't want to turn people away with Server Errors just as you are starting to see success.
If you expect that kind of traffic, or you need that kind of traffic for your site to be viable, then you should just opt for a VPS plan in the first place.
There are some things you can do to make your shared hosting work as well as possible.