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Free Web Host Review

For some time I was constantly looking for additional webspace. Paid hosting is not always good for a site with high traffic because the bigger the customer sites become, the fewer free traffic they are conceded. One solution is to find a free web host, but that's much more difficult than one might think.

 

The Details

Here are reviews of some free webspace providers that I checked out. In some cases I had to register until I was told or could notice what I actually get and especially what restrictions the free account had. Note that for beginners free page building tools, which I didn't test because I don't need them, may be of some importance too. Therefore it is possible that some hosts I don't like because of their restrictions may be recommendable though. Sorry for the long annotation list, it just didn't fit all into the table.

Everything listed was either directly tested by me (most notably the possibility of image linking) or reported to me by others, or it was taken from the descriptions on the host's website. Please note that their conditions are subject to change very often. I don't take any responsibility for the correctness of the information given here.

Update notice The table below is recent as of early 2003. Since I can't use free web hosting any longer and I don't have the time to check out such offers, there will be no updates in the foreseeable future. With web hosts like Tripod recently doing despicable things like inserting huge blinking "You have won" messages into member pages, free web hosting is no longer an option for reputable websites anyway. I have removed Homestead, NBCi and The Globe from the list who closed their free hosting. Considering that these used to be the worst hosts anyway, it is no big loss. Exit.Mytoday is gone without a trace.

Name Member URL Space Best ad option Any editor FTP access Traffic limit Download size limit Hotlinks File type restriction Upgrades
(for a fee)
Problems or restrictions Extras Information policy
Note 1) 2) 3) 4) 5) 6) 7) 8) 9) 10) 11) 12) 13)
50 Megs Sub-domain 50MB Banner on top Yes No 512MB per month 256K 7a) No ? Ad-free $5.95 per month, domain hosting - Web-based e-mail, site tools Good
Angelfire Sub-directory 20MB Banner on top Yes Yes ? ? No ? Ad-free $4.95 per month - Frontpage extensions, script library Insufficient
Brinkster Sub-domain 30MB None Yes No 500MB per month ? No No media Domain hosting, FTP - MS Access support Insufficient
Crosswinds Sub-directory Unlimited Banner? Yes Yes ? ? Yes Media files require "approval" - Frequent e-mail and loading problems POP3 e-mail Bad
Easyspace Sub-domain 25MB Banner on bottom Yes Yes 1GB per month 512K Yes ? Domain hosting 10b), more space, Frontpage ext. - CGI, SSL Bad 13a)
Fortunecity Sub-directory 100MB Pop-up hell 3a) Yes Yes ? 5MB (upload) No None given Ad-free $4.95 per month Cookies must be enabled Site tools Insufficient
Freeservers Sub-domain 12MB Banner on top Yes No ? 512K Yes None given Domain hosting/transfer - Web-based e-mail, site tools Insufficient
Galaxy Cities Sub-directory, Sub-domain planned Unlimited, adaptive Full-width bar on top Yes No 5a) "Unlimited" None known Yes No MP3 collections, no unlinked files - - Web-based e-mail (third party) Fair
Geocities Sub-directory 1a) 15MB Ad block Yes No 10GB per month Unknown, but >2MB No 8a,b) No MP3 25MB, banner-free, $4.95 per month  Frequently deletes files and disables uploads Site tools Good
Host.sk Sub-domain 50MB None Yes Yes Unlimited? Unlimited Yes None - Administration in Slovakian PHP, mySQL Insufficient
Lycos/Tripod Sub-domain 20MB Banner on top Yes Yes Strictly limited ? No ? 25MB, banner-free, $4.95 per month  Sites deleted in "Tripod Massacre" Frontpage extensions, site tools Insufficient
Megspace Sub-directory 50MB Banner on top Yes No "Unlimited" ? No 8a) ? - - Site tools Insufficient
Netscape Sub-directory 20MB Bar on top No 4a) No ? 1MB Yes ? - Custom layout and font colors messed up Site tools, web-based e-mail Insufficient
ProHosting Sub-directory 50MB Banner on top Yes Yes "Unlimited" Unlimited No None Ad-free $24.95 p.a. - User CGI Very good (see their unofficial FAQ)
Spaceports Sub-directory 20MB Banner "above the fold" 3b,c) Yes Yes 20GB per month ? No 8a) No unlicensed MP3 - 1 click per 400 banner displays required User CGI Fair
Virtual Avenue, Hypermart, Free Yellow Sub-domain 50MB Banner "above the fold" 3b) Yes Yes 500MB per month 6a) Unknown, but >2MB Yes No MP3 +5MB space $5, ad-free $10 per month - Web-based e-mail, user CGI, SSL, Frontpage extensions, site tools Good

Notes
1) Sub-domain: yourname.hostname.com, sub-directory: www.hostname.com/optional_category/yourname/
1a) The URL is now www.geocities.com/yourname/ instead of the former www.geocities.com/neighborhood/obscure_number/
2) Maximum allocated space for one account, sometimes only on explicit demand
3) Pop-ups suck, so banners are the preferable option, and they are the better, the smaller and the further down they appear on a page.
3a) The atrocities include multiple pop-ups, punishment pop-ups (a new one when the visitor clicks away a pop-up) and exit pop-ups.
3b) "Above the fold" means that it must be visible in the first screen at 640*480 pixels. In other words, there is no way to move the banner where it belongs: to the page bottom. It is theoretically possible to circumvent this, since the banner can be moved anywhere >:->, but I wouldn't try, since I assume the sites are frequently visually checked if they adhere to the Terms of Service.
3c) Lately there is an extremely annoying pop-up looking like a Windows message on every page. I was told that it can be removed though.
4) "Any editor" means you can use any editor you like for the HTML (preferably offline, of course). Homestead was and Netscape is the only exception, use their editors or die!
4a) Since the layout and colors are not correctly reproduced for properly self-designed HTML files, this is a definite "no".
5) FTP access is of utmost importance, unless you like to transfer the files one by one with an unwieldy, slow and unreliable browser-based file manager.
5a) Individual FTP access will be provided later.
6) "Free" does not necessarily mean free. Fortunately most of the hosts don't seem to charge a fee for excess data transfer. Most services, however, reserve the right of removing a website if it reaches an inappropriate, but otherwise undefined data transfer. The common practice is that a free site that consumes from several gigabytes up will probably be shut down or throttled. There is no such thing as unlimited traffic.
6a) Caution: You have to give them your credit card number just in case you exceed this ludicrously low rate, and they charge $1 per 100MB, so it is anything but free.
7) This is the size limit for a single file. If one tries to download a larger file, the server shows an deceptive 404 or 403 message.
7a) Caution: 200K is hardly enough! High-quality JPEGs must have a size on this order.
8) "Hotlinks" means that you can load images (or other non-HTML files) stored on the free website from other URLs. This is important if you have split a large site, if you are posting images hosted on your site on message boards, or if you like other webmasters to show your banner. Following the bad example of XOOM, many hosting services have adopted the idea of disabling this possibility.
8a) The really mean thing is that Spaceports, Megspace and Geocities, unlike other hosts that at least tell you that you are not allowed to view the image (403 error), show a 404 page, thereby suggesting that either you or whoever created the link is an idiot. Spaceports has even the nerve to dynamically link to a second 404 page, so that you have to click "Back" twice very fast to get to the original page again. Ugh!
8b) After Geocities was so wise to disable off-site linking (thereby denying their members the possibility to make their sites public outside Geocities), I had the questionable pleasure of removing about a dozen banners. The most disastrous effect is that none of the webring images loads any longer.
9) More specific restrictions aside from the usual porn/hate/warez ban and the blurb about copyright-protected material
10) "Upgrades" may be important once you have reached the limit of your account or want to get rid of the banners. In many cases, however, it is recommended to look for an inexpensive webspace provider with your own second-level domain, rather than upgrading your "www.hostname.com/optional_category/yourname/" address for the same fee.
10b) The domain hosting for a fee still isn't banner-free - unless you pay yet another fee.
11) Here are some special problems and restrictions I discovered. Other common restrictions not listed here are that one person is not allowed to have more than one account with the same theme, that the hosted site may not be used for mere file storage (i.e. files not linked in HTML pages), that the site may not be used as a gateway to other websites, etc. Moreover, several web hosts claim a license on your site's content! Good artists, for instance, must be careful about their web hosts. These restrictions may not apply to all hosts, though.
12) "Web tools" refers to the usual guestbooks, counters, page templates, image libraries and such. Actually, there are often better tools by independent providers than those by the free web hosts. It must also be noted that most of the free add-ons will have to be created from scratch when it is necessary to switch providers, and data from guestbooks or polls, for instance, get irretrievably lost. Some providers let you use pre-defined CGIs, some even allow custom-made CGIs.
13) This is what the hosts tell you prior to signing up. They all have Terms of Service, Rules of Conduct, Copyright Notices, but don't reveal everything, especially if there are restrictions (see further below for a few of these traps). Sometimes the information policy is still bad after you're already a member. I tried registering with a few of the above hosts, but most features I had to try to see if and how they work. The remaining question marks in this table show that I couldn't figure out everything.
13a) The Easyspace website doesn't distinguish between free sub-domain hosting (provided it is really free) and the commercial domain hosting. Although I searched the whole site, I didn't find a dedicated log-in for the free services. All of my attempts led me to the order form for the domain hosting. It is possible that free sub-domain hosting requires registering a second-level domain with them, or that they don't want to admit new free members anyway.

 

Advertising Language Translated

Some slogans sound quite good until you find out what they really stand for (I don't know whether this belongs into the "Fun" section):

"No banners" = mandatory pop-up ads

"No pop-ups" = mandatory banners ads

"Move the banner where you like it" = only pop-up or banner on top or banner always visible in frame are allowed

"No ads" = caution: it's an extra option and not really free

"Free hosting of your own domain" = usually high setup costs or hidden domain fees, paid hosting is usually much less expensive

"Free file manager, easy-to-use upload manager" = no FTP access possible

"Easy page builder, site building tools" = you might have to use templates

"100 megabytes of *storage*" = webdrive only, no HTTP possible

"Unlimited file size" = this sometimes applies to uploads only (how useful!)

"Lots of webspace and traffic" = for those who are content with 10MB and 500MB, respectively

 

Conclusion

All free web hosts continue downgrading their free packages by increasing banner sizes, removing FTP access or cutting down file sizes or monthly bandwidths. There is only one exception. Host.sk is a fascinating alternative, as they have everything (even a MySQL database) without banner and without any palpable restrictions. I only wonder how long they will be able to keep up this service. Their storage space used to be unlimited and has now been cut down to 50MB, more restrictions may follow. Brinkster is apparently without banners too, but has a low transfer limit of 500MB.

If you are going with the (often undeservedly) renowned free services and want free webspace for large image galleries, for instance, you can get it, but only at the expense of good web design. There is no way to avoid the display of on-top banners or the even more annoying pop-ups - which often open every time a new page is displayed. Fortunately most web hosts have refrained from prescribing pop-ups, so you can choose a banner instead which is usually inserted automatically, so you can't move it. If you can move it, you usually have to adhere to the "above the fold" rule.

Crosswinds, Fortunecity and maybe Galaxy Cities are possible places for larger sites. The first two may suffer from the usual problems of mass providers. Galaxy Cities, on the other hand, is small and fairly new, which could be an advantage if its management remains agile. Prohosting appears to be a plain and simple provider for those who know what they want. They are the only host I checked with an exhaustive FAQ, anticipating really any conceivable question. Two thumbs up for this extent of information!

Web hosts that can't be recommended are Virtualave, Hypermart and Freeyellow which used to perform quite well, but are no longer an option because of their 500MB traffic limit - a trap for any site that strives to be successful. Geocities has gradually disabled all attractive features, like the possibility to move banners or the FTP upload. Since they are obviously not any longer interested in their free service and their site deletion policy stinks anyway, I can only tell to stay away from Geocities! Netscape is free, but (similar as Homestead used to do) more or less disables pages not built with their tools by forcing them into their inflated HTML and thereby completely messing up the layout.

All other webspace providers look about the same and the distinguishing marks such as e-mail or guestbooks are of minor importance in my opinion. After all, these are things one can get anywhere else for free too, without signing up for webspace.

Summarizing, there is nothing like the perfect free hosting, except for Host.sk as long as it will exist. There are several more less renowned free web hosts one may have to check out too. My only concern is that these might vanish (and my site with them) as fast as they appeared. By the way, there is a good place to search for free web hosts, although only a certain (arbitrary) selection is listed there: http://www.freewebspace.net/.

 


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Last modified: 05.01.12  
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