Shared Hosting is web hosting that shares server resources across several hosting accounts. Shared Hosting is used as an affordable, straightforward hosting solution for the majority of websites.
How Shared Hosting Works
Shared hosting is quite literal. There’s no technical meaning – you are simply sharing a server with other websites. A shared hosting server runs resource management software that is configured & maintained by a hosting company. They allocate & manage resources across accounts. The accounts are fully private & do not interact with other accounts.
Imagine real-world housing for a second. A shared hosting server is like a condominium. Even though each owner fully owns the unit as a property owner – the actual structure & property are shared as commons. Each condo can come with its own amenities & floorplan. The owner can do whatever they want as long as it does not impact the overall building or trash the common property.
A shared server is configured to operate smoothly & without interruption across accounts. But since resources are shared, the hosting company can (and does) impose limits & rules on each account to prevent any downtime for all accounts.
What Shared Hosting Is Used For
Shared Hosting is used for running most of the websites on the Internet. Given the resources of a typical server and the demands of a typical website, most website owners do not need anything else.
With a shared server – you know generally what rules & limits you have, and you trust the hosting company to provide those resources to run your website.
If you know how many visits you receive, and how efficient your website is – then you can pay a locked-in price for those resources.
Going back to the condominium analogy, as long as you know how many people will be living at your condo and what your typical day looks like (which is most people) – the shared structure makes sense.
Often I’ll see publishers switch away from a shared hosting plan around 25,000 to 30,000 visits per month (that’s when I upgraded). For an eCommerce site, I’ll often see the switch happening around 10,000 visits per month.
Now – both of those numbers are not benchmarks. Your numbers can vary wildly depending on the exact specifications of your website. It always pays to check your own memory, bandwidth, and CPU usage on your hosting account’s cPanel page.
It also pays to understand your traffic patterns, your hosting company’s customer support – and how your website runs.
Shared hosting has some notoriety for crashing under high traffic spikes. But that misses the bigger story. Usually, all the accounts on a given server are not spiking at the same time. Unless you are wildly out of proportion with your website – even a good shared host can handle plenty of traffic.
Back in 2013, I wrote a personal blog post that went viral – in quite a big way. I was on a shared server at HostGator at the time so I gave support a heads up when a big website picked up the piece. I implemented a static cache of the page. My site handled 10,000 visits in one hour without any issues.
Now – shared hosting certainly can (and does) crash. Plenty of sites outgrow them – and there are plenty of other flavors of hosting products.
Shared Hosting Differences
Shared Hosting exists on a spectrum of hosting products. Here’s how it differs.
Shared Hosting vs. VPS Hosting
Shared Hosting offers fewer dedicated resources than VPS hosting. Often they will be the same server – but with VPS, more is pre-allocated rather than shared. It’s kind of like a townhome vs. a condominium. They are both private property within a building. But – with a townhome, everything is allocated (including the land and attic space). With a condominium, a lot more is shared.
With shared hosting, you have to share all of a server’s resources with the other websites on your server. This means that you can usually get a much better price than VPS – and you can usually get the same performance since the hosting company will work to keep the server load balanced.
However, a VPS hosting plan will offer more control and more freedom. You’ll know exactly how much your website can handle – because you know that another spiking website won’t affect yours.
Shared Hosting vs. Dedicated Hosting
Shared Hosting offers dedicated resources on a single server that is shared with other accounts. Dedicated hosting offers the entire server for your use. You are basically leasing a server with support & a top-tier connection to the Internet.
Shared Hosting vs. Cloud Hosting
Shared Hosting offers dedicated resources on a single server whereas Cloud Hosting decentralizes your website files & databases across thousands of servers everywhere. With shared hosting, you pay for agreed-upon resources. With Cloud Hosting, you pay for use.
It’s kind of like purchasing a townhome vs. having some sort of Airbnb subscription where you can stay anywhere, anytime, as long as you pay.
With Cloud Hosting, you basically have unlimited resources – but you pay for each use. With Shared Hosting, you pay a stable price for stable resources. It’s like an a la carte all-you-can-eat buffet vs. ordering an entree for a single price.
Confusingly, many hosting companies mix and match the advantages and disadvantages of each. A common combination is to use Cloud Hosting as a backup for Shared Hosting for a set price.
Cloud Hosting is also rarely bundled with customer support. Cloud providers are all the big tech companies like Google, Amazon, Oracle, and Microsoft. It’s a commodity for sale.
Now – some hosting companies are creating innovative hosting plans that bundle support and pre-purchased credits for a single-priced Cloud Hosting plan.
However, in that case, you are still paying for uses rather than resources. It’s just that you are pre-purchasing the uses.
What To Look for in Shared Hosting
Since you are paying for shared resources, shopping for Shared Hosting is simpler than shopping for other hosting products.
You are really looking for:
- Server Resources & Performance (memory, bandwidth, processors, etc)
- Account Rules & Limits (ie, databases, domains, disk space)
- Customer & Technical Support
- Account Management & Ease of Use
- Server Configurations & Software
- Plan Bonuses (ie, automated backups, etc)
Shared Hosting Companies
I’ve used quite a few Shared hosting providers both for my own projects and for clients. Here’s a definitive list of web hosts with reviews.
Additionally, using a shared host will perform much better if you understand the basics of how servers & speed work. I wrote a Beginner’s Guide to Website Speed & Performance.