Your Own Web Site!

So, how can you have your very own web site? Not just a blog on a larger service, not a Facebook page--but your very own domain name, like your teacher has at "www.poza.net" or "www.lcjapan.com"?

Well, first of all, it's usually not free. I, for example, pay about $150 a year for hosting a variety of domains. Here's how it works. You need at least two things:

  • A domain name
  • A web host

The Domain Name

Domain names are not free. You usually pay about $12 a year to get a top-level domain name (e.g., something.com), although they can be much more expensive than that.

To get a domain name, you must go to a Domain Name Registrar. The most popular one in the U.S. today is Godaddy.com. You go to the registrar's site and type in the domain name you are interested in, and you will be told if the name is available.

What's in a Name?

Now, here's the problem: most domain names are already taken. Even ones not used are probably taken, snatched up by "cybersquatters" who think the name might be valuable and so keep it until someone pays a high price. For example, I wanted to get "poza.com" for many years. It was not used, but it was owned by a Korean cybersquatter, who left it idle and demanded I pay him $3000 to get the name from him. Eventually, he sold it to a business which could afford to pay--I certainly couldn't.

So, your surname is almost certainly taken, unless it's a very unusual name. Your full name has more of a chance of being open, but many of those are taken as well. Most simple names and words are taken (e.g. "house.com", "shoehorn.net", "chair.org", "laughter.com"), along with most popular colocations (e.g. "desktopcomputer.org", "magazinestand.net", "drinkingglass.com").

How Do I Choose a Name?

You should start by brainstorming a long list of names you could use, then rank them in order of which you like the most. Then you go to the domain registrar and start typing them in. The first one which comes up as "available," you can claim.

Here is an example of prices for an available domain, based on a nonsense word I dreamt up:

Notice that some (like the less-popular ".info") are quite cheap, and some (usually government-owned, like Japan's ".jp") are pretty expensive. Most people like ".com" anyway. So let's say that you like the .com version; so you click on the button, and after navigating the advertising-laden series of pages at GoDaddy, you enter your credit card number and click "Buy," and the domain is "yours."

By that, it means that you "own" the domain name for as long as you pay the yearly fee, or until the top-level domain owner decides otherwise. If you fail to pay the yearly fee, you get a short grace period, after which your domain name goes up for auction. Used domains are considered more valuable usually because they have regular visitors, so if you don't pay your fees on time, cybersquatters or others will probably snap it up and take it from you.

So, now you have a domain name! It's kind of like choosing a business name--it's just a name. Next, you need the actual site to build your domain on.

The Web Host

It is possible for you to host your own domain. It's just not easy or fun, or even very cheap. First, you need a static external IP address, which usually costs more by itself than a cheap web host will charge for the whole service. You will need a dedicated computer turned on and connected to the Internet 24 hours a day, loaded with all the necessary software to run a web site. You will need to know how to set up the software, and fix things when they go wrong. As you begin to see, it is a bit of a project, and is too much for most people to handle.

No problem: this is where the web host comes in. A web host is a business which does all that for you. Large web hosts have "server farms," large rooms or whole building with hundreds of computers, all acting as servers to host domains. They can charge a low price because most of their service is automated, and they can have a relatively small staff to run thousands of domains for their customers.

Shared or Private? (Hint: "Shared" is Cheaper)

The web host will set up everything related to your domain--the web site, email, file transfer, and more--for a monthly or yearly fee. If you're willing to pay a lot of money, you can have a whole computer (a "dedicated" server) just to yourself; a really fast computer with the fastest Internet connection will be the most expensive. Many plans are hundreds of dollars a month, and some are thousands of dollars per month--even tens of thousands, depending on the connection speed and the software packages. Alternately, you can get Shared hosting, in which you share a server computer with other customers. The cheaper the cost, the more people are sharing the servers.

You might think, "OK, I don't mind sharing." However, sharing means that the server computer is busy taking care of all the different sites. This takes up memory and CPU time. The more another user's site does, the less time your site gets from the computer. And often times, other users will misbehave, using software on their sites which demands most of the server's power and time. When that happens, your site may slow down or go offline temporarily. Shared hosting is like sharing an apartment--it's cheaper, but you have to wait in line to use the bathroom in the morning.

Some Web Hosts Are Better Than Others

Then there is the quality of the web host. No host is perfect; all have problems from time to time, and you will usually be frustrated when your web site goes down for eight hours just when you needed it. But some are more reliable than others. I used four or five different web hosts until I found one that was relatively stable, and pay about $7 a month for their service. Others are cheaper, but there is more risk of problems that way.

What Do They Offer?

The features you get from a web host include:

  • Disk Space: how much disk space you can use to host files on your domain;
  • Email Accounts: you can create a certain number of email accounts with your domain name(s);
  • Bandwidth: this is the amount of data you can upload and download a month, e.g. 100 GB;
  • Domains Allowed: You can usually have multiple domains with one account;
  • Uptime: This refers to how often the site will go down. 99.9% Uptime sounds good, but out of one month of time, 0.1% downtime is equal to your site being offline for 43 minutes. And it's usually the 43 minutes when you told a customer to look at your site.
  • Databases and other special services are also offered.

Most web hosts today will offer "Unlimited" disk space, "Unmetered" bandwidth, and "Unlimited" everything else. These offers are usually false. If you use too much disk space and eat up too much bandwidth, they will either cut you off, or just transfer your domain to a server filled with people who use too many resources, and so everyone is slowed down and inconvenienced all the time.

However, usually what they offer is good enough, unless you have a really ambitious web site. But for most people who just want to run a blog, a discussion forum, a phot gallery site, or a simple online shop, most shared hosting is good enough. The real test is to find a web host which has good uptime and reliable customer support. You can find such places by recommendations (sometimes on web hosting forums like this one), or by simply trying different web hosts until you find one you like.

You sign up for service (get the month-by-month contract, at least until you feel you can trust the web host) and get your account with the web host.

Now What?

So, you bought a domain name, and decided on a web host. Now what?

About a day or so after you sign up with a web host, you will get an email from them with your user account information. Aside from your user name and password, the most important part is something called the "DNS" or "Domain Name Server" addresses. These are important because they are what you use to connect your domain name to the IP Address at the web host.

When you get the DNS addresses, go to your domain name registrar and log in to your account. You will be able to go to a control area where you can manage your domains. They will allow you to enter the DNS addresses for your web host. When you set the name servers, it will take anywhere from a few hours to a few days for the settings to "propagate," after which the domain name will connect to your web host.

Putting Up Your Site

Once your site is online, people can see it. You will need to write web pages on your personal computer (what we will learn after the end of this chapter), and then use an FTP program to transfer the web site files from your computer to the web host. When you do that, you will have a web site!

When you access your site through an FTP client, you will be able to see the folders on the domain's file server just as you see them on your own computer. The main directory may look like this:

Notice the folder called "public_html": that's your web site. For example, the image above shows the main directory of this site, lcjapan.com; the "public_html" folder contains the files one sees when one types "http://www.lcjapan.com" into a browser. It is important to remember that a web site is really just a folder on a computer. You can create web pages on your computer in a folder, and then when you upload the folder to your domain using FTP--it's a web site!

Controlling Your Site

Your web host will probably give you a "Control Panel," a special web page which allows you to easily control complex aspects of your site. With the Control Panel, you can set up email accounts, set up extra domains for no extra hosting cost, create blogs and forums and even online shops, maintain databases, and a lot more.

I Need to Be a Geek, Though, Right?

Well, not really. You will need to some some technical stuff, which you will learn along the way most likely--but running a web site does not require professional training. Like most things in life, it just requires some study and some patience.

What's the Damage?

Like I mentioned above, having your own, private domain and a good site setup is not free. Still, for about $84 a year for web hosting, and $12 a year each for a half-dozen domain names, I run several web sites--including this one.

 



 



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