The company website focuses very much on value, with eye-catchingly low prices everywhere you look. Shared web hosting starts from €1.60 a month (£1.41, $1.87), cloud hosting from €2.49 (£2.20, $2.90), dedicated servers from €34 (£30, $39.60), managed servers from €29 (£26.60, $33.80), and the list goes on. There had to be a catch, we thought – and we were sort of right.
Most products have setup fees, for instance. The baseline shared hosting plan may headline at €1.60 a month, but you'll pay a one-off €8.32 (£7.35, $9.70) when you sign up. It's the same as you work your way up the product list, so for example dedicated servers come with at least a €79 (£69.80, $92) setup fee.
The cheapest plans have some important limits and restrictions, too. The ultra-budget €1.60 hosting plan allows only 5GB a month traffic, for instance. There's also no support for databases, so you can forget about installing WordPress or most other big web apps.
It's not all bad news. Even the cheapest shared hosting plan includes a free domain and a Symantec Basic SSL Certificate for a year. Plus you can sign up for just a month, without penalty – you don't need to pay for years of service upfront to get the headline price.
Alternatively, moving up the product range will remove many of the restrictions while still proving good value. For example, the Level 4 shared hosting plan supports unlimited bandwidth, 50GB disk space and up to 10 databases. You can host up to 5 websites on the same account, and yet it still costs a very reasonable €4.12 a month (£4.62, $4.80) plus a €4.12 setup fee.
Web hosting support is available via email and phone, but during business hours only (Monday to Friday, 8am to 6pm CET), potentially a big problem if you're running a business or other important site.
If you can live with that, there's a small environmental bonus in Hetzner's 100% Green Energy pledge to use energy from reusable sources to power its data centers.
Hetzner Online does an unusually good job of presenting its plans clearly, but with plenty of low-level detail for those who need it. For example, we found our chosen Level 4 hosting plan supported MySQL and PostgreSQL databases, PHP5 and PHP7, but didn't allow Cron jobs, Perl or Python, or support interactive login via SSH. Many users don't have to know or care about any of that, but this kind of detail is critical for some applications, and we're happy to see it presented upfront.
This documentation made it easy for us to understand and select our preferred product, and tapping the Order button launched a wizard to walk us through the signup process.
We began by completing a form with our personal details, just the usual name, phone number, physical and email address details. Within a minute or two we had logged on to Hetzner Online's web console, where we were able to browse a list of products and place our order.
Payment methods available are debit order, bank transfer and credit card. Beware, credit card payments are only allowed for annual contracts.
Moments after parting with our cash, an email arrived with some important details on the service: email servers, FTP credentials, name servers and so on. There was also an odd problem – the email said it was registering our domain, even though we'd said during setup that we owned it already – but we weren't billed for it and the issue was never mentioned again, so it seems to have been a simple mistake.
Setup complete, the website redirected us to our management console and we were ready to go.
Creating a site
Hetzner Online's shared hosting doesn't provide cPanel to help manage your website, instead offering a horribly basic custom control panel of its own.
The plain and text-heavy interface organizes its functions in a left-hand sidebar. An FTP module enables setting up FTP accounts which you can then use to upload and organize your website files, or you can do this from within your browser via the WebFTP file manager. We wouldn't recommend that approach, though – it will upload your files for you, but otherwise it's one of the most feeble and underpowered file managers around.
A one-click installer is on hand to install WordPress, but there's no support for anything else. You can still install other applications, of course, but you must figure out how to do it yourself. That's a little disappointing, when other web hosts regularly offer platforms such as Softaculous which can install hundreds of apps.
This won't matter very much if you're only looking for WordPress, of course, and there's no faulting the installer's abilities. We ran the script, it set up WordPress at high speed, allowed us to tweak settings (admin email, username, password) and pointed us to our new WordPress control panel. This is just a default installation, with no custom bundled themes, plugins or anything else, but it's enough to get you up and running reasonably quickly.
A scattering of other tools enables setting up email accounts, creating and manipulating databases, managing subdomains, tweaking PHP settings and more. There are a few highlights – AWStats gives you quality reports on your website visitors, an excellent DNS Administration tool allows detailed DNS record editing – and we had enough tools to handle most simple tasks, but experienced or demanding users will miss cPanel's power.
Hetzner Online's awkward web interface is often a little confusing, and the chances are that even experienced users will need some support from time to time.
An online help system is available for quick reference, but it's seriously limited: just a Help icon which displays a popup window with details on the current page. Most of these articles are short, some areas have no help at all, and there's no way to search or browse the articles independent of the interface. As with the web console, there's just enough detail to get by, and absolutely nothing more.
Support is available via email and a German telephone number, but only on weekdays from 8am to 6pm CET. That's going to be a problem if you run into any major issues, but it's also no great surprise for such low-cost hosting.
To complete the review, we ran some performance and other checks on our website. These confirmed that our server was hosted in Germany, and had an IP address within a range owned by Hetzner Online. The server didn't seem to be overloaded with websites, although it's difficult to be certain, and performance was just as we would have expected for a shared server hosted in Germany: we saw decent speeds in Europe, acceptable for the US, but tailing off with distance for everywhere else.
Capable basics-only budget hosting. This is good value for experts who can live within the service specs, but beginners or demanding users should look for a more helpful or powerful provider.
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