If you prefer your web hosting provider to have a glossy and slick website, Free Web Hosting Area will be a disappointment. The company's site is dated and text-heavy, with few details on what it has to offer. Look closer, though, and the service becomes much more interesting.
There's a reason the site looks dated, for instance: the company has been around since 2005, and the design has barely changed. Okay, so maybe it could have found time for an update, but we're more interested in the features the service has to offer.
And when you look at those features, there's a lot to like. That includes unmetered traffic, 1.5GB disk space, daily backups, MySQL databases via MariaDB – and what the company calls 'responsive support.' If you're thinking 'shouldn't support always be responsive?', you're quite right, but keep in mind that many free web hosts give you virtually no support at all.
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More technical features include Apache 2.4 with mod_rewrite 'and other important modules' enabled, as well as .htaccess and .htpasswd support.
In May 2019, Free Web Hosting Area added free SSL certificates to its plan. This sounds like good news, but beware, these aren't automatic – the company says it will only give them to users with 'quality web content.'
There are other issues. Individual website files can't be larger than 12MB. Users with free domains can't create email accounts (even those using their own domain have to follow awkward workarounds). Forget about having an industry-standard tool like cPanel to manage your website: you get a very basic custom control panel, with barely any features at all.
Sign up anyway and your site can be hosted on one of an impressive sounding nine subdomains, though beware, you may not want to use any of them: orgfree.com, 6te.net, xp3.biz, ueuo.com, eu5.org, coolpage.biz, freeoda.com, freevar.com, freetzi.com. But if those options don't appeal, you can also host the site on a custom domain of your own.
A premium account supports more databases, provides one-click database backups, enables php mail(), gives you extra DNS flexibility (you can use an A record with your own domain, instead of NS), allows direct access to your files and ensures your site won't be deleted for inactivity. This isn't the most essential of feature lists, but on the plus side, the paid plan is cheap, at just $12 per year.
The Free Web Hosting Area signup process starts by choosing your website subdomain, or entering a domain of your own. Enter your email address, choose a password and your account is enabled immediately. And we do mean immediately – the company doesn't verify your email address or even send an introductory welcome email, instead redirecting you to a web page with more details.
Experienced users won't have any problems picking out the information they need. You get logins for FTP and your control panel, MySQL and PHP guidance, phpMyAdmin setup, and more.
Beginners, though, are likely to be confused. The introductory page assumes readers have website experience (with instructions like 'put your files directly on root'). It has plenty of advanced details that other providers tuck away in a FAQ somewhere ('Take care with full permissions 777!') There's no simple 'Getting Started' overview to walk you through your first steps; Free Web Hosting Area assumes you'll know about all this already.
Creating a website
Free Web Hosting Area doesn't have any of the easy website creation tools of the top competition. Forget template-based site builders, automated installers for WordPress or other apps – there's none of that here.
What you get instead is a simple file manager (net2ftp), essentially a web-based FTP client which allows you to upload a static website, reorganize and edit files. (You can opt to use a standalone FTP client, if you prefer).
Although the file manager isn't difficult to use, it's not fully integrated with the control panel. It requires FTP credentials, for instance, so even though you've logged into the control panel, when you launch the file manager, you must log in again with a second username and password.
Elsewhere, phpMyAdmin access enables directly manipulating MySQL databases, which is handy if you're hoping to install WordPress or similar database-driven apps.
And that's just about it. No, really, we're not kidding. You can choose your PHP version or delete your website and start again, but the other few options you get are mostly about updating your details (providing an email address, changing passwords) or contacting the company.
There's no web knowledgebase to help you out if you run into problems, but Free Web Hosting Area does offer email support. We tested this by sending a short message about SSL support, asking whether the company was using Let's Encrypt certificates, and what was meant by the firm saying that certificates would only be given to sites with 'quality web content.'
A reply arrived almost exactly eight hours later, a decent response time for any level of hosting. The agent didn't tell us anything about the company's SSL certificates, but explained that 'sites with a page containing "TEST PAGE" are, of course, not quality content.'
Well, okay, but having to put your website through that type of subjective test is still a hassle. You'll have to make sure your site is largely finished and viewable, for instance, before you ask. And what if your site is password-protected, so all any casual visitor sees is a login box? Will you have to hand over some credentials to Free Web Hosting Area, in order for it to assess the 'quality' of your content?
Speed is an important factor in choosing a web host, and although you can get better performance if you're spending big money, free services often deliver more than you'd expect.
We had Uptime.com continuously monitor the performance of our website over time. The report showed a typical response time of 260ms, fractionally slower than average, though not enough to make a noticeable difference. This could rise to as much as 1.4 seconds, which is also slower than many competitors, but these issues were rare (two or three times a day, lasting a few minutes at most).
Dotcom-tools website speed test simulated loading our site from 16 locations across the US and Europe. This time, Free Web Hosting Area was 10-20% faster than usual, with page load times averaging 724ms for the first run, 694ms for the second.
Put it all together and speed doesn't seem to be an issue for Free Web Hosting Area. Keep in mind that your results may vary considerably if you're on a server with a stack of very busy websites, though, all competing for the same bandwidth. The only way to find out for sure is to create a test site and monitor its speed over time.
A quirky web host which scores in some areas (unmetered traffic, backups), and bombs in others (feeble control panel, no auto-WordPress installer). Worth a look for experienced users who need its more technical features, but everyone else will be better off elsewhere.
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