Internet Requirements

This is where the choice becomes a bit tricky, there is a whole host of different internet providers available each offering different packages. Let's got through what basic types of connection is available first, in the UK the three most common are ADSL, Cable and Fibre.

ADSL: By far the most common connection available, internet is provided through the copper wires originally laid down decades ago to provide a telephone service. Connection speeds are offered up to 24Mbps downstream but in reality it is heavily dependant on the distance from the telephone exchange where the copper lines terminate, and the quality of that copper underground. These two issues are beyond control and connection speeds can be drastically lower then what's advertised.

Cable: Also known in the states as DSL is provided by companies that use a different telephone infrastructure to the national BT one. In the UK the main contender is Virgin Media who provide all its services through a fibre optic backbone, before moving to coax cable at the green cabinets at the end of the street to travel the short distance to the residence. Upside of this is that companies like Virgin Media can offer greater speeds then any other service due to its modern infrastructure. Downside is that the service is not nationwide, only certain areas can access it, and new build housing in an established cable area are normally left out, also unlike ADSL the operator has total control over the network, so if the service doesn't suit, changing providers is not an option.

Fibre: Recently BT Openreach (the company that owns all traditional telephone lines) has been playing catchup with cable companies in introducing fibre optics to its network. Here fibre is used as back haul from the exchange to the roadside cabinet, with the existing copper lines completing the last mile. Connection speeds are as yet still trailing the cable option but it is certainly more competitive, with a choice of service provider available. However it is not yet available to all parts of the country, service tends to be in more built up areas where BT Openreach can get a greater return in users for the investment, but the final plan is to convert most of the UK to fibre.

Whatever you choose, for a web server the most important value of speed is the upstream connection. All internet connections aimed at home markets are asynchronous, so the download and upload speeds are based on a ratio, typically 6:1 for ADSL meaning the upload speed is around 20% of the download. This ratio is in place as home users didn't generate a lot of upload traffic initially, since file sharing and video calls become more standard demand has increased but not enough to sacrifice download bandwidth. When a web server delivers a page to a user the upload pipe is used, as the server is sending the site content to the visiting user, therefore upload speed is important and will be a bottleneck in the operation.

If this is going to be a problem, there are other types of connections available that give equal speeds to downstream and upstream, however these are aimed exclusively to business users and bring a price premium with it.

SDSL: Uses the same transport methods as ADSL but upstream and downstream are given equal speeds, as a result the download stream is lower than consumer services as more bandwidth is given to uploads. This type of connection would be better suited as a secondary connection solely for the server, assuming that another line is able to be installed.

FTTP: Fibre To The Premises uses the same fibre as the consumer option, but in this case the copper last mile is forgone and as the name suggests the fibre carries on and terminates in the users building. Speeds offered on this service go far beyond anything that can be offered by other means but the cost is still extortionate, and extra hardware is needed to convert the fibre signal to traditional Ethernet.

A benefit of the business connection offerings is they usually come with a static IP address. Like discussed when setting a static IP on the local network, having a static one on the Internet side allows websites to be found in the same location every time. As a cheaper option and somewhat as a deterrent to hosting servers, consumer connections have dynamic connections. But don't fear, there is a way around it shown in the how to section.

What may put a halt to publishing websites however is buried deep within a service providers terms and conditions. In an effort to cut costs and prevent “detrimental” server usage on their network, some ISPs resort to blocking common ports in use by servers at a network level meaning there's not a lot that can be done about it except switching providers. These blocked ports can include a web servers port 80, 1723 for VPN and entire IP ranges to stop file sharing like torrents. It's almost a guarantee that if a provider is blocking these ports on a home package, then they will be offering a business service that doesn't block, an effort to get more money in my opinion. Luckily this is fairly uncommon with most providers stating a clause in the terms and conditions that servers can be run, but not so it causes a detriment to the network, roughly translated as constantly high traffic will put you in the spotlight by the ISP.

An Alternative

Where I find setting up and running a website hosted from home fascinating and rewarding I realise that it may not be an option for other wanting to do the same. However there is another way to get a taste of hosting a website for free.

Amazon EC2

Elastic Cloud Computing, part of Amazon Web Services currently has a trail where it gives a small virtual server instance free for a year. With this service you have the impression that you are running a complete server and able to Remote Desktop or SSH into it. Also there is a choice of modern operating systems available to the free tier that will cost thousands to purchase.

A neat feature that helps when testing is that a virtual server can be created, played about with until you break it, then delete and start again with a fresh copy in as little as a few minutes.

From personal experience it is well worth a try, however pay particular attention to what is eligible for free, as it complex to start and can easily stray over the set parameters and incur charges. I was slightly paranoid about clicking and option and it emptying my bank account in seconds, so to avoid this I purchased a Visa gift card from a supermarket and used that as the required payment details, then small charges could be honoured but big shocks won't hit the bank account and after the years trail the unused money can be spent as needed.