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What You Need to Know About Web Site Bandwidth

by John Lenaghan

The term "bandwidth" can have different meanings, depending on the context it's used in. In terms of web hosting, it's referring to the amount of data that gets transferred to and from your website.

Incoming data includes requests for web pages, incoming email, and files uploaded with FTP. Outgoing data includes web pages being read by your visitors, downloads via FTP and outgoing email messages.

When you sign up for a web hosting account you are normally allocated a certain amount of bandwidth per month. This can range anywhere from 3GB for a smaller website to 200GB or more for busy sites with lots of traffic.

How Much Bandwidth Do You Actually Need?

That will depend on how much traffic your website gets, as well as the type of content you offer. Basic web pages with text and some small pictures don't use much bandwidth, but if you get thousands of visitors every day it can add up.

If your website offers content such as music, videos or large graphics your bandwidth can be quite high even if you don't get that many visitors each day.

The easiest way to determine roughly how much bandwidth you'll need is to multiply the total amount of downloadable content the number of visitors you get each month.

Add the amount of email traffic and FTP transfers to that number and you'll have a pretty accurate estimate. It will probably be a little high because it's unlikely that every single visitor will download every bit of content on your site. This will give you a bit of a safety margin.

As you get more traffic to your website and more content is added, you might have to increase your bandwidth allocation. It's better to be proactive when you think you might need more bandwidth, and arrange for it ahead of time.

Some web hosts will shut down your site if you exceed your bandwidth while others will bill you for additional data transferred. Having your site shut down would be bad enough but if your host bills for additional bandwidth, the cost can be considerable.

It's not uncommon for unsuspecting webmasters to be billed thousands of dollars for unexpected traffic, if their website suddenly get a big surge of visitors. This can happen if your site gets some unexpected promotion by being linked from a busy website or being mentioned on a radio or television program.

Throttle Your Traffic Back

If you don't want to upgrade your bandwidth but are afraid of going over your limit, some hosts offer a way to "throttle" your traffic.

One of the ways this can be done is the host can specify a minimum "idle time" between requests from visitors. If too many requests start coming in at once, the server will start to delay them by a certain amount of time.

Other options include imposing a limit on the amount of data transferred within a specified time period or limiting the number of requests for any given file.

Throttling isn't a good idea if your website is a major component of your business, however. It will mean your site can be slower to load and your visitors may not be able to access everything properly.

The best time to use throttling is if you offer a lot of free content and don't want to spend too much giving it away to people.

John Lenaghan writes about free web page hosting and other website hosting topics on the Hosting Report website. Find out more at http://www.hostingreport.org

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Tuesday, Jun 20th, 2006