If you would like to start a website, but do not think you can afford the costs involved, perhaps you should consider free web hosting. Many of these free services actually provide a great level of functionality and are a great way to get started on the web. Some of these free services will allow you to use a domain you have bought elsewhere, but many will give you a sub domain or directory of your own, but not your own domain name. Even though for some small websites free hosting is a viable option, it is important to know the limitations that come with choosing this option, before you make your choice.
You will not be able to use as much space as you can with paid hosts. You will find that you are limited in terms of disk space and bandwidth. This is not too important if you only have a small personal website for a few people to view, but for larger websites it would not be good enough. You will not be able to hot link to files and may not be able to include video and music files, as they will take up too much space.
You should also be prepared that many free hosts will present their own adverts on your site, in the form of banners or pop ups. You will have to ask yourself if this is something you are OK with. Free web hosts may not be able to guarantee the same level of uptime as paid versions. Most paid hosts will guarantee 99% uptime. Of course if your website if not up, no one will be able to see it. It is all not all doom and gloom however, free web host services often provide an easy to use control panel and some will allow the inclusion of scripts and the uploading of files via FTP.
There are several different kinds of free hosting such as instant activation, approved activation, forum hosting and post for hosting. Each one comes with its own limitations. In the case of instant activation you will usually be provided with extremely small disk space and bandwidth. Unfortunately there is also the risk of being spammed.
Approved activation sites will generally get more space and bandwidth, although there are not usually many other features. You will have to wait whilst an administrator validates your application. This helps the company to avoid spam sites and generally makes the company higher quality.
Other hosting companies require something in return for the free hosting. They may want you to post a certain number of times in their forum, before you will receive an account.
Although different free services offer different things, it is only really worthwhile considering this option for a very small site, where you do not require much control. If you are planning on having many visitors, or running videos or images on your site you should think about paid hosting. This will be far more secure and will give your visitors a much more positive experience overall.