For some time we’ve registered our .uk domains through Heart Internet, and have wondered what their hosting is like. Recently our friend Justin at Deal Nerd, who has a reseller account with Heart, kindly offered us the chance to try their hosting free for a while by creating a client account for us.
Although we’re very happy with our existing hosting at ServInt, it’s rather more powerful than most webmasters will have a need for – for instance, it allows us to configure the server as we wish to enable us to support our own choice of software, and to sell space to users who themselves can re-sell space if they wish. So it was useful to get the chance to review a hosting provider at a more basic level.
We tested the hosting by temporarily shifting over one of our existing minor sites from our own hosting. This was easy enough to do. Like our own hosting, Heart’s is set up on the so-called LAMP framework – Linux operating system, Apache HTML server, MySQL database server, PHP dynamic page pre-processor. This set-up is the single most popular server software base in use at present, and has been for several years.
Ease of set-up
Mostly this was straightforward. The only complication crept in when it came to setting up the nameservers for our domain – the nameservers being the servers that tell browsers where on the Internet they can find a particular website. Initially we weren’t told what nameservers we should use, which would have made it a little tricky to get things set up (and, incidentally, would have meant that people trying to visit the site would still be directed to the old version). But that was quickly and easily resolved.
This was quite attractive compared to the offering on our current hosting, the widely used cPanel. It’s very similar in concept – the various hosting functions you can control are divided up into various mini-panels according to concepts such as files, email, web stats & logs, web tools. You can drag-and-drop these panels up and down the page to rearrange them into the order that makes most sense for you.
The file manager is a little quirky. It has tool icons above the file directory listing, but you have to hover on them to find out what they do. Not all of them are intuitive – for instance, the “Select all” button looks like a directory tree, and the button that looks like a “Download” button is labelled “Open”. Annoyingly, the directory hierarchy and the files are presented in a single window rather than separate ones side by side, so you have to double-click to be taken to a particular sub-directory, and then of course the higher levels of the tree disappear (although there is at least a breadcrumb).
Database management is through the popular phpMyAdmin package.
Logs and stats
Heart offer the popular AWStats and Webalizer packages, though you have to set them up yourself in folders for viewing on your public website (although of course you can password-protect those folders if you don’t want the whole world to see where your traffic’s coming from).
There are quite a few site software packages that you can install easily using the installation wizards supplied – popular applications like WordPress, Joomla and Mambo content management systems, RoundCube webmail, phpBB3 forum, and more. There are also various e-commerce shopping carts available too. However, these facilities aren’t available with Heart’s cheapest hosting package – to take advantage of them, you’ll need to pay for at least the Home Pro package, at £7.49 plus VAT a month (as opposed to the Basic Pro at £2.49 plus VAT).
In their publicity Heart Internet make quite a lot of the amount of free software, graphics and website templates they offer. However, the offer’s not that amazing. Much of the software is for Windows users, so if you’re running a Mac or Linux-based machine then you’re not going to find much to interest you. A lot of it is stuff that’s generally available anyway, such as the Firefox and Chrome browsers. Some of it is out-of-date, eg the Pop Up Zapper, a “wonderful program” that prevents pop-up ads – for Internet Explorer versions 5 and 6. (Rather schizophrenically, the next item in the list is Secret Popup Maker, a tool to create pop-up ads that appear at timed intervals after a visitor has left your website. Urggh.)
There are 570 free templates, over 100 logos “that can be adapted easily for your own use”, 22,500 photos (not very high resolution – 320 x 240 pixels), and clipart.
One “freebie” that could be useful if you’re in the UK and your broadband fails is the “free” dial-up internet access. I say “free” because it’s actually on an 0845 number and charged at the local rate.
We wouldn’t advise allowing Heart’s freebies to sway you in their favour.
Heart Internet offer 24 x 7 x 365 support via a ticketing system – they aim to respond to all tickets within four hours. They also have an online live chat service. We can’t say how well their support staff respond to problems as we didn’t have cause to contact them, which I suppose is a good sign. (On the other hand, Justin himself had a very poor experience when trying to resolve a non-routine technical problem with them, discussed here on the Experienced People forum.)
One odd thing that occurred was that our site suddenly seemed to start attracting brute force attacks – ie people trying to get into the site by finding out the username and trying possible passwords. They didn’t succeed (we use good long passwords with random combinations of letters, numbers and punctuation) but it was annoying nonetheless. Whether this was a consequence of the server set-up or not, we couldn’t say; there’s every possibility that it was just an unfortunate coincidence.
Heart Internet seems to be a reasonably priced, reasonably solid hosting provider. I would hesitate to give it an out-and-out wholehearted endorsement, partly because of the minor niggles but mostly because six weeks of running one website isn’t exactly a stringent test. But you can’t go too far wrong, bearing in mind that you can buy it on a monthly basis and there’s a 30-day money-back guarantee.