(updated 12/12/2012)

Host your own website...

As some of you may well know, providers like Sympatico offer space on their servers for the use of their members. This space can be used to house a small website.

In Sympatico's case, the amount of space is 5 MB. This is actually a decent amount of space for a website with pages of links and text, and some images.

If you are a Sympatico member, you can find out how to go about activating and utilizing this space by following this link...

Two issues may come up for you if you decide to set up a personal website. The first is the amount of space you can get "for free". The second is the URL that users will use to get to your website.

As to the first issue, if 5 MB is not enough (for all the pictures a member would like to post there, for example), then the member will have to look for a paid solution with a website host. This can be quite expensive.

As to the second issue, a member's website with Sympatico will be something like this - www3.sympatico.ca/cam.longhurst. This may not be suitable if the member is using the web space for a small business or association with a specific name. To get around this, a member could create and register a domain name, but then the problem of website hosting appears again, with the prohibitive expense.

Case history (dated 2003) ...

I first set up my Sympatico website a few years ago. It works well enough, but I ran out of space. I set up a second site for ancestal information using free space provided by Tripod.ca. I had 5 MB there, too. It filled up extremely quickly because I posted some high-quality photos there - at 200-300 kb each, I could not keep more than a dozen or so. Text-wise it was okay, though. Tripod.ca closed, and I moved to their Tripod.com site. Same problem anyway - I was out of space.

I began investigating web-hosting services, and found that the largest free space I could find was 50 MB (at 50megs.com), with no domain name. To get any real space - say, 200-500 MB - and get a domain name, I would have to pay something. The "something" was going to be several hundred dollars, annually.

On another front, I was investigating how to turn my computer into a music server - a "shoutcast radio station" using Winamp media player. The software was free, although copyrights don't permit the legal playing of most music without royalty fees being paid. The creators of the "shoutcast" software also had a free web server software package, which got me thinking...

And on still another front, I was investigating software called RealVNC - free software that allows a user to remotely control another PC via the Internet. All of these packages work very well, but all require that the IP address or URL of the "server" be known.

Now, I have a router installed which acts as a network hub and firewall for my PCs. This router can be set up to route inquiries to software running on a networked PC. This software will "listen" for traffic on certain ports (a "port" being like an extension of an IP or URL, like 192.168.0.1:5900), and the listening PC will "serve up" content. Anyone accessing my IP address via the Internet would receive a response from my network as if it was an HTTP server or a shoutcast server, depending on the port accessed. And anyone using RealVNC could remotely access my network on a different port if they knew the password.

The problem of knowing IP addresses seemed to be a simple problem to deal with - until thought through. I happened to know that Sympatico periodically shuffles the IP addresses given out to members at the time they log on based on their activity (or inactivity). These dynamic IP addresses last about 10 hours or so on average, then are changed. So, I could give out my IP address at a given time, but when it changed, I would have to realize this and notify any potential users. Or, if I took my current IP address with me when I went out to a remote site, I could access my network - but not if the IP address was changed by Sympatico while I was away. And, while away, I would have no way of knowing what it had changed to. If I had a static (unchanging) IP address, these problems could be solved.

When I inquired as to the cost of setting up a static IP address with Sympatico, I found that I would need a business account, and my cost would be about $225 per month. (While static IPs would be somewhat less elsewhere, it was not much less.) I would also need to register a domain name (say, for an additional $30). People looking for my domain name would be directed by Bell to my IP address, and my PC would serve the site's pages (or shoutcast music) on demand, as explained above. This is a lot of money to fork out monthly, considering I do not use the site for commerce per se, but to provide useful, free information.

Bell is sympathetic to this problem of home users and static IP addresses, and directs their members to a company called EasyDNS.

Here is what EasyDNS will do... They will register and maintain a domain name you choose, and then route traffic to the domain name to an IP address you provide. They will direct you to use a software program called DynSite, which runs in the background on your PC and checks the dynamic IP address for changes. If and when your IP address changes, the DYNSite software will notify EasyDNS as to what the new IP address is. EasyDNS then routes all future traffic to the new IP address.

Problem solved. I now have a domain name (which is nice in itself), and a virtual static IP address. I can now use a networked PC to serve up my website, and I have no real size limitations at all anymore. And, when I want to know what my IP address is for RealVNC or another purpose, I can click on a link at my website that opens an updated text file containing the current IP. A very nice arrangement.

Step-by-step...

To set up a home-based website, follow these steps...

1) Get a high-speed Internet connection (for about $40 per month). These are generally always on. (Call 310-BELL for high-speed Sympatico, which may be available in your area.)

2) Get a router - like the D-Link DI-604, for about $70. (The router needs to have the ability to direct traffic on incoming ports to "listening" software.) Install it, setting it up to use your high-speed connection account and password (a PPPoE-type connection). Also, set it up to forward virtual HTTP server inquiries to a local static IP address.

3) Setup up your network software to use the local static IP address specified above, instead of obtaining an IP address automatically.

4) Get and install software that can act as an HTTP server - like SimpleServer:WWW from AnalogX (it's free). Tell it where the home page of your site is on your PC, and have it listen on the incoming HTTP port (typically 80/80). The home page should know where the rest of your site materials are, in relation to itself. Test the site by entering your IP address into the location (or address) bar of a browser on a networked PC. You should see your website pop up.

5) Contact EasyDNS - set up an account, and register a domain name. The cost is about $40 annually. EasyDNS will begin forwarding your domain traffic to the latest IP address you provide as soon as all the paperwork is completed. Test by entering your domain name into the location (or address) bar of your browser. You should see your website pop up.

6) Download, install and register the DynSite software from noeld.com. (It costs $15 U.S. to register.) Set it up to tell EasyDNS what the dynamic IP address is, as it changes. Test by entering your domain name into the location (or address) bar of your browser. You should see your website pop up.

At this point, you are basically set up.

Issues and notes...

Of course, the "serving" computer must remain on at all times to serve files at all times. This is not harmful, but does have a small cost associated.

While you could use a dial-up connection, a high-speed connection is preferred. Since the upload speed of a high-speed service is only 128K or so, the site may seem a bit slow for uploading images to high-speed users. Higher-speed connections are becoming available, at modestly higher prices.

DynSite has a ten-minute cycle for checking, so if a change occurs, as many as ten minutes can pass before the website responds to new inquiries. This is liveable at the price, and future services may improve and remove this potential delay. With Sympatico, you can expect your IP address to change perhaps two to three times in 24 hours, which is not frequent at all, and may happen overnight. This would be the only time that your site would not be immediately available. (And regular users may have cached pages of your site to work with in the meantime.)

If the computer you are using is your main computer, consider getting a second computer to use as the server. A KVM (keyboard, monitor, mouse) switch can be used in place of a second keyboard, monitor and mouse. (I am using an elderly P166 MMX notebook as my server, so I do not have the need for any other hardware. At present, it seems fast enough.)

Assuming you have a website ready, the whole process done expeditiously would take a few hours or so to set up. Remember the domain name will take about 72 hours to become active, so you can do the work in stages while this takes place.

Summary of estimated costs (taxes in, Canadian dollars)...

One time - a serviceable router $85.00
One time - the DynSite software $27.00
Monthly - a high-speed connection (which you may already be paying for anyway) $45.00
Annually - domain name registration and EasyDNS IP update service $45.00


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