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Web Hosting - FTP and Other File Transfer Tools Anything related to the Internet or computers is bound to introduce technical issues pretty soon. One of the earliest that novice web site owners encounter is FTP, which is an acronym for File Transfer Protocol. Seeing it spelled out, it's easy to see why those in the know quickly move to speaking in short hand. The reason web site owners soon will (or need to) become familiar with FTP is obvious to anyone who has built a site on a remote server. You have to have some way of getting the files to the remote computer and FTP is one of the most common tools. It's also one of the simplest and most efficient. FTP is composed of two parts: the client software and the server software. It's similar, in a way, to talking to someone on the phone who writes down everything you say. You (the client) make a request ('transfer this file to the server') and the listener (the server) takes the request and acts on it. That request to copy a file from a local computer to the remote one is carried out (often 'under the covers') by a PUT command, as in PUT this there. You create the web page (in the form of a file) and then PUT the file on the server. To move a file in the opposite direction, from the remote server to your local computer, your client software issues a GET command. Many FTP clients have graphical interfaces, similar to Windows Explorer, that allow you to drag-and-drop or otherwise copy the file without ever seeing the actual commands that carry it out. But it's helpful sometimes to know what goes on underneath. In tricky cases it can be an advantage to use a command line interface (in Windows, the 'DOS box', with a similar interface familiar to most Linux users). Knowing the commands and being able to use them in the command line form can sometimes help you diagnose what is going on when the graphical tools misbehave. But FTP is not the only way to get a file from here to there. In fact, your browser moves files around from a remote computer to your local one all the time. In most cases, when you type in or click on a URL, what happens under the covers is in essence a file transfer process. The web page is transferred from the web server to your local computer then displayed by the browser. Alternatively, you can sometimes even email a web page/file from your local computer to the remote server, then use an email client on the server itself to get the file and put it in a folder. That requires that you have some form of access to the remote computer. But there are many ways of doing that, such as in-built utilities in the operating system or using commercial remote control programs. Those alternatives can be helpful to know in cases where the FTP file transfer process is misbehaving. Having more than one way to accomplish the task helps you diagnose what might be going wrong. It also helps you get the job done when the usual tools aren't cooperating. The more you learn about these sometimes puzzling acronyms, the easier you can accomplish your own goals.

Web Hosting - Redundancy and Failover Among the more useful innovations in computing, actually invented decades ago, are the twin ideas of redundancy and failover. These fancy words name very common sense concepts. When one computer (or part) fails, switch to another. Doing that seamlessly and quickly versus slowly with disruption defines one difference between good hosting and bad. Network redundancy is the most widely used example. The Internet is just that, an inter-connected set of networks. Between and within networks are paths that make possible page requests, file transfers and data movement from one spot (called a 'node') to the next. If you have two or more paths between a user's computer and the server, one becoming unavailable is not much of a problem. Closing one street is not so bad, if you can drive down another just as easily. Of course, there's the catch: 'just as easily'. When one path fails, the total load (the amount of data requested and by how many within what time frame) doesn't change. Now the same number of 'cars' are using fewer 'roads'. That can lead to traffic jams. A very different, but related, phenomenon occurs when there suddenly become more 'cars', as happens in a massively widespread virus attack, for example. Then, a large number of useless and destructive programs are running around flooding the network. Making the situation worse, at a certain point, parts of the networks may shut down to prevent further spread, producing more 'cars' on now-fewer 'roads'. A related form of redundancy and failover can be carried out with servers, which are in essence the 'end-nodes' of a network path. Servers can fail because of a hard drive failure, motherboard overheating, memory malfunction, operating system bug, web server software overload or any of a hundred other causes. Whatever the cause, when two or more servers are configured so that another can take up the slack from one that's failed, that is redundancy. That is more difficult to achieve than network redundancy, but it is still very common. Not as common as it should be, since many times a failed server is just re-booted or replaced or repaired with another piece of hardware. But, more sophisticated web hosting companies will have such redundancy in place. And that's one lesson for anyone considering which web hosting company may offer superior service over another (similarly priced) company. Look at which company can offer competent assistance when things fail, as they always do sooner or later. One company may have a habit of simply re-booting. Others may have redundant disk arrays. Hardware containing multiple disk drives to which the server has access allows for one or more drives to fail without bringing the system down. The failed drive is replaced and no one but the administrator is even aware there was a problem. Still other companies may have still more sophisticated systems in place. Failover servers that take up the load of a crashed computer, without the end-user seeing anything are possible. In fact, in better installations, they're the norm. When they're in place, the user has at most only to refresh his or her browser and, bingo, everything is fine. The more a web site owner knows about redundancy and failover, the better he or she can understand why things go wrong, and what options are available when they do. That knowledge can lead to better choices for a better web site experience.

Web Hosting - When Changing Web Hosts Nearly everyone will want to change to a new web host at some point. It may involve just changing out old hardware for new. It usually means finding an entirely new web hosting company. When faced with that decision there are a number of issues to be considered. Swapping hardware and/or software is a fairly straightforward decision. There are two possible scenarios. Either you maintain your own hardware and software at a facility managed by others, or you are considering upgrading to newer (usually more expensive) systems maintained by others. In either case, it's simply a matter of estimating the cost and the short-term impact versus the long-term benefits. If the system(s) you currently use are short on capacity, sooner or later you'll be sufficiently motivated to make the change. Either the hardware will become unreliable or loaded to the point you'll be forced to migrate, or your needs will expand enough to justify the effort and expense of moving. Similar considerations apply to the scenario in which you rely on the web hosting company for everything, and want to find someone else to rely on. Regrettably, that's a very common situation. Many web hosting companies provide systems and staff that sooner or later fall below an acceptable level. Most people make the decision to change based on emotion. That's not entirely bad. Emotions incent you to take action. But you need to keep a cool head, too, in order to calculate your long-range self-interest. Bearing some minor inconveniences from time to time is usually worth the trade off. When it begins to affect your site to the point you're losing visitors, it's time to make a change. To get a more objective handle on when that point is reached, reach for some numbers. Maintain, or get from the hosting company, a factual report about availability and current usage. If the server is down so much, or so heavily loaded, that it drives your visitors away, it's time to take action. There are other less easily quantifiable but equally important factors, as well. You will at some point need to communicate with one or more persons who help maintain your site. Even if you do all your own server, database and web site maintenance, someone behind the scenes is helping to keep things running smoothly. That's called 'infrastructure'. If the road you drive on has potholes, it's not enough that you can fix your own car. In terms of network bandwidth and availability, server capacity, disk space, security and a whole array of other aspects, the web hosting company has to have competent people who care (and are allowed) to do the job well. When the company's people fall down - because of incompetence, lack of resources or absence of a culture of excellence - or for any other reason - your web site suffers. This issue more than any other is what drives people to seek another web hosting company. Even if you choose well at the outset, things can change. Management changes, staff changes and companies are taken over by other companies. Sometimes, it isn't simply a matter of swapping out an unreliable piece of hardware or software. When it's time to swap out people, you look for the same aspect: doing the job required.