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You're hoping not to go over your allocated bandwidth or disk space at your web host, but you may be wondering what happens if you do. For example, what happens if you get a sudden traffic spike to your website, or your website simply grows faster than expected? Here the answers.
First of all, please note that this is not a one-size-fits-all answer. This is because each host handles the situation of overages differently, but I'll explain what typically would happen.
Rest assured that you needn't be blindsided by this - if you get any cheap high quality hosting plan that offers cPanel, such as Hostgator, A2 Hosting or GreenGeeks, then you'll easily be able to keep an eye on your disk space and bandwidth from there.
Furthermore, Hostgator has the added advantage of including unmetered bandwidth and disk space on even their cheapest plan called the Hatchling (the other two hosts offer it on their upgraded plans). This way you don't have to worry about going over your allocation. I wouldn't recommend a host without cPanel since you'll need cPanel to be able to easily set up your site and monitor it. I'll talk about how to check on your usage of disk space and bandwidth further along, but first let's look at what could happen if you exceed your allowance:
In worst case scenario, if you go over either your bandwidth OR your disk space allocation, your site won't function.
There. That's pretty bad right? But as mentioned before, different hosts handle the bandwidth issue differently, so you're not automatically going to fall into the worst case scenario.
The difference between bandwidth and disk space
Remember, bandwidth and disk space are 2 different things.
Bandwidth can be thought of as a loose measure of traffic, so the more traffic you have to your site, the more bandwidth you use up.
Disk space is how much file space your website files take up on the hard drive of your web host. The website files (e.g. Wordpress etc) take up space no matter how many or how few visitors you have. Disk space can be best thought of as "all of the images, text and other stuff the website needs to have readily available at hand to show people, even if there is no traffic". You can have zero visitors and still use up a lot of disk space because your website has a lot of images in it, for example. Your site still needs to have those at hand in case visitors come along.
If you go over your bandwidth...
One of 3 things will happen if you exceed your bandwidth, depending on the terms and conditions of your web host:
- Your host will suspend your site, i.e. it won't load at all until you either a) wait until the next monthly cycle when the bandwidth counter resets to zero again or b) upgrade to a higher level of plan.
- Your host will keep your site going but will charge you a fee, for example $4.00 per extra gigabyte of bandwidth that month (the actual dollar amount will vary at different hosts).
- Your site will load slower if you go over your limit - your host won't stop your site completely but will slow the load time more and more so you don't overload the host's server. That's still a significant problem for your site though, but not as severe as the site being completely unavailable.
If you go over your disk space...
Going over your disk space is even more serious than bandwidth, even though it doesn't sound like it. If you exceed your disk space allocation, caching or other updating likely won't work and as a result, your site could behave unpredictably and crash. Furthermore, you won't be able to send or receive emails.
All of these issues are beyond the host's direct control if you have exceeded your disk space and do not delete any files and remain on that level of plan. Disk space won't reset monthly, so once you get into that problem you can't get over it just by waiting. Slowing down your site won't help a disk space issue. This is because disk space remains a problem even if you have zero visitors, so you'll need to upgrade to a plan with more disk space (at the same host is fine if you're happy with them, no need to switch hosts).
The easiest solution
To get around the problem of bandwidth and disk space limits, I recommend going with a host that offers an unmetered or unlimited plan. That way you don't have to worry about your site becoming unavailable or winding up with additional bills for exceeding your allotment. I also recommend you pick a host that includes cPanel as a point-and-click backend to your sites, which you really need.
Rest assured there are several cheap hosts with cPanel that allow unmetered / unlimited bandwidth and disk space. These are: Hostgator (it's best for beginners - even the most basic plan the Hatchling has it), the Drive plan of A2 Hosting (one level up from the most basic) and the Pro Plan at Greengeeks (also one level up from the most basic).
Please note that unmetered / unlimited is not 100% unlimited; it just means "unlimited within reason". The "within reason" is always very generous which fortunately allows you an absolute ton of wiggle room for your sites to grow. As an added bonus you won't get any nasty surprises such as an outage if you get a sudden traffic spike, and if your host notices you're using a lot of disk space or bandwidth compared to other customers, they'll let you know - your site won't suddenly go down.
How to check your bandwidth and disk space usage on a cPanel host
Once you get started with a web hosting plan that includes the cPanel back end, here's how you can check your bandwidth and disk space usage any time. Simply log into your your website's cPanel, then on that main page on the sidebar you'll see how much bandwidth and disk space you have used so far, circled in red in the screenshot below. If you don't see a sidebar then it'll be at the bottom of the page (which is the case for narrower screens).
Your icons may look a little different from the ones below depending on the theme your web host uses for cPanel, but it still works exactly the same.
As you can see in the image above, the disk usage in this situation is 4.29 GB and the bandwidth is 6.69 GB.
Remember that the bandwidth resets each month, so if it's the start of the month then your bandwidth will be a low number; at the end of the month the bandwidth will be a higher number.
If you want more information on your numbers and an in-depth breakdown, you can look at the main part of the page in the middle. In the "Metrics" section you can click on "Bandwidth" and it will show you more details. For disk space, go to the "Files" section (still in the main page) and click on "Disk usage".
To conclude, it definitely is a problem if you exceed your web host's allocation of disk space or bandwidth. Different hosts handle that situation differently. But rest assured you can get around that problem by picking a host with unmetered bandwidth and disk space as mentioned above, that way you never have to worry.