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I’d like some really cheap, green, static hosting with FTP access

A few months ago I moved my hosting from Netlify – which I’d been using since 2016 – to Fastmail’s very basic static hosting. It’s pretty good – fast, reliable and simple: the files you put in a folder are the files it serves to the outside world. It’s included in any paid Fastmail plan.

I tried webDav and it was slow

As ever with these things there’s a “but…”. In Fastmail’s case it’s the uploading process (I don’t want to use the word “deployment” for the same reason I don’t want to use the word “scale” – we’re talking a simple blog with, at a guess, no more than a few hundred monthly visitors).

There are only two ways to add files to your Fastmail website. You can use the web uploader, which is well designed but only allows one folder upload at a time, or you can use webDav, where your remote website folder appears on your desktop.

WebDav sounds great – sort of like Dropbox, but built into MacOS and Linux (and Windows, presumably). And it sort of is, apart from the fact that it’s excrutiatingly slow. When I mount the Fastmail folder on my desktop it takes MacOS hours to copy the local version of thisdaysportion into it. One or two files is OK, but I often want to reupload every page; when I make a change to the site header, for example. It’s also more convenient to copy everything when I publish a new post rather than identify the individual files (the folder, the index.html file, the updated RSS feed, any images etc.)

There are file manager apps that do webDav uploads better than MacOS – the best I’ve used are Transmit (which is expensive) and CyberDuck (which is nagware). I recommend both – CyberDuck especially is quick, managing a full, 67MB site upload in around 5 minutes. However, yesterday it started behaving oddly, reporting an error when I tried to upload the site, or even a single file. I could have raised a bug, but it just made me realise that Fastmail hosting isn’t really the right thing for someone making regular changes to their site. If you want to host a few pages that only need updating occassionally, it’s great, but anything more needs FTP at the very least.

Back to Git-based hosting with Render via Nearly Free

I’m skint at the moment and can’t really justify spending even £10/month on shared hosting. This got me looking for a more basic service that offered four things:

  • Static hosting – no PHP, MySQL or Softaculous required
  • SFTP uploads
  • Free, easy-to-install TLS (probably with Let’s Encrypt)
  • Little to no cost

This proved surprisingly difficult, but I eventually hit on Nearly Free (NFSN), a pay-for-what-you-use service. I liked the look of NFSN – even the design reminded me of my favourite website. The hosting cost calculator estimated I’d be charged about 50¢ a month, and I could always add extras like a database if/when I needed them – perfect.

Like I say, there’s always a “but…”

I uploaded my website files via SFTP – which took about a minute – and was about to update my DNS settings when I checked the TLS instructions – which I’d assumed NFSN would handle. Alas, no; it’d involve getting my own certificate and installing it via SSH. There was no way I was going to mess around with TLS and likely mess up my website, so that was that with NFSN.

Which left me contemplating returning to Netlify.

My problem with Netlify is that it is showing signs of enshittifying – it nags users to upgrade from the free tier, has initiated several redundancy rounds and pulled the plug on supporting 11ty’s development. There are alternative, free, Git-based services out there, and I ended up switching to Render. It’s not really any better – it’s the same sort of West Coast, VC-backed company as Netlify – but it doesn’t appear to have reached the same stage of decay.

It is easy to use, doesn’t cost a penny and is less cluttered than Netlify. And I’m not going to lie – the push-to-git-to-trigger-a-site-build-and-deployment (there, I’ve used that word) workflow is great.

My ideal hosting

I’ve boiled down my hosting requirements to the following:

  • It should have a “normal” funding model and goal. It shouldn’t be reliant on VC-funding with the aim of becoming the de facto, eat the world hosting company.
  • It should be “green” – whatever that means. Most hosting companies claim to offer green hosting: I’d like to see some proper evidence of this, or have any claims supported by a credible organisation.
  • It should be cheap. I’m willing to forego features if it cuts the cost. The bare minimum requirements are static hosting, FTP and easy-TLS. Access to configuration through something like an .htaccess file would be nice.

Ideally, I’d like something more radical – cooperatively-owned and even small and solar-powered. That’s something I’d be willing to pay more for. If you’re aware of anything out there – or you want to set something up with me – get in touch.