When you shop around for web hosting you are likely to get a pleasant surprise. That is when you examine the features of hosting packages with some of the largest companies out there and see the term “unlimited”. Yes, unlimited web hosting.

Too good to be true, you may think?  Well, you’d be about right.

What is unlimited with unlimited web hosting?

You’re likely to see at least two things advertised as being “unlimited” when searching for hosting packages.  These will always be on shared web hosting packages and could cost as little as a few pound per month.  Bargain!  Compare prices across all packages using sites such as cheapwebhostingadvice who mention that they have searched far and wide for the cheapest providers.

Both bandwidth and disk space are likely to be termed as being unlimited, giving the you the slightly false impression that you could indeed host that terabyte of photographs on your website, at the same time as having your blog attract 1000 visitors per day.  On the face of it, you’d be correct to assume this, but the reality is a little different.

What unlimited web hosting really means?

Often buried deep within the terms and conditions of these hosting packages will be some technically-worded jargon outlining just how ‘unlimited web hosting’ really is not unlimited after all.  It actually comes down to CPU and RAM usage, rather than figures on disk space and alike.

If your site uses too much of either CPU or RAM at any one time, it will be “throttled” or “restricted”.  This essentially means taken down, or slowed down. This will be the course of action taken by the host and normal service will only be resumed as and when CPU and RAM usage return to normal levels.

Each host has their own idea of what a reasonable allocation is, but you’re on a shared hosting environment and once you’ve used your allocation, you will be throttled and advised to upgrade to a more suitable account.

The reality of unlimited hosting, in plain English

The reality of unlimited hosting is this.  For almost all new blogs and small business websites, it will be fine.  However, if your website is not very well optimised (images, code, etc) and it has spikes in traffic, it will place greater strain on the server.  Well, it will drain your allocation of CPU or RAM quicker.

Also, if you run a popular blog or a website that attracts a lot of visitors across dynamic content and multimedia, you may run in to difficulties.  There are many variables here, and it is dependent on the web hosting company, but with pretty much any plan on a shared hosting environment, if you have a WordPress blog that is attracting in the region of 1,500+ visitors per day, you will need to look at increasing hosting package to a dedicated server or VPS. In fact, even 500 visitors per day will likely cause a dip in performance.

Another important thing to note, while you may be allowed to use up to 1TB of disk space with many of these unlimited hosting plans, pretty much every company stipulates in their terms that using the hosting for file storage is prohibited.

Is there anything else limited on an unlimited hosting package?

There are many quirks and potholes to be aware of.  Another example is that of disk space.  With at least one major hosting company, while the disk space is advertised as being “unlimited”, it does not mean you can use it all at once.  Indeed, you may only be allowed to use a small bit of space at any one time, or add to it gradually.

The final word on unlimited hosting plans

In conclusion, there is a key take home point here.  While bandwidth is unlimited, disk space is unlimited, domains are unlimited and so on, CPU/RAM is not.  But, because CPU and RAM do have limits, this puts a limit on all of these other elements.

Therefore, unlimited is not unlimited.  It is simply a marketing ploy, and a slightly deceptive one at that.