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Limitations and Acknowledgements

There are a few limitations to this strategy for cheap domains; some are fairly easy to work around, others, unfortunately, are not.

Perhaps the most obvious limitation is the fact that, although ProHosting allows you to run your own CGI scripts, they do not offer their free hosting customers the use of the "sendmail" program. Sendmail enables the server to transmit to you, via e-mail, information that visitors enter into an HTML form on your site (apparently ProHosting used to provide access to sendmail, but spammers were using it to ply their dastardly trade). Fortunately there's a simple work around for this problem: there are several services which will allow you to use their servers to generate e-mail messages from forms hosted on your site. One of these services (the one that I use) is Bravenet; in order to include a contact form on your site, simply register with Bravenet and follow the instructions provided there (make sure that you go to the page entitled How to Customize Your E-mail Form to learn how to redirect people who submit a form to a custom thank you page rather than to Bravenet's home page).

Another limitation of a cheap domain involves frames. The main problem with frames has always been the fact that when frames are used, the URL in the browser address bar does not accurately reflect the content on the page: the URL that appears in the address bar is that of the frameset page. When a user bookmarks a page deep within the site, he or she will, upon using the bookmark, be taken to the opening page of the site. The bookmark is actually applied to the frameset page, and when the frameset page is called up, it appears with the initial content pages projected into it, not the content pages that were there when it was bookmarked.

Because the Capibara Free Domain Project uses frames to map sites, the URL problem automatically arises. One way around it is to add "target="_top"" to all of the internal links from your main page. Unfortunately, this takes you out of your domain and into the domain in which your site is hosted. You'll have to decide which you consider the lesser of the 2 evils.

Another minor limitation relating specifically to the use of ProHosting's free hosting service is the fact that you're provided a maximum of 50 megabytes of space on their server. This is generally plenty of room if you're just going to uploading text, images, and perhaps a few mp3s or other large files. If you want to host a number of large files, however, you'll run out of room in a big hurry. It's possible to create another free account (either with ProHosting or with another company), place your large files there, and simply linking to them from within your main site, but most providers do not permit this, and if they catch you doing it (they can probably figure it out from their server logs) they'll likely terminate your account.

Finally, ProHosting's free service does not provide Microsoft FrontPage extensions (their paid service does). There's no work around for this other than to convince yourself that FrontPage extensions are part of Microsoft's ongoing attempt to proprietize the Internet, and to consequently decide that you don't want them anyway.

Despite these limitations, I think that cheap domains are a good option for a lot of people, at least to begin with. Your site will most likely evolve, you will probably become more comfortable with the technologies involved, and maybe some long lost relative will die and leave you all kinds of money; then you can get your own T3 line and IP address, set up a FreeBSD box in your basement, and serve your pages from home. For the time being, however, if you're willing to live with a few quirks (the price of frugality), a domain for 2 years for under US$40 is a pretty good deal.

Before I finish up, I would like to encourage you to appreciate the services provided by organizations like The Public DNS Service and the Capibara Free Domain Project. These people are kindly donating time and resources to provide affordable on-line services to anyone who wants to use them. Please don't abuse their generosity. They all have guidelines that you must follow in order to use their services, primarily involving the content of your site. It is important to realize that this is not censorship: they're not saying that material that does not meet their criteria should not be available, they are simply saying that it should not be available through the use of their services. These people are sharing their resources, and they have every right to dictate how they are used.

Some day, when you have some extra time and/or money, remember the benefits that you took from the services provided by these organizations, and see if maybe you can't do something similar.

Joker.com is a commercial organization that is making money from the services that they provide. All the same, I think they deserve a little credit for offering domain registration for significantly less than virtually all of the other registrars. Joker.com is the 1st indication that the elimination of Network Solutions' domain registration monopoly has actually benefited consumers in some concrete way.

Finally, I should acknowledge that I was directed to virtually all of these resources by posters to Slashdot, and to one discussion in particular. Thanks also to MetaDan for pointing me to myinternet.com, and Goran Gojkov, who made me aware of the W3 Service Domain Registration and Redirection.

If you have any corrections, comments, suggestion, or anything at all you want to say about any of this stuff please don't hesitate to let me know.


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