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2004-10-06: A tale of .htaccess & excellent service from PlugSocket

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Categories: All Tech

Hot on the heels of having read my site access logs for the first time in a very long while, I decided I should ask my webhost a few questions. I'd asked them to block images linked by pages not on this site some time back, but wasn't sure which filename extensions (eg, jpg/jpeg/gif/png) were blocked, how that could be altered if necessary, and I've also wondered for a while what would happen in the event of this site going drastically over its bandwidth allowance as a result of a rogue web bot, someone with a badly behaved site leech, or having the misfortune to be linked to by an extremely high traffic site.

(Bandwidth may be a new concept to some of you, especially those who've only ever had websites on GeoCities. No, I take that back—GeoCities are so stingy with bandwidth these days that it's a miracle if a site is up for any length of time before visitors get a "this site has exceeded its bandwidth allowance" message. Anyway, bandwidth denotes how much data is downloaded from a site, and sometimes how fast data is being downloaded. If a site links images from another site without bothering to copy the images to their server, the site they linked the images from ends up with the bandwidth on their bill. It's a form of theft, in other words.)

Cutting the story down to basics: the server the site was with had just the gif and jpg file extensions blocked, apparently as a result of my earlier request, and this couldn't be configured at my end. There also was no way to specify custom error pages other than edit some files on the root of the account with an *.htm extension.

(The good news, incidentally, is that PlugSocket will disable a site which goes drastically over its bandwidth allowance—which gets slashdotted, in internet parlance—rather than landing customers with a potentially huge bill. If, like me, you feel happier with these sorts of things in writing, I suggest dropping them a line for confirmation.)

The second piece of welcome news was an offer to transfer my account over to another of their servers which supports mod_rewrite in .htaccess files; this allows blocking of remote linking to specified files on a per-directory basis, rerouting errors to *.php pages (which can use referrer data to deliver a contextual response) and other nifty if slightly arcane stuff. Of course .htaccess is useful for other things besides (such as password-protecting files, blocking rogue IP addresses, etc) but blocking remote linking for some images whilst allowing it for others is the use most webmasters will find for it.

This was accomplished nice and quickly, with the offer of keeping the previous server account open during the DNS transition to ensure no lost mail. Messages to and from the PlugSocket helpdesk were as ever brisk and friendly, and an unlooked-for bonus is that this account has a control panel interface which is much more like those I'm used to on other sites. (It even doesn't auto-rewrite 'virtualdebris.co.uk' to 'www.virtualdebris.co.uk', a minor detail but something I've never liked. The URL is long enough as it is.) Anyway, I'm much reassured by settling the bandwidth question, and am also far happier to recommend the company to others for commercial ventures.

So, this entry is by way of a deserved thumbs-up for PlugSocket. They aren't the cheapest webhost around, but the service is of a high standard, accomodating and has a personal touch. If they offered hosting packages with more flexible bandwidth options—which is trickier for companies with servers located in the UK—they'd be damn near perfect. Anyhow, their self-maintained reliability is key to their appeal. :)

The next thing on the agenda once I've done a few other things, therefore, is a set of error pages that fit into the site design and offer some meaningful contextual help.

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