Dreamhost Review

Workhorse hosting with no frills

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4

Dreamhost

What We Like

  • All plans offer unlimited storage and bandwidth

  • Offers full access to the Linux shell

  • Custom-developed admin panel isn’t overcrowded

What We Don't Like

  • Admin panel doesn’t offer many tools 

  • Only offers five one-click application installers

  • Management based on domains can be confusing

Dreamhost offers a good balance of features and unlimited storage and bandwidth for a reasonable price.

4

Dreamhost

Dreamhost provides a good selection of features for users ranging from beginner to advanced. While there are no features that really make Dreamhost stand out in any way, neither are there any major shortcomings. Its price is the same—not great, but not terrible. You can consider Dreamhost as a “workhorse” web hosting provider, which can perform when called upon, but otherwise just stays out of your way and keeps chugging along. Read on to see our full review of Dreamhost and how it stacks up in our books.

Other Available Levels of Service: As Simple as It Gets

There are only two levels of Shared service with Dreamhost but both include unlimited SSD storage and bandwidth, provide free domains and SSL certificates, and install WordPress when you start. They both even share the same advanced features, which we’ll discuss in more detail later.

Dreamhost
Courtesy of Dreamhost

There are two main differences between the Shared Plans. The Shared Starter tier is limited to one website and doesn’t include any e-mail with it. The latter can be added for just $1.67/month, however, there are no add-on options for additional websites. In order to create more than one site, you’ll need to step up to Shared Unlimited, where you can create as many sites as you like.

Platform: Linux

The Shared hosting services for Dreamhost run on Ubuntu Linux. This, combined with the Apache web server, MySQL databases, and support for the PHP programming language, provides one of the most “standard” operating environments available.

All shared hosting plans have access to the full Linux shell as well. This should please advanced users who may be used to paying for the privilege with other providers. When logged into your account via shell, you have access to a variety of standard (i.e. non-adminstrator) commands.

Storage: Unlimited

Dreamhost doesn’t meter storage for Shared hosting accounts. The only caveat is that, according to their terms of use, any storage you do utilize should be directly related to the website you’re hosting there.

Bandwidth: Also Unlimited

Likewise, Dreamhost doesn’t charge for bandwidth; all Shared plans receive unlimited traffic.

Registration Process: Straightforward and Utilitarian

The registration process for Dreamhost is also straightforward and utilitarian (in a good way). It consists of just three screens: one to choose a service, one to choose a domain (or skip it), and a final screen to provide your contact information, select options, and make payment.

Dreamhost
 Courtesy of Dreamhost

Some of the options you can choose at registration are automatic WordPress installation, a free theme that provides drag-and-drop site editing, the DreamShield monitoring service that looks for outdated software or malicious code, or a service to migrate your current WordPress site to Dreamhost.

Domain & Site Management: Domain-Centric

The management of your actual websites is very domain-centric at Dreamhost. What this means is when you want to look for a list of your “sites,” you’ll actually visit the Domains > Manage Domains item in the admin panel. Here you can configure the hosting parameters of the site, such as HTTPS security, DNS records, and PHP language version. Access to the web-based file manager is also here, with a unique link for each domain allowing you to go directly to the files for the selected website.

Dreamhost
 Courtesy of Dreamhost

You can also use the Manage Domains screen to add, remove, or restore your sites. The remainder of entries on the Domains menu includes tools for registering new domains, transferring existing domains, and acquiring SSL certificates.

Advanced Options: Many Useful Tools

Under the inconspicuous More menu in the Dreamhost admin panel, you’ll find a variety of useful tools, including the following:

  • MySQL Databases: This screen lets you set up your databases and their users. It also provides access to phpMyAdmin, a web-based admin interface for those very same databases, where you can manage their tables.
  • Subversion: Dreamhost provides a tool to set up Subversion version control repositories.
  • Cron Jobs: Cron jobs are tasks that run at specified times/intervals. You can configure them for your account on this screen.
  • Jabber IM: Jabber is an open-source chat protocol, and Dreamhost allows you to set up users for any active domain you have. These users will then be able to chat with one another using a Jabber-supporting client.
  • Htaccess/WebDAV: This screen lets you configure the .htaccess file for your domains, which you can use to control or prohibit access to your site at the server level. It also allows you to turn on Web Distributed Authoring and Versioning (WebDAV), which allows specified users to remotely access files in certain directories.
  • Site Statistics: You can set up particular users to be able to access specific reports for each of your domains.

Administration: Good Controls for What You’ll Need

The Mail, Users, and Billing & Account menus contain the majority of tools you’ll need to administer your hosting account. As you’d expect, Mail allows you to set up mailboxes and point your domain’s e-mail addresses to Dreamhost’s servers (i.e. set the MX record). You can also access the webmail interface and set up advanced e-mail features like discussion lists, spam settings, and autoresponders.

Users is where you will set up accounts for your collaborators. As a bonus, you can also set up actual Unix user groups, rather than having to do everything one user at a time. Billing & Account lets you set up your payments, maintain your contact info, back up your entire account, and even set security features like two-factor authentication.

Support: Particularly Strong

One particularly strong element of Dreamhost is its support. Firstly, they have an extensive knowledgebase (KB) containing answers to most questions you’ll have about your hosting service. Chances are someone has needed that answer before, and as a result, Dreamhost has logged the question/issue and its answer, saving you time in waiting for support representatives. The search function for the KB is also fast, bringing up options as you type, and the accuracy is good.

Dreamhost
 Courtesy of Dreamhost

In addition, Dreamhost’s chat-based support representatives are very responsive, usually answering requests in a matter of a few minutes. They are also quite knowledgeable and can resolve issues (or at least get an understanding of the reason behind them) within a couple minutes more.

Key Features: Full Shell Access

The advantage of having access to a full Unix shell can’t be understated. Suppose you have a site that gets infected with malware… you’ll likely not have access to the CMS’s admin panel in order to try to recover. But with shell access, you can log into your Dreamhost account and: 1) download the database, in the hopes it hasn’t been corrupted by the malware, 2) try to find, remove, and replace the infected file, providing a quick fix, and/or 3) delete all the site files and restore from a backup or source control.

Aside from these maintenance-related uses, there are also some other advantages. For example, while Dreamhost provides you a web-based UI to set up Subversion, the shell also supports Git, which has all but taken over the source control game. There are other tools you can utilize as well, like the Unix tar and gz commands, which can be used to easily take the aforementioned backups.

Price: Good Bang for Your Buck

If you’re a technology-savvy user, Dreamhost provides a good bang for the buck, given its unlimited storage and bandwidth. The flexibility available via shell access also provides a great deal of value. While the admin puts many tools at your disposal, other similarly-priced services offer the same thing, and in many cases, you’ll need to know where to find them and/or how to use them.

Competition: Dreamhost vs. HostGator

Dreamhost is a middle of the pack hosting provider. For example, in terms of storage and bandwidth, competitor HostGator offers unlimited storage and bandwidth at a significantly cheaper price (as little as $2.75/month). The point on cost/value applies to Dreamhost’s admin panel also. It’s straightforward to use, provided you know where to look for things, but in many ways spartan. The one-click applications, numbering just five, are a great example. Compare this with HostGator's cPanel access with Softaculous, which has dozens (if not hundreds) of one-click application installers available, and HostGator comes out on top.

Yet for newer site builders, the multitude of options within HostGator's cPanel can become confusing. From this perspective, the extra cost you're paying (~$7.00/month) at Dreamhost gets you a more refined experience when administering your site. Many of the options available from HostGator (via cPanel), such as advanced analytics or marketing tools, may not even apply if all you want is to produce a personal blog. If you're not technically savvy, and/or you don't want to spend the time to dig into the technical details of hosting, Dreamhost offers an easy-to-use solution that's still flexible, at what is only a modest cost increase. 

Final Verdict

It's best for technical users.

If you’re a technical user and you want a good spread of tools without having to worry about running out of storage or bandwidth, Dreamhost provides everything you need at a decent price.

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