Category Archives: Blog

How to Make cPanel Work for You

Most of our customers never log into their cPanel account; they are completely happy to work within their WordPress Dashboards and never worry about what else might be available. This is, of course, completely fine; however, there are many things inside cPanel that might be beneficial for you to know about.

So! We’re writing this quick cPanel primer to help you learn about some handy features you can access therein.

What is cPanel?

cPanel is the user-level domain management control panel we use on our shared servers (and on many of our VPS and Dedicated servers, too.) It allows users to oversee and manage nearly every aspect of the domain, including backups, email and FTP accounts, bandwidth consumption, statistics graphs, subdomains, software installations and more – all within an easy-to-learn-and-use graphical interface.

How do I Access cPanel?

When you first signed up for your BCH account, you received a “Welcome” email that contained your cPanel URL, username, and password. If you don’t have the email anymore, we can easily re-send it to you.

The format of your cPanel URL will always be “https://” followed by your hostname (something like roost.blackchickenhost.com) and then “:2083” which is the port (to tell the server you want to access cPanel and not some other service.) An example would be:

https://roost.blackchickenhost.com:2083

If you can’t remember your server’s name, you can also use your domain name:

https://yourdomain.com:2083

The one caveat with using your domain is you’ll receive a security warning about the SSL certificate not matching the domain name. This is because the SSL is for our server’s hostname, not your domain – it is completely safe to proceed through the SSL warning here.

First steps inside cPanel

Once you’re in, what your cPanel looks like will depend upon which theme you have selected. Older accounts will have the x3 theme by default, while newer accounts will have Paper Lantern. You may change your theme by using the “Switch Theme” selector on the main page.

Despite cosmetic differences, the functionality remains the same. Most customers are interested in the following cPanel areas:

Backups

cPanel backups are outstanding – they are a full, exact snapshot of your entire account in one handy file. It will contain everything from databases to email to themes to widgets. If something goes wrong with your website which cannot be fixed or undone, reverting to the last cPanel backup will put everything back in place as it was at the time the backup was taken.

We strongly advise downloading a cPanel backup to your home computer from time to time, just in case of the unlikely event something catastrophic occurs within our datacenter.

Our courtesy cPanel backups are very robust, but they are a courtesy service only – they are not guaranteed.

You can access cPanel backups within cPanel under the Files area. If you click up Backup Wizard, you’ll see options to Backup or Restore.

Backup restorations are typically best left to us to perform, so I’m going to skip over that for now, and focus upon how to generate and download a cPanel backup.

Within the Wizard, please click on Backup, and then on Full Backup. On the next page, select Home Directory in the Backup Destination, and then enter your email address in the field below to receive a notification when the backup process has completed. Click “Generate Backup.” Depending upon how large your account is, the backup may take anywhere from 5 minutes to 2 hours.

When you receive the completion email, log back into cPanel, and this time, go into the Backups icon. In the Account Backups drop-down menu, select the date from the backup you took in the step above, and then click Download.

Voila! You now have an off-site copy of your entire cPanel account. It’s easy and worth the peace of mind.

Email

The next area we’d like to discuss is email. If you’d like to set up email accounts under your domain and are not using a third-party mail provider such as Google Apps, you can set up email accounts within cPanel.

Log into your cPanel account, and look in the Mail section. There are a lot of options here, and today we’ll just focus on a few: Email Accounts, Webmail, and Forwarders.

Email Accounts

This is where you will set up new email accounts, as well as editing or removing existing email accounts.

Creating a new email account is very easy. Let’s say I want to set up the address me@mydomain.com. Under Email Accounts, I would enter “me” without quotes in the first text box, and then make sure I have “mydomain.com” selected in the drop-down menu to the right.

Next, I select a strong password and enter it twice. Lastly, I choose how much disk space I would like to have the email account to be able to use. 250MB is the default, and you may enter any whole number in that field, or you may select “Unlimited.”

Click Create Account, and there we are – a new email account!

Changing Passwords

To change the password for an existing email account, we also go into the Email Account area. To the right of the email account, there will be a “Change Password” option. Click that, and enter the new password, then save it.

Once you change your password, do be sure to change the password inside all of your email clients (including on mobile devices!) lest your IP become blocked for too many failed login attempts on email.

Webmail

If you’re having troubles with your email client, or if you’re not on your own computer, webmail is a good alternative. You may access webmail by entering your hostname, followed by :2096 as in the following example:

https://hive.blackchickenhost.com:2096

Your username will be the full email address.

You may also access webmail from within cPanel under the Mail area, on the Webmail icon.

Once you’ve logged in, you’ll be presented with three options: Squirrel Mail, RoundCube, and Horde. I recommend trying all three to see which you like best, as the formats are quite different.

Forwarders

You may also set up automatic forwarders within cPanel. There are two options for these:

1.) Forward an existing email account
2.) Forward an email account that does not exist

There are two important differences here. When forwarding email for an account that does exist in cPanel, incoming mail will be delivered to that email address and then also forwarded to the destination you set up. When forwarding email for an account that does not exist, it will only forward to the destination, and will not be delivered anywhere locally within cPanel.

To set up a new forwarder, simply log into cPanel, go into the Mail area, and click on the Forwarders icon. Click “Add Forwarder,” and then enter the first part of the email address. From the example above, “me” would go here. Then, select the correct domain from the drop-down address.

In the Destination area, keep the first radio button checked and then enter the destination email address in full – like me@gmail.com. Then, click Add Forwarder. Boom! Now all email will be forwarded to me@gmail.com.

Summary

That’s a lot of information to throw out at once, so we’ll wrap this installment up for now. In coming cPanel posts, we’ll tell you about:

Bandwidth graphs
Server-side stats
Subdomains
Addon Domains
Hotlink Protection
CloudFlare
Softaculous

In the meantime, please feel free to open a support ticket anytime you have questions or concerns about cPanel functionality, or any other aspect of your hosting experience.

 

 

What is Bandwidth?

From time to time, you may get an email from your server that says you’re approaching your bandwidth limit for the month – what is that?

In a nutshell, “bandwidth” is the volume of data being sent from your server out to the internet. Some elements, such as images, are larger and will consume more bandwidth. Text takes up very little bandwidth.

If you have an image that is 5MB in size, it will take 5MB of your bandwidth allocation every time someone loads that image on your site. Busy sites consume more bandwidth.

Why did I get the email?

We have our servers configured to send out emails to our customers when they are approaching their monthly bandwidth allocation. Most servers will send out emails at the 80%, 90%, 95%, and 99% marks, which typically gives ample time to plan for a bandwidth increase.

If you receive the 80% notice, and there are only a few days left in the calendar month, you likely will not need to add additional bandwidth. If you receive the 90% notice, and there is only a day or two left in the calendar month, you may be able to get away with that, too.

However, you should be aware that once you hit that bandwidth limit, your account will automatically be suspended. This is a fully automated process that will occur unless bandwidth is added or other arrangements are made in advance, regardless of the time of day or night the limit is reached. Your site will be offline, and the message “Bandwidth allocation exceeded” will be displayed to anyone trying to access the site.

Why do I have to pay for more bandwidth?

We pay for the bandwidth our customers use, and we include a reasonable amount of “free” bandwidth in your monthly hosting fee. Because we ourselves have to pay for the total amount of bandwidth used by our customers, we can only allow so much “free” bandwidth before we start losing money.

Our network carriers make money by charging us for the bandwidth we use. You can think of bandwidth like water utilities: The data is like water, the internet cables are like pipes: The pipes/cables are always there, and the water/data flows through them. The amount of data flowing is metered and charged for, just like water. The utility company/internet carrier charges for the volume used.

Because we’re a Mom and Pop shop, and not a big-box host like our competitors, we unfortunately pay a higher rate for bandwidth than they do.

How is bandwidth measured?

Bandwidth units are bits, bytes, kilobytes, megabytes, gigabytes, et cetera, just like disk space; however, they are not the same thing. Just as an ounce can be a unit of weight or volume, a gigabyte can be a unit of space or volume, depending upon its context.

Overall server bandwidth is measured by network equipment called switches. Network topography is likely something you’re not terribly interested in learning about, but to sum it up, a switch is a device that connects your server to the network, and it also directs traffic to destinations on a network. Your server is connected to the switch by a network cable that connects to a port on a switch. Each bit that comes through the port is measured and routed by the switch.

Your account’s bandwidth usage is measured by the server itself, through various scripts.

How do I know how much bandwidth I’ve used and how much I’m allowed?

You can always check on your bandwidth consumption versus allocation in your BCH Customer Portal. Click on “My Services” and then on the green arrow to the right of your shared hosting account package. The next page will show various statistics about your account, including bandwidth usage. It will look something like this:

Bandwidth usage: 112544MB / 500000MB (23%)

You may also log into your cPanel account and click the “Bandwidth” icon to get a graphical overview of your recent bandwidth utilization.

How can I decrease my bandwidth usage?

Many times, high bandwidth consumption is caused by large images being served from a site. Be sure to optimize your images for website usage – don’t use the giant original from your digital camera, and always resize images to the size at which they’ll be displayed. The built-in WordPress image “resizer” only changes the displayed size – it does not reduce the amount of data sent to the browser.

Here is an excellent image optimization article:

http://www.shopify.com/blog/7412852-10-must-know-image-optimization-tips

Google has a more technically-in-depth article here:

https://developers.google.com/web/fundamentals/performance/optimizing-content-efficiency/image-optimization?hl=en

There are a number of WordPress plugins that can go through and resize all of your images; however, some of these can cause high load on the server, while others can radically decrease Dashboard performance. Use caution and only select plugins with a hefty number of good reviews.

Reducing the number of images on your pages will help, too.

Another method to reduce your bandwidth consumption is to utilize a CDN (Content Distribution Network) solution, such as CloudFlare. CloudFlare has many advantages (discussed here,) among which is decreased bandwidth usage. This is because the CDN caches images and other content off your server, and send it to your readers from their nodes – not your server itself.

If you’d like us to help you learn how you might be able to lower your bandwidth utilization, just let us know in a support ticket – we’ll be happy to help!

Is A VPS Right for You?

We get many questions about when the “right time” is to upgrade to a VPS (Virtual Private Server.) There are many cases when a VPS may be better than a shared server, and when the time is right for you and your site is will vary from someone else’s.

Here, however, is a bit of a primer on things to consider when contemplating whether you want to stay on shared hosting or upgrade to a VPS.

One of the most important elements in this decision will be server resources. Our shared servers are very powerful machines with a lot of CPU and RAM; however, a lot of customers share those resources and they can impact your site’s performance. Having your own VPS (as we run and configure them here at BCH) means you won’t have “noisy neighbors” consuming resources you need – your resources are your own with a VPS.

Server resource over-utilization is one of the most common reasons people need to move to a VPS. If one site is extremely resource-heavy, it is unfair to the other customers on a shared server; one busy site can cause slowness or outright downtime for the other sites. In those situations, upgrading is seldom optional (unless we are able to help optimize the busy site to use fewer resources – something we’re always happy to work with!)

If you have tweaked and tweaked your site, removed a bunch of plugins, reduced the size and complexity of the page, implemented a caching plugin, et cetera, and your site is still causing load or other troubles upon your shared server, we will very likely ask you to upgrade to our Developer Class hosting or to a VPS.

Another important item which comes up frequently with our customers is email deliverability. Deliverability refers to whether email sent from your server is able to reach its destination without errors, being marked as spam, or outright rejected. On a shared server, everyone sends their mail from the main IP address. As you can imagine, that’s a lot of mail going to the third-party mail providers, such as gMail, AOL, and AT&T. Sometimes, the sheer volume of legitimate email causes the IP to become blocked for no other reason.

Most importantly, though: If any customer’s account on a shared server becomes compromised and begins relaying spam, that will adversely affect everyone on the server when the spammer gets the server’s IP blocked at AT&T, gMail, AOL, or Yahoo. 

With a VPS, the only email being sent from your IP address is yours; the only account you have to worry about being secure is your own.

The next element to consider is customizability. Within a shared server environment, there are only so many changes we can make to the server, because many people share it, and a change that works for you might break someone else’s site. If you have special needs for PHP, MySQL, or other server-side aspects, a VPS may be the best way to meet them, as we can tailor the VPS environment to suit your use case.

Traffic is another point to consider. If you’re expecting a huge increase in your traffic, it will almost assuredly be best to move to a VPS ahead of the time you’re expecting the surge. There are two main reasons for this:

1.) Protecting your site – If your site suddenly becomes very busy on a shared server, it may cause server instability and load, which adversely affect all other customers on that server. If the instability becomes unsustainable, we will have no choice but to temporarily suspend your account.

2.) Performance – As I’ve mentioned many times thus far in this post, a shared server environment means you are sharing resources – memory, CPU, disk, everything. The other sites on that server are consuming portions of those resources – portions you may really want (or even need) to handle your incoming visitors. Your own server means only you are using those resources.

Lastly, we have to discuss cost. A VPS server is going to be significantly more expensive than a shared hosting account, because it is for your use only – there are no other customers sharing the expense of maintaining the server.

Most of our VPS customers pay between $6 and $10 per day for their VPS’s. Many of them upgraded “temporarily” to make sure their expected traffic spike went smoothly – and never looked back to shared hosting. It’s very nice to have your own environment!

It is possible for customers to split a VPS between themselves; we call this our Semi-VPS package. Having a VPS “roommate” or two can really help defray the costs of the VPS while maintaining most of the same benefits.

Our VPS servers are charged by the day, so you only pay for the time you need. In 99% of all cases, upgrading and downgrading is free of charge.

Additional benefits of VPS hosting

  • Nightly, full-server-image backups, as well as individual cPanel backups
  • Solid State Drives
  • Easy up/downgrades to different VPS sizes
  • Core-managed and Self-Managed options available at a reduced cost (no cPanel)
  • 5 TB included outbound bandwidth (inbound is always free)
  • Real-time monitoring of your specific server
  • Additional off-server firewall for increased security available at no charge
  • RAID configurations available
  • Load-balanced VPS’s available
  • Virtual Dedicated Servers available

If you’re interested in learning more, please send us a support ticket, and we’ll be happy to help!

The Best Mail-Order Pantry Company

pantry paratus logo

There’s a coupon code in here! Keep reading for a fantastic discount.

One of the first customers to sign up with Black Chicken Host was Pantry Paratus. We had a wonderful phone conversation, got to know one another, discovered a lot of common ground, and started a really fantastic partnership.

Since that time, I’ve placed a bunch orders with them, for anything from the Haywire Klamper to spices to kitchen appliances, and I’ll continue to do so because they stock quality merchandise, and, like many of you, I feel good supporting people I know personally, who are running a sustainable, ecology-minded business. I was particularly impressed to learn about the Palouse family, who supplies many of their legumes and grains, and how devoted they are to sustainability and service (much like the Pantry Paratus owners themselves.)

wristbandIn addition to their merchandise, PP owners Wilson and Chaya provide an abundance of information in their blog and knowledgebase posts, too. They have a strong social conscience and a vast amount of compassion. You can feel good supporting this business, because they support many of the same causes you feel strongly about.

There is a plethora of recipes in the blog I have on my increasingly-lengthy “to try” list, including the wonderful truffles in the photo below:

truffles

Perhaps not coincidentally, the promotional code they’ve come up with for me to use in this post is directly related to the truffles: Their best-ever coupon for spices or baking ingredients – lucky you!

Here it is:   25% off AND Free Shipping on anything from the “Bulk Spices” or the “Baking Ingredients”  sections of their store. Just use the code “black-chicken” at checkout.

Seriously! That’s a mighty good deal.

Plus, how can you not love these sweet faces?

Chaya_Wilson_resized

I hope you’ll head over to the Pantry Paratus website and have a look around – go for the merchandise, and stay for the blog. You’ll get to know Chaya and Wilson, so you can be confident buying from them – meaningful and mindful consumption. Don’t forget to use your “black-chicken” coupon code for the fantastic discount.

While you’re there, you might be interested in:

Homesteading: 10 Reasons Why I Bother
Navigating a Food Allergy: A Safe Pantry
Sale & Clearance Items
Weekly Email
Their affiliate program (in which we do not participate; I’m writing this post because I love the company)

CloudFlare: What It is, What It is Not.

Black Chicken Host has partnered with CloudFlare CDN to bring you better load times and increased security at no cost to you.

CloudFlare Certified Partner

What CloudFlare is:

CloudFlare is a simple and free Content Delivery Network which places your website’s content closer to your readers all around the world. By caching your images and other static content geographically closer to your global readers, your website will load more quickly and consume fewer resources on the local server. The static portions are cached on the CloudFlare servers for a short period of time, typically less than 2 hours, after which time they check to see if your site has been updated. If there is new content, CloudFlare dumps their existing cache and starts fresh.

By automatically moving the static parts of your site closer to your visitors, the overall performance of your site improves significantly.

The overall effect is that CloudFlare will typically cut the load time for pages on your site by 50% which means higher engagement and happier visitors.

CloudFlare caches your content worldwide:

CloudFlare CDN Sites

Additionally, CloudFlare can save you money on bandwidth. On average, CloudFlare customers see a 60% decrease in bandwidth usage, and a 65% in total requests to their servers.

How does CloudFlare protect you from Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks?

Black Chicken Host already has impressive security metrics in place; utilizing CloudFlare’s service improves upon our already outstanding security. CloudFlare’s mitigations offer a broad range of protections against attacks such as DDoS, hacking, or spam submitted to a blog or comment form. What is powerful about the CloudFlare approach is that the system gets smarter the more sites that are part of the CloudFlare community. They analyze the traffic patterns of hundreds of millions of visitors in real time and adapt the security systems to ensure good traffic gets through and bad traffic is stopped.

In fact, CloudFlare was initially developed as a tool to increase website security – and its founders accidentally discovered it radically improved the load times of its customers. Now personally, I find that hilarious. And fantastic.

The CloudFlare servers filter out the bad guys before they even reach our servers or your website, blocking malicious traffic before it can do any harm. But how? Honestly? I have no earthly idea. It just… works. I suspect this graphic is slightly dumbed down:

CloudFlare - how it works?

That’s it in a nutshell – some magical thing happens inside that CloudFlare cloud, and it’s a black box for the rest of us. As long as it keeps working, I’m happy.

So, let’s sum this up:

  • Improved load times
  • Enhanced security
  • Less bot spam
  • Offline browsing potential
  • FOR FREE

Not bad, right?

CloudFlare: What it is not

The CloudFlare service is not an excuse to never update your software or not to use strong passwords. It’s an extension of our already superb security, but it is no replacement for common sense.

It is not a 100% guarantee of no down time, ever. However, should your server experience difficulties (high load, or even being offline for a short time,) CloudFlare can often keep your content flowing to your readers by utilizing their caching service.

It is not Google Analytics. CloudFlare offers statistics for your site, but they will vary from GA (they tend to report higher numbers, due to how they gather and parse the information.) They’re handy to track trends, but are not the best way to measure your audience (definitely use Google Analytics for that.)

Ok, I want CloudFlare! How do I get it?

For Black Chicken Host customers, enabling CloudFlare is as easy as pushing a button (provided you are using our nameservers.)  We are pleased to offer you the CloudFlare service for FREE. There is no commitment. Turning CloudFlare on and off takes two clicks of the mouse in your cPanel account, so feel free to try it out. If you’ve misplaced your cPanel login information from your Black Chicken Host welcome email, please just let us know via a support ticket.

How to Enable CloudFlare in cPanel

The one potential downside to using CloudFlare through Black Chicken Host (as opposed to signing up yourself and having to muck about with your DNS) is you must use www in your domain. Thus, if your WordPress site is set up using http://yourdomain.com right now, we’ll need to change that to http://www.yourdomain.com — this is an easy thing for us to help you with, and is only a matter of aesthetics.

Also, you must use Black Chicken Hosts’s nameservers. Nearly all of our customers already do, but it’s an important item to note.

CloudFlare also offers a paid-for “Pro” version, which of course offers more features and functions. You can read about that on their website. We offer the free version so you can take things for a test drive and see if you like it. If you do, the paid-for version might be something you’d like – it makes no nevermind to us, we receive no commission.

Here’s a short animated video which goes into far less detail than I have here… but it it gives a good overview:

Introduction to CloudFlare

Questions? Comments? Just let us know. If you’d like more information, or if you’d like assistance getting started with CloudFlare, you know we’re here and happy to help!

Best,

Erin D.

Want Load Times Like These?

 

We can help.

Load time for Black Chicken Host website

I'm Their Web Guy website load time

Intelligent web design, coupled with some fancy, behind-the-scenes technology, can mean incredibly snappy load times like these.

In these two examples, what you don’t see is that FaceBook plugins were responsible for over half the load times – they’d be even faster if we didn’t muck about with good old FB.

We can work with you to reduce your website’s overall load time to ensure a swift, smooth experience for your readers. We’ll provide you with content management pointers, caching technology, and more so you and your readers can have the best web experience possible.

Take a look at this website, which was regularly taking between 30 and 60 seconds to fully load prior to our optimization process, which dropped to 3.13 seconds after we worked with our customer:

Website load time optimization

We like helping people – don’t be shy about asking for an optimization consultation anytime.

Another Reason to Eat Locally-Sourced Foods

Linked below is quite a disturbing report covering how massive quinoa production has decimated portions of South America. We sometimes have quinoa in our house (I’m one of those who loves their little curls and flavor,) but not often. It won’t be difficult for us to eliminate this choice morsel from our diet, but I know many whole foodies who rely heavily on this amazing grain.

quinoa

Image from The Kitchn – http://www.thekitchn.com/how-to-cook-quinoa-63344

I suppose the question becomes, do those of us who eat a lot of quinoa care enough about people so many thousands of miles away to stop buying it?

Finding healthy, sustainable food continues to be a challenge, unless we follow a fairly strict rule: Eating locally. That unto itself causes a dilemma for people in areas which are not able to produce much food for itself.

What do we, as concerned citizens of the world, do?

I suppose, though, the question really is, “what do we, as concerned, compassionate, yet SPOILED citizens of the world do? Indeed, what are we willing to give up so others may simply survive? So our global environment may carry on, un-obliterated?”

Are you willing to give up quinoa? Soy? Coffee? Tea? Mass-produced beef?

I’m going to link two articles here: The second one, I’ve linked previously on Facebook, but it bears repeating. It is deeply disturbing, but so important.

The Unpalatable Truth About Quinoa

The Animal Lover’s Dilemma

I would love to hear any thoughts you may have about either article.

Internet Confessional & A New Love

Dear Internet –

I know it’s been awhile since I’ve written; sorry about that. Life gets so busy from time to time, and I hope you’ll forgive me.

There’s this addiction I wrestle with: Peanut Butter. Specifically, sweetened peanut butter. Give me a jar of Peter Pan and a spoon, and I’ll probably stand there eating it until I throw up. I realize it’s horrible and full of things which are bad for me. Sometimes, I just don’t care – I know, that’s terrible. I’m working on it! Continue reading

Homestead Host Will Soon Be Black Chicken Host

Black Chicken Host is now almost one full year into operation! We have grown and added servers, services, and customers, and it’s been a lot of fun and hard work. Recently, it has become necessary to change our business name and domain, however, due to issues beyond our control. It’s been a crazy two weeks here, coming up with a new business name, logo, domain, website, et cetera, but it will be done soon.

Thus, I’d like to introduce you to Black Chicken Host! The only things that are changing are our name, domain, and website – we’re still the same people, same infrastructure, and same fantastic technical support you’ve come to know and love.

Our customers will be receiving individual emails in the coming days to let you know how the change will affect you personally, and whether there are changes we cannot make on your behalf.

The most important item is email addresses associated with @blackchickenhost.com will become @blackchickenhost.com. The prefix, (support, sales, payments, et cetera) will remain the same.

We have changed our Facebook and G+ pages, as well as our Twitter account. If you liked or followed us there, you don’t have to do it again on the new page, but the URL’s to access our feeds have changed:

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/blackchickenhost

Google Plus: https://plus.google.com/u/0/b/103509524753344682494/103509524753344682494/posts

Twitter: https://twitter.com/BlackChicknHost (the full name, BlackChickenHost, was one letter too long, so we had to drop the “e.” Silliness.)

Due to the short time frame we’re working with, redirects and forwards will only work for a limited time (until December 7, 2012) once we have them in place. We hope our new website will be up and running within a day or two, and the new email addresses are currently working.

At this stage in our development, a rebranding is just a small bump in the road. We liked Black Chicken Host as a business name, but Black Chicken Host is going to be great, too.

Please pardon our dust in the coming days, and thanks, as always, for your support!

Boot Camp: Using Your Domain with gMail

Most of us in the internet business want to increase our domain’s visibility in as many ways as possible – getting the word out about our amazing blog, service or product is an important part of our success. One method of ensuring people see our domains is to use a domain-based email address, as opposed to a free email provider address.

Continue reading