Tag Archives: Terms of Service

Free & Unlimited: Terms of Service

The English language is an amazing language. Where else can you take a “word” and use it for the exact opposite of its literal definition. A good car is “bad”! A good-looking person might be “hot” while they are really “cool”.

Sometimes the word used is not used for it’s exact opposite, but the way it is used has a different definition than the literal/dictionary definition. For this article, let’s explore two words used in the advertising world that have different definitions depending on the advertiser using it. These two terms will be used in reference to hosting. Please note that this article is not an attack on hosts, nor on advertisers. The purpose is to show that some words are not clearly defined nor can they be taken literally, but must be understood in the context of how they are used.


First of all, let’s look at the word “free”. According to The New Lexicon Webster’s Dictionary, the definition is:

adj. not subject to external restraints or domination; not captive, at liberty; not having to be paid for; unhampered; open to all without restrictions; etc.
adv. without expense; without penalty
v.t. to release from constraint, set free

The literal definition of a free host would then be a host that has no restraints for the user with no expense and no restrictions. The webmaster would be set free to design to their hearts content. A literally free host would allow the webmaster everything and anything that they might want to establish a website without any constraints, restrictions, or expense. Can anyone imagine having all the space and bandwidth without any cost whatsoever? No, I didn’t think you could. Hence, the literal definition of a free host is both unimaginable and ridiculous. Free with no obligation whatsoever? Hardly.

Obviously, the literal sense is not the case with a free host. Depending upon the host, there will be restrictions as to such things as space and bandwidth. Some even have a requirement of having their banner(s) on your published site. Hence, the definition of “free” when it comes to a host means no expense as long as a set of conditions are met. Those conditions consist of such things as space, advertisements, hot linking, etc. The host’s service might be free with 20 meg of space. Additional space requires different conditions, probably money. The service might be free 20 megs of space and your site must display a required 468×60 banner of the host’s choice.

So the space that they have allotted is free, as long as their conditions and/or criteria is met. Just as this article is free as long as you’re a subscriber to Webmaster-Talk newsletter and, if you should desire to reprint it, the resource box is used with the article.

The literal “free” host is non-existent. The conditional “free” host is not only existent, but very prevalent in the webmaster world today. If you see “free” in a host’s advertisement, forget the literal and then read on to see what the conditions are for having some free space.


Next, let’s look at the word “unlimited”. According to The New Lexicon Webster’s Dictionary, the definition is:

adj. without limits; boundless, vast
syn. eternal

The literal definition of a host offering “unlimited” space and/or bandwidth would be a host that had no bounds on the amount of space or bandwidth for their customers. The webmaster would pay their host the set monthly fee, and could then design a website that used every bit of technology available today without any limit or bounds while doing so. Can anyone imagine a host that gives you implicit use of any and all resources available? No. Again, I didn’t think you could. The literal definition of “unlimited” space or bandwidth is unimaginable and ridiculous.

For purposes of this discussion, bandwidth will include page views and data transfer. The loading of pages for viewers and the transfer of data by the webmaster are very much different and may be handled differently by some hosting companies.

There are some very real reasons that unlimited space and bandwidth does not literally exist. From the smallest host to the largest host in the world, all have limitations from the very machines that they use for hosting. One machine or thousands of machines will have a certain capacity when it comes to space and bandwidth. The technology does not exist to make any machine literally unlimited. Even the largest hosting companies will have to set limits based on the size of their machinery. Does this mean they can’t add on or grow? No. It just means that there is a limit to their capacity.

Why do hosting companies use the word “unlimited” when it comes to space and bandwidth? It is definitely not to be taken literally, but it is a term used to attract attention to what the company has to offer. The term will have different definitions with different hosts. A keyword to remember at this point is “vast”. Vast was used earlier in the definition of unlimited. The definition of “vast” is immensely large in area; great. This gives more insight to what unlimited means when used by hosting companies.

When it comes to “unlimited” space and bandwidth, the host is claiming to have a vast amount, so much that the typical webmaster will not be able to use all of it in its entirety. If a customer would start approaching the physical limits of space, the host would make a provision so that it is not totally used. The provisions that the host makes is what determines their viability as a good host. With this claim comes a responsibility for the customer or webmaster. The customer must investigate the host to find out their capacities and their Terms Of Use policies to understand what is meant.

You decide

The policies that define “free” or “unlimited” are many times ambiguous or not clearly defined using mathematical equations or specific amounts. Many times, the policies will read that if a certain customer is using more than “normal”, then there will have to be a change. The host might ask them to change their plan, pay for the excess, or cut back on their use. So what is normal? This article can not define that. Policies also use terms such as over use, abuse, above normal, etc. These are usually not defined and are relative terms.

What should you consider when a company uses the term “unlimited”?

Consider that the term is not literal.
Find out what happens if you start to use more than normal, over use, or abuse the space.
See if the hosting company has a standard charge for the amount of space and bandwidth used over your plans amount.

Finding out this information from the start will help to avoid any unnecessary problems with your hosting company.

You must decide what is the good and bad of unlimited anything. Most would consider it a bad host that would immediately shut down their site if it exceeded the allowed space and/or bandwidth. Some will do just that. On the other hand, a good host will be willing to work with you on this aspect. Different hosts will act in different ways when a site exceeds the allotted space or bandwidth. One host may work with you to properly fund that site and keep it going by adding the costs of the exceeded amount to your bill. Another host may immediately notify you that you have exceeded your contract and negotiate with you about the excess.

So remember

Get to know your hosting company. All hosting companies are not created equal. Most will work with their valued customers when it comes to use of more space and bandwidth than is allowed. They will work with you to ensure that your site stays up for all to see. If they use “unlimited”, ask what that really means. Remember that it will never be the literal definition of the word, and probably means they have a vast amount.

Read the Terms of Service or Terms of Use. Explore their policies on free and unlimited to understand the host’s definitions of the terms used. Your initial contract with the hosting company should explain their procedure for use of space and bandwidth. Hopefully, this will be explained in concrete terms as in allotted space and bandwidth, and the cost for any used above that given amount.

FREE is FREE with many constraints and restrictions. UNLIMITED is UNLIMITED when you have the funds to pay for it. Forget your understanding of the literal definition of these two words when examining a host. Then carefully read and consider what they are truly offering you. Are hosts bad that use these terms? No! Remember, they may be “Bad!” when they’re exceptionally good!

For a continuing discussion on these two terms, please visit the Webmaster-Talk forums. There is a lot of discussion and opinions expressed about this subject.