How to Create a Membership or Password Protected Subscription Website

Where users register to access a member's area of the site

How to Create a Membership or Password Protected Subscription Website

by Christopher Heng,

One of the questions I occasionally get from's visitors is how they can set up a sort of membership (or even subscription) site, where users log into the site with a username and password after registration, in order to access facilities that are available only to members. This article attempts to answer that question.

Setting Up a Membership or Password Protected Subscription Site

There are probably many ways of setting up a user registration and login system for your website. Two simple ways to do this are:

  1. For Sites with a Small, Fixed Number of Users

    Some people want this facility only to set up something like a family photo-sharing website. The site probably just contains photos and web content meant only for family and friends. For such sites, where there are probably few users, and the number is fairly stable (that is, there aren't many new users), you may want to simply set up a password protected area on your website. The password protected area can contain normal web pages, or whatever you like.

    For this, your site will need to be hosted on an Apache web server. This is probably not a big issue, since most web hosts use such a server.

    If this is your situation, please see the article How to Password Protect a Directory on Your Website for a step-by-step guide.

    After setting up a password protected area, if you want to set up a photo gallery in that area, one way is to do it manually using a web editor and use the technique mentioned in How to Create a Thumbnail that When Clicked Opens a Larger Version of the Picture in Dreamweaver. Another possibility is to use a photo gallery script.

  2. For Sites Catering to the General Public

    For sites that want to allow their visitors to register in order to access password protected "member areas", it's probably easiest to use a type of software known as a content management system, or "CMS". There are many such programs available for free, and you can find a long list of them on the Free Content Management Systems (CMS) PHP Scripts page.

    Such software require your web host to let you run PHP scripts that access a database. This is pretty standard for commercial web hosts, so chances are that this will not be a problem for you. (If it is, get a better web host.)

    Besides allowing you to create a membership/subscription system, the CMS will let you manage your site from your web browser, without using a web editor. Actually, you probably don't have much of a choice in the matter, since most CMSes are designed in such a way so that they take over so much of the operation of the site that you have to work through them to accomplish anything. (For what it's worth, that's actually the whole point of a CMS for most people.)

    As for how you can go about installing and using a CMS, you will have to check the documentation that comes with the software. Every program has its own way of doing things, and it's not possible for me to write a general guide that is applicable to the many CMSes that are around. Most of the popular CMSes will have an installation guide somewhere, whether in the software package itself or on their website, and if you use a commercial program, you can of course get help from the vendor.

But I Want More Flexibility...

If you want more flexibility than the methods mentioned above, you'll need to roll up your sleeves and write your own software to do the job. This requires knowledge of a programming or scripting language, like PHP or Perl. However, writing your own PHP program to do the job is probably an overkill for most people, since using a CMS as mentioned above will usually solve the problem for the majority of cases. In addition, if you are not already a programmer, you'll just end up investing a huge amount of time reinventing the wheel for very little gain.

On the other hand, if you know how to write computer programs, writing your own script will of course yield the most efficient solution. Your software will do exactly what you want with no extra overhead.


How you go about setting up a password protected membership site with user registration and login will depend on the nature of your website. A website meant only for friends and family can use the simple method of using a Apache .htaccess password protected directory. A site open to all and sundry, who will have to sign up or even pay a fee to access certain areas, will need a more elaborate solution, either a CMS or a script that you write yourself.

Copyright © 2009-2017 by Christopher Heng. All rights reserved.
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