The Real Meaning of "Unlimited" in Web Hosting

The Myth of "Unlimited" in Web Hosting Feature Lists

The Real Meaning of "Unlimited" in Web Hosting

by Christopher Heng,

As many webmasters who have been burnt can attest, "unlimited" in web hosting lingo usually does not really mean "unlimited" when it applies to disk space and bandwidth. While the rest of a web host's feature list is usually written in English, this word is best understood as being written in the language of Humpty Dumpty.

The Language of Humpty Dumpty

In Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking Glass, Humpty Dumpty redefined the meaning of the word "glory" to mean "a nice knock-down argument". When Alice, to whom he was speaking, protested that this was not the correct meaning of the word, Humpty Dumpty replied:

"When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty said in a rather scornful tone, "it means just what I choose it to mean -- neither more nor less."

In the same way, when web hosts use the word "unlimited" to say that you get "unlimited disk space" or "unlimited bandwidth" (or its equivalent "unlimited data transfer"), the word "unlimited" usually gets redefined to some other meaning, at the web host's discretion. The exact meaning varies from host to host, in the spirit of Humpty Dumpty, but it invariably means the opposite of "unlimited" as found in the English language.

Deconstructing the Meaning of "Unlimited" Found in Web Hosts' Advertisements

Let's translate one version of the Humpty Dumpty "unlimited" to real English.

According to a prominent web host, account holders are given "unlimited disk space". On this host, if you look at the fine print, you will find that "you can add as much content as you want, but maybe not all at once" (unmodified quote given). In other words, you can't use the "unlimited" space in one go. You can use an unspecified amount at first, and then add more. But who gets to decide how much you can use each time? The web host, of course.

This is confirmed by their next sentence, "The vast majority of our customers' sites grow at rates well within our rules, however, and will not be impacted by this constraint" (emphasis mine). Specifically what these rules are, that is, how many bytes you can use at first, at what rate you can increase your disk space, is not stated. It is determined not by the contract you have with them, but by whatever they feel like imposing at the moment. Woe betide your site should it grow at a rate not to the web host's fancy: it can be terminated on the grounds that you've breached the contract.

Or to put it another way, the web host has cunningly managed to entice you to host with them without even specifying how much disk space you can use.

Other Problems with Unlimited Space Plans

When web hosts provide "unlimited" space, they often have to restrict what you can use the disk space for. They need to do this since if every user really uses their "unlimited" space, the host would have to spend an unlimited amount of money to buy an unlimited number of hard disks to provide space for them.

As such, if you look at the Terms of Service (TOS) agreements of web hosts providing either unlimited space or incredibly huge amounts of disk space (such as those providing hundreds of gigabytes or even thousands), you will notice that you cannot use the space for any purpose you choose. In most cases, their condition is that the space can be used only for the website. You cannot, for example, use the space as a sort of offsite backup space for your home or office computer.

Web hosts that specify a realistic amount of disk space for each customer usually don't need such restrictions. You are allowed to use the disk space in any way you wish.

Unlimited or Near-Unlimited Bandwidth Plans

When it comes to bandwidth or data transfer, "unlimited" limitations (to use an oxymoron) are usually implemented by monitoring resource usage, a matter which I have written about at length in The Fine Print in Web Hosting: Resource Usage Limits. Please see that article for more information.

Not documented in that article, nor in another of my articles that mentions unlimited plans in passing, is the side effect of hosting with a shared web host that provides unlimited bandwidth: performance. Think about it this way. When a web host provides unlimited this-and-that, many people will be attracted to their plans. Be honest — I'm sure you find it tempting too (until you have been burnt, of course). Some of these people will be running huge static websites that will use enormous amounts of bandwidth. Since your site will also share the same bandwidth pipe as these people, and perhaps worse, be on the same server as they are, the performance of your site will be affected. To use an analogy, everyone is sharing the same pie. If someone takes a large slice of the pie, the rest will have to share the remainder, however small it may be.

"Terabyte" is the New "Unlimited"

Due to the bad reputation the terms "unlimited bandwidth" and "unlimited disk space" have in webmaster circles, newer more PR-savvy web hosts now list a monstrously huge number for the bandwidth and disk space they provide. For example, a few of the web hosts mentioned on the Budget Web Hosting pages list their disk space and bandwidth allocations in the thousands of gigabytes (terabytes). These gigantic allocations seem to have taken the place of "unlimited" in web hosting parlance. If you see such gigantic provisions, compared to the more sober provisions of other hosts, it means that the restrictions mentioned above probably apply in some way or other.

Confession is Good for the Soul

Before I get accused of being a hypocrite by people who have seen some of my other websites, let me clarify and confess something: I do have sites hosted on such near-unlimited web hosts.

Essentially, I place such sites on web hosts that provide unlimited domain hosting. This makes it easy for me to run multiple websites without paying a separate hosting fee for each one. It also lets me dump new domains that I've registered, so that I can play with them, develop them or use them for testing.

It's a question of budget. I can't actually afford to put every website I have in its own web hosting account. Especially when many of them hardly have any traffic, nor do they generate any income. For example, the Feedback Form Demo site primarily only gets visitors when someone wants to try out the contact form generated by Feedback Form Wizard, before using it to create their own. And since the Wizard is free, and there are no advertisements, that demo site is just a money pit.

So yes, I do use an "unlimited" web host for some sites. But I go in with my eyes open (hopefully), and do not expect it to provide genuine unlimited bandwidth.


When scrutinizing web hosts, look out for the "unlimited" line or its modern equivalent. Read the fine print. Don't accept the term at face value when it is used for space and bandwidth. Opting for unlimited disk space or bandwidth may mean that your site faces unspecified, or vaguely-specified, limits, as compared to web hosts that tell you up front what you are getting. It doesn't mean that you rule them out altogether, but make sure you know what you are getting into, or more accurately, what you are not getting.

Copyright © 2008-2020 by Christopher Heng. All rights reserved.
Get more free tips and articles like this, on web design, promotion, revenue and scripting, from

thesitewizard™ News Feed (RSS Site Feed)  Subscribe to newsfeed

Do you find this article useful? You can learn of new articles and scripts that are published on by subscribing to the RSS feed. Simply point your RSS feed reader or a browser that supports RSS feeds at You can read more about how to subscribe to RSS site feeds from my RSS FAQ.

Please Do Not Reprint This Article

This article is copyrighted. Please do not reproduce or distribute this article in whole or part, in any form.

Related Pages

New Articles

Popular Articles

How to Link to This Page

It will appear on your page as:

The Real Meaning of "Unlimited" in Web Hosting

Contact Us
Link to Us
No Spam Policy
Privacy Policy
Site Map

Getting Started
Web Design
Search Engines
Revenue Making
Web Hosting
Perl / CGI
.htaccess / Apache


Free webmasters and programmers resources, scripts and tutorials Free How-To Guides
Site Design Tips at
Find this site useful?
Please link to us.