Hostinger web hosting review: Good support and a killer entry-level price

Hostinger is an up-and-coming web hosting provider with a very compelling entry-level price. But how does it perform? We take an in-depth look at the features, capabilities, and performance of this popular service.

Note: On August 25, 2019, Hostinger revealed that up to 14 million users might have been impacted by a security breach. The company reset passwords for all impacted accounts.

If you're looking for a web hosting provider, you have a tremendous number of choices. In The best web hosting providers for 2019, I looked at 15 providers who offer a wide range of plans.

To get a better feel for each individual provider, I set up the most basic account possible and performed a series of tests. In this article, we're going to dive into Hostinger's offerings.


Hostinger at a glance


Because there's such variability among plans and offerings among hosting providers, it's hard to get a good comparison. I've found that one of the best ways to see how a provider performs is to look at the least expensive plan they offer. You can expect the least quality, the least attention to detail, and the least performance from such a plan.

If the vendor provides good service for the bottom-shelf plans, you can generally assume the better plans will also benefit from similar quality. In the case of Hostinger, the quality was quite reasonable with good value for the price.

How pricing really works

For this series of hosting reviews, I'm testing the most basic, most entry-level plan a vendor is offering. In the case of Hostinger, it's their Single Shared Hosting plan. To get pricing, I simply went to the company's main site at Hostinger.com.

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As with most every hosting provider, Hostinger's published pricing is somewhat misleading. There is no option to just get billed 80 cents per month.

While it looks like you can get the Single Shared Hosting plan for $0.80 per month, that's only if you prepay for four full years, which means you're actually paying $38.40. Now, to be fair, thirty five bucks for four years of hosting is a very good deal, but it is confusing. If you want only one year, you're charging $23.40 to your card (which is $1.95 per month). Still not bad, at least for the first year.

There's a gotcha though. When you renew, you're going to pay more. This, too, is not uncommon for hosting plans and is a practice I strongly wish the hosting industry would stop. When you renew your plan, you're going to jump to $7.99/month or $95.88/year. Of course, we have no idea what the pricing will be in four years, but you get the idea. 

While $7.99 itself isn't a bad price for basic hosting, the fact is, your price will jump by ten times what you paid when you signed up. That's a thousand percent more. Now, Hostinger does note that they offer promotions for existing users, so your renewal price won't necessarily increase to the full price. But again, we have no idea what promotions will be in effect in four years.

On the other hand, if you do sign up for the base Hostinger plan, you pay one shot of $38.40 and -- assuming you don't need more capacity -- you've locked in a solution that you don't need to worry about for an entire four years.

I focus on these pricing gimmicks in my reviews because it can be really unpleasant to suddenly get a bill that's hundreds or even thousands of dollars (depending on the plan) more than you expected. Second, switching from one hosting provider to another hosting provider can be a very time-consuming and possibly expensive job, fraught with hassles and potential points of failure.

At least half of the hosting vendors I've looked at over the years do these promo deals, with big jumps in renewal fees.

What the base plan includes

Most bottom-end plans are for one website, and Hostinger is no different.

Before we move into the details, let's spend a moment talking about what a base plan really is. All websites are not created equal. While you might be able to pay under a buck a month to run your website, I pay about a hundred bucks each month to run my small fleet of sites. And, of course, CBS Interactive (parent company of ZDNet) spends enterprise-level amounts of money and employs a vast staff to run some of the world's most popular sites.

A base site is designed for a business or individual who wants a basic online presence. That's a bunch of pages, some product or service shots, and a lot of text. If you want to run complex web applications, or you expect a lot of traffic, a basic site is not for you.

If you're just trying to get started with an online presence, starting simply is a good way to go. In this series, we're reviewing the least expensive program each hosting provider offers. That's going to be what the majority of buyers will want, and it will give us good insight into the company.

Unlike most hosting vendors these days, Hostinger does not claim unlimited disk space, unlimited bandwidth, and unlimited email, at least for their entry-level plan. The Single Shared Hosting plan comes with 10GB SSD space, up to 100GB bandwidth and one email account.

They start promoting "unlimited" for their next tier up, Premium, which is $2.15 per month for four years and, regardless of which period you take at the start, winds up costing $11.95 per month thereafter.

Be careful, though. In practice, these unlimited values are limited in the terms of service. You can't use your unlimited storage as a giant backup tank where you dump gigabits of video, for example. They also state, amusingly, that  "All Web Hosting plans, including the unlimited plans, are subject to a limit…" Read their terms of service for the actual limits on their unlimited accounts. In other words, if your site suddenly becomes some sort of viral hit (you lucky thing!), you're probably going to have to pay more to keep your site running.

There are some wins, most notably that even the basic plan is hosted on SSDs. Even if a site is using caching (which reduces the load on a server), having fast drives is always a plus.

The company does have 24/7/365 live chat support, which -- based on my own use of their service -- is quite responsive. You are allowed two subdomains. You can park an unlimited number of domain names on the account. FTP over SSL is available, which is important for keeping your site secure while transferring files in and out.

Hostinger offers a 30-day money back guarantee. It's not as long as some of their competitors, but it is a fair amount of time for you to get a simple site up and running and see how things work.

Dashboard access

The first thing I like to do when looking at a new hosting provider is explore their dashboard. Is an old friend, like cPanel? Is it some sort of janky, barely configured open source or home grown mess? Or is it a carefully crafted custom dashboard? These are often the ones that worry me the most, because they almost always hide restrictions that I'm going to have to work around somehow.

When you first log into Hostinger's dashboard, you're greeted with a very well-designed getting started screen. You have five clear options:

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I like this a lot. With most hosting plans, it's pretty simple to do a WordPress install using Softaculous, but you need to know enough to find the panel and find the install tool. With Hostinger, it's just one click of the big yellow box (or purple or green box) and you're on your way.

Of course, I went with "Skip this" because I wanted to see what would happen. I'm like that.

With that, I was dropped into cPanel, using a clean and modern skin. If you're comfortable around web hosting, this is an old friend.

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While cPanel can be frustrating at times, it's a very capable interface that lets you manage all aspects of your site. Hostinger seems to have enabled most of cPanel's main capabilities, so even with a basic account, I didn't feel myself restricted.

Installing WordPress

There are certainly other content management and blogging applications you can use besides WordPress. That said, since 32 percent of the entire Web uses WordPress, it's a good place to start. WordPress sites can be moved from hosting provider to hosting provider, so there's no lock-in. And by testing a site built with WordPress, we can get some consistency in our testing between hosting providers.

I did expect to see Softaculous as the installer, but instead found Auto Installer. cPanel allows hosts to choose from an app catalog of installers, and this is the one Hostinger is using. It gets big points by being fully integrated into the cPanel interface. Since newbies might not know the name Softaculous leads to more apps, it's actually a clean, simple way to go.

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I went ahead and clicked WordPress, answered some basic configuration questions, and after a minor snag (my mistake) that I'll describe in my discussion of support, was presented with an installed WordPress site:

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I like this installer. With many cPanel installers, you have to create your own MariaDB or MySQL database and link it into WordPress. This Auto Installer automatically generated the database and properly linked it into WordPress so all I had to do was hit the WP Admin button and log in.

Overall, adding an app using Hostinger's cPanel went very smoothly.

Quick security checks

Security is one of the biggest issues when it comes to operating a website. You want to make sure your site is safe from hackers, doesn't flag Google, and can connect securely to payment engines if you're running an ecommerce site of any kind.

While the scope of this article doesn't allow for exhaustive security testing, there are a few quick checks that can help indicate whether Hostinger's most inexpensive platform is starting with a secure foundation.

The first of these is multifactor authentication (MFA). It's way too easy for hackers to just bang away at a website's login screen and bruteforce a password. One of my sites has been pounded on for weeks by some hacker or another, but because I have some relatively strong protections in place, the bad actor hasn't been able to get in.

Unfortunately, I have to ding Hostinger for what I consider to be a pretty serious security flaw. Hostinger does not offer any form of MFA for their dashboard. You, of course, can add a plugin to your WordPress site to put MFA on there, but if the dashboard is open, protecting the site itself is only a weak partial solution.

While Hostinger does not offer SSL with their basic account, you can buy an SSL certificate from them for a one-time fee of $11.95. Activating SSL was quite simple, once the certificate was assigned to the account. All I had to do was click Activate SSL on the dashboard for it to be enabled (and working for my previously-built WordPress site):

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As my last quick security check, I like to look at the versions of some of the main system components that run web applications. To make things easy, I chose four components necessary to safe WordPress operation. While other apps may use other components, I've found that if components are up-to-date for one set of needs, they're usually up to date across the board.

Here are my findings (using the Health Check & Troubleshooting plugin), as of the day I tested, for Hostinger's Single Shared plan:

Component

Version Provided

Current Version

How Old

PHP

7.032

7.2.14

Five months

MySQL/MariaDB

MariaDB 10.2.17

MariaDB 10.3.12

Five months

cURL

7.62.0

7.64.0

Three months

OpenSSL

1.0.2k

1.0.2q (and 1.1.1a)

23 months

In general, these results aren't bad. You kind of need to know the component to know how to read these results. For example, WordPress prefers PHP 7.2, so even though PHP is only a few months old, it's due for an upgrade. On the other hand, the cURL library is surprisingly current. A lot of hosting providers are running ancient (and dangerous) versions of cURL, while Hostinger is pretty much up to date.

Also, the company supports OpenSSL 1.0.2k, where the absolutely most current version is 1.1.1a. The gotcha is that when OpenSSL went to 1.1, it broke a lot of code. As a result, the OpenSSL project is updating both the 1.0.2 branch and the 1.1 branch. I know, it's enough to give you a headache. The bottom line is that Hostinger is pretty much where it should be in terms of the system components they're offering on their platform.

Performance testing

Next, I wanted to see how the site performed using some online performance testing tools. It's important not to take these tests too seriously. We're purposely looking at the most low-end offerings of hosting vendors, so the sites they produce are expected to be relatively slow.

That said, it's nice to have an idea what to expect. The way I test is to use the fresh install of WordPress with the standard theme TwentySeventeen. I then performance test the "Hello, world" page, which is mostly text, with just an image header. That way, we're able to focus on the responsiveness of a basic page without being too concerned about media overhead.

First, I ran two Pingdom Tools tests, one hitting the site from San Francisco and the second from Germany. Here's the San Francisco test rating:

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And here's the same site from Germany:

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Oddly enough, the German test did not include an image capture of the page being tested. I ran it three times just to be sure it wasn't a glitch. I'm not too concerned, since the test results from Germany are reporting the same page size as the test from America, so I'll just chalk it up to an anomaly at Pingdom.

Next, I ran a similar test using the Bitchatcha service:

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Finally, I hit the site with Load Impact, which sends 25 virtual users over the course of three minutes to the site, and then measures the responsiveness.

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The Load Impact surprised me a bit. As more users are concurrently hitting the site, you'd expect the responsiveness to become more irregular. In this test, response time began at about 71ms, hovered between that and about 131ms, and ended at 83ms. But there was that spike, which pushed that one request out to 2.57 seconds. Even as requests grew from roughly six requests a second to ten times that, response time stayed generally stable.

This is not normally a characteristic of a lower-cost hosting plan. One of the reasons you pay more for a hosting plan is if your business model can't sustain a reduction of responsiveness, but as we've seen, as the number of users increased, responsiveness stayed pretty steady.

None of the tests showed spectacular performance, and I found the responsiveness of the WordPress dashboard to be sluggish, but I wouldn't expect more from a low-end plan. As you can see, the different tests reported substantially different results, ranging from a B rating to a D+ rating.

I say this a lot in my reviews, but take advantage of the money-back time period to fully test out results for yourself. You have 30 days with Hostinger. Make sure to use them.

Support responsiveness

During testing, I had four different reasons to reach out and ask for help -- most related to information gathering I was doing for this article. All of my contacts were through the chat interface on the Web site.

I initially had difficulty setting up my account. This is a bit of insider baseball, but hosting vendors set up time-limited accounts for me to do my testing on. The settings for the test account were wrong, and I needed to have it reset.

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On the Hostinger site, I reached out and after just four minutes, was greeted by Andrius.  Apparently, it was 2:27am in Lithuania where Andrius was helping me. He helped me reset my account, and I was able to set it up using one of my own domain names, which I pointed to the Hostinger name servers. Making that fix, including my discussion with Andrius, took less than a half hour.

Next, I wanted to clarify the lack of multifactor authentication, so I reached out again. This time, it was Arnas at 12:25am (it was the middle of a Sunday afternoon here in Oregon). He responded within two minutes and answered my question. He also had a delightful Neil Patrick Harris animated sign-off GIF which made me chuckle out loud.

Finally, I spoke to Gytis twice about a few other service plan questions. He jumped onto the chat in about three minutes and answered my questions.

Although I haven't exhaustively tested the support service (I tried on a Wednesday and a Sunday afternoon), each time someone responded in four minutes or less.

I thought support was quite good, especially for the very basic plan provided by Hostinger.

Overall conclusion

You never want to get your expectations too high for a bottom-end plan. The economics of running such a super-cheap offering is that the provider has to make it up on volume. Professional and enterprise hosting plans with lots of traffic and performance must, out of necessity, cost more.

The renewal pricing of about a hundred bucks a year after the initial four year promotion ends is a bit of a shocker. On the other hand, the fact that you can get four years of hosting for less than $35 total is a solid offer for a set-it-and-forget-it solution for low-end or starter sites.

While the company has a major failing in not offering multi-factor authentication for their dashboard, the components used to drive websites are reasonably up-to-date and should offer a solid base for secure site operations. Plus, their dashboard implementation was well done and trouble free.

Obviously, you should spend your 30 day trial time testing your site out carefully, but for the price, Hostinger is providing compelling value. 


Disclosure: ZDNet may earn a commission on services featured on this page. Neither the author nor ZDNet were compensated by the vendor for this independent, unbiased review.


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