Frequently Asked Questions

The NearlyFreeSpeech.NET FAQ (*)

Customization (*)

What canonical name settings are available?

NearlyFreeSpeech.NET supports three types of canonical name settings:

off - This is the default type for new sites. The network attempts to avoid the use of a site's canonical name. Redirects issued by the network will use the hostname presented in the HTTP Host: header. From an application standpoint this means that the HTTP_HOST variable will be copied to the SERVER_NAME variable for each request. This setting is particularly suited to sites that vary their content based on which alias is used, such as Drupal or WordPress multi-site hosting.

soft - This type is no longer available; it is only applicable to sites already using it. The network will use the site's configured canonical name when needed, such as during redirects, but will accept requests for any other alias and deliver them if possible. The SERVER_NAME variable will contain the configured canonical name. The use of this setting is not recommended.

hard - The network will always use the site's configured canonical name. If a request arrives for a non-canonical name, the network will automatically, transparently issue a "301 Moved Permanently" redirect to the browser, causing it to switch to the correct name. This setting is particularly appropriate for sites with one correct name, but a number of other names that the site owner also wishes to accept.

The default canonical name of each site is its nfshost.com alias. If your site's shortname is example, then its default canonical name is example.nfshost.com. This is usually only relevant if your canonical type is not off.

Your site's canonical name and type settings are visible in the "Config Information" box on the Site Information page for that site. To make changes to your site's canonical name or type settings, use the "Set Canonical Name" action on the same page.

NOTE: Be sure you have already created the desired alias(es) and specify which alias is to be the canonical name, when requesting the "hard" type. See this FAQ entry for more information.

How do I enable directory indexes for my site?

By default, you must create an index file for each directory that you create. This is a security precaution for novice webmasters to protect them from unintentionally exposing files they did not intend to publish.

The index file can have any one of several names:

(If more than one of these files exists, the server will use the highest one on the list. These names are case-sensitive. E.g. INDEX.HTML and Index.html will not work.)

If you want the web server to display a list of files in a directory, you add the following line to your .htaccess file for that directory:

Options +Indexes

Note that this directive applies to the directory containing its .htaccess file as well as any and all subdirectories.

How do I create a website for the sole purpose of forwarding visitors to another website?

Here are the step-by-step instructions:

  1. Create the forwarding site. If you are going to forward to www.example.com or your-site.some-other-web-host.com, try to give it a short name like examplefwd.
  2. Set up the name you want to forward from as an alias of the examplefwd site.
  3. To save money, set the server type to "Static" server type.
  4. Create a one-line plain text file on your local computer called htaccess.txt containing the following (replacing www.example.com with the name of the site you want to forward to):

    RedirectPermanent / http://www.example.com/

    or (if appropriate)

    RedirectPermanent / http://www.example.com/your/custom/path/

  5. Upload this htaccess.txt file to your examplefwd site hosted here as a text file.
  6. Rename the file from htaccess.txt to .htaccess. (That's "htaccess" with a period in front.)

This approach works for all sorts of URLs, not just the main site. For example, if you use this technique to forward members.example.com visitors to www.example.com/members/ and someone visits http://members.example.com/page.html they will be forwarded to http://www.example.com/members/page.html.

Please note if the target site is hosted here and you merely want to redirect alternative names, setting a hard canonical name is usually faster, easier, and cheaper than this approach. This approach is better suited when the redirection involves two hosts or path manipulation at either or both ends.

What should my site's canonical name be?

It's the name you plan to use when someone asks you for the address of your web site; the "official" name. This would typically be something like www.example.com, and must be one of the aliases that is associated with your site (this can include the default alias ending in .nfshost.com).

Note that if you are running software on your site that lets you designate the official URL for the site (such as WordPress), you'll need to update that information before you set a hard canonical name that is different from the hostname you have configured for your site. (To continue with the WordPress example, the "blog URI" or "WordPress address (URL)" is the setting in question.) If you don't, you'll probably create a redirect loop and your site won't load anymore. Switch the canonical type back to "off" to let your site load and regain access to your software's administration area.

For more information on this subject, see this FAQ entry.

For more information on aliases, see this FAQ entry.

How do I change the text displayed for missing pages and other errors?

NearlyFreeSpeech.NET provides a basic error page in response to most common types of site errors. Sometimes, you may wish to override these pages and provide your own error messages that fit your site style or provide additional information. In order to do this, add the following line to the .htaccess file in your public directory (you'll need to create this plain-text file first if you don't have one):

ErrorDocument 404 /err404.html

Where 404 is the number of the error you wish to catch and err404.html is the name of the file you want displayed when an error occurs. You may use a PHP or CGI script for an ErrorDocument, but be careful not to use absolute paths to specify the name of your ErrorDocument.

Here are the most common errors:

Due to the design of our network, you cannot use an ErrorDocument to catch a 503 Service Unavailable error. Such errors do not routinely occur except during system maintenance. They may also occur during some types of partial service interruptions.

When should the rewrite log be used?

The syntax for mod_rewrite rules can be tricky and hard to get just right, especially as they get more complex. The rewrite log can help debug RewriteRules. However, as soon as you debug your rules, it's very important to turn it off.

Because a single rewrite rule can produce several lines of output, the rewrite engine obtains a lock on the rewrite log for each access. This means your site can only process one access at a time, which is a horrible performance penalty.

Worse than that, we have seen Apache occasionally lose this lock if an in-progress request dies during rewrite processing (for example due to a closed connection), which will cause all requests for your site to stall indefinitely until the server won't accept any more.

For these reasons, you absolutely should not run the rewrite log on a production site, or for any longer than absolutely necessary to debug your rewrite rules.

What path should I use for .htpasswd files?

Due to the internal security requirements for the Apache web server, .htpasswd files must be referred to by an absolute path. To find this path for your site, check the "Apache Site Root" value in the "Config Information" box on the Site Information page for your site.

For example, if you have a site named example and the .htpasswd file is in your site's /home/protected directory and your Apache Site Root value is /fsxx/example, your .htaccess file might read:

AuthType Basic
AuthName "My Restricted Website"
AuthBasicProvider file
AuthUserFile /fsxx/example/protected/.htpasswd
require valid-user

Although it should be impossible to retrieve an .htpasswd file using web access*, the Apache documentation recommends that you do not store .htpasswd files inside your document root. This is why we recommend using the protected directory instead. Whatever its location, an .htpasswd file must be world readable (or, at least, readable by group "web").

*Only the specific filename .htpasswd is protected from web access. If you use password files with other names in your public directory, they may be visible from the web, which is bad.

How do I restrict which IP addresses can access my site?

Due to the way our network handles incoming requests, it is not possible to use .htaccess files to block IP addresses from accessing your site; by the time the .htaccess file is considered, the incoming request has already been accepted.

However, we recognize the common desire to restrict accesses in this way. For this reason, we provide the ability to block accesses on a per-site per-IP basis at the edge of our network.

By default, all accesses are allowed. We maintain two lists for each site, an allow list and a deny list, which are processed in the order: allow, deny. Thus, an IP address that appears on both lists will be allowed. Entries to either list can contain either an IP address or a netblock specified in CIDR format (10.20.30.40/24).

You can see and manipulate your site's IP access controls (if any) in the "Config Information" box on the Site Information page.

To see exactly what blocked visitors see, visit blocked.nfshost.com, which blocks all visitors.

Please note that IP access lists currently do not work in conjunction with TLS; due to the front end TLS wrapper we use, all requests appear to originate from 127.0.0.1.

See also What do I do if someone is trying to waste my site's bandwidth?

How do I mark my site as static content so I won't be charged for CGI/PHP on a site that doesn't use it?

To change the server type on your site to static -- thereby avoiding the $0.01/day charge for sites that support CGI & PHP -- please see this entry.

Note: If your server type is identified by our system as "HTStatic" or "Static Content - .htstatic" it is an older type (no longer available) that uses .htstatic files instead of .htaccess. If your server type is "Static" or "Static Content - No PHP or CGI," use .htaccess files as normal.

What is a per-alias document root?

Ordinarily, your site's document root (as seen by Apache) is /home/public. If you enable the per-alias document root feature from the site info panel in our member interface, the alias being used will be added to the site's document root.

For example, if you have www.example.com configured as an alias for your site, then when someone visits it Apache will treat /home/public/www.example.com/ as the document root. If you also have the alias other.example.com added to the site, then requests using that alias will be directed to /home/public/other.example.com/.

If no directory exists for a given alias, all requests for that alias will return 404. If a directory exists but no alias has been added in our UI, it will not be recognized as an alias.

This feature can be very helpful if you have multiple sites that need to share some but not all of their data, or if you have several sites with different content that are all based on a common framework. Using this feature can allow you to maintain one copy of the framework.

This feature is not a substitute for creating multiple sites. With this feature, one site is still just one site. There is no additional security, isolation, or protection implied by using this feature. Just as there is nothing protecting http://www.example.com/one/ from the contents of http://www.example.com/two/, there is nothing between http://one.example.com/ and http://two.example.com/ if they are pointed to the same site by this feature.

Can I set up more than one alias for my site?

Yes. Our servers support having more than one alternate name for your site (such as www.example.com and another.example.org). If you visit the Sites panel and then select your site name in the "Short Name" list, you will see the Site Information page, where you can add and remove aliases at any time.

You may also add NearlyFreeSpeech.NET DNS to an alias at any time by visiting the Domains panel and choosing "Add" under the "DNS" column for the relevant alias (domain).

How do I control redirection of HTTP visitors to HTTPS?

Once you have TLS working for your site, visitors to the HTTP version will be redirected to the HTTPS version by default, but you can control this behavior from our control panel.

  1. Go to the Site Information panel for your site.
  2. In the "Config Information" box, select the "Edit" button on the "Canonical URL" line.
  3. Set the Canonical HTTPS value to "on" if you want HTTP visitors redirected to HTTPS and "off" if you do not.

(Don't worry, this setting does not apply to any alias of the site that is not set up for TLS.)

You can also optionally indicate strict transport security. However, we don't recommend doing this unless you understand what it's for and how it works. If you get this wrong, you could potentially lock visitors out of your site for six months. The benefit is that if you do this, it will inform browsers to automatically use HTTPS to access your site, even if someone types in an http:// URL.

If you want to do this, add a line to an .htaccess file in your site's public directory something like:

Header always set Strict-Transport-Security "max-age=3600;" "expr=%{req_novary:X-Forwarded-Proto}=='https'"

Once you are very, very sure everything is working properly, you can change the 3600 to 15552000 and optionally add "includeSubDomains" after the semicolon to improve the rating of your site's security on sites like SSLlabs. However, be very careful in doing so, as this value represents 180 days, and if you make a mistake such as redirecting people to an HTTPS version of an alias that isn't set up for HTTPS, you can potentially lock them out of your site for that length of time.

How do I change the server type my site uses?

  1. Go to the Sites panel.
  2. Select the name of the site to go to its Site Information panel.
  3. Scroll down to the "Config Information" box on the Site Information panel.
  4. Click the "Edit" button on the right side of the "Server Type" line in the "Config Information" box.
  5. Select your preferred server type and choose "Save Changes."

How do I make my site fast and scalable?

This can be very difficult. We wish we could push a magic button and take care of it for you, but the truth is that the scalability and performance of your site is much more under your control than ours. When sites encounter performance issues (such as 503 errors) under load, we almost always find that it is some problem with the site's programming that is responsible. Based on our extensive experience with such situations, we have prepared some general guidelines to help you design a site that is fast and scalable and remains available under heavy load.

First, if you are running WordPress, this information will not be much help. Basic WordPress installs are hopelessly incapable of surviving traffic surges. It requires extensive, specialized tuning to have a WordPress site that remains available under load. We recommend that you read and follow our Advanced WordPress Configuration guide, but even that is mostly in the nature of a good start.

For applications you are developing yourself, the following information may be helpful.

Building scalable web sites is a high art, and the tips shared here only scratch the surface. But hopefully they offer a place to start on the long, hard journey to building a site that can handle hundreds of thousands of simultaneous users and dozens of requests per second. (And yes, we host those types of sites.)

What is a run script?

If you configure a site type that supports arbitrary daemon processes, the infrastructure that initializes them does not process command line arguments. In the rare case that you don't need any, you can run the daemon executable directly from the 'Command' field of the Daemon management interface. In all other cases, you will need a run script.

A run script is a short shell script that lets you customize the environment for your daemon without worrying about the massive stack of stuff we have to do to make sure your daemon runs in the context of your site. A typical, minimal run script is an executable file that looks like this:

#!/bin/sh
exec /home/protected/bin/mydaemon.py --port=12345 --run-in-foreground

Then, you enter the path to the run script as the command in your daemon configuration. This lets you customize the daemon's command line arguments. You can also take other actions if needed, like setting environment variables, removing temporary files from previous runs, running preflight database checks, etc.

When writing run scripts, always make sure the following key elements are present:

  1. The shebang line is the first line of the run script. (#!/bin/sh)
  2. The exec command in front of the daemon executable. (Saves RAM = lower costs, may also avoid problems with signal delivery.)
  3. The daemon must run in the foreground. (Otherwise it will be repeatedly killed and restarted.)
  4. Starting the daemon is the last line in the run script. (Anything after that will almost never be run.)
  5. Executable permissions on the run script. (chmod a+x myrun.sh)

Domain Name Service (DNS) (*)

How come www.example.com works but example.com does not?

Make sure that you have added aliases for both names to your site. If you are using third-party DNS you will have to make sure that is properly set up as well.

Why are my active and authoritative name servers different?

If you have NearlyFreeSpeech.NET DNS for your domain, your authoritative name servers are the "official" name servers for that domain.

However, in order for these name servers to be used, you must take the list of authoritative name servers and make them active by entering them at your domain registrar (even if your domain is registered through us).

If you go to the DNS information panel and see both "Authoritative Name Servers" and "Active Name Servers" then you have NearlyFreeSpeech.NET DNS, but your domain registration points elsewhere.

If that's the case, you have two options to correct the problem:

This scenario most commonly arises when you transfer an existing domain name from another registrar without updating the name servers first. In that case, you just need to change them in our system once the transfer completes.

For maximum reliability it is always best to make sure that the active and authoritative name servers match. There are isolated reports of weird things happening if they don't, and some ccTLD registries (notably .DE) actually verify that they match before allowing changes.

How should I configure my third-party DNS to point to my site?

First, when configuring third-party DNS, make sure that you have configured the names that you will be using for your site as aliases on the Site Information page. Otherwise, when the request gets to our network, our servers will have no idea what site you want and will return an "Unknown Site" error message.

The preferred way to set up third-party DNS is to create a CNAME record. This allows you to take full advantage of our load balancing and fault tolerance features to get the best performance and reliability for your site. If your site was named example and you wanted to use the domain name www.example.com then you would configure a CNAME record from www.example.com to example.nfshost.com.

However, you cannot use a CNAME record with a bare domain name (such as example.com without www. in front). All domain names have special records, called SOA records, which must exist. But CNAMEs must not coexist with any other records. So, if you attempt to point example.com to example.nfshost.com via a CNAME record, you will violate the DNS specification because the mandatory SOA record won't be there. This will cause all kinds of unpredictable and hard-to-diagnose problems with your domain.

In such cases (or if you just hate CNAME records) you can also use A and AAAA records with the IP address(es) for your site to set up third party DNS. They're at the bottom of the Site Information panel in the "Web Site Addresses" box.

The caveat with using A/AAAA records with third-party DNS is that you are then responsible to keep them up to date if they change. Fortunately, that's exceedingly rare, and in most cases the old IP will continue to work for several months. As long as you make a practice of checking on it from time to time (set a reminder!), it will typically be fine.

The major exception to "typically" relates to DDOS attacks. If there is a DDOS attack on a specific IP address, we may have to disable that IP address without warning and move affected sites to another one. If you're using our DNS, that's no problem. If you're using third-party DNS with CNAMEs, that's no problem. But if you're using third-party DNS and you're using manually-configured A records and the IP address you're using gets attacked and we have to block that IP to mitigate the attack, then you may experience downtime until you manually update your third-party DNS. Such circumstances are rare, but they do happen.

What name servers should I use with my domain?

If you have NearlyFreeSpeech.NET DNS service, you may obtain your name server information from the DNS information page for your domain in our user interface. Just go to the Domains panel and, for the domain in question, under the "DNS" column, click "Manage." The name servers for your domain are listed in the "Authoritative Name Servers" box.

If you are using third party DNS, you must get the name server information from your DNS provider.

If you do not have NearlyFreeSpeech.NET DNS and you do not have DNS from a third party, you do not have name servers and will usually not be able to use domain names with your website, except through "masking" or "forwarding" offered by some domain registrars.

If you're registering a new ccTLD domain name with a third-party registrar and you're planning to use NearlyFreeSpeech.NET DNS, and you run into a situation where the registrar needs you to have valid name servers before you register the domain, send us an Assistance Request and we'll add the domain and activate DNS for you.

How do I add NearlyFreeSpeech.NET DNS for a new domain name to my existing website?

In order to add NearlyFreeSpeech.NET DNS to an existing website, follow these steps:

  1. Go to the Site Information page for your existing site by visiting the Sites panel at the top of the page, and then selecting the site's "Short Name" from the "Sites" list.
  2. Choose "Add a New Alias" in the "Site Names & Aliases" box to add the new site name.
  3. Add the new site name, including the www (such as www.example.com). This tells our system which site the new name points to.
  4. Once you have finished adding the name, you will be returned to the Site Information page. If you added the name correctly, you should see it listed in the "Site Names & Aliases" box.
  5. Visit the Domains panel.
  6. For the alias you just added (here listed under the "Domain" column), under the "DNS" column, click "Add."
  7. Decide how you want email handled for this domain by choosing the appropriate selection.

That's all there is to it!

If you've already registered your domain with a third-party registrar when you set up NearlyFreeSpeech.NET DNS, don't forget to update your list of name servers at your domain registrar with the name server information we provide for your domain.

I already have NearlyFreeSpeech.NET DNS for www.example.com. Will it cost more to add another.example.com (or example.com)?

No. When you create NearlyFreeSpeech.NET DNS for a site named www.example.com, your NearlyFreeSpeech.NET DNS is actually being set up for your registered domain, example.com. You may add as many subdomain names as you want to an existing NearlyFreeSpeech.NET DNS domain at no additional cost.

Multiple names can each point to a different site, all point to the same site, or any combination you need.

How do I use a domain I registered elsewhere with NearlyFreeSpeech.NET DNS?

This is generally very straightforward.

(In order for this to work, you must first have set up NearlyFreeSpeech.NET DNS for your domain name. If that is not already done, start with this FAQ entry and then return here.)

  1. Go to the Domains panel.
  2. Select "Manage" in the "DNS" column for your domain name.
  3. On the DNS Information page, find the "Authoritative Name Servers" box and copy down the information. (You'll find two server names of the format ns.xxx0.nearlyfreespeech.net.)
  4. Go to your domain registrar's site and find the option to change name servers.
  5. Replace whatever name server information they currently have with the information you found in the "Authoritative Name Servers" box.

Since each registrar has a slightly different way of editing name servers, you would need to contact them for specific help with using their system.

Once these steps are complete, you may have to wait awhile for the change to take effect. Changes in most top-level domains take less than 24 hours, and the major ones (.com, .net, and .org) often take effect within a few minutes.

If your domain registrar provides DNS service, you can also use that, although it is not recommended. Please see this FAQ entry for more information.

I have NearlyFreeSpeech.NET DNS set up. How do I add a new site using a subdomain?

All you have to do is create another site from our member interface.

  1. Visit the Sites panel.
  2. Choose "Create a New Site" from the "Actions" box.
  3. Add a "short name" for your site to use on our system. (You might be asked which account to assign the site to, if you have more than one eligible account).
  4. On the "Use another name?" screen, select the "Yes" button and use the text-entry field to the right of "If so, what is it?" to add your subdomain as an alias to your site.

You may also add additional subdomains to a site you already have, by following the instructions in this related FAQ entry.

We do not use or support the scheme of placing subdomains in subdirectories of your existing site that is employed by some mass-market hosting control panel options.

How do I configure NearlyFreeSpeech.NET DNS to work with my third-party email service?

Follow these steps:

  1. Obtain the necessary DNS information (MX settings) from your third-party email provider.
  2. If it is enabled for your domain, remove our email forwarding.
  3. Visit the Domains panel.
  4. For the relevant domain, under the "DNS" column, select "Manage."
  5. Use the "Add a DNS Resource Record" action to add each MX record given to you by your email provider:
    1. Leave the "Name" field blank to apply forwarding to your whole domain.
    2. Select the "MX" type.
    3. Enter both the MX preference and the destination host in the "Data" field, separated by a space. Be sure to enter a "trailing dot" (a period) at the end of the destination hostname. (Example: "0 mail.example.com.")
    4. Click "Add Record."

What are the IP address(es) listed for my site used for? Are they name servers?

The IPv4 (and IPv6, if enabled) addresses listed at the bottom of the Site Information page, under "Web Site IP Addresses," are used by our web servers. They are not alternate addresses for our name servers. They are provided for reference only and almost never need to be used e.g. from DNS records.

For more information about how those IP addresses work with our service, see this entry.

If you are trying to obtain DNS name server information, please read this entry.

What is the "SPF Email Protection" option for DNS?

SPF is the Sender Policy Framework, a way to use DNS to tell the world about the servers that can legitimately send email for your domain. It is an anti-spam tool that makes it a little easier to identify spam, and a little harder for spammers to hide.

We've noticed that many of our members register more domains than they need for email purposes. For example, someone whose domain is example.com may also register example.net or other similar domain names to prevent competitors from creating similarly-named sites. But they only use their primary domain for email.

Our "SPF Email Protection" feature is an easy, automatic SPF record that will tell the world that your domain isn't used for email. That will help foil spammers who might otherwise forge email from that domain, as described in this FAQ entry. That means that spammers have one less place to hide, and also that you won't get their bounce messages.

Our standard offering is designed to be easy to use for this common case. If you need more specific settings for SPF, you can create your own custom TXT record for your domain containing any SPF code you want. The specific code you need depends on the server you use to send (not receive) email, which is usually your ISP's mail server.

To find out what SPF code you should use, or to learn more about SPF and how it can help you, check out the SPF home page.

SPF isn't suitable for all cases. For example, it doesn't work well if your domain sends email from a number of different or frequently changing places. But where it is suitable, it both helps you a little bit, and it's a way to be a "good netizen" to your Internet neighbors by making spamming just a little bit harder.

Anyone who wants to send mail from their domain from our servers and wants an SPF record for it should refer to this FAQ entry instead.

How do I add / remove DNS records for my domain?

These instructions assume you have turned on our DNS and that your domain name registration has our name servers listed. To turn DNS on for a new domain, see this FAQ entry; to turn it on for a domain you've newly registered with or transferred to us (that wasn't already using our DNS), see this one.

To add new resource records:

  1. Visit the Domains panel.
  2. Select "Manage" under the "DNS" column for the relevant domain. (If this column says "Add" it means your DNS service is not provided by us. To change it, you should contact your DNS provider or setup DNS here and update the name servers at your registrar.)
  3. Select the "Add a DNS Resource Record" action on the DNS panel for your domain.
  4. Detailed instructions for setting up different record types are included on the "Add a DNS Resource Record" panel.

To remove existing resource records:

  1. Visit the Domains panel.
  2. Click "Manage" under the "DNS" column for the relevant domain.
  3. Any records that can be deleted will have "Remove" buttons next to them.

NOTE: If you want to remove a record that is related to an alias for a site hosted here, you will not see a "Remove" button. This means the related alias must be removed from your site to remove the DNS record. See this related FAQ entry for more information.

How do I change the name servers for a domain registered with NearlyFreeSpeech.NET?

See this FAQ entry.

Do you support wildcard DNS?

No, we do not presently support wildcard DNS; adding support for wildcard aliases would slow down everybody, even people who weren't using them.

How come I can't remove that DNS record?

If you run into this, it is most likely a CNAME or A record that was automatically created by our system when you added a corresponding alias to one of your sites because you wanted our system to know that a certain hostname (such as www.example.com) should be used with that site.

If this is your situation, the record in question will appear in the "NearlyFreeSpeech.NET Resource Records " box on the DNS information panel for your domain and will typically look similar to:

www.example.com CNAME example.nfshost.com.
or
example.com A 10.11.12.13

If you want to remove a DNS record associated with a site alias, like a CNAME record pointing to an .nfshost.com name, visit the Sites panel and select the relevant site's short name. The Site Information panel will list the aliases and provide "Remove" buttons in the "Site Names & Aliases" box. Removing the alias will automatically delete any related records from your DNS.

If I set up DNS for more than one domain, will they all use the same name servers?

Probably not. There is a chance that they will be the same, but they are chosen randomly from available name servers so that chance is very small.

Can I get secondary DNS in another location?

Yes, manual setup of your DNS on a geographically and administratively independent secondary name server is available on a per-domain basis as an Assistance Request.

This service is set up manually on purpose. It would be relatively straightforward (if somewhat failure prone) to set it up automatically, but doing so would create a dependency relationship between the offsite name server and the primary one. That doesn't completely eliminate the reliability benefits of having a geographically diverse name server, but it does greatly diminish them, so we don't do it that way. Our goal is for our secondary DNS to be as close as we can make it to having secondary DNS from a completely separate provider.

How do I point a NearlyFreeSpeech.NET DNS record at my dynamic home IP address?

There are a couple of ways to do this.

First, it can be done through our API, which does allow the dynamic modification of DNS records. This approach can be a bit convoluted, but many smart people have written and released scripts and libraries to help streamline the process. Searching the web for "NearlyFreeSpeech.NET dynamic dns" should produce a variety of options.

The second approach is to set up a name for your home machine with a dynamic DNS provider like No-IP.com (which offers a free service), or Dyn. In the case of No-IP.com, they will give you a name like your-name.noip.com and you can load a widget on your home computer or Internet router to keep the address up to date. Then, from our end, add a DNS record for the name you want that is a CNAME to the name they gave you; i.e. if you want www.example.com to point to your home machine, and they gave you example.no-ip.com, you would add a CNAME DNS record here in your example.com domain with a name of "www" and a data value of "example.no-ip.com." including the trailing dot.

Are you yes-www or no-www?

We are strongly yes-www. (There used to be a site in favor of no-www, but it went away. I guess yes-www is winning.)

Using URLs with bare domains (like https://example.com/) creates a number of problems, and we strongly recommend that you avoid it for anything other than redirecting to the real web site (like www.example.com).

Some of the limitations are:

Despite the drawbacks, this is something that visitors to your site expect to work and we know that.

The best compromise is to redirect visitors from example.com to your www.example.com alias. To do that, add both www.example.com and example.com as aliases to your site and (unless you are using WordPress) enable the hard canonical type setting. If you are using WordPress, it will manage your host names automatically, and you should set the site's canonical type to off (the default).

There are, of course, exceptions; this is more of a guideline than an actual rule. It may make sense to forego the www for a business website if the web site is the business. Sites with very short names are also perpetually trendy, and knocking "www." off the front in service of shortness is definitely one way to chase that trend.

If you're sure you're an exception, apply these recommendations in reverse to direct visitors from www.example.com to example.com.

Domain Registration (*)

How do I change the name servers of a domain registered here?

  1. Visit the Domains panel.
  2. Select the "Manage" link under the "Registrar" column for the relevant domain.
  3. On the Registration Details panel, in the "Registration Details" box, on the "Name Servers" row, select the "Edit" button.
  4. Decide whether you want to use our DNS service.
    • If so, choose "Set up DNS and name servers automatically."*
    • If you want to use third-party DNS, choose "I want to specify my own name servers."

* If you have already enabled our DNS and just need to have your assigned name servers listed on your domain registration, any existing custom DNS records you have added to our system will be preserved.

Please keep in mind when changing name servers that most registries publish DNS records with 48-hour time-to-live (TTL), so it may take up to two days for name server changes to fully propagate.

What are the steps involved in an inbound domain transfer?

Each inbound domain transfer from another registrar has the following steps:

  1. Verify that you have an account with sufficient funds available to make the transfer.
  2. Make sure the domain is eligible for transfer. (I.e. that it has not changed ownership or been registered, renewed, or transferred in the past 60 days.)
  3. Unlock the domain at the current registrar.
  4. Obtain the transfer code (also known as "auth info code" or "EPP code" or "transfer secret") from the current registrar.
  5. Make sure that the current registrar has a valid email address for the domain's administrative contact and that you know what that address is.
  6. If you will be switching to our DNS service:
    1. set that up first, then
    2. update your name server settings at your current registrar to match those shown on the DNS information page for your domain.
  7. Place the transfer order from the Domains panel.
  8. The info panel for your domain will show that it has an Action Status of "Transfer waiting for Admin Contact Approval."
  9. Check the email for the domain's administrative contact for a message with a link to a web page where you can approve the transfer.
  10. Approve the transfer on that page.
  11. The "Registration Details" page for your domain will show that it has an Action Status of "Transfer waiting for Losing Registrar Approval."
  12. Wait up to seven days for the current registrar to release the domain.
  13. When the transfer is finished, the Action Status and Transfer Status entries will disappear and be replaced by one Status entry that says "Active."
  14. If the transfer fails, it may linger in our system for a bit, but it will ultimately be refunded and the "Registration Details" page for that domain will be completely removed so you can try the transfer again.

These are the high-level steps. This section of the FAQ contains many other entries that provide detailed information for the various steps.

I want to transfer a domain to NearlyFreeSpeech.NET. Will my site/DNS/email go down if I do?

In most cases there will be no disruptions. The only thing that might be interrupted would be if you are using DNS service with the current domain registrar. It's possible they will terminate that service upon transfer of the domain, so you might want to switch the DNS service either to us or a third party before you transfer the domain to us.

Assuming that your DNS is valid and continues to operate, there should be no interruptions in any services tied to that domain during the transfer.

I have a domain with a proxy privacy registration service. Can I transfer it to NearlyFreeSpeech.NET?

It depends.

When you place an order for a domain transfer, the registrar sends out an email to the current administrative contact's email address requesting approval of the transfer. Some proxy registration services automatically discard this message, making it impossible for you to transfer your domain away. Your only option is to cancel the privacy service before initiating the transfer, thus exposing your personal information. Unless you are willing to temporarily forego your privacy you can never switch away from that registrar, which is why we call this situation "extortion by proxy."

To avoid delaying your transfer, we strongly recommend that you cancel any proxy registration service before you initiate the transfer. Since not all changes happen immediately, you may wish to consult the whois information for your domain to make sure it has been cancelled before placing your transfer order.

If you have already placed your transfer order and you find yourself in this situation, you will have to cancel the transfer or wait for it to fail (usually 7-30 days from the time you place the transfer order). See this related FAQ entry for complete details.

Our members have reported encountering this problem with several proxy registration services. (Naturally, RespectMyPrivacy does not have this limitation, as it is designed to respect your privacy, not prevent you from controlling or transferring your domain.)

Can I add or remove RespectMyPrivacy on a domain I already registered here or transferred?

Yes, you may use our member interface to add or remove RespectMyPrivacy service on any domain registered through NearlyFreeSpeech.NET at any time, as long as the registration is not expired.

To add it: Visit the Domains panel. Under the "Registrar" column, select "Manage" for the relevant domain. The Registration Info panel for your domain will have an "Add RespectMyPrivacy" action in the "Actions" box.

To remove it: Visit the Domains panel and, under the "Registrar" column, select "Manage" for the relevant domain. The Registration Info panel for your domain will have a "Remove RespectMyPrivacy" action in the "Actions" box.

I let my domain expire a while ago. Now I'm trying to renew it and I get "renewal failed." Why?

If you let your domain expire, you can usually renew it as normal during the renewal grace period. After that, it moves into the redemption period ("queued for deletion" or "pending delete restorable"). Such domains can often be restored, but the desire to do so must be communicated manually all the way down the chain from you to the TLD registry, who must then perform the recovery by hand. For this reason, they charge a hefty fee for such recoveries, which we must pass along. (Or so the story goes. It used to be a manual process on the part of the registry and registrar. We're pretty sure they automated their part long ago and just conveniently "forgot" to adjust the fee accordingly.)

The fee to restore a domain is shown on our public site. For the most common top-level domains, the automated restore fee is $61 but it can vary widely for other top-level domains. We do not profit from this, nor do we have any control over the restore process. We are merely passing along our costs. It is typically not necessary, but you can also request a manually-assisted restore through our assistance request system; the manual restore cost is $5.00 higher than the automated restore cost to cover our manual processing time. (This extra cost for a manual restore is waived for subscription members.)

What does this mean? If your domain has expired and is now past the grace period, you have two options:

  1. Pay the stiff restoration fee to have your domain manually recovered.
  2. Wait for the domain to be completely deleted and then try to re-register it.

If you want to restore a domain, use the "Restore" button on the "Status" line of the "Registration Details" box of the "Registration Details" panel for your domain in our member interface. If there is no "Restore" button there, the domain is not in a restorable status.

If you choose to wait, you risk the domain being registered immediately upon deletion by domain profiteers. The chance of this happening is based on the domain's previous popularity and public perception of its traffic stats (as determined by sites like Alexa). If a profiteer registers the domain, they will often want hundreds or thousands of dollars to sell it back to you.

If you choose to pay the redemption fee, it takes 1-2 days before you can use the domain again. As with all renewals performed after the expiration date, there is no way to speed this up.

Neither choice is attractive, which is why we recommend against letting your domain registration lapse unintentionally. If a domain you want to keep expires, renew it immediately. But try to avoid letting important domains expire at all. There is no penalty for early renewal, and we offer domain auto-renewal for critical domains that must not be allowed to expire.

If you are in this situation and want to pay the redemption fee:

  1. Make sure you have the funds on deposit.
  2. Go to the Domains tab.
  3. In the domain list, select the "Manage" button in the "Registrar" column for your domain.
  4. On the Registration Details panel:
    1. Find the Registration Details box in the upper left.
    2. Find the "Status" line.
    3. Select the "Restore" button.
  5. Read the Restore Domain panel.
  6. If you want to restore the domain, select the "Place Restore Order" button.

Note: Domains in the "queued for deletion" state cannot be restored; you have to wait (up to seven days) for them to move to "pending delete restorable." Once a domain moves from "pending delete restorable" to just "pending delete" it is too late; the domain can no longer be restored by any force, and must be pursued as a new registration once the deletion is completed.

What happens to my domain's name server settings during a transfer?

Your name server information is not updated during a domain transfer. To avoid problems, we strongly recommend that you update your name server information at your old registrar before you initiate a domain transfer.

If you are obtaining DNS from your old registrar and you don't update your name servers, they will probably remove your DNS service when they process your transfer. This typically manifests as your domain suddenly going to the old registrar's parking page or failing outright after the transfer completes.

To find out how to update your name servers on another registrar's system before a transfer, contact them directly.

If you have already transferred a domain without changing the name servers and you now need to update them, please see this related FAQ entry.

Is NearlyFreeSpeech.NET an ICANN-accredited registrar?

No, we are not. We have integrated the registration services of Public Domain Registry, an ICANN-accredited domain registrar, into our member interface to provide domain registration. Public Domain Registry enables us to offer great prices and, more importantly, enables us to support our members ourselves, all the way through the domain registration process.

We have on several occasions considered ICANN accreditation and decided against it. The development effort required to individually integrate different systems for each registry would significantly detract from our core mission to develop the best possible web hosting. It would also incur a lot of development expense and accreditation costs to recoup, which for a company of our relatively small size would most likely translate to several years of higher prices for domain registration. And yet, our domain registration service would be essentially identical to what we can already offer. Since the actual service for any given TLD is ultimately provided by the registry for that TLD, domains don't offer a lot of room for innovation at the registrar level. Charging significantly higher prices for the same service -- or, at best, maybe 1% better -- doesn't sound that great.

In addition to that, we sort of like our current position. With few exceptions, the domain registration industry is dominated by large players locked in a mortal race to the bottom of the barrel in terms of price and quality. They can and do make mistakes and cause problems for their customers. This is particularly visible in how they handle complaints. A billion dollar company making a few pennies off of a domain didn't get to be that size because they keep a team of lawyers on standby to scrupulously hold every complaint about every domain to the highest legal standard.

If your registrar makes a mistake or a dumb decision... and they all occasionally do... you probably won't have their entire executive & technical staff on your contacts list. We do. And if we agree it's a dumb decision, we do not hesitate to use those contacts to "advocate vigorously" (and typically very, very effectively) for our customers on those rare occasions when things go awry. In fact, our registrar has learned to contact us with complaints about domains registered through us before they do anything, rather than after the fact, so we've even been able to head stupidity off at the pass more than once. Don't underestimate the power of having an 800 pound freedom-loving gorilla in your corner! (But don't overestimate it either. Public Domain Registry isn't perfect; no registrar is. Although it's extremely rare — like "count the cases on one hand with fingers to spare" rare — they do have the right to handle a situation in a way we disagree with. And, of course, if a domain gets suspended or cancelled for good reason, the gorilla is totally fine with it.)

So at this time ICANN accreditation does not make a lot of sense for us. We do review the situation periodically and if the math ever gives us a different answer, we will definitely act accordingly.

If I still have time left on my existing domain registration with another registrar, can I keep that time if I transfer the domain to NearlyFreeSpeech.NET?

Yes. Note that if you just registered or renewed it recently, you'll have to wait until the sixty-day waiting period is up before you can transfer it to us or another registrar.

If 60 days have already elapsed since you registered or renewed it, you can transfer it, and you'll not only keep your existing time you already paid for with the current registrar, but we'll also give you an additional year, starting from the current expiration date, as part of the transfer. (However you cannot cause a domain registration period to exceed 10 years, so if your domain is already registered for 9.5 years, and you transfer it, it would be set to the 10 year period and the remaining six months would be lost.)

Do note that if you prepaid for another registrar's privacy service, they are unlikely to refund that to you, so that money would probably be lost.

Will you remind me before my domain expires?

We offer three renewal settings, which can be selected or changed at any time via the Renewal Monitor or the info panel for the domain:

If you select automatic renewal, your domain will automatically renew and you will be charged for the renewal, as long as your account balance is high enough. If your account has insufficient funds to process the renewal our system will keep trying once per day until you disable auto renew, the domain expires and is deleted from our system, or you deposit enough funds for the renewal to succeed. Each time our system attempts to auto-renew a domain, you will receive an email with the results (success or failure). This means you will get daily emails when a domain is about to expire (and for some time afterward) if you do not have enough funds available. Remember that domain renewals are non-refundable, so be sure that you only enable this setting if you are sure you want the domain to auto-renew.

If you select manual renewal, you will receive email reminders, beginning a week prior to your domain's expiration, but since domain registration is so important, we encourage you to have your own reminder, in case ours get lost or misfiled as spam.

If you select not to renew, you may still renew the domain at any time, but it will not automatically renew, nor will you receive any reminder emails. This option is most appropriate for domains that you intend to let expire.

Note that in addition to whatever settings you have with us, ICANN mandates three additional reminder emails be sent; one 30 days before your domain expires, one 7 days before, and one when it expires. There is no way to control or suppress these messages, because ICANN feels they know better than you (or we) what sort of reminders you should be sent about your domains.

Why is my domain transfer taking so long?

The reason for this depends on the domain transfer status.

First and foremost, if your domain transfer status is "Transfer waiting for Admin Contact Approval" then you need to take action. Check the domain's current administrative contact email address for a confirmation message with a link to a site where you must choose to approve or decline the transfer. If you haven't received this message, you can resend it from our UI, but please make sure you're checking the right email address. If we don't get confirmation within five days, the transfer will fail.

Once you confirm the transfer, any domain registrar is entitled to stall an outbound transfer for up to seven days. If your domain is in this state, it will show up in our system as "Transfer waiting for Losing Registrar Approval."

Some registrars simply make you wait the full period. Other registrars offer a way to expedite the transfer from their site, even if they send you an email saying you don't need to do anything. However, of these, a few registrars don't actually implement anything as a result of approving the transfer and still make you wait. Some registrars don't impose any additional delay at all; we have seen people place transfer orders that were fully completed within hours, while many others have to wait the full seven days every time.

Because this delay is imposed by the registrar you are transferring away from, we have no control over it and cannot help to expedite your transfer.

A much less common domain transfer status is "Could not Fetch Current Administrative Contact Email Address. Will attempt again every hour." This means there is a problem retrieving the admin contact email address from the domain's current registrar. This is an internal problem related to the registry protocol (EPP) and can occur even if the whois information appears correct. This status is typically auto-correcting within 12-24 hours and no action needs to be taken on your part and nothing you or we do can speed it up. In some very rare cases, it will take too long and the transfer will fail. If that happens, simply wait to be refunded and try again; generally the transfer will go right through on the second attempt. If this happens twice, try changing the administrative contact address if possible.

Should a transfer fail for any reason, we will notify you promptly via email.

What is a push transfer?

If you are transferring a domain to or from another NearlyFreeSpeech.NET member, follow our usual internal transfer process. This entry applies only to domains being transferred to or from another registration service provider that uses the same registrar that we do.

According to our registrar, this process is no longer used. To transfer a domain to or from another registration service provider that uses the same registrar we do, just follow the regular inbound domain transfer or outbound domain transfer process. Only follow the instructions below if that is unsuccessful.

A push transfer is a special type of intra-registrar domain transfer. Most transfers are initiated by the new registrar/registrant (i.e. the domain is "pulled" from the old registrant to the new one). However, there are two cases where the domain can be "pushed" to the new registrant from the old one:

  1. You previously registered the domain with another company that uses the same underlying domain registrar (Public Domain Registry) that we use, and would like to transfer it here.
  2. You previously registered the domain through us, and would like to transfer the domain to another company that uses the same underlying domain registrar (Public Domain Registry) that we use.

For the first case, you'll need to submit an assistance request including these things:

We will provide you with a unique customer username and ID number. (The "customer username" looks like an email address, but isn't.) You must take both of those and go back to your existing registration provider and initiate the "move services" action. Sometimes they offer this functionality through their control panel, and sometimes you will have to ask them to do it for you. (And sometimes their first-level techs may not be familiar with the process -- you may need to escalate a bit.) Once you have completed the transfer, you should reply back to us so we can confirm receipt of the domain and add it to your control panel, otherwise it may take a day or two to show up.

The second case is similar to the first, but reversed. You must get open an assistance request containing:

We will take care of moving the domain to the other registration service provider for you. And, unlike the second case, you won't ever have to argue with anyone here about whether what you're asking for is really a thing.

Make sure the customer username and ID you are given is unique to you. If you are given a "generic" username that belongs to the person/company, you may be deleting a vital record showing that you are the rightful registrant of the name. If you request such a transfer and lose your domain as a result, we will be unable to assist you.

Again, push transfers are never necessary without a specific reason, and although "we use the same registrar" used to be such a reason, it isn't anymore. If someone insists otherwise and you still want to transfer the name to them, we can do it if it you provide all the necessary information. But any request that you perform a push transfer is a cause for concern.

In all cases, standard push transfers do not cost anything, and do not extend the registration time of the domain. You can renew the domain before or after the transfer if you want to extend the registration time. Expired or suspended domains usually cannot be pushed.

Why is the domain I transferred to NearlyFreeSpeech.NET not pointing to my site?

If you transfer the domain without first updating the name servers, this can happen even if you have set up your DNS here. Your domain will continue to point to the old DNS servers until you update it.

To update the domain:

  1. Go to the Domains panel and, under the "Registrar" column, choose the "Manage" button for that domain. This will take you to the "Registration Details" page.
  2. If your domain is locked, the "Actions" box will only show "Unlock this domain." Unlock it if it's locked.
  3. Return to the "Registration Details" page and, in the "Actions" box, click "Edit Name Servers."
  4. Select "Set up DNS and name servers automatically" on the following page.
  5. Lock your domain, if desired, to help prevent hijacking.

What happens to my domain after it expires?

The first (and possibly most important) thing that happens when your domain expires is that it stops working. Its name servers are withdrawn from the registry's master DNS servers and replaced with "parking" records by the registrar.

These parking records will cause ads to be shown on your domain. (This unfortunate policy is ubiquitous in the wholesale registrar industry that we have to use to register domains. It is not something we have control over, and not something we profit from.) Due to the 48-hour TTL (time-to-live) records used for name server glue records by the domain registries, these ads may continue to display for up to 48 hours after an expired domain is renewed.

In addition, at the time of expiration, the domain's publicly-visible contact information becomes frozen and cannot be changed under most circumstances. This has implications for domains with RespectMyPrivacy.

After expiration, your domain enters the "renewal grace period." This is (usually) a 30-day period* during which the domain can be renewed at the regular cost. If you renew during this period, your domain will be reactivated immediately, but it can take up to 2 days for the renewal to be visible all over the Internet.

After the renewal grace period, the domain enters the "redemption grace period," during which its status will be listed as "queued for deletion" or "pending delete restorable." During this period, usually 30-35 days**, the domain can still be renewed, but it costs a lot more.

(Any renewal during either grace period will be effective as of the original expiration date; you can't get extra time by renewing after the domain expires, nor do you lose time by renewing early.)

After the redemption grace period, the domain enters the "pending delete" status, where it typically remains for five days. It cannot be renewed during this period. After that, the domain is really, really gone and is free to be re-registered. Thus, the average domain can linger for as long as 75 days after deletion.

For awhile, it was the case that virtually every deleted name was instantly snapped up by speculators, but as of August 2008, that seems to be somewhat less common than it was. Nonetheless, the more valuable your domain is, the more crucial it is that you not take the chance.

*The length of the grace periods is not set by us and changes from time to time without notice to us. Thus we can't guarantee the lengths referenced here. Renew your domain as soon as you can if you care about it.

**Redemption grace period lengths also vary by TLD. For example, the .NAME domain currently provides only a five-day redemption grace period.

Why am I still paying for RespectMyPrivacy service on my expired domain?

The purpose of RespectMyPrivacy is to keep your contact information out of the public WHOIS database while still permitting you to be contacted if necessary. Expired domains persist in that database, complete with publicly visible contact information, for a really long time before they are finally deleted.

Once your domain is deleted, RespectMyPrivacy will be automatically cancelled.

To remove RespectMyPrivacy from your domain, see this FAQ entry.

Can I create child name servers (glue records) within my domain?

Our domain registration services are designed and intended to be used in conjunction with our hosting services. Child name server records (AKA glue records) are used only when you are maintaining your own dedicated DNS servers, and therefore are not needed or used by the vast majority of our hosting customers. Consequently, we do not provide this feature via our member interface. (Although if you have any, they will be shown on the "Registration Details" page for your domain.)

However, if you have a need for child name server records in your domain, send us an assistance request containing the hostname and IP address(es) for the desired record(s). You will be charged a nominal fee (usually $0.50 - $1.00 depending on the number of changes) to cover the admin time required to manually perform these changes on your behalf, although this charge is waived if you have an active subscription membership. Please make sure your domain is unlocked when requesting child name server maintenance, and that you let us know you are aware of the extra charge so we don't have to redirect you to this FAQ entry.

We support IPv4 (A) and IPv6 (AAAA) glue records.

What does the error "The name server modification failed." mean?

If you receive this error while attempting to make changes to your domain's name servers, it means the registrar rejected the names you provided. There are several reasons why this can happen:

(Where possible, our system will give you the best information it can about the reason for the problem.)

These are pretty self-explanatory, except for the requirement that name servers be registered. If you want to use a name server like ns1.example.com, that name needs to be registered as a child name server (along with its IP address) by the registrant of example.com in order to create the necessary NS pointer records ("glue records") at the gTLD registries. If you got these name server names from someone else, check with them to ensure the names have been registered as name servers. If you registered the domain containing the name server names here and now need to create new child name servers, see this FAQ entry for instructions.

Unfortunately, the error response they return is often neither human nor machine readable, so it does not indicate which of these is the case in a way we can automatically display. (Note: this issue is substantially less prevalent than it used to be.) If you are a subscription member and you do hit an error our system cannot decode, we can manually look it up for you in our logs and convert it to a human-readable explanation; just open a support issue.

What's the maximum number of years for which I can register a domain name?

The maximum is ten (10) years in all cases. In the case of transferring a domain to us and getting the additional year we include, if you already have more than 9 years left on the existing registration, you would receive from us approximately whatever additional amount of time would bring the total to ten full years, i.e. since you can't go over 10 years, we would give you less than a full additional year.

How I do I get the transfer code for a domain registered here?

To transfer your domain to another registrar, you will need a transfer code, also known as an EPP code, auth info code, or transfer secret.

To get the transfer code for a domain registered here:

  1. Go to the domain's "Registration Details" page, reachable by selecting the "Manage" button for that domain in the "Registrar" column on the Domains panel.
  2. Make sure your domain is unlocked. If it isn't, stop and do that first.
  3. Select the "Retrieve Transfer Code" action from the "Actions" box.

If you intend to transfer a domain to another registrar, or if you do not see the "Retrieve Transfer Code" action after unlocking your domain, please see this related entry.

Do I need to put valid contact information on my domain registration?

The requirement for valid contact info in your domain whois information is an ICANN requirement, not a requirement of our TACOS. Although historically this requirement was only enforced in response to complaints, that is no longer the case. In response to pressure from the world's law enforcement agencies, ICANN has expended no effort at all defending your online privacy and quite a bit generating new procedures for validating domain contact information.

Anytime you transfer a domain or modify its contact information, a verification email will be sent to the registrant's contact email address containing a verification link. If you do not verify the email address (by clicking the link) a couple of reminders will be sent, but if verification isn't completed within 15 days, the domain is required to be suspended. This is really bad. Even after verification is completed, if the domain has been suspended, it can take up to 48 hours to restore full functionality.

If you have RespectMyPrivacy service for your domain, the verification email will come to your member contact address.

This is not a policy we have control over. We can't make exceptions, override it, or change how it's done. It applies to all domain registrars equally.

Related to this, there are a couple of other situations where domain contact information problems can crop up:

Usually in these cases, since the registrar can't reach the domain contact, they alert us before suspending the name, but the steps vary based on the circumstance.

It has always been important to maintain valid contact information for your domains. With these changes, it is more important than ever.

Where are the actions for editing my registered domain?

The actions for editing a registered domain are found on the domain's "Registration Details" page. On the Domains panel, click the "Manage" button in the "Registration" column for the relevant domain.

When a domain name is locked to prevent hijacking, it may not be transferred. Consequently, transfer-related actions will not appear if the name is locked. If you need to make these kinds of changes, unlock the domain first, and these options will appear in the "Actions" box.

What happens if my domain transfer fails?

As soon as our system records the failure of the domain transfer, you will receive a refund of the transfer cost and you can try the transfer again.

We are not automatically notified of transfer failures, so our system polls for them periodically. It may take an hour or two after the failure for our system to learn about it and process the refund. Between the time when the transfer fails and the time our system is notified of it and processes the refund, your transfer status will report as "deleted."

Please note that if your transfer fails you cannot re-attempt the transfer of that domain name until the refund is issued. Also, you should not re-attempt the transfer until you have understood or resolved the issue that prevented the previous transfer.

Will you be adding additional top-level domains to register?

We are in the process of adding some of the more popular new gTLDs introduced as competition for the traditional com/net/org/biz/info/name crowd. If there's a gTLD you're interested in that you don't see on our list, feel free to ask about it in our forum.

However, we are very hesitant to allow adding ccTLDs (the two-letter TLDs assigned to individual countries based on their ISO country code — all two-letter TLDs are ccTLDs) for countries other than the United States due to concerns about giving those countries political, economic, or legal leverage over us or our members. Most ccTLD operators are part of or run on behalf of the country's government, and they typically include something in their registrar agreement about "Paragraph 1219: You will follow all of our country's laws." and "Paragraph 2751: The ccTLD operator reserves the right to terminate this agreement at any time for any reason." Either could cause serious problems for us. Suppose, for example, that we offered registrations in Elbonia's .eb ccTLD and accumulated a few thousand .eb domains. Then suppose that the Elbonian government decided they didn't like a site we host that criticized their Grand Vizier's hat, and told us to get rid of it or have all those domains seized.

While that's a little farfetched, we have had conflicts with foreign governments over member sites, and handing significant leverage to people who may not have our members' best interests at heart doesn't seem like a good idea.

Many ccTLD's also have weird, special requirements and procedures that would require a lot of extra work for us to support. (Looking right at you, .uk, and your IPS tags!) That may not sound like a big deal, but "extra work" for us translates directly to "extra cost" for you. Some ccTLDs even have complex legal requirements that the registrar, the name servers, or the registrant be physically present in that country that would be difficult or impossible for us to meet, even if the issues above weren't a concern.

Can you send the domain transfer approval to a different email address?

No, we cannot. The administrative contact must approve the transfer by responding to an email message, and the email address that must be used is the one that is active at the time the transfer is initiated. It would facilitate domain hijacking if there were a way to start a transfer and then override who approves it.

If you have started a domain transfer using incorrect contact information, you have the option of requesting that it be cancelled by using the "Cancel Transfer" link on the domain's registration information page, which is accessible from the Domains panel, using the "Manage" button under the "Registrar" column for that domain.

If you don't cancel it, the transfer will fail on its own and be refunded, which generally takes seven days from the initial transfer request.

In either event, you can retry the transfer as soon as it fails and you see the refund in your account balance. Make sure you have the correct administrative contact email address before retrying the transfer!

Be careful to update the administrative contact without altering the registrant information. If the registrant information is updated, your old domain registrar may refuse to transfer the domain for 60 days. (They're not really supposed to, but sometimes it happens anyway.)

I have a bunch of domains to register/renew/transfer. Can you help?

Yes. If you have subscription membership and more than 10 domain registrations, renewals, or transfers to process in a single batch, you can create a list of domain commands and paste them into an individual support issue. We'll run them for you, charge you accordingly, and send you back the results. Please do not send us a list with less than ten actions, or a list that contains more than one action for a domain, as we will not be able to process them.

Here are some examples:

register example.com
register example.net private
register example.biz auto
transfer example.org abcd12345678 auto
renew example.net

If you want our RespectMyPrivacy.COM service, you can just add "private" to the end of a "register" or "transfer" line for the domain you want it set up for. Similarly, if you want registrations to auto-renew year after year, you can add "auto" the same way.

Bulk transfers preserve your existing name server settings. New registrations will be set to our name servers. All bulk registrations and transfers use the account contact information of the account used to pay for the domain (unless you select "private"). If you want custom contact information or name servers, we can process that as long as you have 10 or more domain names with the same settings.

There are no bulk discounts; we give everybody the best possible price on domain. But, if you have a lot of domains to manage, this feature can make the process significantly easier for you. Please contact us if you have any questions about it.

How do I renew my domain name?

If your domain is registered through us, but is set to require manual renewal, follow these steps to renew it:

  1. First, make sure you have sufficient funds to process the renewal in your account.
  2. Go to the Domains panel.
  3. Click "Manage" in the "Registrar" column for your domain name.
  4. Click the "Renew This Domain" action.
  5. Select the number of years you want to add.
  6. Click the "Renew Domain" button.
  7. Review the summary to make sure it is correct.
  8. Click the "Renew Now" button.
  9. Click "Manage" in the "Registrar" column for your domain name.
  10. Use the "Lock Domain" action to protect you from domain hijacking.

If your domain is registered with us and it is set to auto-renew, it will renew automatically for another year about a week before expiration with no action needed on your part, provided there are sufficient funds in your account. (You'll be warned repeatedly and often if the necessary funds are not available.)

If your domain is not registered through us, you will need to contact your registrar to renew it.

Remember, any renewals add on to the existing registration. So if it is May 2023 and your domain expires in August 2023 and you purchase a one year renewal, your new expiration date will be in August 2024, not May 2024. There is no penalty for renewing early!

Regardless of the renewal method, the maximum length of time on a domain registration is ten years from today. Thus, if your domain expires in five years and a few days (for example, if today is February 16, 2017 and your domain expires on February 21, 2022) you'll only be able to renew it for a maximum of four more years, because it can't be renewed for a partial additional year. Our system won't let you select a number of years for renewal that exceeds the allowed maximum of ten. (This also means that for a domain that expires in more than nine but less than ten years, our system won't let you attempt to renew it at all.)

What is whois verification?

Whois verification is part of a new program started by ICANN in 2014 called the Whois Accuracy Program Specification. It is poorly implemented, dangerous, does not meet its stated objectives, and like all good pointless self-imposed bureaucratic processes, it's mandatory.

Anytime you change contact information associated with a registered domain, including when you first register it, you must verify the new contact email address. This is done by sending you an email message with a link to click on. The email will be sent to the registrant contact's email address. If you have RespectMyPrivacy for the domain, the message will be automatically relayed to your NearlyFreeSpeech.NET member contact email address.

We do not get to control when this message is sent, its content, or whether or not your spam filter will take it seriously. If you do not click on the link, two reminder emails will be sent over the next two weeks. If you still don't click the link after 15 days, ICANN requires that the domain be suspended until you do. If a domain is suspended, it can take 24-48 hours to start working again.

Even worse, if you don't complete whois verification for one domain and you have other domains that use the same contact information, all those domains will be suspended as well.

If this has happened, or if the verification is currently in progress and you don't have the email, you can request a re-send at any time from the registration info panel in our UI.

Please note: This policy has nothing to do with us. It applies to any domain in any ICANN-controlled gTLD, regardless of what registrar you use. If you have an opinion on this program that you would like to share with ICANN, you should feel free to direct it to the nearest brick wall. ICANN is not currently accepting public comment or feedback on this issue. That's just how they roll.

How long does it take to transfer a domain away from NearlyFreeSpeech.NET?

When you perform a transfer to another registrar, they will send you a confirmation message. If you approve the transfer on their side but take no further action, the transfer will complete by default after about seven days. However, after you approve the transfer with your new registrar, our registrar will also send you a confirmation message that should allow you to approve or decline the transfer. If you approve the transfer there as well, it should complete much more quickly.

In most cases, transferring a domain near to or shortly after its expiration will not result in any problems or disruption in service; each TLD is managed through a central registry and their systems are smart enough to recognize that the domain has been renewed, even if it's through a different registrar. However, not all registrar's systems are capable of processing the transfer of expired domains, so even though it will probably be fine, to avoid the consequences of probably, we always recommend that you manage any transfers well in advance of domain expiration. If you encounter a problem with the transfer of an expired domain, we will probably be unable to help.

When should I renew my domain name?

Any time you want.

When you renew a domain, the renewal period begins at the end of the current registration period. In other words, renewing for one year adds one year to the current expiration date, even if the current expiration date is months (or years) away.

Exception: Your domain can never be registered for more than ten years. So if a domain's current expiration date is 9.5 years away, our system will return the error "this domain is already registered for the maximum duration" and not allow a renewal attempt. You'd need to wait until a full additional year could be added before you'd be able to renew it.

Please don't wait until the last possible minute to renew (or transfer) your domain.

What top-level domains do you support for registration?

The complete list of top-level domains (TLDs) in which we can provide domain registration services (including new registrations, renewals, and transfers) can be found on this page.

Currently we offer only generic top-level domains (gTLDs). If you want to register a domain in a specific country's top-level domain (ccTLD), you will need to contact a registrar accredited by that country. (Note: Although some countries have chosen to market them otherwise, all two-letter TLDs are ccTLDs.)

If you already have such a domain and wish to use it with our service, this is generally no problem. Just add your domain to our control panel as an existing domain, create DNS for it, and have your registrar update your name server information accordingly.

See also this entry about adding new TLDs.

Why does domain registration have different Terms of Service than NearlyFreeSpeech.NET hosting?

Our domain registration services are provided under the auspices of a third-party company, Public Domain Registry. They are required by the various top-level domain registries and ICANN to impose various conditions on registration.

Public Domain Registry also resells web hosting and other services using a product they call "OrderBox." We are not resellers of the "OrderBox" services. They have a laundry list of terms and conditions for the use of those services that can be found in "Appendix A" of their Registrar-Registrant agreement, which you must agree to in order to register domain names through us.

Unlike our own Terms and Conditions of Service, theirs are fairly typical for the hosting industry, including a variety of prohibitions against controversial behavior that are highly inconsistent with our own. The contents of their "Appendix A" do not apply to your use of our hosting services.

The enforceability of their agreement is strictly limited to your use of their domain registration service. "Appendix A" applies to your use of their hosting (or other) services. Since you are using our hosting services, not theirs, its prohibitions are irrelevant to you and are superceded by our own Terms and Conditions of Service. Public Domain Registry has no authority or ability to interfere with your NearlyFreeSpeech.NET hosting services. No matter what you do, their sole remedy would be refusal to process your domain registration.*

To look at it another way, since we do not provide those services, you are not allowed to use their "OrderBox Services" at all, so the question of how you may use them is moot. It's unfortunate that they have chosen this "everything and the kitchen sink" approach to their agreement, but they did.

If you register a domain with an offensive or controversial component, you are at a certain level of risk of having your domain cancelled, but not from Public Domain Registry. Each top-level domain registry has different rules for what domain names they will allow, and no matter what registrar you choose, you will always be subject to those rules.

If this is a concern to you, do not register a domain name (anywhere) containing an offensive or controversial component.

*Should a circumstance ever arise where Public Domain Registry refuses to process a registration that is otherwise acceptable to the governing top-level domain registry, we will make sure you receive at least a pro-rated refund for any time remaining on that registration, and we will provide as much assistance as we can to help you secure the registration through another registrar. This has never happened, and we have no reason to suspect it ever will.

Why did my domain transfer fail?

The most common causes of transfer failure are:

If you are transferring from another registrar to us, the other registrar is not required to give us a reason for refusing a transfer, so if the problem is anything other than "the administrative contact did not confirm the transfer," we won't be able to provide you with any information.

How do I get rid of a registered domain I no longer want?

Currently there is no way to do this. You must wait for the domain to expire and be deleted.

(It used to be possible to abandon a domain, but ICANN changed the rules and made that impractical.)

I renewed my expired domain. Why is it still parked?

When domains expire, the registrar shifts the domain's name servers to special "parked" nameservers. As soon as the domain is renewed, the name servers are switched back. However, the global registries serve 2-day time-to-live (TTL) values when delivering name server glue records.

This means that most people who haven't already seen the "parked" domain will be able to see the site after it's renewed. However, anyone who tried to access the domain while it was expired (including, most likely, you -- its registrant) may continue to see the "parked" page until the two-day time-to-live period expires. It is possible to see the exact remaining time with the Unix command line utility dig, if it is present on your local system.

Although this doesn't tend to affect most site visitors, those who are affected have no recourse unless they have direct control over their local name servers. This is standard to the global registries that operate each TLD and thus works exactly the same for all registrars. It is not something we or our registrar chose or have control over.

In order to prevent this, NearlyFreeSpeech.NET recommends that you either use our auto-renewal feature to make sure your domain never expires or pre-renew your domain so it is never within a year of expiring.

Why does my domain registrar show as "external?"

External domains are those domains which are registered through some other company that are not eligible be transferred in to our service. This typically includes domains in top-level domains that we do not support for registration, such as all ccTLDs.

How do I transfer a domain registration away from NearlyFreeSpeech?

You'll have to get most of the specifics about this from the registrar you're transferring the domain to, as their system will coordinate most of the transfer and they will have the best information about how their system works.

However, here's some general information about the process that may help.

First, you should do some "preflight checks:"

Once you've confirmed the domain is ready to transfer, the steps of the transfer will be more or less as follows:

  1. If your domain is locked (which it ordinarily should be), go to the Registration Info Panel and select "Unlock Domain" in the Actions box.
  2. Retrieve the transfer code. (The registrar you are transferring to may call this the EPP code or the auth info code. All three terms refer to the same thing.)
  3. Place the transfer order with your new registrar.
  4. Your new registrar will send the domain's administrative contact an approval message. This message will contain a link that must be clicked, or similar steps to confirm that it was received and that the administrative contact wants the domain transferred.
  5. Our registrar will send the administrative contact a message with a link you can use to cancel the transfer if you want. Don't click the link. (Unless you want to cancel the transfer.) Most of the time this email will also have an approval link you can use to expedite the transfer.
  6. If you don't have (or don't use) an approval link, wait about seven days. If your domain was less than seven days from expiring when you started the transfer, don't worry. It's not ideal to wait until the last minute, but it usually does not cause any disruption.

Once the transfer completes, the registration and RespectMyPrivacy (if applicable) will drop off, but if it has DNS, email forwarding, or is used for aliases, those will continue to exist. If you aren't using them anymore, you can remove those manually once you're sure doing so won't cause any interruptions.

What are the steps of a domain registration?

When you register a new, available domain with us you'll do the following steps:

  1. Visit the Domains panel and select "Register a New Domain" from the "Actions" box.

  2. On the next page, tell us more about the domain you want to register:

    • Enter your desired domain name in the "Name To Register" field; for example if you wanted to register example.com, you'd enter just "example" (without quotes).
    • Choose the top-level domain (TLD), such as .com or .net from the provided menu. All of the TLDs we support are listed in that menu.
    • Select the number of years for which you'd like to register the domain, up to a maximum of 10.
    • Once you've verified that your information is correct, use the "Add Domain" button to proceed to the next page.

  3. Next, choose whether to use your own contact information or our RespectMyPrivacy service:
    • If you want to use RespectMyPrivacy, just select it using the button next to "I want RespectMyPrivacy.COM Proxy Contacts." You won't be asked to enter any contact information during the registration process.

    • If you want to use your own contact information, choose "I will enter my own contact information." If you've never entered contact information before, the next page will present you with an explanation and the "Add a New Contact" button and you'll be taken to a form that is prepopulated with your account information, which you can edit if necessary. (This won't affect the contact information as it is listed on your account with us.) Once that step is done, or if you already have other registered domains with us, you'll be presented with a list of contact types and corresponding menus that contain any previous sets of contacts you've submitted, and the option to edit the selected registrant contact's information or create a new contact instead if you like.
  4. After you've chosen your contact type and done any needed additions or editing, continue to the page that lets you choose how you want to set up your DNS:

    • Choosing "set up DNS and name servers automatically" will tell our system to enable our DNS service for this domain and add relevant name servers to the registration;
    • Choosing "I want to specify my own name servers" will take you to a form that allows you to enter them.
  5. Once you've completed the setup of your DNS, the final page of the process shows you the information you've entered and gives you an opportunity to complete the registration. If you see something that's amiss, you can start over, but be sure to use the "Start Over" button; you might get unexpected results if you use your browser's back button.

  6. When all of this is done correctly, you'll receive a page confirming that you've successfully registered the domain.

What does the error "the contact information you entered was not accepted by the registry" mean?

When the registry interface we use returns an error, the error messages are usually neither human nor machine readable, so we sometimes have to mask them with this message.

Here are some of the most common reasons this can happen:

If you've followed all these restrictions and you still can't figure out what the problem is, we do have a way to look up the error and decode it by hand. You can ask for a lookup via our forum or (if you have a subscription membership) support issue.

I deposited funds for my domain registration renewal but it hasn't been renewed. What's wrong?

This means that at some point, you set your domain registration to be renewed manually; to renew it, see this FAQ entry.

Our system won't automatically use the funds you deposit to renew any domain registration not set to "Auto Renew." To view (or change) this setting for a domain registered through us:

  1. Go to the Domains tab of our member interface.
  2. Select the "Manage" button next to the relevant domain name to go to the Registration Details panel for that domain. (If the button next to the domain name says "Transfer" instead of "Manage," then it isn't registered through us.)
  3. In the "Registration Details" box, on the "Renewal Type" line, you can see the domain's renewal type ("Manual Renew," "Auto Renew," or "Do Not Renew").
  4. Use the Edit button on that same line to change the renewal type if you wish.

If a domain isn't registered through us, you will have to contact your registrar to renew it, or transfer it to us, which generally includes a one-year renewal.

I don't want to keep my domain. How do I stop receiving emails that it's going to expire?

Just visit the Domains panel, and, under the "Registrar" column in the domains list, select the "Manage" button for the relevant domain to view its "Registration Details" page. In the "Actions" box on that page, you'll find an "Edit Renewal Type" option. Set this to "Do Not Renew" and our system will stop telling you about your expiring/expired domain.

Why doesn't the domain name I just renewed show up in the renewal monitor?

Domains cannot be re-renewed immediately after they have been renewed; to prevent accidental double-renewal orders from getting placed they are locked out for a period of time. During that time, they won't show up in the renewal monitor.

Recently-renewed domains should reappear on the renewal monitor within a few hours. Until they do, you can still view and edit them as normal on the Domains panel and their individual "Registration Details" pages.

Why do I get "Invalid URL" when I click the email link to approve or cancel a domain transfer or verify a domain contact?

The unique link you receive via email when you approve or cancel a domain transfer or verify a domain contact is only valid once. If it's already been accessed for any reason, you will receive the (incredibly unhelpful) error message "Invalid URL." This message/page is not generated by us and we have no control over its content.

If you encounter "Invalid URL" by surprise, usually this means one of two things has happened. Either your email client has "helpfully" prefetched the URL, or, most frequently, you double-clicked the link in the email causing it to load twice. In both cases, the action you're verifying is already done.

If you're transferring a domain to us and you get this from the approval link, this means the transfer is approved and you can confirm this by going to the domain's info panel in our member interface (select "Manage" in the "Registrar" column for the domain on the Domains panel) and confirming the Action status is "Transfer waiting for Losing Registrar Approval." Likewise, if you get it from the cancel link, the domain transfer is already pending cancel and should be killed and refunded within a few hours.

If you are transferring a domain away from us, this means the transfer will be blocked.

If you're approving a contact, this means the contact is approved and that status should reflect in our UI within an hour.

If you receive this message and whatever you're doing doesn't show up as successful (i.e. the Action status is still "waiting for admin contact approval" or the domain still shows as unverified after an hour) then it's also possible your email client may be breaking up or mangling the URL. Check to make sure it hasn't split the URL onto multiple lines, possibly adding a character at the end of the first line.

When is RespectMyPrivacy enabled during domain registration?

If you decide to use RespectMyPrivacy when you register a domain, it can be enabled during the second step of the process. It becomes active at the time the registration is completed, which keeps your information from ever being exposed in the WHOIS database when you register your domain.

If you want to add it to domain that is already registered, see this entry.

Does NearlyFreeSpeech allow managing DNSSEC (DS) records?

Yes, although currently the process is manual and carries a nominal fee unless you have a subscription membership. DS records can be loaded to or removed from the registry through our assistance request system.

Email (*)

How much email can my site send?

As an anti-spam provision, each web site has a dynamic email limit called its "email bank." This represents the amount of email that a site can send before it is rate-limited. By default, the email bank can hold a maximum of 100 "points," each of which can be used to send one message. Points accrue at the rate of one per minute, starting from 0 when the site is created.

Each site's email bank values are shown on the Site Information page as a fraction on the "Email Sending" line. The first number indicates the current size of the email bank, and the second number indicates the maximum size. For example, if it shows 75/100, it means the site's email bank currently contains 75 out of a maximum of 100 points. If it shows 100/100, it indicates that your bank is full, implying that the site has not sent any email recently.

Each time your site sends a message, the email bank will be debited one point. As long as your site's current email bank size is positive, it should be able to send 30-60 messages per minute. If your site's email bank reaches zero (e.g. 0/100), additional messages sent will be queued until more points are available, effectively rate-limiting additional messages to one per minute. If your site has queued outbound messages, this information will also be visible on the Site Information page.

If your site generates a large mail queue, usually the result of a vulnerable email form, we will automatically investigate. If we believe there is an issue, we will remove spam, disable any exploited sites, and contact you about the problem.

If the messages are not spam, they will be cleared to send, and if it happens frequently, your maximum bank size may be raised to accommodate the typical volume of email that your site sends. If you have an increased bank size, you will both send messages and recover bank points more quickly. We do not make changes to the automatic email volume limits based on member inquiry, only based on actual, reoccurring conditions detected and observed by us. Most reviews of the queue take place during our standard support hours, so if you have a large volume of mail to send, please try to avoid sending it in the middle of the night or it may get delayed until the following morning.

The email bank applies only to emails sent by your web site. Email forwarding is an entirely separate service and has no connection to any site's email bank.

I need email hosting for my domain. Where should I get it?

We do not currently offer email hosting, nor do we offer any reseller arrangements in this area at the present time.

Some of the paid services that people have recommended include FastMail, Tuffmail, and Google Apps.

I sent a test message from my Gmail account through NearlyFreeSpeech.NET Email Forwarding, which forwards back to my Gmail account. How come it never showed up?

Our theory is that Gmail does not like "duplicate" messages. Because there is a copy of this message already in your "Sent" folder, it appears that gmail will ignore the copy that has made the round trip through our server and back.

If you try your test from some other Gmail account (one other than the one the message will ultimately be delivered to) then it should arrive normally.

Gmail also filters spam and viruses fairly vigorously, and sometimes test messages blend in, so don't forget to check your "Junk" folder if you're expecting a message that hasn't arrived. We also have some reported cases that messages sent to Gmail sometimes simply don't arrive (whether forwarded through our system or not).

How can I stop spammers from sending email that says that it's from my domain?

This is one of the great scourges facing the Internet today. Anyone can forge email to make it look like it came from anyone, and spammers do. They don't need anything special, no passwords, no special access, nothing. They pick domains at random in order to help obscure who they are and where they are coming from.

If this happens to your domain, the symptom will be that you will receive a large number of bounce messages for messages you never sent. If you investigate further, you will generally find that the From: addresses of the messages are either fake names (frank@example.com, bob@example.com) or gibberish addresses (2nkdklwejw@example.com).

When you configure your mail client to send mail from your domain instead of your ISP's, it's completely between you and your mail client. Everybody else has to trust that you told your software the truth. Nobody can stop you from putting "president@whitehouse.gov" as your sender address. Spammers abuse this trust to send out their messages.

Messages like these never pass through our system, so we can't help you figure out where they are coming from or help stop them. In general, messages of this type are sent through hacked machines belonging to residential cable modem Internet subscribers, or they are sent through unprotected servers in developing countries like China.

This happens sooner or later with every registered domain and, at present, there is unfortunately nothing that can be done to stop it. This is true no matter what domain registrar or hosting company is used, and is even true if the domain isn't used for web hosting.

If you use your domain for email, setting an SPF record in your DNS that lists servers that legitimately originate email from your domain may help. We do offer an SPF option for domains not used for sending email, which is a helpful step if it applies.

While you cannot prevent this from happening, you can diminish its effects on you. Most of the people who get buried in bounce messages have "catch-all" email forwarding enabled. You can disable this and set up only specific email forwards, and this will dramatically decrease the number of bogus bounce messages you receive.

How do I send email to others using a domain name for which I have NearlyFreeSpeech.NET Email Forwarding?

If you prefer a free, web-based solution, Gmail is one of the most popular, although some of our members find trusting Google with such sensitive information difficult. However, it can be tricky to get Gmail to send email from a non-Gmail address and Google is slowly removing the options for doing so.

In addition, most mail programs, such as Outlook, Outlook Express, and Thunderbird, have the ability to do this with just a few minutes' worth of configuration. However, you must have an SMTP email server that you can use to send these messages; we do not provide that service.

In almost all cases, the SMTP server you should use to send mail from your domain is run by your ISP, and it is the same server you would use to send mail from your regular ISP email account. Since ISPs vary widely, we cannot provide more specific guidance than this. However, they should have their own technical support that can help you get this set up.

For many reasons, we cannot provide this service to you. Most ISPs block access to outside mail servers by their users because of the email problems created when one of their users' computers gets a virus. Even if yours doesn't (and they probably should), you cannot use our servers to send mail as this is a technique called "relaying" that is used by spammers to conceal the origin of their messages. As a result of that, the practice of relaying is now deprecated and is not supported.

How do I set up third-party email services with NearlyFreeSpeech.NET DNS?

You will need mail server information (called MX records) from your third-party email provider. Once you have obtained this information from them, follow these steps:

  1. Make sure you do not have NearlyFreeSpeech.NET Email Forwarding for your domain. If you do, remove it.
  2. Set up your NearlyFreeSpeech.NET DNS using the information from your email provider.

I have NearlyFreeSpeech.NET Email Forwarding. Somebody tried to send me email and it was rejected. Why?

In order to fight spam, our email servers have very high standards for accepting email. Occasionally, this may cause someone who wants to send you email from a misconfigured email server to run into problems. If you can get a copy of the bounce message and forward it to us, we may be able to point the server operators in the right direction as far as fixing their problem, but since it is their problem, it will be up to them to fix it.

Since most of the inquiries about this come from people who are not members but have email problems and don't know what to do about them, most of our documentation of this subject can be found on our public Email Acceptance policy page in an attempt to help them.

How do I remove / stop being charged for NearlyFreeSpeech.NET email forwarding for my domain?

Follow these steps:

  1. Go to the Domains panel.
  2. For the relevant domain name, under the "E-Mail" column, choose "Manage."
  3. Select "Permanently Remove Forwarding" from the "Actions" box.
  4. Enter your password, select the confirmation checkbox, and select "Confirm Remove Email Forwarding."

NOTE: You will be charged for email forwarding until you remove it using the above steps; disabling it will not be sufficient.

Why can't I use an email address in a domain hosted here as my contact address?

We need you to have a current, working email address at all times in case we need to contact you about problems. If anything important to your contact email address is hosted here (DNS, domain registration, or email forwarding) and there's a problem with your service, we might not be able to contact you. That's bad.

For example, suppose your domain expires. And suppose that you forgot your password and need a new one mailed to you to fix things. But you can't get that message because your email doesn't work when your domain is expired. In cases like that, our Privacy Policy turns from a critically-important protection into a colossal roadblock; you'll wind up giving us a DNA sample and fingerprints to get your access back. (Well, not really, but it'll feel like that, especially if you're in a hurry.)

These types of circular dependencies create a lot of headaches, so we simply don't allow them.

If you don't want to have multiple email boxes to keep track of, there is a workaround. If your primary email address is in the domain that you want to host here, which is not uncommon if you have a business, what you can do is set up a special alternate email address somewhere else, for example at a reasonably reliable provider of free email accounts, and easily set it up to forward copies of all the messages it receives to your normal mailbox. That way, you'll get all the messages, but if there's ever a problem, you can fall back on the alternate mailbox to get in touch with us, secure in the knowledge that it's got copies of any recent messages we've sent you to work from.

Just be sure that you don't need your primary email address to reset your alternate one, in case you forget both. A bigger circular dependency is still a circular dependency. Make sure that whatever setup of forwarding and responsibility you set up with multiple email addresses can be represented with a directed acyclic graph.

Why can't I disable the spam filter/virus protection/greylisting on my email forwarding?

The defining characteristic of any email forwarding service is that it forwards the email it receives on your behalf to some other mail server. When it comes to spam, this is a problem.

If we forward spam to other mail servers, those other mail servers don't know we didn't originate it. ("Hey, I really got this message from that other guy!" is a common spam sender trick.) If we forward enough of it, they will assume we are spammers and block our forwarders from delivering email to their mail servers entirely. Doing our best to prevent spam is the only way we can assure our continued ability to provide this service.

For that reason, we cannot honor requests to bypass our filtering mechanisms under any circumstances. To do so would threaten not only our ability to forward email to the member requesting it, but also our ability to forward email at all.

This is an unfortunate circumstance, but it's a necessary evil and is true for all viable email forwarding services, not just ours. If you have some special circumstance that requires you to receive spam, spam-like email, or viruses, or if you simply want to exert maximum control over how your email is handled, you will need to eschew the use of any type of forwarding and arrange for a direct-delivery email service that provides that level of control.

How do I send email from my dynamic site hosted here?

If your site runs PHP, you should use the mail() function.

For all CGI languages, you should use /usr/bin/sendmail.

These are the only supported methods to send email from sites hosted on our service.

You may not connect to SMTP ports 25 or 465 on other networks' servers; these are SMTP MTA (mail transfer agent) ports used by full-time email servers to exchange existing messages with each other. Your web site is not an email server, so it is not appropriate for it to use these ports. Therefore, to prevent spammers from abusing our service, we actively block such connections.

Some email services offer authenticated SMTP MSA (mail submission agent) services on port 587 that may be appropriate for accepting new email messages from your site. However, doing so is unsupported by us and we do not guarantee it will be a suitable option for your circumstances; contact your email service if you need any assistance with this.

What is greylisting?

Greylisting is a technique we use in conjunction with email forwarding designed to help differentiate misconfigured servers from spammers and virus-writers.

A variety of standards and best practices exist around the protocols used to send emails and identify their senders (SMTP and DNS). Most servers follow these standards very closely. Spammers and email virus writers, on the other hand, are just as uninterested in standards as they are in the laws against what they do.

If (and only if) a standards compliance problem is detected with a sending server, the message it's sending is refused by us, and the sending server is added to the greylist. If the server tries to send that same message again a little later (one to four hours, depending on how messed up the server is), the message will be allowed and that server will be automatically added to a whitelist of servers that have passed the test.

Legitimate mail servers are required to queue messages and try them again later, so to them greylisting is a temporary inconvenience (plus it puts messages in their logs telling them to fix whatever problem(s) got them on the list). Viruses, on the other hand, have to fit their SMTP engines into small spaces; even if they wanted to implement a system that retried messages, they typically have no place to queue them. Greylisting is thus very effective against viruses in general, even new viruses that standard virus scans don't know to detect. Spam senders are somewhere in the middle; many use poorly-written software that simply sends out as much as it can as fast as it can, ignoring errors, and greylisting can be a pretty effective barrier to those.

The greylist (and the associated auto-whitelist) is on a per-sending-server basis and is shared by all of our email forwarding domains. Once auto-whitelisted, a legitimate server stays there until it goes 32 days without sending any mail; every time a message goes through, the clock resets. So as long as a server sends a message to someone using our email forwarding service at least once per month, it will stay in the clear.

In the event of a conflict, the spam blacklist (a list of known spam sources) overrides the auto-whitelist, so if a sending server is identified as a spam source sometime after being auto-whitelisted, its messages will still be thwarted.

What should I put in my SPF records to send mail from my site using my domain name?

Although the nfshost.com domain is not used for email, we maintain SPF records for nfshost.com that match the servers used to send mail from sites hosted here (e.g. via the PHP mail() function or the sendmail binary in CGI scripts).

If you want to originate mail from your site that uses a sender address in a domain name of yours, to help prevent your messages from being marked as spam, you should publish an SPF record incorporating our sending servers. This can be easily done without the need to check for periodic updates using the SPF include facility. Just add include:sites.nearlyfreespeech.net to your SPF record.

For example, if you send email from your site, such as forum registrations from forum@example.com, but most of example.com's email is handled by Google apps, you would add a TXT record for example.com like:

v=spf1 include:_spf.google.com include:sites.nearlyfreespeech.net ~all

This will tell the world that mail from example.com may originate from either Google or our sending servers, and that anything that comes from elsewhere is probably (but not definitely) a forgery.

Because of the very different usages and sending profiles, we have three completely different sets of email servers: one for NearlyFreeSpeech.NET service-related email, another for email forwarding, and a third for mail originating from member sites. Thus it is very important that you do not put include:nearlyfreespeech.net in your SPF record. We also strongly recommend against hardcoding specific servers into your SPF records. We may change them from time to time without notice.

General (*)

What's the most important thing to know about your service?

NearlyFreeSpeech.NET is a do-it-yourself service, designed to allow experienced webmasters and people who are strongly self-motivated to set up low-cost hosting by only paying for services they actually use.

Support is a great example of a high-cost service that's typically bundled into hosting offerings. But it's also a great example of a service that most of our members don't use and don't want to pay for. As a result, our system is designed to be used without individual private support, and our baseline membership does not provide it. Nor do we offer "pre-sales" support; it's up to you to figure out if our service is a good fit for your needs.

If you do want support, we do provide a wealth of documentation, self-support and community-support options. There is also a higher-cost subscription membership available that offers limited individual private support via email and our website. But this doesn't change the do-it-yourself nature of our service: individual support provided to subscription members is limited to guidance, you'll still have to do all of the heavy lifting yourself.

This means that if you don't want to pay for individual private support, you don't have to. But it also means that if you don't pay for it, you won't get it.

If one of those options works for you, great! If, on the other hand, you're looking for a more "high contact" approach to support or if you're looking for someone to create or manage a site for you, that's absolutely fine, but a do-it-yourself service like ours may not be the best fit for your needs.

To put it another way, some people change their own oil. Some people pay a mechanic to do it because although they could do it themselves, they want to spend their time another way. And some people pay a mechanic to do it because they just want their car to work and the details don't interest them. NearlyFreeSpeech.NET is a service for people who want to change their web site's oil.

What's the most common mistake people make while signing up for NearlyFreeSpeech.NET?

The most common mistake people make while signing up for our service is disregarding the unique one-to-one relationship between a person and their membership.

Your membership represents you as an individual. As it says in bold print on our signup page, you may only have one membership, you may not create a membership for anyone but yourself, no one but you may access your membership, you can't transfer your membership to another person. (Transferring some or all of the services on your membership to another member, on the other hand, is dead easy. So is sharing things if you have more than one person who needs to be involved.) You must also use your individual, real name on your membership.

These warnings and policies are there for a reason. When people don't follow them, then sooner or later problems result.

Don't: create memberships for other people.
Do: host their stuff for them on your membership or get them to do it themselves.

Don't: tell us your real name is "Company Inc." or "Organization Webmaster."
Do: create an account for the organization on your membership.

Don't: create a second membership for a new project or customer you want to work on.
Do: create a second account instead.

Don't: give your login credentials to somebody so they can help you or share responsibility.
Do: have them create a membership and add them to your site as an adjunct member or share your account with them.

Basically, all we ask is that you don't pretend to be someone else. If you do, it will eventually result in problems. You may find yourself unable to log in, unable to make payments, or your membership may wind up in the hands of someone who has no idea what they're doing. Those problems are fixable (as long as the person whose name is on the membership is still around) but it's pretty certain they won't crop up on a day when you've got plenty of spare time and nothing better to do.

Why do I have to enter my real name when creating a membership?

If you lose access to your membership, the first step in our recovery process is providing a government-issued photo ID matching the name on the membership. If you entered a fake name or a company name or "Thus-and-such Webmaster" when you signed up, you're typically screwed. (It is possible to customize your recovery settings in advance in such a way that you can get around this later, but we strongly discourage that since it makes it just as easy for others to get around it as well.)

We're absolutely fanatical about our privacy policy. We're not going to give your name to anybody unless somebody shows up with a judge's signature. If you don't trust us with your name, you probably shouldn't trust us with your content either.

Requesting a real name also helps people avoid the most common signup mistake.

Can I beat your pricing if I get my own VPS?

Maybe. We aren’t out to provide the cheapest possible service. In fact, we have absolutely no interest in doing so. Our goal to is to provide a high-quality service at a fair price, and make it scale so we can put that service in the hands of as many people as possible, many of whom couldn't otherwise afford it.

With that said, the most common reason people feel that we're more expensive than an alternative is that they are comparing us to a different type of service.

We provide a fully managed environment, including frequent security updates, careful performance tuning, and 24x7 response to crashes and outages for everything underneath your code. The tools you need to build your site are already there, ready to be used and customized however you want. We have dedicated infrastructure to build a constant stream of updates, more infrastructure that runs regression tests on those updates to make sure things are working before they get to you, then we let you pick just how aggressively you want those updates applied.

With an unmanaged VPS, the provider maintains the hardware (hopefully), but doesn’t care if your VPS is up or down. The full responsibility of installing and maintaining the OS, the system configuration, all the packages and utilities, and the entire application stack falls on you. Every critical security update. Every urgent kernel patch. Every weird error in the system log. Every crash in the middle of the night. Every traffic surge. You have to know about it, you have to know what to do about it, and you have to do it. Often on a deadline. And that responsibility never goes away. It never even takes a day off.

Occasionally, people comparing us to a VPS zero-value that, because it hasn't occurred to them, or because they plan to do it themselves (some of it, anyway — system administration is a good-paying full-time job) and haven’t placed a dollar value on their time. But VPS providers sure don't zero-value it. The price difference between an unmanaged VPS and a fully-managed VPS from the same provider is often $50-200/month. Already, our pricing looks a lot better!

Second, the lowest VPS deals come from brand new providers who lose money on every sale. They’re buying market share by selling below their cost. We don’t compete with them on price. We just wait for them to go out of business.

Third, VPS providers use all sorts of tricks to make it seem like they’re providing a lot more than they really are. Hopefully you’re already convinced, but if you’re in the mood to keep reading, the rest of this FAQ entry contains a partial (but long) list of such tricks and what we do differently.

VPSs and RAM:

VPSs and storage space

VPS overselling

We are not trying to say all VPSs are bad, or even that they’re all a bad deal. There are some applications where a VPS is a better fit than our service. And if you don’t need or want all that we provide, and don’t mind doing a lot of work yourself, a low-end VPS may save you some money. But in an awful lot of cases, for sites big and small, we provide an excellent value that no VPS can match.

How much does the average site really cost?

We have recently changed our pricing, and so we cannot currently offer good statistics for this. They will return in a few months. Until then, we recommend using our Pricing Estimator tool to get an idea of what your hosting costs might be.

Do you provide email hosting services?

No we do not.

We do, however, provide email forwarding service. You can set up as many different addresses at your domain as you like, specifying where each one should be forwarded and/or use "catchall" forwarding to send everything to a single address.

This service only handles inbound mail. You will have to make other arrangements for a mailbox to receive the messages, and to send outbound mail.

For that, the first choice, and often the best one, is to use the email account(s) provided by your ISP for this, but there are other options. Many of our members choose to use email services like Gmail or whatever Microsoft is calling their email this week.

Is your service easy to use?

No.

Compared to the endless parade of hosts that provide tons of "one-click installs," one-size-fits-all web site templates, unlimited toll-free telephone support, and cookie-cutter control panels, our service is arcane and complex. We consider this a positive.

Our service is designed for people who are comfortable with Unix-based web hosting, including manipulating MySQL and files using command line tools. To get good results for nontrivial sites, our members need to understand how Unix file permissions and ownership work, and how they apply to a secure web hosting environment.

We do provide extensive documentation, including a massive FAQ, that addresses a large number of the most common inquiries we receive. Because we employ neither "canned answers" to inquiries for support nor underpaid "tier 1" support personnel to give them, we do tend to refer people to the documentation when their questions have detailed and complete answers there.

But if our systems are working properly, we expect that most of our members should never need to contact support. By extension, they should not have to pay extra to maintain a staff of people they never use. Consequently, our free technical support is extremely limited and is provided primarily through our community forum. The primary option for those seeking individual support (subscription membership) costs extra and even that has fairly strict limits as far as how much help we can provide.

We have found that most of our successful members are those who have previous experience with web hosting. This is, however, a gross generalization. We have plenty of members who have made amazing sites starting from ground zero because they are strongly self-motivated and learn well independently. It's cool for us to watch them learn, too.

If you are not comfortable that you already have the knowledge and experience outlined here, and you do not particularly want to acquire it, that's a perfectly valid position, but it means that using our service may be an exercise in frustration for you that is best avoided.

Do you provide DNS hosting services?

Yes! Our DNS service meets most simple DNS and email service requirements for the average website. NearlyFreeSpeech.NET DNS supports most common resource record types (A, AAAA, CNAME, MX, NS, SRV, TXT, and PTR).

How many web sites can I host with a NearlyFreeSpeech.NET membership?

Our system is very flexible in this regard. Each membership can have one or more accounts. Each account can have one or more sites. Each site can have one or more domain names. For many people, this means one membership, one account, one site, and one domain name. For many others, it gives them the power to be as creative as they want, and to pursue several different goals.

Whether you spread your websites across multiple accounts or keep them all in one is completely up to you. Support for multiple accounts allows people who have sites for different reasons, such as business and personal, to keep the finances separate if they choose to do so.

Do you register domain names?

Yes we do.

See this page for full information about our integrated domain name registration services.

How will I know if my account is about to run out of funds?

Our system will send you email (or, optionally, SMS) reminders when your account is running low on funds (and of course it will let you know if you run completely out). The reminder levels come pre-configured at $5.00 and $1.00, but you can add, change, or remove them at will.

Why do you only offer prepaid service?

We do this for several good reasons:

  1. This allows you to limit your exposure. If for some reason your website spins out of control, you won't open your mailbox and find a $1000 bill. It'll burn through whatever you have on deposit and then shut down, allowing all of us to work together to find and fix the problem before it gets out of hand. Your liability can never exceed the amount of money you have on deposit.
  2. Holding a deposit also helps us limit our exposure. By holding the funds for a site in advance, we ensure that nobody ever incurs charges for services they can't pay. If we didn't do that, your costs would go up because our members would ultimately have to pay to cover the costs of all the other people who defaulted.
  3. Maintaining accounts lowers our overhead. We don't have to send out bills, past due notices, or go to collections. That's one more unnecessary thing you don't have to pay for, meaning your costs stay low.
  4. It means there is no list of credit card numbers or bank accounts waiting around for hackers to find.

My web designer says I should use somebody else instead of you. What do you say?

We say: go visit somebody else's website. Look for their affiliate program. Find out if your web designer is getting a kickback for referring you. Some providers pay 10% or more every month.

Affiliate programs make it difficult for a web designer to make objective recommendations about what's good for your business. So good web designers generally don't participate in affiliate programs, and you can rely on their advice. We don't have an affiliate program, so when someone recommends us, you can be comfortable that it's because they like us.

On the other hand, maybe your designer has had good luck with somebody else and knows that they provide quality service, a system they're already familiar with, and a price that's in your budget. In a case like that, sometimes it's better to go that way. Few roads are better than the ones one knows best. We'll be here if you need us.

Do you price-match your competitors?

No.

Our pricing plan is designed to be fair to you and fair for us. It represents our actual cost to provide the service. In the case of resources, for instance, this is literally true: all revenue from resource charges is channeled directly into the acquisition and maintenance of hosting hardware. And by "hardware" we don't mean a Hummer with a sexy custom "NearlyFreeSpeech" wrap on it.

Our pricing plan is simple and straightforward as well as very competitive. You pay for what you use, and you don't pay for what you don't use. That's all there is to it.

Prices that appear better than ours fall into two categories: big bundles and temporary loss leaders. Our thoughts on big bundles are detailed elsewhere. As for loss leaders, as long as the hosting business exists, there will be somebody offering free or below-cost service because they think adding customers is more important than building a sustainable service. Competing on price with every free-today-gone-tomorrow hosting provider that comes along would simply guarantee that we'd lose what really makes our service the best deal: its simplicity, honesty, and sustainability.

How can you make money at these prices?

It's not easy. For one thing, we keep overhead to a minimum. No fancy multi-acre Silicon Valley office palaces with slides and wandering masseurs here. No business development teams. No commission-driven sales force.

Also, we try to avoid doing stupid things that make no sense just because we heard someone else made a lot of money that way. That really helps.

This is not a loss leader, a limited time offer, or restricted to only certain people. This is our business model, and it works.

What is the minimum deposit?

Our system will attempt to allow any reasonable deposit.

There is no minimum balance needed to create a site, but your balance must be at least $0.01 if you want it to work. :-)

Will you design my web site for me?

No, we will not. Our design skills are horrifyingly bad anyway. We like to stick to what we're good at, which is hosting sites, not creating them.

Do you offer collocation, dedicated servers, or VPS services?

No we do not.

There's no other way to put it: we're complete control freaks. Our policy is simple: if we don't have a remote-controlled explosive collar welded in place around your neck, we don't give you root on our network. Since there are currently no commercially-available remote-controlled explosive collars licensed for public use, this pretty much means we don't give you root on our network.

This is very good from a security and reliability standpoint, but it does rule out offering these sorts of services.

However, our hosting services have gotten more and more powerful over the years, to the point where you can do pretty much anything on our service that you can do with a VPS, dedicated server, or colo, as long as it's web-based. If you're under the impression you need a VPS or dedicated server to run your web site, try asking about it in our forums, because there might be a better way.

The notable exceptions to this are handling credit card numbers directly on your site (for which we recommend using a third-party service run by security experts instead), or handling regulated health information, for which there really is no alternative to a provider that can offer HIPAA-compliant hosted services (and, regrettably, the massive associated expense).

Are you about to pop up a "chat now with sales!" ad on me?

Nope. Aren't those annoying?

What happens if I get slashdotted/reddited?

Typically, not much. Our system includes dynamic load-balancing and scalability so it can adapt quickly to dramatic changes in your traffic levels. (It is possible to create a site that's so inefficient that it can't keep up no matter what we do, but that's pretty rare.)

A major "slashdotting" (or insert the surge site of the week here) of a site hosted on our service will cost you (on average) less than $10, one time. The best part about that is that as soon as it's over, your costs go back to normal, but you'll save any usage-based discount resulting from the traffic burst. There's no higher-tier pricing to get permanently pushed into, and we won't cancel you for having something to say that people actually want to hear.

This happens to one of our members about once a week, so you can bet we know how to handle it. Or rather, our systems do. Our load-adaptive clustering technology is at its best when handling demand surges, and our pricing is at its best when you'd prefer not to be billed based on a 1% event the other 99% of the time.

Note: Our service is based on science, not magic. It will not make slow sites run quickly, nor will it make sites scale if they aren't built for it. Your site must be able to complete requests at the same rate they come in. If it cannot, for whatever reason, then there is nothing our system (or any other) can do; you're gonna have a bad time. Please take this into account when designing sites intended for high traffic levels.

What if I want to set up a web site but don't have a domain name / don't want to fool with DNS?

When you create your website on our service, you will be asked to give it a "short name," which is a brief one-word name for your site that must be unique across our entire service, and we give you a built-in hostname based on that.

For example, if you choose example as your site's short name, you will always be able to access it as http://example.nfshost.com/.

If you don't want DNS or a domain of your own, you're welcome to use this name for your site at no additional cost. If you do use a domain of your own, then having your site available under this alternate name may help you troubleshoot any problems during the setup process, as well as provide a backup if there is ever a problem with your domain.

How come your service isn't free?

Because the servers we buy and the bandwidth we obtain are very competitively priced, but they still do cost money, as do the people that run them.

We get this question from two different angles. First, there are always people who just want something for nothing. We don't have much to offer those people.

The second angle comes from people who would like to see us offer some sort of ad-sponsored free service. There are two primary reasons we have not pursued that:

  1. If it were possible for us to sell ad space on your site and make money from your hard work, wouldn't that be a little like ripping you off? You are welcome to sell ad space on your site, if you wish, and you are the only person who should profit from it. If you want to try this out, Google AdSense is a great, easy way to get started, and it works with our service.
  2. Accepting sponsorship for a site places additional constraints on the content of that site. If we did this on any kind of scale and were dependent on the profits, the sponsors would gain enough influence over us to potentially force us to censor our members. That's unacceptable.

Finally, we would encourage you to remember the time-tested truth about free services on the Internet: if you're not paying then you're not the customer, and if you're not the customer then you're the product. And if that doesn't put you in mind of the mental image of a herd of cows milling around outside a slaughterhouse, well, we admire your optimism.

Our customers are not advertisers, not venture capitalists, not the government, and not public opinion. Our only customers are our members.

What's the difference between bandwidth and storage?

Of the two, storage is easier to understand. Just like you, we have hard drives (except larger and probably more expensive) and we store the files that make up your site on them. Storage refers to how much space those files take up. Storage billing is measured in units called megabyte-months, which refers to one megabyte stored on our system for one month.

Bandwidth, on the other hand, refers to the amount of data that is sent out when people visit your site. Bandwidth is measured in units of gigabytes. If your page (including any graphics and such that may go with it) takes up one megabyte of space, then about a thousand people (1024 actually) would have to download the whole thing to get to a gigabyte of bandwidth, and that's what you'd be billed for.

Why doesn't your website look like other hosting provider sites?

It's simple. We don't want to confuse people into thinking we're anything like other hosting providers. Our simple, text-based layout is designed to load fast, to be easy to use, and not to try to distract you from making an informed decision about us. As if that's not enough, we also think Jakob Nielsen is pretty cool.

So, sure, we could follow the crowd and get stock graphics of impressive racks of equipment and inspired-looking people staring blankly into space. We've even been told we can't possibly be taken seriously as a hosting company unless we have them. But we're not buying. Those other companies can keep the sort of people who make hosting decisions based on how cute the model on the home page is. Our members are way too smart for that, and that's just how we like it.

And psst, we'll let you in on a little secret. Not all of our servers are the same color. Scandalous, we know.

Are your domain registration services intended for general-purpose usage?

No, our domain registrations services are provided on a cost-recovery basis as a service to our hosting members, and are not intended to be used as a standalone product. We are not, nor do we have any interest in being, a general-purpose domain registration provider.

Consequently, while we do not impose any restrictions on the use of our domain registration and RespectMyPrivacy.COM services, our system is specially designed to facilitate use of registered domains with our hosting services. If you wish to use these services for other purposes, you are welcome to do so, with the following caveats:

What if my web site gets attacked?

This is a tough question. We do host websites that get attacked by a wide variety of different methods. However, the variety is so wide that there is no "typical" attack scenario or "average" outcome that we can offer as an example.

At any given time, our network is typically experiencing between zero and three denial-of-service (DOS) or distributed-denial-of-service (DDOS) attacks. Most are short, lasting only a few minutes or hours, but the longest lasted for over a month. Most are not service-disrupting, but occasionally they can render a member site inaccessible, and rarely, if they are significant enough, large-scale DDOS attacks can sometimes briefly disrupt our entire service. (This is equally true of all web hosts.)

To help protect our members' sites, we employ a large number of passive network features like connection filtering and firewalls. These are generally very effective against the everyday attacks we most frequently experience. When attacks go beyond the simple, an active response by NearlyFreeSpeech.NET personnel is typically required. Our active response to attacks on member sites (or on our service itself) is roughly proportional to the square of the disruption caused; our response escalates very quickly as attacks become more severe. Thanks to our long experience in the area, we have a wide arsenal of tools that can be dynamically employed or tuned to help mitigate serious attacks. We take keeping our members' sites online very seriously!

Having your site attacked does sometimes consume resources, e.g. bandwidth, that we charge for. The cost of such an attack depends on the type, scale, and duration of the attack, as well as in large part on your actions before and during the attack. Since these factors are not under our control, vary widely, and cannot be accurately predicted, we will not under any circumstances attempt to estimate what the financial implications of a hypothetical attack might be. If you want such an estimate, simply figure out the bandwidth that would be used based on the size of your site and the anticipated volume of requests.

However, since our service is paid in advance, you always have complete control over your maximum financial liability simply by controlling the balance of your account. If you feel your site is attack-prone and you are primarily concerned about costs, we encourage you to maintain a low account balance to limit your exposure. Then, if a situation arises, you will be able to make an informed decision about your best course of action before incurring any significant expenses. If you feel your site is attack-prone and you are primarily concerned about availability, we suggest that you maintain a larger account balance and customize our account balance warning feature to notify you if your expenses spike in an abnormal way.

Our service is based on personal responsibility. Although our TACOS ensure that you have broad discretion in choosing what to say on your site, if you choose to say something controversial then you must be prepared to be first in line to bear the consequences. We will not indemnify you or waive any costs you incur arising from an attack on a site you host; we are a hosting provider, not an insurance provider.

In all cases, if you are concerned about your site being attacked, you are your own first and best line of defense. You should design a site that is lightweight and fast-loading so that it remains available under heavy load and minimizes bandwidth cost.

If you run into a problem with someone attacking your site or trying to bleed your funds dry, please feel free to contact us. It is absolutely not our intention to sit back and laugh while someone drains your account, whether your site content provoked the attack or not. In some cases, we can block obvious troublemakers and certain types of attacks so they will not reach your site. But since you are the site operator, we will expect you to take all reasonable measures to protect yourself first. Example 1: If someone is posting rude comments on your forum site, you will need to use your forum's blocking features to handle it. Example 2: If someone writes a script to repeatedly download the largest static banner graphic on your site, we may be able to block their IP address for you.

With all that said, it's worth noting that most sites will never be attacked directly and have absolutely nothing to worry about in this area. Even given our libertarian TACOS, fewer than 0.1% of our hosted sites have ever been targeted by noteworthy attacks.

Is your service only for controversial or extreme websites?

Not at all! It's true that our libertarian attitude toward personal responsibility attracts a handful of controversial websites, some of which make a person wonder, "Ok, sure, you can say that, but why?" However, the vast majority of sites we host (greater than 99.9%) are perfectly ordinary blogs, forums, wikis, and personal pages run by people just like you.

For the bulk of our member base, the "fringe" web sites we host frequently serve as the proverbial canary in the coal mine: they act as our global censorship early warning system. As long as the fringe sites can remain online, we can all be confident that the rest of us with more moderate views have real freedom to express ourselves. When people (or governments) attack such sites or attempt to get them shut down, we learn more about what legal and technological techniques we need to use to keep your site protected.

NearlyFreeSpeech.NET isn't necessarily about saying something controversial. In a lot of cases, it's merely about knowing that if you need to someday, you won't find out that your freedom to do so atrophied away while you weren't looking.

Should I set up my new small business website at NearlyFreeSpeech.NET?

NearlyFreeSpeech.NET provides our members a very specific service: it is designed for people who want to tinker with their website at a very low level and squeeze every last drop out of it. We are in some respects similar to an auto parts store, rather than a mechanic. NearlyFreeSpeech.NET will sell you an alternator for your '72 Impala*, but both the responsibility to determine that the '72 Impala needs an alternator, and the job of installing it remain with the customer. All the knobs, tweaks, options, and flexibility we provide can become a real frustration for a person who just wants to be done already.

Furthermore, as a small business ourselves, we understand that one of the keys to success is for the principals to spend as much time as possible focusing on the high-skill areas and as little time as possible on "have to" stuff, including accounting, legal issues, and maintaining web pages. Every minute that we spend on something that we're barely competent or outright bad at is a minute we're not spending leaving the competition in the dust. Thus, we try to outsource as many of those tasks as possible so we can focus on doing what we're actually good at.

For that reason, in general, we find it difficult to recommend our service to new and small businesses; the do-it-yourself nature of our service and the limited support that entails can be anathema to someone who really needs to be spending their time somewhere else. So it's often better to pay (a lot) more and get a turnkey solution. But there are two exceptions to this:

First, for a lot of businesses these days, the website is the business. If you're a high-tech person trying to build a small business around a dynamic web site and you need advanced control over the programming and site configuration, as well as excellent speed and scalability at minimal cost, NearlyFreeSpeech.NET may well be perfect for you.

Second, the economic realities of new businesses often dictate that the owners have to do some of the things that are outside of their core skills. If money is tighter than time and the alternative is not to have a site, the ability to create a site at NearlyFreeSpeech.NET for pennies may be priceless, even if it takes a little more work.**

*As long as your '72 Impala supports HTTP and is hosted on our service.

**But don't expect to see any "NearlyFreeSpeech.NET: It's better than nothing!" marketing campaigns.

Will you pre-approve my web site content or usage for compliance with your Terms and Conditions of Service?

No.

If you are concerned that you might encounter problems with the content you want to publish or the way in which you want to use our service, we'd strongly advise that you consult an attorney familiar with such issues.

We are not familiar with your content or proposed usage, and we are not in a position to review it. Nor is that an area where "if I describe it to you, can you tell me if it's OK?" is viable.

We can't provide legal advice, and don't offer a service that is intended to (or by any stretch of the imagination, could) protect our members from everything they might bring upon themselves by what they choose to do.

Free speech is not just a right, it's also a responsibility. It is important that our members understand that. They must be willing to accept the consequences of what they do, and should not expect us to do it for them.

For your reference, here are links to all the relevant fine print:

How much will my site cost to host with you?

This is a question only you can answer. Sites are billed based on the resources they consume (bandwidth, storage, and CPU/RAM). The cost is therefore based on the size and popularity of your site, as well as any optional features of our service that it uses (like domain registration or MySQL).

We don't know any of those things about your site, and we are not able to estimate things about your site that you don't know yourself. If you have your own estimates or past records about your site's size and popularity, you can use those, plus the pricing information available on our site, to estimate the approximate cost.

We do provide a Pricing Estimator you can use to try to get an idea of how much your hosting may cost.

What kind of uptime can I expect with NearlyFreeSpeech.NET?

It depends. (Of course.) The short answer is: Not only don't we know, we can't know. The long answer uses the word "however" a lot.

Shared hosting has a well-earned reputation for volatility, due to the fact that you are sharing resources with other people and neither you nor we know from moment to moment what they or the visitors to their site are going to do. However, the most common causes of downtime for member sites are specific to the particular site affected (misconfigured DNS, an expired domain, runaway scripts, letting your prepaid account run out of funds, etc).

We find that when people ask us about uptime, they are expecting us to give them a magic number with a certain quantity of nines in it that represents what fraction of the time our service is available. However, our service is sufficiently varied and complex that offering such a number would be disingenuous, especially since we host a large number of sites and they don't all move in lock-step; one person's downtime might not affect someone else.

It would be very easy (and blatantly dishonest) for us to pick an arbitrary metric that would allow us to claim 100% uptime, or any number of nines we want. But, likewise, for any sufficiently large cluster of computers, something somewhere is always offline for maintenance, so we could probably make an argument for 0% uptime. (Though we won't.) Sites move back and forth, servers go up and down, and most of it happens without any visible effect. Even when a production server crashes (which does happen from time to time) it typically affects only a relatively small percentage over our members' sites, and usually only for a few minutes.

Our clustered approach does provide resiliency against many (but not all) types of hardware and load problems that cause downtimes at providers where your site is 100% dependent on the availability of a specific server. However, we do develop and maintain our own clustering software, so occasionally something incredibly weird may happen here that never would have or could have happened anywhere else. Such events are rare, but not without precedent.

Sites hosted at NearlyFreeSpeech.NET are probably slightly more likely to be "collateral damage" of a denial-of-service attack targeting some other controversial site hosted here than at other hosting companies that are less flexible in terms of hosted content. However, the flip side is that you are probably better protected against most such attacks due to our extensive experience with them, leading to (most likely) a very small net difference in the chance of being affected by that type of downtime.

All in all, our overall service availability is probably above average to very good when compared to other shared hosting providers. However, "overall availability" is meaningless to someone who's affected by something that doesn't affect everyone. Each person's view of our service availability can and will vary widely based on their personal experience as well as their personal criteria for what constitutes "availability."

We do monitor all of our systems and services continuously from multiple offsite locations and respond to problems detected as quickly as possible, 24x365.

Is this cloud computing?

No. Clouds are fluffy. We are not fluffy!

We have been using "cloud-like" principles since we started in 2002. We make heavy use of multiple virtualization technologies, hardware independence, shared resource pooling, load balancing and clustered job distribution. But we do not consider ourselves to be a cloud computing provider, if only because that's such a marketing term and really means very little. (We've seen it argued that "the cloud" is anything you don't host on equipment you own and operate yourself.)

Where are you located?

From a geographic and legal standpoint, our entire business operates from inside the United States of America. Almost all of our services are provided from our primary datacenter in Phoenix, Arizona. (According to insurance studies, Phoenix is the major US city least likely to experience a natural disaster or terrorist attack, a distinction it has enjoyed for at least the last 20 years.)

From an Internet standpoint, we are well-connected to multiple Tier 1 backbone providers. We do not use bandwidth from the "discount" carriers frequently associated with inexpensive web hosting providers.

Keep in mind that although our company is solely under the jurisdiction of United States law, our Terms & Conditions of Service do require you to follow the laws of whatever country you are in. (With certain limited free-speech-related exceptions available only with our prior written consent.)

Also, although much has been written lately about how imperfect the US government is when it comes to Internet issues, it remains the best choice for hosting. Most of the top countries one would consider as alternatives have already been caught doing the exact same stuff; at this point it's safer to assume that the rest just haven't been caught yet. But in the end, there aren't any other countries that have good Internet connectivity and infrastructure, fundamentally recognize the individual right to freedom of speech, and have a legal system that doesn't force web hosts to remove anything that generates complaints.

The US isn't the perfect choice, it's just the best one. So we'll keep working to make it better through our support of the EFF, the Freedom of the Press Foundation, and similar organizations.

The exception to this is that if your web site will greatly antagonize the US government or is illegal in the US, you should not use any US-based host, including us, to host it. That's just common sense.

Do you offer telephone support?

No. We provide support primarily through the ticket-based issue reporting system on our site and through our forums.

Providing good-quality telephone technical support is very difficult and expensive. Since most of our members don't use support and, more importantly, don't want to pay for support they don't use, maintaining a telephone support option for the few people who would use it is not economically feasible. We also have a moral objection to call centers; anyone who has ever seen, run, or interacted with one knows that that's no way to treat human beings, regardless of which side of the phone they're on.

Most companies as small as ours that offer telephone support do so by outsourcing it. We looked into that, and it's a very cost-effective approach, but the result is moderately awful; it still involves call centers, and it fills them with people that have little to no knowledge about the specific system they're "supporting." When a call comes in, their screen flashes up with the name of the company they're supposed to represent, and since they know little to nothing specific about the company or how its systems work, pretty much all they can do is search the FAQ and read entries to callers in the hopes that they find the right one. While that works in a lot of cases, it wouldn't work here. Soul destruction aside, our members are smart, motivated and tend to have a lot of experience; if their questions are in the FAQ, they typically prefer to find and read what they need for themselves.

However, there are web-hosting companies that do a great job with telephone support, especially for new customers and people inexperienced with web-hosting. If that's something you're looking for, you may find that one of those companies is a much better fit for your needs than we are. And although they may be considerably more expensive, the extra investment is often well worth it if that type of extensive assistance is something you expect to use frequently.

Someone else uses your service and wants my help with it. How do I help them?

Very carefully.

First and foremost, do not let the other person give you their login credentials. If they do, don't use them. Doing that will result in the membership being suspended, and will cause both of you all kinds of problems and misery without helping anybody.

That means that to help someone else with our service you're going to need a (free) membership of your own. There are two very important reasons for this:

  1. When you go to the signup page, you'll see bold print warnings that memberships are created for individuals (not companies or organizations) and that they may not be created for others, transferred, or shared. Make sure you heed those warnings. If you don't: suspended → problems and misery → nobody helped.
  2. Creating your own membership will give you the opportunity to look around our system and make sure that you're familiar with the features and limitations of our service, and that you're comfortable you can provide the necessary help.

Second, it matters what type of help is being sought.

If the person just needs help managing the content of a web site, we have a feature called adjunct membership which allows one member to edit another member's site. There's no fee for that; you can become an adjunct member of another person's site without ever paying anything. Full information about adjunct membership is available in the version of our FAQ available on our member site.

We also offer the ability to share an account between multiple members. This is the best way to organize many types of complex projects, or hosting for companies where more than one person needs to be involved. This also doesn't require anyone but the "main" member to pay anything. Full information about this is also available in the version of our FAQ on our member site.

If the person needs more help than that, there are two basic ways to proceed.

It's important to emphasize that due to our privacy policy, we will not under any circumstances discuss the details of any person's membership with any other person in the absence of their express written consent, provided through our site.

Should I use NearlyFreeSpeech.NET or a VPS?

There are certain specific cases where a VPS is a better fit than our service:

Likewise, there are several cases where we are a much better choice than a VPS, but they all boil down to this: you have stuff to do, and spending lots of time installing, customizing, tuning, and maintaining a VPS isn't it.

Whether that's running a production application, developing your big idea, or just learning how to program, there's a good chance you're a lot better off here than you are at a lot of other places. We call ourselves a "do-it-yourself" provider, true, but we try pretty hard to provide you a great environment and a set of high-quality tools to do your "it."

(And before you make a decision between our service and a VPS based on price, please question your assumptions.)

Getting Started (*)

What is the difference between Domain Registration, DNS Service, and a web site?

This is a source of much confusion to people new to setting up websites as well as to many experienced webmasters. Each of these services has a different purpose and is billed differently. Together, these three components form the chain that links a domain name (like example.com) to a web site (like example.nfshost.com).

Domain Registration is the process of reserving a domain name with a central authority (called a registry) so that no one but you can use it. Domain names are of the form example.com as opposed to host names (aka site aliases), which tend to be of the form www.example.com. (You can use example.com as both a domain name and a site alias but doing so has certain hard-to-understand limitations, and we do not recommend it.) Domain registrars act as intermediaries between you and the registry, and they charge a fixed annual fee for this service. We provide domain registration services for the most common generic top level domains (aka "gTLDs").

DNS or Domain Name Service is used to tell the world what you want to do with your domain name. Most commonly, it is used to create a hostname. Most hostnames have another word attached to the domain name like www.example.com. Each hostname corresponds to a website. It is possible to have more than one hostname per website, but a hostname can only refer to a single site. DNS links this hostname to your website, so when people want to visit www.example.com, their web browser can find it. This is a little like calling directory assistance to have them find a phone number based on someone's name. We offer low-cost DNS service that provides this functionality.

A web site refers to the storage and retrieval of your actual web pages. After a web browser has checked with the registrar to see that your domain name is valid, and checked with DNS to find out what web host has your website, it goes to that host to retrieve your web site's pages. This is the simplest of the three, and the only one that can work by itself: if you don't have a domain name registered or DNS service, you can always still refer to your site by a name like example.nfshost.com.

For more information about domain registration and domain name service (DNS), please see those sections of our FAQ.

Why does my domain not point to my site yet? (Or: What is an alias and why do I need one?)

If your domain is registered and has DNS service but your domain name does not point to your site, the most likely cause is that there's one more step you need to follow after registering your domain and setting up DNS service, either with us or with your third-party DNS provider: Add an "alias" to your site for that domain.

An "alias" is a domain name (e.g. example.com), such as the one you registered. An alias will commonly include "www." (e.g. www.example.com); further explanation appears on the "Add a New Alias" page. Here's how to add one (note that while changes often take only minutes to take effect, they can sometimes take a few hours or longer, since they will depend on the propagation of DNS updates):

  1. Visit the Sites panel.
  2. In the "Short Name" column, click on the name of the site you just created.
  3. If you don't see the alias you want to use already listed under "Site Names & Aliases," click the "Add a New Alias" button at the bottom of that same box.
  4. Follow the instructions.

See also the complete "Domain Name Service (DNS)" and "Domain Registration" sections of our FAQ for other related issues that could keep your domain from pointing to your site.

DNS considerations: Please be aware that, if you are using our DNS service, adding an alias will result in the automatic addition of a CNAME record to your domain's DNS. If you later want to point the same hostname (www.example.com) elsewhere via a new DNS record, you'll need to first delete the alias you created so that the CNAME record our system added to your DNS will also be removed; otherwise, you won't be able to add a new DNS record for that hostname.

If you already have a correct alias added to your site and you have set up our DNS, but it is not working, it is also possible that you have incorrect name servers listed on your registration. See this FAQ entry for more information.

How do I connect to my site to upload files?

Start here, and be sure to check out the rest of the "Uploading" section for more details.

What's the recommended way to install WordPress on NearlyFreeSpeech.NET?

We've written up a page of instructions you can use that is available here.

If you are encountering uploading or other safe_mode errors with an existing installation, or if you need to get plugins working, after reviewing the above you might want to check out this FAQ entry as well.

Should I make my own backups?

Yes. You should adopt a backup policy that assumes we are storing crates of sweaty dynamite on top of the servers that hold your important data. (Even though we aren't.)

For site content, we use RAID to protect live data, we take backups twice per day, and we maintain offsite encrypted backups at an undisclosed location. For member MySQL processes, we have less flexibility but we still take full backups of each process, refreshed daily.

In the event of a serious catastrophe, the most harmful consequence would probably be the loss of everything since the most recent backup, which averages 6 hours for sites and 12 hours for MySQL processes.

That should not trick you into thinking you do not need to make your own backups early and often. If we actually had to restore backups from scratch, the amount of data involved is very large and it would take a really long time, during which you might want a copy of your data.

For sites, tools like rsync, Unison, or version control tools like git can be very helpful in backing up (and controlling the deployment of) site content. MySQL backups are also strongly recommended, especially before undertaking major changes to your MySQL data.

Make your own backups, please!

If for some reason you haven't made or can't use your own backups, we may be able to help. But as much as we love to save the day, there are no guarantees and it stinks when we have to tell someone that we can't help them get their hard work back.

How do I create a site on your system?

NOTE: If you plan to register a domain name when you set up your site with us, you can use the instructions in our Getting Started Guide.

By "site" we mean the method by which you instruct our system to set up space in which you can create a web site. This is a necessary first step (after creating a funded account that will pay for the resources your site uses) before you can do anything else, such as uploading files or associating a domain name with your site.

  1. First, make sure you have created and funded an account. Visit the Accounts panel and verify that you have at least one funded account available. If not, click "Create a New Account" from the "Actions" box and follow the instructions.
  2. Visit the Sites panel and click "Create a New Site" from the "Actions" box.
  3. Choose a funding source (if you have more than one account).
  4. Pick a "short name" for your site.

(The "short name" will be used as the subdomain of .nfshost.com (such as example.nfshost.com) that you can use to access your site via a web browser; it is not necessary to register your own domain name to host a site on our service.)

For more information on associating a domain name with your site and setting up DNS, see the "Domain Name Service (DNS)" and "Domain Registration" sections of our FAQ.

For more general service-related questions, please see the "Our Service" section of our FAQ.

I uploaded a new page, but my browser still shows the old one. What should I do?

This is caused by browser caching and/or the mechanism we use to efficiently distribute your content within our network. If you wait a few minutes, the files should resynchronize automatically.

If you prefer not to wait, you can also help the process along by visiting the modified page yourself and doing a forced reload. For Internet Explorer and Chrome (Windows), this is done with CTRL-Refresh (or CTRL-F5) and with Firefox, Safari and Chrome (OS X) this is Shift-Reload (Ctrl-Shift-R on Windows, Command-Shift-R on Mac). This will force that page and all related content (images, .js files) to be resynchronized immediately. Since we have a lot of caches and requests are load balanced among them, you may need to do this a few times to get every cache that might answer for your site.

If you wish to do this from the command line, you can use curl to force the refresh:

YourPrompt> curl -H 'Cache-Control: no-cache' -i http://www.example.com/stale/content/url

Again, do this several times for each affected URL to make sure you get all the caches.

There is a case where if you access the site before the IP addresses are assigned (within the first minute after it's created), you'll get a DNS error. Once that happens, some versions of Internet Explorer will keep returning errors long after the site is created, even if you use a forced refresh. Waiting a few minutes, restarting IE, and sometimes rebooting have all appeared to help this under various circumstances.

If your site is correctly set up but you have not uploaded any content, you should see a "Not Available" message when you access the site, which you should be able to "refresh away" once you have uploaded something.

Is adding an alias to my site or creating DNS for a domain the same as registering it?

No. Domain registration is an entirely separate and required step if you want to use a domain name (like www.example.com) with your web site. Please see this FAQ entry for further explanation of domain registration and related terms; please see this page for information about our domain registration service.

You might also wish to read our Getting Started Guide for a step-by-step approach to registering a domain and setting it up with your web site.

To verify the ownership or availability of a domain name, visit a site like easyWhois or Better WHOIS. (Our registration system will also tell you if a domain is unavailable when you attempt to register it.)

Note that it can take up to a day or two for a domain registration to become live on the Internet and your site to be reachable using your new domain. Often this happens in a matter of minutes, but a little patience is usually the solution if you don't see your new domain working immediately, and you've checked our FAQ to eliminate other common configuration issues with your site, domain or DNS.

What's the easiest way to register a domain and set up a web site on your service?

We've written a Getting Started Guide that covers this common situation. Check it out.

After I set up, how long does it take for things to start working?

Many of the changes you make have immediate effect. The ones that don't tend to involve DNS or domain registration changes.

Most DNS changes, such as associating a name like www.example.com with a site hosted here (by adding an alias), take effect within a minute or two. However, there is a catch. If you recently accessed the name before you set it up, your browser and/or local ISP may "remember" the old information. (Either that it pointed somewhere else or that it didn't work.) Exactly how long that will last depends on what the previous setup was; if it was moving things around on our system it should be visible within a couple of hours. If you changed a domain from somewhere else, it may take a day or more depending on what the other provider had set.

How long it takes to see DNS changes is controlled by the time-to-live (TTL) value for the relevant DNS records. (If a record doesn't exist, the domain contains a setting called Minimum TTL which will be used to tell people how long they can assume that record will continue not to exist.) When you look up a domain name, your local name server (usually run by your ISP) will look at the TTL value and will keep giving you the same answer for that long, even if there are changes in the meantime. (Members who are comfortable with the use of advanced DNS tools such as "dig" can query their name servers to see how much time is left before a given record is rechecked, but that's beyond the scope of this FAQ.)

The root DNS servers operated by the domain registries store your name server records with TTLs of two days. That means if you change your domain's name servers, that change can take up to two days to be fully visible throughout the Internet. (The same applies if your domain expires and gets the "parking" name servers, so don't let that happen!)

For a newly-created domain name, things will often work within a few minutes if you don't try to see if it's working until it's already working. If you happen to hit it before it's ready, you'll trip the DNS TTL delay and may have to wait a couple of hours to see your new domain. You should, in all cases, be able to see a new site using our nfshost.com domain within 10-15 minutes.

Where can I find more information about whether or not your service supports the software I want to use on my site?

In addition to our member FAQ, you can find relevant information in the following places:

See the Support section of the member site for more support-related links and information.

How do I make a deposit?

If you already have an account:

  1. On the Accounts tab, click the name of the account you want to fund.
  2. On the Account Information panel for your account, click the "Deposit Funds" link in the Actions box.
  3. Choose your payment method and proceed with your payment.

If you don't have an account, you'll need to create one to make a deposit:

  1. Visit the Accounts tab in our member interface.
  2. Select the "Create New Account" action in the Actions box.
  3. Fill in the requested info and click "Save Changes."
  4. On the resulting page, select the "Fund this account now" action from the Actions box.
  5. Choose your payment method and proceed with your payment.

In either case, you will be sent an email after your deposit is complete that serves as your receipt.

Does it matter if filenames are uppercase or lowercase?

Yes it does. We use Unix systems, which employ a case-sensitive filesystem. It is entirely possible to have one file called index.html, another called Index.html, and another called INDEX.HTML. Of these, only index.html will be recognized and examined by the system.

This occasionally comes as quite a shock, particularly to Windows users who are used to ignoring filename case.

To avoid confusion and promote consistency, it is recommended that all files be uploaded using only all-lowercase filenames unless there is a specific reason to do otherwise. By adhering to this convention, you never have to wonder or remember whether (or how) you used uppercase letters in your filenames.

Many uploading utilities on systems that ignore case distinctions offer the ability to automatically convert filenames to lowercase. Using this option is highly recommended, but it is also necessary to make sure references to external files, such as images linked in an HTML file, also use the correct case.

How do I remove a domain that is listed on my membership?

These instructions are for domains that are not currently registered with us:

If the Remove link is not there, then the domain is either registered with us or is otherwise in use with some other service.

If the domain is registered through us, you will have to wait for the domain to expire and go through the whole deletion process or transfer it to another registrar before the Remove link will appear.

How do I delete a web site?

You can delete a site from its information page. To find this page, visit the Sites panel and select the site's "Short Name" from the list.

For more basic service-related questions, please see the "Our Service" section of our FAQ.

Log Files (*)

What is the easiest way to make sense of my log files?

We have made AWStats, a graphical site statistics package, available for our members. Setup instructions for AWStats have been moved to our Wiki.

Do my site's log files count as space usage for billing purposes?

Yes they do. If you use log files, you should regularly rotate them in our member interface.

I've enabled log files, now where are they?

They are located in the /home/logs directory, as seen from ssh and SFTP, or the /logs directory as seen from FTP.

Most FTP clients start in the /public directory, so you would need to first change to the root directory (/) before you will see this.

What are log files and how are they used?

There are three primary kinds of log files available at NearlyFreeSpeech.NET:

All three are (if enabled) found in the /home/logs directory of your site.

Access logs are the most common type. Each line in the access log represents one access to your website. It contains a variety of information, like what IP address accessed your site, what they accessed, what web browser they used, etc. This is the type of log file that is most commonly used by analytics programs like AWStats and analog.

Error logs contain information about problems with your site. Although they contain lots of generic information, like records of attempts to access pages that don't exist, they are most important to web developers and people with complex software loaded on their site. Whenever software running on a site has a problem, it should (but doesn't always) say something about the problem in the error log. Finding that message can save you fruitless hours of wondering what the heck is wrong with your site.

If you ask for help troubleshooting a problem, on our forum for example, the first thing people will typically ask is whether you have your site's error log enabled and, assuming you do, what it says. To save time, it's often helpful to make sure it's enabled, say so in your question, and include any relevant log entries from around the time the problem occurred.

The third type, rewrite logs, are a bit more special-purpose. Rewrite logs track internal changes made to URLs by Apache. They're generally only useful when debugging these changes if you've set up your own rewriting rules, because the time it takes to write rewrite logs to our disk can slow your site to a crawl if you use a lot of them. If you don't know what a rewrite is or why you'd want to log them, you should definitely leave this one turned off.

My log file is huge and I can't remove it. What do I do?

As long as the system is writing to a log file, you cannot modify or erase it. Once you rotate the log file and the system starts on a new one, you can delete the old one if you wish. You can read your log files even if they have not been rotated, you just can't delete them while a server is still using them.

You can access and delete your old log files via FTP by looking in the "/logs" directory of your site. Via ssh or SFTP, this is the /home/logs directory. (But you'll still have to rotate them before you can do anything but look.)

If you've disabled logging, the option to rotate them will not be available to you. Enable your logs, rotate them, disable them, and then delete them.

How does log rotation work?

If you have log files enabled, you can ask our system to rotate them from the Site Information page for your site in our member interface.

When you ask to rotate your logs, our system waits for an opportune moment and then does it. Your access_log file, for instance, becomes access_log.old and a new access_log is created. It may not be right away, but it usually takes just a few minutes.

If there was already an access_log.old, that file gets a name based on the timestamp of the logfile, such as access_log.20160828. At this point, any compression you have selected will be applied. However, as of August 2016, compression is generally not necessary as the filesystem already incorporates transparent LZ4 compression. If you do not want your log files to be doubly compressed, you can disable log compression on the Site Information panel.

How do I enable my log files?

Here are the steps for enabling log files:

  1. Visit the Sites panel.
  2. Choose the site's "Short Name" to load the Site Information page.
  3. Choose "Enabled" for the access or error logs (or both).
  4. Choose "Save Changes."
  5. Wait a few minutes for the change to take effect.

If you're planning to measure any kind of statistics, enable the access log. For best results, enable it a week or so before measuring your statistics, as data from a longer period of time will produce more informative reports.

To find and debug problems with your site, enable the error log. If you submit a support request about an error message received from your site, we will often ask what your error log says about it. If you do not have your error log enabled, we may not be able to help you diagnose some problems.

We also provide a rewrite log which can be enabled in the same way, but may be set to varying levels of verbosity. Do not enable the rewrite log unless you are having problems with RewriteRule directives in your .htaccess file, and disable it as soon as you fix them. Using the rewrite log will dramatically slow down your site.

Why aren't log files enabled by default?

Because they take up space.

The return code 304 shows up in my log files all the time. What is it?

304 is the HTTP status response for "not modified." It is used in our log files to indicate that the logged request was actually served by some other part of our network. Usually only simple files, like static graphics and files, are eligible for this type of handling. Dynamic content, such as PHP and CGI scripts, will typically be served (and logged) in its entirety unless your application generates appropriate cache-eligible headers and 304 responses.

This code can also appear for other reasons, such as if someone accesses your site through a web cache.

How come the bytes in the log file do not add up to what you charged me for?

This is largely due to requests filled by other parts of the network, which may appear in your access log as 304 responses with a size of 0 bytes, or if served entirely from memory, may not appear in the access log at all.

The number you see for bytes with 200 response codes should match the size of the named file, unless it is a PHP or CGI script. However, every object served regardless of origin has some overhead (HTTP headers) that is also not reflected in the access log.

How many old log files will be kept during log rotation?

There is no arbitrary limit on how many old log files there are. You will need to remove old log files manually when you get tired of them.

What are each of the fields in the access log?

Our log files are based on the Apache-standard "combined" log file format, which is a superset of the "common" format. This format is good for web log analyzing software. The fields, in order, are:

clientip - username [time] "request" status bytes "referer" "useragent"
1.2.3.4 - - [22/Nov/2013:22:32:01 -0700] "GET /index.html HTTP/1.0" 200 0 "-" "Wget/1.9.1"

The meaning of each field is shown below:

clientip
The IP address of the machine that requested the page. If you get a "-" in this field, it may mean that your site performs HTTP accesses on itself, or that we had to test your site with some internal application.
dash
This field used to be used, but isn't anymore. Lots of log analyzers still expect it to be there, so it always appears as a dash (-).
username
If you use Basic HTTP Authentication, the authenticated username will appear here. If you don't, it will be a dash (-).
time
The time in the format DD/Mon/Year:HH:MM:SS tzone
request
The request method, requested URI, and protocol, like GET /index.html HTTP/1.0.
status
The return code. The most common codes are 200 (ok), 304 (served elsewhere), 404 (file not found), and 500 (internal server error - a script error or a problem with our server).
bytes
The number of raw bytes of content served. This number does not include HTTP headers, transfer encoding, or TCP/IP protocol overhead.
referer
The page that contained the link to the requested resource. You can use this to see who is linking to you, and weblog analyzers use it to map your site. "referer" is not a typo, although it is spelled incorrectly. It's actually in the published standard that way.
useragent
The web browser sends this to identify itself. Lots of log analyzers can graph this.

More information about Apache log file formats is available on the Apache site.

I rotated my log files, but the access_log.old file was not compressed. Why not?

The .old log files are never automatically compressed. If you rotate again, it will be renamed based on its last-modified date and only then will it be automatically compressed.

This is for two reasons. First, log entries come from many different parts of our network so there needs to be a "cooling off" period after rotating to make sure all parts of the network have switched to the new log. Otherwise, stuff might still be logged while compression is happening, and it would get lost.

Also, many people like to run analysis against a static log file. That way, if you change an analyzer setting and run it again, or if you want to do more than one thing to the log, you're working with a consistent set of logs. After log files are compressed, they're a lot harder to analyze, so keeping the .old file around often makes log analyzing much easier.

You're free to remove the .old log file yourself if you like, although we recommend waiting until you see log entries appearing in the new log file. If you rename or compress it yourself, it will not be auto-rotated in the future.

What is the format of the error log?

The error log is a "stream of consciousness" output of all the various programs you run on your site. As such, it does not have a specific format, other than that the most recent errors are at the bottom.

What happens if I change log file compression techniques?

Nothing extraordinary. The change will only apply to newly compressed log files. Your old ones will be left as-is. If you want to update them to your newly chosen format, it is possible to do this from the ssh command line.

Login (*)

What should I do if I've lost access to the email address associated with my membership?

If you know what your contact email address is, but you've lost access to it, usually that is no problem. As long as you still know your login and password, you can just log in, go to the profile tab, and change the email address we have on file to your correct address.

The only time this becomes a problem is when you have lost accessed to your email address and you can't log in. That's a much more difficult situation. If you contact us from an email address not associated with your membership, we have no way of differentiating you from someone who set up that email address five minutes ago in your name to steal access to your membership. That's one reason why it's very important to keep your member contact email address up to date at all times. (But if you're reading this, it's probably too late for that reminder to be helpful right now, so just keep it in mind for the future.)

To resolve this situation, you will have to have us change the email address associated with the membership. However, that can only be done after completing our login recovery process. To complete this process for a lost email address, please follow these steps:

  1. Carefully review the list of possible recovery actions in this FAQ entry.
  2. Determine which of those actions you wish to perform. For lost email accounts, our failure to contact the current address must be one of the actions.
  3. Email us from the new email address you want to use. In your email, specify a list of which recovery actions you wish to perform. Make sure your list includes enough actions for a successful recovery. (The default is 3 but if you customized this from the profile tab, you'll have to remember that.)
  4. Include any documentation pertaining to the recovery actions you have chosen as attachment(s) to that email. Typically this will include a photo ID and a bank account or credit card statement.

Other requested steps will be initiated from our end as appropriate once all documentation requirements have been satisfied. After the process is complete, any personally-identifying information you provided during the recovery process will be discarded.

While completing this process, please observe the following guidelines:

The process typically takes 10-60 minutes of work on your part to complete. Although burdensome by Internet standards, it is typically not actually difficult unless there are extenuating circumstances. For example, if you gave us a fake name when you signed up, you're probably about to have a very bad day.

Due to the requirement that we attempt (and fail) to reach you through your current contact email address, recoveries of this type can take a long time, up to a week. Once the process is completed, we will update the email address associated with your membership to the one you used to initiate the recovery process. At that point, you will be able to recover your login information and regain access to our system.

Important: Because we don't know whether you're you, we will not help you complete the process. We will not give you hints. We will not tell you how many actions you have to complete. We will not give you any information about the status of the membership. In fact, you may find our staff unusually distant and/or unhelpful during the recovery process. To avoid leaking information, while your membership is in the recovery process, the only response to any inquiries you send will be automated messages indicating whether or not you are making progress toward recovery.

This is not personal, nor is it representative of our attitude toward helping our members. It reflects that most people who attempt the recovery process are trying to steal something, and those are people we have no interest in helping at all. That we helped them accidentally or with the very best of intentions won't be any consolation to the member we helped them steal from. So, we apologize in advance to our legitimate members for any "guilty until proven innocent" treatment they may receive while completing the recovery process. It's hard, and it sucks for everyone, but it's the right way to keep our members' stuff safe.

How do I recover my login name or reset my password?

You can recover your login name (using your member email address) or reset your password (using your login name and email address) from this page on our public web site.

You can initiate a password reset up to once per hour. When you initiate a password reset, you will receive an email that contains both a confirmation link and a new temporary password. To prevent other people from harassing you by resetting your password, the new temporary password will not take effect until you confirm receipt of the message by clicking the confirmation link.

Consequently, to complete a password reset, you must perform the following steps:

  1. Request a password reset email from our public web site.
  2. Click the confirmation link in the password reset email.
  3. Log in to our member interface using the temporary password found in the password reset email.
  4. Visit the Profile tab and select the "Change Password" action to set a new permanent password.

To prevent other people from harassing you, the temporary password found in the password reset email will not become effective until you complete step 2. If at any point prior to step 2 you log in with your old password, the password reset will be cancelled.

Why can't I access your service from an IP listed as a Tor exit node by default?

The short answer is that fraudsters and thieves wrecked it for you.

While we support the notion of Tor on an ideological level, our real-world experience with Tor has consisted of extensive problems with Tor-sourced hacking attempts and an unsustainable level of Tor-sourced credit card fraud. We also encountered relentless exploitation by spammers and phishers using Tor to create throwaway accounts. (Sign up, create site, send spam, get caught, sign up, create site, send spam, get caught, sign up...)

We understand that it isn't the existence of the Tor network that makes these things possible, but it does make them easy, and when virtually all of the traffic from a certain source is malevolent, blocking that source can be the only option. Forcing people off of Tor at least long enough to confirm their membership and make an initial deposit may not be the ideal solution, but it's hard to argue with results.

For that reason, we restrict access to our member interface from IP addresses that are listed as a current Tor exit node. To lift the Tor restriction for your membership, you must already have a membership and a funded account and you must explicitly request that Tor access be allowed via our assistance request system. (All of which must be done without using the Tor network.) We choose not to allow it automatically so we can filter approvals based on the common sense of a real person, and to protect members who don't use Tor from Tor-based brute force attacks on their password. We charge a nominal fee ($1.00 -- waived for subscription members) to reflect the manual nature of the review.

If you know of a reliable way for us to distinguish a handful of good people amidst a throng of would-be criminals in an environment that's raison d'être is to make distinguishing people impossible, please let us know. So far, making sure we already have a relationship with the good people is the best we've come up with.

Note: if your IP is operating a Tor exit node with a policy that allows access to our system, it doesn't matter whether you are using Tor to access our system our not; if traffic originates from a Tor exit node there is no technical way to distinguish whether or not it passed through Tor. (If there was, it would seriously undermine Tor.) For example, if you are running a Tor exit node but bypassing it to access our system, the limit will still apply. Similarly, if you use a VPN service that allows its customers to run Tor exit nodes (e.g. AirVPN) your VPN server's IP may be listed as an exit node even if you are not personally running one. These are all situations that can be addressed through the approval process.

Completely separate from that, we also have concerns about reports of unscrupulous Tor exit node operators diverting TLS connections. This is a real thing; I have personally experienced a case where using a particular exit node led to TLS certificate mismatches when accessing a site where I knew no such mismatch existed. You should think carefully about passing any secure information through the Tor network.

If you are running a Tor exit node on your IP, even if you aren't using it to access us, you'll have to cut back to relay-only, and do so long enough for the change to be picked up by Tor's published server list, before you can sign up or log in. If someone else is running a Tor exit node on your IP address, you'll need to either work with them to do so or use a different IP address to access our system and request approval.

Why aren't I getting system emails (like password resets) from NearlyFreeSpeech.NET?

To make sure you receive automated system emails from us (including signup confirmations, password resets, account balance warnings, domain renewal notices, and other automatic service-affecting messages), make sure you are allowing email from notify@NearlyFreeSpeech.NET.

To make sure you receive any handwritten emails from us, make sure you are allowing email from support@NearlyFreeSpeech.NET. Finally, each support ticket is assigned a unique email address @support.nearlyfreespeech.net (but we don't get too many reports of those being blocked).

We won't send you any spam or unnecessary messages from any of these addresses.

If you're not receiving email from us, the first thing to check is your junk mail folder. Since our system is highly automated, junk mail filters occasionally incorrectly flag the messages it sends as spam. If you don't find them there, check your junk mail settings. Some email providers make it very easy to block a sender and silently delete such messages, making it very hard for you to figure out later that the sender is blocked.

If you're still unable to resolve a problem receiving email from us or our system, please feel free to contact us. Ironically, you'll probably have to do that by email, but if the problem is with receiving automatic messages, we'll have a real person write back. Write to us from the email address you're having trouble with, and we'll look up the fate of any messages we tried to send there. If there's a problem on our end, we'll fix it. If there's a problem on your end, we'll try to find a way to provide you with the relevant log entries so you can ask your email provider what the heck is going on.

What is the login recovery process?

Our login recovery process applies in very specific, rare situations:

To recover access to a membership in these situations, we offer a variety of possible recovery actions, and a certain number of them must be completed successfully. The login recovery process is very onerous (by Internet standards, anyway; it's not really that difficult) and since its goal is to prevent illicit membership access, you will probably find that we are not very helpful while you are completing it.

These recovery actions can be performed by any member at any time:

These optional actions must be set up in advance from the profile tab in our member interface in order to be used for recovery:

The default number of actions required to recover a membership is three, but this can be customized from the profile tab in our member interface to make recovery (and consequently hijacking) more or less onerous.

If (and only if) you choose to provide both a photo ID and an account statement, then at least one must display the same official mailing address as that shown on the corresponding account. If neither does, you must additionally provide address verification, typically a utility bill, lease, or property tax bill matching both the address and the surname or company name on the account (either currently or contemporary with the deposit). If you are providing either photo ID or an account statement, but not both, then you can skip this requirement.

The third and worst case scenario is that you have two-factor authentication configured that isn't working and you didn’t save any one-use recovery codes and you don't know your login and password and your member contact email address isn't working. This case is so spectacularly unlikely that even if your recovery settings are lower, you will have to complete all possible verification steps to regain access to your membership. Seriously, don't let this happen.

Unfortunately, the vast majority of "I lost all my information, please make an exception to your security practices and let me in" requests we receive come from people trying to gain illicit access to someone else's membership. NearlyFreeSpeech.NET takes the security and privacy of our members' services very seriously. We believe our members know that we are serious about protecting their privacy and security. We believe that's at least part of the reason a lot of them pick us. We believe that they expect us to live up to that in situations such as these so that when they emerge from it, they can be supremely confident that their membership can't be hijacked by the first person who comes along with a good story. Consequently, we automatically construe any attempt to convince us to make an exception to our standard practices as an attempt by an unauthorized party to socially-engineer illicit access. This includes threats, attempts at negotiation, sob stories, and everything in between.

Why do I get redirected to the login page without an error message when I try to log in to your member site?

If you are a current member of our service and you log in successfully with your correct member login name and password, and then you get redirected (possibly after seeing a "click here to continue link" flash by) to the same login page again without any red error messages, this indicates that your browser did not accept the cookie our site sets to indicate you are logged in.

If this happens, here's what to check:

To help debug these issues, try logging in from a different browser on the same computer. If that works, it tends to indicate a browser issue. If it still doesn't work, that suggests a systemwide issue like security software or a clock problem.

What does the error "the login information provided is not correct" mean?

First, if you are having trouble logging in, make sure this is the exact error message you are receiving. There are several other things detailed in this section of our FAQ that can cause problems logging in, but they each display a different message.

To prevent people from using incorrect login attempts to gain information about your membership or our system, this message is intentionally vague. However, if you see the "login information is incorrect" error after attempting to log in, our system will send an email to your member contact address with more detailed information about the failed login attempt. That information will include whether the problem is with the password, or (if you are using it) two-factor authentication.

If the problem is with the username, our system won't know who you are and can't send the email, so make sure to check for typos in the username. If you're not sure about your username, you can request that our system verify it for you.

If the email refers to a problem with two-factor authentication or "secondary auth," that typically indicates that you have a two-factor device configured for your membership, but that you didn't enter an authentication code from your device, used the wrong one (perhaps one for another service), or waited too long to login after generating it. If your two-factor device is lost or broken, you can use previously-generated one-use recovery codes to log in. If you don't have any one-use recovery codes saved, you'll have to go through our login recovery process.

If the email indicates the problem is with the password and you're not sure you have the right one, you can request a reset. When using temporary passwords generated by our system, the most common problems are:

We don't know what your password is, and there is no way for us to retrieve it. If a particular password is giving you trouble, even if you're sure you know what it is, your best option is often to request a reset anyway. (You can do this up to once an hour.)

What should I do if the 2-factor device used for logging in to my membership is lost or broken?

When you enable two-factor authentication, you are supposed to generate and securely save one-use recovery codes. This situation is what those codes are for; they are used in lieu of codes generated by your two-factor device. As long as you have them, you can use one code to log in as normal and two codes to remove the two-factor device from your membership. Then you will be all set.

If for some reason you don't have those codes, you will have to complete our login recovery process.

To start that process, please send a message to support@nearlyfreespeech.net from the contact email address associated with your membership indicating that you want to complete the login recovery process to generate additional recovery codes.

Assuming you contact us from the correct email address, our system will send you a response listing which recovery actions are configured for your membership and how many of them you must complete, along with more specific instructions about how to proceed.

If, for some reason, you have lost your two factor device and access to your email at the same time, you're probably screwed, but if not you must do login recovery to update your email address first. We will not process recovery requests related to 2-factor devices from email addresses other than the current member contact address.

What should I do if I've forgotten what email address is associated with my membership?

You can ask our system to send a message to the email address associated with your membership telling you what that address is by visiting the login recovery page.

Please note that due to our privacy policy we will not, under any circumstances, disclose a membership's email address directly. The recovery form is the only way to request this information, and the recovery form will only send the information to the existing member contact address, so for this to be successful, you'll still have to find that address, and it has to work.

If you know what your contact email address is but you can no longer access it, or if you have no idea what the address is and cannot find our recovery emails, please see this related entry.

What do I do if my membership was frozen due to sharing or a fraudulent transfer?

Memberships are held by individuals and have that individual's name on them. Our policies strictly forbid both sharing memberships and transferring your membership to another person. (It is, however, quick, easy and allowable to transfer an account from one membership to another or to share an account between multiple memberships when appropriate.)

If you share or transfer control of your membership, we will eventually detect that, and the membership will be suspended. Murphy's law guarantees that this will happen at the time that is most inconvenient and problematic for you. If you're reading this entry, that time is probably now.

To restore access to a membership suspended for this reason, you must contact support@nearlyfreespeech.net from the email address that was on the membership prior to any fraudulent transfers, and complete all of the following steps:

  1. Provide a legible, currently-valid government-issued photo ID matching the name on the membership.
  2. Read and understand our Terms & Conditions of Service and confirm to us that you have done so.
  3. Confirm that you understand that your membership is in your individual name and may not be shared or transferred.
  4. Confirm that if you wish to transfer an account or any of its contents to another person, you (and they) will follow all of our policies in doing so.

If you do not have access to that email address, or if that email address does not belong to you (for example because someone else created a membership in your name despite the bold print warning not to do that), you must additionally complete the verification steps for a lost email address.

If someone else gave you control over their membership and it was subsequently frozen as a result, you will not be able to complete this process. Only the named member can do so. Your only recourse is to find them and obtain their assistance. This is true even if they quit, got fired, moved away, were voted out of office, broke up the band, divorced, went to jail, graduated, made a vow that forbids use of technology, whatever.

Please do not contact us asking for exceptions or special treatment. This situation only occurs as a direct result of violating our Terms & Conditions of Service (and the bold-print warnings presented at signup), and any problems that result are entirely self-inflicted.

Member Support (*)

What is the status of my support issue?

The status of your support issue is indicated on the "Current Status" line in the issue summary on the support tab. Here's an explanation of the terms you might see there:

Available
This means an issue has been created through our secure support system, but has not yet been picked up by or assigned to a specific individual yet. "Please hold for the next available representative."
Received
Since we can't provide membership-private information in response to email requests, issues that are created from emails sent to support@NearlyFreeSpeech.NET are marked as "Received" instead of "Available." Issues like this will usually have to be resubmitted or confirmed by logging in to your membership (provided you are eligible for email support), but we'll read them first to make sure they don't say, "Help, I can't log in to my membership!"
In Queue
Once a specific person has reviewed and claimed your issue, it moves to the "In Queue" status. Issues in this status are typically worked on in the order in which they are received or updated, subject to the issue's requested priority level and our best judgment.
Pending Auto-Close
Once we have responded to an issue, we will usually consider it resolved unless you reply back within 24 hours with more information. During those 24 hours, the issue will be flagged as "Pending Auto-Close" in our system.
No Subscription
This an issue that would qualify for individual support under a subscription membership, but the person who submitted it has a baseline membership that does not include individual support, so we cannot proceed with it. If you obtain a subscription within 24 hours, the issue will be automatically reactivated. Otherwise, it will time out and our system will close it.
In Progress
It's relatively rare to see an issue in this state, because most issues are resolved quickly and move straight from "In Queue" to "Pending Auto-Close." However, if an issue requires an unusually large amount of work to complete, we try to move it into the "In Progress" status while we work on it to let you know that. This most frequently happens with things like installation of software into our CGI environment.
Awaiting Response
Sometimes we can't allow an issue to be closed until we hear back from you. Usually that happens when we open the issue instead of you. In such cases, the issue moves to "Awaiting Response" until we hear from you.
Pending Verify
After we've established that a "Received" issue doesn't involve logging in, we'll send you a message telling you to log in and confirm it. Once that's done, your issue moves to this state. If you don't confirm it within 24 hours, it'll close and you'll have to start over.
Waiting
This issue was received or updated outside our normal hours. Once our standard support hours arrive, it will automatically change to some other more appropriate status. (During the day, our system only checks its watch once per minute, so a new or updated issue might linger as "waiting" for up to a minute before jumping over to a more active status.)
Blocked
Blocked issues are awaiting response or information from a third party (i.e. not you and not us).
Sleeping
Sometimes we need to defer an issue for a specific amount of time. For example, we may say "we'll check this tomorrow afternoon to make sure it is still working." In such cases, the issue is marked as "Sleeping" until the appointed time arrives. Sleeping issues provide their own built-in alarm clocks.
Completed
When happy issues reach the end of their life with us, they go away to live at the "Completed" farm where they are free to run and frolic all day long.
Killed
People (usually non-members) occasionally send email to support or abuse like "Please take down the so-and-so site! It offends me." The resulting issues do not get to go live on the farm.

How can I get specific software installed for my site?

With respect to the software we provide, our goals are:

To meet those goals, we divide software into four broad categories, two that we're responsible for and two that you're responsible for:

  1. We're responsible for: The operating system, system tools & utilities, programming languages, and their core libraries.
  2. We're responsible for: third-party libraries and modules that are particularly common, popular, or that require regular updates.
  3. You're responsible for: third-party libraries and modules we don't provide that your site needs to work properly.
  4. You're responsible for: your site's application code and data.

#1 and #4 are clear enough, but the demarcation line between #2 and #3 is always a tricky balancing act. The lower-level a module, or the more security implications it has, the more likely that we should provide it. The more customization a module needs, the more restrictions using it imposes, or the more often it has backwards compatibility issues, the more likely that you should provide it.

This entry discusses how you can install third-party libraries modules yourself for the most common languages, and how to request that we install things when appropriate.

For PHP, we recommend the use of Composer or a similar tool to set up and manage your application's PHP environment. This will make sure that the modules (and versions of those modules) that your application expects are present and that they don't change out from under you as we continuously update our system. Consequently, we provide only PHP binaries, core extensions (both builtin and from PECL), and a library of commonly-used PEAR modules, and we can only install additional modules if they are of great general interest.

For Python, we strongly recommend the use of virtualenv to set up and manage your application's python environment. Unlike other languages, Python's performance degrades as more modules are added to its central library; you will usually get better performance and a more stable site if you use virtualenv feature to set up exactly (and only) the modules you need, rather than diving into the deep pool of modules provided by our system. Consequently, we can centrally install PIP modules if (and only if) they are of great general interest.

For Ruby, we recommend setting the $GEM_HOME environment to a path of your own (we recommend /home/protected/gems or similar) and using gem or bundler or a similar tool to set up exactly (and only) the modules you need. This will make sure that the modules (and versions of those modules) that your application expects are present and that they don't change out from under you as we continuously update our system. Consequently, we can centrally install Gems if (and only if) they are of great general interest.

For perl, you can use local::lib to set up a per-site perl module repository that will work with CPAN to allow you to obtain and use exactly the modules you want. We can also centrally install modules from the CPAN archive with appropriate justification. In this case, there is an additional requirement that the module's built-in tests pass in our environment.

If you have questions about how to perform per-site module installation for one of these languages, please review the support tab for your support options.

For other general purpose utilities not specific to one of the above languages, we rely on the FreeBSD ports collection, which contains 27,000+ software packages. If a utility is of sufficient general interest (and not in one of the prohibited categories below), we are generally able to provide it.

To request that we centrally install a new software package, please submit an Assistance Request. (Make sure to follow the instructions on that page.)

When we install software, we require that the requested software package have some applicability to web hosting, and that central installation of the software will not interfere with others' use of the service. For example, we cannot install the following categories of software:

What is a system problem?

The definition of a system problem:

A system problem is a malfunction in our systems or network negatively affecting previously-working production services that requires the manual intervention of our system administrators to resolve.

That is very dense, and each part has a specific meaning. Here's how it breaks down:

Typical system problems include:

A few examples of things that are not system problems include:

In most cases, you won't know what the specific system problem is. You have to detect them by the effects they have on your service. Some example effects of possible system problems would be:

However, situations do require interpretation. Sometimes the same effects can occur from both a system problem and something that is not a system problem. For example, if your website's domain name does not resolve because our DNS servers all crashed, that would be a system problem. If your website's domain name does not resolve because it is expired, that is not a system problem.

Do I really have to buy a subscription membership just to get a simple question answered?

No.

Our recommendations for who should obtain subscription memberships are outlined on our public site but in brief, unless either the services you obtain from us are mission-critical and need the fastest possible response regardless of circumstance or you plan to contact support on a regular basis (more than twice a year), we recommend the baseline membership.

If you do not have a subscription membership, but you do have a question, the best option is usually our community support forum.

We'll usually answer the same question for free in the forums that are covered by a subscription membership, because when we answer a question in the forums, everyone can see and benefit from the answer, not just the asker. (To get the best results from our forum, make sure you're helping the system work by demonstrating in your forum post that you've already searched the forum for people who have asked the same question in the past.)

We provide the option of a subscription membership to reflect the fact that the time of one or more professionals is being spent exclusively and privately on your issue.

So, in most cases, if you're paying for a subscription membership that you use to ask simple questions, you're not paying to have the question answered, you're paying to make sure a skilled professional is available to answer your question, and to have the answer provided privately.

Naturally there are exceptions, particularly if you need us to do something, rather than answer something. Once you get outside the realm of answering a question into an area where we're expending professional time investigating or explaining something on your behalf, the subscription membership is the most appropriate way for us to recover the associated costs.

Why was my system problem report closed as "works as configured?"

This indicates that the behavior you reported as a system problem is actually the correct, direct result of how you have things set up. That's actually good news, because it means that it is under your control and you can resolve it on your own.

However, this response often confuses people, because if someone knows that they set something up a certain way, they usually don't report it as a system problem. So receiving this response typically indicates that one of the following has happened:

Here are some common examples of "Works as Configured" issues:

If the issue is related to a web site, our Site Troubleshooting Wizard (available from the Actions box on the Site Information panel for the site) can point out a lot of configuration issues that cause unwanted behavior.

It's often also helpful to go through our member interface and review anything in yellow, orange, or red text, or anything that says "Deprecated," "End-of-Life," "Obsolete," "Dangerous" or similar.

If you're unable to find the requisite setting to control the undesirable behavior, you may wish to post about your issue in our forum or, if you are a subscription member, open an individual support issue. (Although if you are a subscription member, "works as configured" responses are auto-converted to individual support requests.)

What are the options available for member support?

We provide a number of support options designed to meet various needs.

Self-Help Options

Self-help options are always free.

Community Support Options

Like self-support, our community support forum are free and available to all members regardless of what type of membership they have. They provide a venue for both members and staff to gather and exchange information about what's going on and how to do stuff. Like the wiki, this is an "all ways" communications channel where everyone can participate. In addition to our staff, lots of awesome volunteers hang out here, so this is a great way to get a fast answer to a simple question. (And often complex ones as well.)

Special-Purpose Professional Support

Like self-help options, our special-purpose support options are free. Unlike self-help, the scope of the special-purpose professional options is very limited.

General-Purpose Professional Support

If you would like to ask questions or get personal support from our staff in private, we provide that service through an optional, extra-cost subscription membership. If you have one, you can open a secure issue. If your question is within the scope of our support, we'll do our best to help out. Keep in mind that our service is do-it-yourself in nature, and a few dollars a month doesn't change that; this feature is used to request information from us to help you do something, it is not used to get us to do things for you. "Can you help me figure out why my site is slow?" is something we may be able to help with. "Please fix my site's code so it isn't slow" is not. Support provided through our subscription membership is also "best effort." We'll do the best we can to help out, and we're pretty good, but we're neither omniscient nor omnipotent, so we can't guarantee any particular outcome or result.

What are the various responses to a system problem report?

Because the system problem report feature is intended only to provide a no-cost mechanism to allow our members to let us know about malfunctions affecting their service, not as a general-purpose support mechanism, the responses we can generate are extremely limited. After we close your system problem report, you will receive an autoresponse based on our findings.

Problem Resolved
We have resolved the reported system problem. Yay!
Not a System Problem
We investigated the report and found that it was not a system problem. This response has its own FAQ entry.
Works as Configured
We investigated the report and found that at some point you set up or requested the specific behavior you have now reported as a system problem. This response also has its own FAQ entry.
No Problem Found
We investigated the report and we were unable to reproduce the problem described. There are two basic ways this can happen:
  • The problem went away by itself before we got to it. Our systems are designed to auto-recover many types of failures. A DDOS attack affecting it may have stopped on its own. Many Internet problems are intermittent and short lived.
  • Everything is working fine on our end and the problem is elsewhere, like a problem between your ISP and our network.
Beta Problem Exclusion
The problem you are reporting is related to your voluntary opt-in use of beta or experimental services. Problems arising from the beta/experimental nature of these services are specifically excluded from the definition of a system problem.
Insufficient Information
We need more information to investigate the report. This most often happens if someone says "my site is down" but has more than one site and doesn't specify which one it is, or something similar. You can reply back with additional information and we can give it another check. For some guidelines about providing more information, please see this FAQ entry.
Problem Identified
We have confirmed a problem related to the report and resolution is in progress. (These are rarely sent; they are used only when resolution is expected to take a particularly long time so you'll know we're working on it.)
Duplicate
The reported problem is a duplicate of a previous report or a problem that is reported or documented elsewhere. To avoid duplication of effort, this report is being closed. If you didn't submit the report more than once, check main support tab or the offsite status page to see if more information is available.

If you get a response that indicates that no problem was found or that the issue is not a system problem, then you may need more information to help understand what's going on. Although it may be tempting to reply to the autoresponse, don't do that! Messages to closed reports are not seen by human beings. We would recommend following up through one of our support options.

How can I give you private feedback about your service?

We love feedback! You're welcome to send email to feedback@nearlyfreespeech.net with any thoughts, comments, or minor bug reports about our service.

If you send a message to this address, we will definitely read it.

However, feedback email isn't a way to obtain member support; if it looks like your message would be better suited to one of our support methods, we'll try to convert or redirect it as appropriate so you can decide whether or how you want to follow up on it.

Why was my system problem report closed as "not a system problem?"

In short, this means that the issue you reported did not meet the definition of a system problem.

Most people submit system problem reports with a good faith belief that they're reporting a problem with our system. So it can be surprising and frustrating to see that we did not agree with their assessment, and we totally understand that.

It's very important to keep in mind that we take all system problem reports seriously, and when we close one as not a system problem, we're not blowing it off, we're not just doing it to be jerks, and we're not trying to pretend a problem doesn't exist. We investigated the issue enough to figure out what's going on, typically we can see exactly what the problem is, and it's not a system problem. But the generic "not a system problem" response doesn't indicate what the problem is or why it is not a system problem. (To understand why we do this, please see this FAQ entry.)

We find that sometimes system problem reports get submitted inappropriately because the member has a particular misconception about what such reports are for or how they work. One such misconception is that system problem is a synonym for important. This is not the case, and attempting to misreport something as a system problem because it's important to you is a recipe for frustration. The report will be closed, everyone involved will be irritated, and you will have to start over with lost time and an even higher frustration level.

If you want the fastest possible response about something important to you, then maintaining an active subscription membership is by far the best way to obtain that.

We also find that members are sometimes confused about which support mechanism is right for their situation or they prefer not to use our paid support. System problem reports are not a way to get support, free or otherwise. In general, if you're not sure which support mechanism is right for your needs or you prefer not to pay for support, try asking in our member forum.

Another difficulty we encounter is a redefinition of "system problem." Anything that doesn't work as expected, the theory goes, qualifies is a "system problem" because the system is not working as expected, and that's a problem. This is not the case. We have meticulously defined exactly what constitutes a system problem. Please make sure you're using our definition when reporting a system problem, since that's what we're going to use when responding to the report.

Here are a few examples of common issues that may appear to be system problems, but actually aren't:

Any one of those could be critically important to the person reporting them, but even if that's true, they still aren't system problems and can't be addressed through the system problem report facility.

If you do get a "not a system problem" response, your next course of action -- if you can't figure it out on your own -- should be to contact us through one of our member support options. This is true especially if you're sure we got it wrong, because at that point you need to talk to a person and system problem reports aren't a way to do that.

How do system problem reports work?

The most important thing to know about system problem reports is that if you're encountering a system problem and you think we don't already know about it, we want you to report it. Providing a reliable, high-quality service is really important to us, and system problem reports are an invaluable way for us to find out about subtler problems that can be hard for us to automatically detect.

The second most important thing to know about system problem reports is that if you submit one, you won't get an answer. System problem reports are essentially a one-way channel of communication. They are a free way for you to provide information about system problems to us, not vice versa. A decent rule of thumb is that if there's a question in your system problem report, or if you're expecting any response more thorough than "Thank you for your report," you're probably not reporting a system problem.

System problem reports are only one tool in the toolbox of options we provide for you to contact us. Like most tools, they are not appropriate for every situation. Also like most tools, in order to get good results, it's important for you to make sure that it's not only the right tool for the job, but also that you use it correctly. And like most tools, if you use it in the wrong situation, or use it improperly, the outcome will be bad, if not downright painful. Members occasionally torture themselves with a system problem report because it's the wrong tool for the job but they insist on using it anyway; we hate to see that.

Reporting a system problem is serious business, like pulling a fire alarm. We understand that mistakes happen, but our system does evaluate your past system problem reports when determining whether to allow you to report new system problems as well as what priority to give them. For this reason, we strongly encourage you to investigate the situation to the best of your ability before reporting a system problem. There are distinct "boy who cried wolf" consequences for people who repeatedly misuse the feature.

Once you submit a system problem report, we will typically receive and investigate it very quickly. Although our stated response is "as soon as possible," many system problem reports are closed within a few minutes of being created. But we do invest the time necessary to check out the report, so it may take longer.

After we've finished investigating the report and doing whatever we need to do, if anything, we'll close the report and you'll receive an auto-response. It will not satisfy your curiosity, and it will never answer any questions or provide guidance about actions you should take. To understand why this is, please see this FAQ entry.

That's pretty much that. Once we've closed the report, it's closed. You can't reply to it and we can't respond further or in more detail. If you want or need more information, you'll have to use one of our member support options to get it, such as paid support or the forum.

In all cases, we recommend following our troubleshooting tips before opening a system problem report, and writing a system problem report that shows you did so. The best system problem reports do these two things:

  1. Clearly describe the problem, including all relevant information.
  2. Demonstrate that the definition of a system problem has been met, or, if you can't be sure, at least show that you know the definition and reasonably believe it fits.

Making sure you cover both of those will help to ensure you get the quickest, most accurate, and most helpful resolution of your system problem report.

Can you help me restore something that has been deleted?

We strongly encourage members to make their own backups. However, sometimes that just doesn't work out, and people need to know what we can help them recover.

There are two types of content we can attempt to recover: Sites and MySQL databases. Each is described briefly below, followed by instructions for requesting that we attempt to restore something.

For sites, we keep incremental backups and we can generally help with most reasonable restore requests. We'll need to know exactly what files or directories to restore, and a point in time. Then we can try to restore the requested files from the last incremental backup from before that time. Our ability to do this is governed by available space, but it tends to be limited to restoring content removed in the past few months.

With MySQL, since we do not have administrative visibility into individual member processes, our backups are designed to recover the whole system, and they are designed to discover and back up changes as quickly as possible. Sometimes we can restore individual tables or databases that have been deleted, but the unit of backup is the whole process. We cannot roll back row-level MySQL changes. Also note that InnoDB tables typically cannot be recovered individually; they often require the whole process to be rolled back. If an entire MySQL process is deleted, we can usually recover it from backups within a few months, but we cannot offer any guarantees in that area.

In order to request that we restore a backup:

  1. Open a recovery assistance request describing what you would like to restore and the time period from which you would like it restored.
  2. We will invest the time to determine what can likely be recovered and how much it will cost to do so. (There is a fee for this unless you have a subscription membership.)
  3. Based on the cost and expected results, you can decide whether or not to proceed with the restore and make sure you have the necessary funds available in your account.
  4. If you decide to proceed, we will debit your account for the cost and perform the restore.

The cost to restore content will vary based on the amount of data to be recovered, the age of the backup restored, and the amount of sysadmin time required to do the restore. It tends to be in the range of $5 to $50 and is not covered by a subscription membership.

How do I "cash out" unused support points?

As long as you don't have any open issues that need points, you can select the "Cash Out Support Points" action from the Account Information panel for your account.

Support points are also automatically cashed out when a membership is closed.

Why don't you answer @nfsn tweets?

We use Twitter mostly to broadcast brief updates to our members about downtime and announcements. In general, if there's an outage or a system problem, even a relatively small one, and we're able to post any information we can about it to Twitter, we will. However, it is not one of our methods of member support. While Twitter does have some value, we feel it is particularly ill-suited for working together with our members to find and solve problems.

So, if you send us an @nfsn Tweet, keep in mind:

As with all forms of feedback, we value what you have to say, and a real person will (eventually) read everything Tweeted to @nfsn. So feel free to use it to let us know what's on your mind, as long as you understand we won't be able to answer. Should you want a reply, we recommend using one of the member support options that allows us to provide one.

Why don't you provide free support?

Short version: Because support costs money to provide, and our service is based on a "pay for what you use" principle.

Long version:

The professionals who provide support do expect to be paid. And unless you're satisfied with the sort of people that mumble at you from prewritten scripts that may or may not be related to the question you asked, they expect to be paid pretty well. It's a very difficult job that requires extensive technical and people skills, almost constant training, and a lot of dedication.

That money has to come from somewhere. So all web hosting companies charge for support, and there are five ways to do it:

  1. The company can operate at a loss, backed by investors, trying to slurp up customers by giving away service, including support. (This approach still charges for support, it just charges the investors instead of you.)
  2. The company can offer "free" services, including support, by inserting ads into your hosted content. (This approach still charges its customers for the cost of providing you support. Bad news, you're not the customer in this model, you're the product.)
  3. Hide the cost with higher prices for other services.
  4. Charge a flat monthly fee that is completely independent of usage.
  5. Charge for support directly.

Few companies more than a year old use strategy number 1, because it's really expensive and the market is too competitive; they either change or fail. Number 2 can work if everyone involved has low enough expectations. Most companies choose a combination of 3 and 4. So they may claim it's free support, but it can actually be quite expensive, especially if you aren't using it. That's where we differ; we use option 5.

As a "pay for what you use" service, we believe that if you don't use support, you shouldn't have to pay for it. So our model recovers the costs of support only from the people who want it. This has two major effects.

First, people who use support may pay somewhat more for it here than they would somewhere else (although it's hardly expensive as monthly web hosting fees go) since the cost of providing it to them won't be subsidized by a bunch of other people who pay the same amount but never use support. We do our best to make the support we provide worth the cost.

Second, people who never or only rarely use support can save substantially over the long term.

Of course, free support options do exist, but they are based on the people involved volunteering their time. (Like our forums.) These options are generally pretty limited because those volunteers won't have access to information about your membership or services. But they can still often be very helpful. (Like our forums.)

Why don't you provide more detail in response to system problem reports?

Even though we investigate all system problem reports sufficiently to understand what the problem is, we provide only generic responses.

This raises an obvious question. If you're reporting a problem and we know what the problem is, whether it turns out to be a system problem or not, why don't we tell you what we found?

We've actually tried that in the past, and it was a disaster.

Like paid support, system problem reports are individual and private and handled by skilled professionals. However, system problem reports have several significant advantages over paid support:

  1. They are free.
  2. They go to the front of the line.
  3. They are handled outside our standard support hours.

Consider two people with the same problem: their site is suddenly offline and they don't know why. For both people, the cause is the same, their domain -- registered somewhere else -- is expired and they just didn't notice. (Which could happen to anyone.) At midnight, Person A submits a paid support issue and Person B submits a system problem report. Both people get the same response. But Person B gets it hours sooner and for free. Not only does that reward Person B for misusing the system, which is unfair to both us and Person A, but worse, there's no disincentive, so it also encourages Person B to do the exact same thing next time.

We can't charge for system problem reports, because system problems are largely budget-independent and if you find one, we don't care how much money you do or don't have, we want to hear about it.

As a result, we are forced to limit system problem reports in some way to prevent them from becoming a de facto 24x365 "free support" option that would have to be paid for through higher prices charged to everyone else (see option 2). Since we're not willing to do that, we have chosen to limit system problem reports by ensuring that they cannot be used to provide or obtain support.

What is an assistance request?

Assistance requests provide a way to have us perform specific, predefined actions on your behalf that our member interface does not allow you to perform for yourself.

Processing of assistance requests is highly automated, and in general they receive one of two responses:

Either type may be accompanied by a brief error or info message based on the type of request. For example, a request to add TLS support to a site will return a list of names supported by the TLS files you provided if it succeeds, or a brief error message if the files couldn't be parsed into a key-chain-certificate set that matches the alias(es) on the site.

In general, if the responses "successful" or "unsuccessful" do not fully address your concern, an assistance request is probably not the correct support avenue.

Depending on your needs and what type of membership you have, you may be able to resubmit the request using our subscription-based support issue system, which does not impose such strict topical restrictions. If you prefer to minimize charges, one of our free self-support options, including our member forum, the FAQ, or the member wiki may meet your needs.

How do I buy support points?

We no longer offer support points. If you happen to have a negative support point balance, the link to Purchase Support Points is found in the "Actions" box in the upper right corner of the Support panel. Otherwise, check out subscription membership instead.

What if I can't figure out which support option to use?

If you've reviewed our member support options and you're not sure which one is right for your situation, we recommend posting the general, public-safe details of your situation in our Member Forums and asking for guidance. Someone will be glad to help you figure out what's the best way to go.

Why does your support cost so much?

It doesn't.

There are a couple of optical illusions that make it appear more expensive than it really is.

First, compared to the rest of the services we offer, the price of a support subscription is relatively high. If you want to make something look bigger, set it next to something smaller. (If we went in for manipulative marketing, we'd do the opposite: offer some hugely expensive incrementally better alternative that would make support subscriptions look like a bargain by comparison.)

Second, other providers tend to charge everybody for support whether they use it or not, either with a flat monthly fee or by hiding it in the cost of other services. This makes the cost of support appear lower than it is because if one person in five uses support, that person only has to pay 1/5th of the cost. But the other four are subsidizing him, getting nothing in return and there's nothing they can do about it. We refuse to do that. Our members will always have a choice.

Like the rest of our services, the price of a subscription membership is based on the cost of providing it; providing high-quality support is really expensive. And in addition to the cost of actually providing support, there are significant ongoing costs associated with making sure someone who knows what they're doing will be available when support is needed.

We've experimented with several models that offer less support at lower costs, with invariably poor results. Underfunded support leads to a soul-crushing contest to see who is more miserable: the members receiving inferior support, or the people who have to provide it. That's a game with no winners, and we won't play it. We are interested in providing support in one of two ways: really well, or not at all.

So, support costs (you) what it costs (us). We feel the subscription membership is a very good value that gives us what we need to be able to take good care of the people who select it. But what makes us really different is that we make it opt-in in an industry that usually doesn't even let you opt out.

Why shouldn't I wait until I need support to set up a subscription membership?

There are three primary reasons.

First, we prioritize individual support requests based on the subscription member's past use of support. I.e. the less support you've used, and the longer you've been a subscriber, the higher you'll be in the queue and the faster the response time you will get. In contrast, newer subscribers and people who open many support requests may have to wait longer for a response.

Second, if you have been a subscription member for a long time but haven't needed much help, we will see that when you eventually do. Under some circumstances, we can use that to your advantage and spend extra time helping you troubleshoot an issue or digging deeper into our system to understand what's going on. When those opportunities arise, the metric we look at is how long you've been a subscriber.

Third is the philosophical reason. Most of the costs of providing you with support have been incurred before you ever seek support. Subscriptions help make sure that when you do seek support, there will be someone there to provide it, and that that person will be someone well-trained and capable of providing the best quality support possible. To put it another way, you probably don't want us to wait until you have a question to go out and recruit, hire, and train someone qualified to answer it.

We acknowledge that we can list as many reasons as we want, but asking you to subscribe to a feature the primary benefit of which is support before you need support is essentially asking for a leap of faith. When we look at a support inquiry and see that somebody made that leap and subscribed months ago, we do everything humanly possible to make them happy they did.

What are support hours and expected response times?

Our standard support hours are:

Monday - Friday
1pm - 9pm US Eastern time (10am - 6pm US Pacific time)
Saturday, Sunday & Holidays
3pm - 7pm US Eastern time (12pm - 4pm US Pacific time)

We do observe daylight saving time, although we think it's dumb and should be eliminated. If you're outside the US and want to see what time it is US Eastern time, Google will tell you.

During these times, we attempt to respond to all assistance requests and inquiries from subscription members with an average response time of under two hours. Complicated requests and asset transfers between memberships can sometimes take longer, and cancellations are typically only processed once a day.

Calling these our "standard" support hours is meant to indicate that we often respond to assistance requests and inquiries from subscription members outside these hours when we are able to do so; our goal is always to respond to member issues as quickly as possible.

MySQL (*)

How do I get a MySQL process?

MySQL processes are created via the MySQL panel of our member site. For a description of our MySQL pricing, see this page.

Within a MySQL process, you will have full administrative control and you may create as many databases as you wish. One process is more than adequate for most uses, including supporting web sites, each with multiple unrelated applications, such as forum software and blogging tools, but you may add more if you wish.

We do reserve the right to limit excessive MySQL usage that disrupts other members. MySQL is very efficient, so this is rarely an issue, although it can come up if a process is using large tables that are not properly indexed.

(For information about the difference between a MySQL process and MySQL database, please see this related FAQ entry.)

Ok, I have a MySQL process. How do I create a database?

Sometimes if you are using a pre-built application, it will create its own database, but in general you will have to do this yourself.

Remember that MySQL databases and MySQL processes are not the same thing. When you first create your MySQL process, there won't be any databases in it.

There are two easy ways to create a database inside your MySQL process. For either method, you will need the database administrator username and password. The username is the same as your member login name, and a temporary password was created and emailed to you when you created the process.

The fastest way to create a database in your MySQL process is to click the "Create a Database" action on the MySQL Process Information page for your MySQL process on the MySQL panel, and just follow the steps.

However, the phpMyAdmin tool that we provide can also be used: Choose "Open phpMyAdmin" from the "Actions" box on the MySQL Process Information page. Then log in to your MySQL process. Then choose the "Databases" tab. Next, look for the text box under Create database. Pick a name for your database and enter it in that box. Then select the Create button. That's all there is to it!

You can use this ability to set up a whole bunch of applications to use different databases in the same MySQL process, even if the applications are running on completely different sites and don't share any information.

Example: Suppose you have two sites, and you wish to run the phpBB forum software on both of them without having them smack into each other. You could create two databases, one called sitea and one called siteb, in your single MySQL process, then set the $dbname value in each site's phpBB config.php file to sitea or siteb.

(You can also use phpBB's $table_prefix feature for this purpose, but three out of four nerds agree that the two-database way is "better.")

What is the DSN (hostname) I should use to connect to my MySQL database?

The DSN, or hostname, for connecting to MySQL is the name you gave when you created it, followed by the extension .db. The full connection information can be found in the email sent to you when you created your database. Never use localhost as part of your database connection information.

If you need to find your DSN and no longer have this email, visit the MySQL panel. The DSN for your process appears in the first column. Clicking on the DSN name will take you to a page with more information about your process, including your default admin username.

DSN stands for Database Server Name and is sometimes also referred to as hostname or MySQL Server Name or even just server name. This is different from Database Name, which is something you choose separately for each program that uses your database (and usually create from our interface, the command line, or a tool like phpMyAdmin).

What is the difference between a MySQL process and a MySQL database?

A MySQL process or MySQL server (or even MySQL server process) refers to the actual running MySQL software.

A MySQL database, on the other hand, is a collection of related tables within a MySQL process that share a common purpose, like running a forum or blog application.

A MySQL process may contain more than one MySQL database. (If it doesn't have at least one, it isn't very useful.)

MySQL processes are identified by their DSN or hostname, which is of the form example.db. You chose this when you created the MySQL process, and you can see it on your MySQL panel in the user interface.

MySQL databases are identified by their database name. You can create these from phpMyAdmin.

Sometimes the term MySQL database gets misused to mean the MySQL process. This usually happens when the process only has one database. We try to avoid that usage, because it is ambiguous and confusing, and we encourage you to do the same. But it happens, so if someone says "MySQL database" and you aren't 100% sure which one they mean, ask them. "Do you mean the MySQL process itself or the database within the process?" The confusion you avoid may be your own, because you have to know which name goes where when you configure your application.

If I lose my MySQL admin user password, can you help me get it back?

Possibly. When we created your database, we assigned a password to the 'root' MySQL user, which can only be used from the physical machine running the database (which no users have access to). If you have not removed our access, then we can reset your database password for you with no problem. In cases where this is all that is needed, the cost is $1 (waived for support subscribers). If you want to do this, open an assistance request and indicate you are aware of the charge. If the reset is successful, a temporary password will be emailed to you.

If you have removed our access, which you are welcome to do, then we will have to use a different approach that is very time consuming, will cause downtime for your database and any sites that depend on it, will incur a professional services fee depending upon the amount of DBA time involved (typically $5 - $20). Although this is a fairly safe procedure, there always is the risk that it might cause you to lose some or all of your data.

We strongly recommend that you use your MySQL administrator username and password only for the purpose of creating other MySQL users. It is much too powerful to be used directly from your web site or plugged into any web pages or config files! To create a new user with only the necessary privileges, see: this entry.

Please keep careful track of your MySQL passwords.

How do I access my MySQL database process from the ssh server command line?

To connect successfully, use a command similar to the following:

YourPrompt> mysql --host=example.db --user=username -p Database

Where the "username" is the database username (usually the same as your NearlyFreeSpeech.NET login, unless you have created another) and "example.db" is the database DSN you chose when creating your database and "Database" is the name of a database in your MySQL process that you have created. Using the above command line, you will be prompted for your MySQL password. The initial password was emailed to you at the time you created your process, but hopefully you've changed it since then.

To create a database in your MySQL process from the command line, use a command similar to the following:

YourPrompt> mysqladmin --host=example.db --user=username -p create Database

Using the same values as the first example, this will prompt you for your MySQL password and then create a database called Database in your MySQL process. (We'll leave the task of coming up with a database name more creative than "Database" as an exercise for the reader.)

If you need to redirect input (for example to load a MySQL dump file), you will additionally have to specify the MySQL password on the command line, like so:

YourPrompt> mysql --host=example.db --user=username --password=password Database <database.sql

Can I use ssh port forwarding to access my MySQL database from a remote location?

This is allowed for two very specific purposes:

The best guideline for whether what you are doing is allowed is whether you are doing it. In other words, no automated port-forwarded access to MySQL is allowed; it must be you personally doing whatever you're doing. If, for example, you want to back up your process, you should use another method.

Because of the large variety of ssh clients and ssh-protocol tunneling applications that exist, and the innate complexity of ssh tunneling, we cannot provide any technical support related to remote access to your MySQL database.

To use ssh port forwarding in conjunction with the industry-standard OpenSSH client, one would use a command similar to the following on one's local system (not our ssh server):

YourPrompt> ssh -N -L 3306:your.db:3306 user_site@ssh.xxx.nearlyfreespeech.net

Please note that the command above needs significant specialization for use in your specific circumstances. If you are uncomfortable making the needed changes, this is not a feature you should attempt to use.

Where can I find more information on properly creating MySQL users?

The official documentation is here:

MariaDB: https://mariadb.com/kb/en/mariadb/create-user/

phpMyAdmin: http://wiki.phpmyadmin.net/pma/user_management

On our system, whatever method you choose needs to boil down to two SQL commands:

Do not specify a hostname when creating users; since we use a clustered hosting network, you cannot predict from what host a connection will originate. Also, attempts to "GRANT ALL ON *.*" will typically fail due to the lack of the FILE permission by default on admin users, and it is bad practice to grant administrative privileges to a website user. Finally, try to avoid granting ALL if you can; security is always enhanced by minimizing the privileges of website users.

What are the default databases present in my MySQL process?

The "mysql" database contains vital information about the other databases, usernames and passwords in your MySQL process used when it starts up. It is a very important part of MySQL, and your process won't start if it's removed or corrupted. Unfortunately, MySQL will let you alter or remove it without any warning or special confirmation. Don't ever do that. Because people sometimes do, our system checks on this database periodically and if it detects a problem it will report your MySQL process as "Damaged" in our member interface.

MySQL 5.0 and later versions also contain a synthetic database called "information_schema" which can be used with SQL commands to obtain metadata about your other databases. Since this database is created entirely from information about other databases, it doesn't really exist, and attempts to alter or remove it will fail.

MySQL processes may also be created with a database called "test." This database serves no purpose and can be removed if you don't want to use it.

Why do I have to pay for a stopped MySQL process?

Because we still have to retain the associated MySQL data and reserve enough resources for you to start it at any time.

To avoid being charged for having a MySQL process you are not using, you can remove it by visiting the "mysql" page, selecting the name of the process you want to delete, and then selecting "Permanently Remove Process" from the "Actions" box.

When I change my member password, do my MySQL passwords change too?

No they do not.

What does the MySQL Error Can't connect to local MySQL server through socket '/tmp/mysql.sock' (2) mean? (or socket 'please_see_the_faq')

You receive this message if you attempt to connect to MySQL without telling our system which actual MySQL process you wish to connect to.

When you created the MySQL process, you selected a DSN (also called its hostname), which is the name you must use to access your process. This name is of the form something.db and is also identified in your MySQL setup email and on your MySQL panel.

Most software packages that use MySQL offer a configuration variable of some kind to specify the DSN. You must enter the something.db name for this purpose. You cannot use localhost or leave it blank, or your program will not work, and you'll get this error message.

Why do I get an error "Cannot log in to the MySQL server" when I try to log in to phpMyAdmin?

There are several causes of this error. To figure out what's going on, look for a hash sign and a four-digit error code in front of this message. E.g. "#1045 Cannot log in to the MySQL server." This code is a MySQL error code, which comes in two varieties, 1XXX server codes and 2XXX client codes.

The two most common error codes are #1045 and #2002.

Error code #1045

This typically indicates a problem with the username/password combination provided. That's definitely the first thing to check. It could also happen if you got your username and password right, but mistyped the DSN and happened to get another valid one that doesn't accept your info.

Also, if your member login (which is also your default MySQL username) is too long for MySQL, our system truncates it automatically, and you must use that instead. You can verify the correct username information by visiting the "mysql" tab and clicking on the name of the process (ending in ".db"), which is listed under the "DSN" column. Your MySQL default username is listed under "How to Access MySQL."

Error code #2002

This indicates that the MySQL process didn't answer. In other words, it didn't even get as far as checking if your username and password were valid. This usually indicates a typo in the DSN, or that the MySQL process is not running. In rare cases, it may mean that the process is hung or deadlocked.

In some rare cases, if your MySQL process has existed for a long time without any updates to your password, it may be storing your password in a format phpMyAdmin can't authenticate against. (phpMyAdmin uses very recent PHP versions and extensions that are not compatible with archaic setups.) This will cause you to be unable to log in via phpMyAdmin, even with the correct username and password. In these cases, it is usually sufficient to change your MySQL password by another means (e.g. the command line), even if you "change" the password to the same thing.

When I try to log in to phpMyAdmin I get the error "the username was not provided." What should I do?

This often happens when you log in to phpMyAdmin with your administrator username and change the password for that username while you're logged in. The best thing to do in this case is to sign completely out of our member interface and log in again from scratch.

If this happens for some other reason, try accessing your database from the command line or web site. If that works, try closing your browser, or, as a last resort, deleting any browser cookies you have from members.nearlyfreespeech.net.

If you are not able to access the process at all, treat it as a lost MySQL password.

Why shouldn't I use my MySQL admin username from my web site?

When setting up your site's MySQL connection information, it's tempting to skip the step of creating an additional user and just use the "admin" username (your member login name) and password. Never do that!

The first and most important reason not to do this is security. If your MySQL admin username's password is the same as your member password, you are storing your member password in plain text as part of your publicly-accessible web site. The slightest vulnerability in your application, the web server software, or the operating system could result in a compromise of your entire membership. Since that's a compromise of our system, we take a dim view of this and to protect ourselves, we tend to suspend sites if we discover the member password being stored in plaintext.

Even if you change your MySQL admin password, it's still not safe to use from your site. Your web site doesn't need administrator privileges against your database. It needs some subset of that, and creating a dedicated MySQL user for your site with only the necessary privileges is a good way to limit exposure to SQL injection attacks and other security issues.

Second, your admin username has the SUPER privilege. MySQL only allows a certain number of connections at a time. If it runs out, either due to a problem with your application or a glitch in the MySQL process itself, your site will start getting "too many connections" errors. However, in order to make sure you can get in and fix it, MySQL always holds a single connection aside for a user with the SUPER privilege. If your site is using your admin username, you'll be unable to resolve the issue yourself because that "rescue" connection will already have been wasted by the site. If you find yourself in that situation, you'll have to open a support issue and ask us to manually restart the process.

Note: If you have a subscription membership, you can request that we log in and manually restart your process. The protective measures described above are designed to ensure that it is never necessary. If you bypass all the protections, you can still wind up in this situation.

So remember, using your MySQL admin username from your site is a terrible idea. It seems easy and harmless up front, but sooner or later you will wind up regretting it.

What 'Host' value should I use when creating MySQL users?

The MySQL "user" table that controls who can access your MySQL process contains a "Host" field that controls what hosts can connect as that user. No matter how you create MySQL users, when using our service, you should always make sure the "Host" field contains only the % character.

Since we use a clustered network with specialized nodes for hosting and specialized nodes for MySQL, you will never connect to your MySQL process from the server it's actually running on. Since things move around, you won't even know in advance which server will originate the connection. Using the % character allows connections from any of the servers on our network, which is the only way you will be able to connect. Using "localhost" or any other value will lead to connection problems.

How can I remove my MySQL process?

To remove your MySQL process, visit the MySQL panel, click on the name of the relevant MySQL process, and select the "Permanently Remove Process" action from the MySQL Process Information panel.

How do I enable or disable InnoDB for my MySQL process?

InnoDB is a standard part of all MariaDB 10.x processes.

InnoDB can be added to older processes (i.e. MariaDB 5.3) that do not already have it. To do so, enable it from the Actions box on the MySQL info panel for that process. (A small additional fee applies.)

InnoDB cannot be completely removed. If you do not want to use it and you have a MariaDB 10.x process, you can attempt to disable it to save money by using a custom configuration similar to:

default-storage-engine = MyISAM
innodb = OFF

This setting may cause your process to use less memory (and therefore cost less), but please make very, very sure you don't have any important data in InnoDB tables before disabling it.

We do strongly recommend using InnoDB whenever possible. We use it ourselves, exclusively. The power and reliability of InnoDB are well worth the small additional cost.

How can I make automatic backups of MySQL?

Ordinarily, we prohibit unattended access to our systems. However, there's an exception for backups, and this definitely qualifies.

There are basically three parts:

  1. Something on your local computer to schedule/run the backups. On a Unix system or Mac, this would be "cron." Windows has a way to do the same thing, but we are not familiar with it. So you set this up to run a task every time you want the backup to happen. (E.g. once a week.)

  2. Something to connect to our system and cause the backups to happen. This is a programmable or command line ssh client.

  3. Something on our side to do the backups from our shell. This is the "mysqldump" command line utility. This is typically invoked like:

    YourNFSNPrompt> mysqldump --user=youradminusername --password=yourpassword --host=yourprocess.db

    This command spews the backup directly to standard output, so you generally want to send it somewhere after that. If you happened to be using a Unix machine on your side and the OpenSSH client, you could do something like:

    YourLocalPrompt> ssh yourname_yoursite@ssh.phx.nearlyfreespeech.net mysqldump --user=youradminusername --password=yourpassword --host=yourprocess.db | gzip >backup-yourprocess-20120627.sql.gz

That would create a compressed SQL file on your system containing a full backup of your MySQL process on our system. To do this in an unattended way, you would need an ssh public key installed on our system that has no passphrase on the private key on your local machine. (Unless you do something super-elaborate with ssh agents, which is possible but beyond the scope of advice we can provide.)

Since the MySQL password you're using will be in the above command, we recommend creating a separate MySQL user with the minimum privileges necessary (i.e. SELECT) to do backups. You could do that from phpMyAdmin or with SQL similar to:

MySQL> CREATE USER backup IDENTIFIED BY 'b2liu44fbh2f3bhjfhj3';
MySQL> GRANT SELECT ON *.* TO backup;

Then use backup and b2liu44fbh2f3bhjfhj3 (being sure to use a fresh random password and not this example one) in lieu of your normal MySQL username and password in the mysqldump commands above.

This will take some (or a lot of) tweaking depending on what you've got on your end, but that's the gist of how it can work.

What does it mean that my MySQL process is "damaged?"

This indicates that you have altered or removed the contents of the "mysql" database of your MySQL process in a way that will prevent your process restarting, or render it unusable after restarting. MySQL processes don't restart very often, so it could be weeks or months before the effects of these actions surface, by which time you will probably have forgotten all about them.

If you catch the problem before your process restarts, you should still be able to connect to it and make a backup of your data.

If you don't catch the problem in time, there is essentially no way to repair it; your MySQL process either won't start anymore or will start but won't be accessible. You'll end up having to delete the process and start over with a new one. If you contact us before you delete the old MySQL process, we may be able to recover some or all of your data and restore it to the new one, but if this is possible and you wish it done, a non-trivial service fee will apply to cover MySQL administrator time.

Keep in mind that while our system does check periodically for this type of damage, it doesn't detect all cases and may not pick it up right away. To keep your MySQL process safe and happy, make sure you always leave the "mysql" database alone.

The "FLUSH PRIVILEGES" SQL command will also cause a running process to immediately fail if it has this type of damage.

What username and password do I use to administer my MySQL process?

When you created your MySQL process, a temporary password was set up automatically. The name of your process, your admin username, and the temporary password were all sent to you via email at that time. The temporary password is not stored and no one at NearlyFreeSpeech.NET knows what it is. Also, we recommend that you change the admin password and create additional users for your application.

Your MySQL admin username is typically the same as your member login. However, we allow longer usernames than MySQL supports, so if your username is very long, it may be truncated for MySQL. To check your MySQL admin username, view the MySQL Process Information panel in our member interface for your MySQL process. The username will be shown on the "Default Admin Username" line of the "How to Access MySQL" box.

If you have lost the MySQL admin password, you can request that we try to reset it for you.

How do I upgrade from MariaDB 5.3 to MariaDB 10.x?

There is no in-place upgrade between MariaDB major versions; it is too risky and too irreversible. To upgrade, create a new process and migrate your data from the old process to the new process. This approach removes the risk of an upgrade failure, and ensures you can "roll back" and continue uninterrupted if the upgrade fails.

The recommended way to migrate data is from the ssh command line, but it can also be done via phpMyAdmin if you prefer. To do this from the command line, export the data from the old MySQL process:

YourPrompt> mysqldump --user=exampleuser --host=exampleold.db -p --lock-all-tables --databases exampledb1 exampledb2 exampledb3 >migrate.sql

(Replace exampledb1 through exampledb3 with the names of all of your databases in the process. Do not include "mysql" or "information_schema" in the list.)

Load your data into the new process:

YourPrompt> mysql --user=exampleuser --host=examplenew.db -p <migrate.sql

(Replace exampleuser with your MySQL administrator username. Both mysqldump and mysql will prompt you for the password on the next line.)

After the data is copied over, you can perform any checks or updates you wish, like updating table types to take advantage of new features. You'll also need to create users in the new process for your web site(s). (What a great time to change/upgrade the passwords!)

When you are ready, update your site(s) to use the new hostname (and, hopefully, password). Save the old values so that if something doesn't work, you can switch it back.

Once you have confirmed that everything is working as you expect, delete the old process. You may want to put this off for a week or so to see if you missed anything, but make a note to do it so you don't keep paying for the old process indefinitely.

How do I enable or disable MySQL logs?

Visit the MySQL panel of our site, click on the name of the relevant process, and then choose "Edit MySQL Settings" in the "Actions" box. (Keep in mind the caveats mentioned on that page.)

To request log retrieval, please use this assistance request.

Why do newly-created MySQL processes seem so expensive?

When a MySQL process is first created (or started) it can be very resource intensive. After things settle down, our system can very carefully start to prune away at bits that aren't being used to get the resource usage down. This process is very conservative so as not to impact performance, and it can take a couple of weeks.

The effect of this is that the initial billing estimates of MySQL are based on a usage level that isn't (usually) sustained, so it's not unusual for it to report that a new process may cost several dollars a month because based on that limited sample, it would. But as things settle down, the estimate will typically go down to reflect your real usage. As of September 2016, the median cost for MariaDB 10 processes is about $0.60 for resources and storage combined and over 72% of MariaDB 10 processes cost less than $1.00/month.

If your usage records and estimates remain high for more than a week or two, you may wish to review your usage to see if something is more intensive than you expected. Missing indexes, for example, can really increase the resource usage of a MySQL process.

Non-Member (*)

One of your customer's sites offends me. Who do I email to have it taken down?

Please see Abuse @ NearlyFreeSpeech.NET.

How do I report a violation of your Terms and Conditions of Service or illegal activity?

Please see Abuse @ NearlyFreeSpeech.NET.

How do I report that my copyrighted content is being distributed by a site you host?

Please see Abuse @ NearlyFreeSpeech.NET.

I visited a site that is hosted with NearlyFreeSpeech.NET. Why did I receive an "access denied" error?

Please see this page for complete information on this message and how to eliminate it.

What happens when I report a technical problem with someone else's services?

We are happy to receive reports about problems, no matter what the source. However, if you report a technical problem with someone else's services, you may get a frustrating response.

Our Privacy Policy doesn't allow us to discuss our members' services with other people without the affected member's consent. That includes problems and our efforts to fix them or alert the affected member. Therefore, we can respond to problem reports from the public only by acknowledging the problem so you know we received your report. Unless the problem is specific to you, we will not provide you with any additional information.

Sometimes, people interpret our inability to discuss the problem as blowing them off or that we're not going to do anything about it. This is not the case at all, it is merely an artifact of properly enforcing our Privacy Policy.

What does discussing problems have to do with our Privacy Policy? Although the simple answer is that our members' services are nobody's business but theirs until they tell us otherwise, the practical reason for this is a little more complicated.

Take a simple example: from time to time we get reports like, "I went to www.example.com and it was down! Fix it! You people suck! Your servers suck!" While we can generally say "Yes, the site is down," we do not go into why or when it might be back in response to such a report, which sometimes means the person goes away believing that not only do we suck, but we suck on purpose!

There are many reasons a web site might be offline. Maybe the person couldn't pay. If it was your site, would you want us discussing your billing status with anybody who asks? Probably not. But if we respond back to all "site down" complaints but only stonewall the ones where billing is involved, stonewalling just becomes a substitute for saying that it's a billing problem. So, to protect our members' privacy, we must treat everything as a private matter even if it makes us look like we're unwilling or unable to fix a problem.

(Those who are paying attention may have noticed the similarity to the old philosophical problem of encryption: if you only encrypt things when you have something to hide, using encryption is a clear sign that you have something to hide. For encryption to be maximally effective, you have to encrypt as much as you possibly can. Others may have had similar experiences trying to find out the condition of their hospitalized friend.)

So, if you are a member of the general public, please do not assume the worst of us because we won't discuss a problem you found. We ask that you remember that our Privacy Policy is a promise to protect our members all the time, not just when it's convenient for you or when it makes us look good. Your patience and understanding will be appreciated.

Of course this does not apply to our members and their own services. If you're having a problem with your NearlyFreeSpeech.NET services, you can always expect full disclosure regarding any issues and our full support in helping to resolve the problem.

How do I report a technical problem with a NearlyFreeSpeech.NET site?

Please feel free to report downed sites or other technical problems with NearlyFreeSpeech.NET services to support@NearlyFreeSpeech.NET even if you are not a NearlyFreeSpeech.NET member (or if you are, but not the owner of the services in question). We want to make sure our members' services stay working at all times, and we'll take any tip we can get when something might be amiss.

If you are a member and there's a problem with your services, contact us through our site if at all possible so we can get started right away and not have to goof around making sure it's you.

How do I contact the operator of a site you host?

Our strict privacy policy absolutely forbids us from providing information, including contact information, about the operators of sites we host in response to public inquiry. We take our commitment to our members' privacy very seriously.

Therefore, you should attempt to contact the site operator directly.

In many cases, the site operator has contact information on the site itself. That obviously represents the best way to reach them. If such information is not available but the site has a registered domain (i.e. the site name does not end in "nfshost.com"), you may wish to consult the public whois information for the domain, which is generally required to include accurate contact information.

If the site operator chooses not to include contact information on the site and is not using a registered domain, you may safely conclude that they do not wish to be contacted.

Please do not send us messages for site operators, as we will not forward them; we simply do not have the resources to act as a go-between messaging service between site operators and people who wish to contact them, nor is it our place to second-guess their decision about how they prefer to be contacted.

I am a journalist doing a story on a site you host. May I interview you?

It is our policy not to comment on member sites.

One of your members hosts something for me (or my/our organization). Will you give me access to it?

No.

We encounter a variety of situations where people contact us claiming to be the rightful owner of a web site or domain managed through our service. Such claims are typically accompanied by demands to allow the person to take over, transfer services, or take something down.

Our policies are extremely strict and are designed to provide maximum security to our members. At NearlyFreeSpeech.NET, memberships are held by individuals. The individual person we have on record as the holder of a membership is the only person authorized to access that membership or direct us to take any action related to services we provide under that membership

This puts people wanting access to a membership into two categories:

First, our members. Occasionally, a member will mislay their login credentials and be unable to access the system. We are able and happy to assist with a variety of such matters; they have their own FAQ entry with the specifics.

Second, everyone else. This includes customers, vendors, employees, employers, contractors, co-workers, relatives, friends of members, and current or former adjunct members, not just the general public. We apologize, but we are not able to assist you under any circumstances, unless expressly authorized to do so in advance by the relevant member, and even then only under a very limited set of circumstances (such as allowing a predesignated party to make deposits or renew domains in case of emergency). Any concern or conflict you have with the member hosting the services with us, including problems contacting them, must be resolved directly with that member or via channels other than us (e.g. the court system). There are absolutely no exceptions.

We apologize to anyone negatively affected by our hardline stance on protecting the privacy and security of our members. While this often seems harsh to people already having some other major problem not caused by this policy, we ask them to please keep in mind the absolute chaos that would result if we handed over web sites and domains to anyone who asked for them via email based on their say-so. Thank you for your understanding.

Note: If you contact us about accessing hosted services on a membership and you receive a link to this FAQ entry in response, then it is applicable to your inquiry. This is the case even if you believe (or wish) otherwise. It is not unusual for people who receive such a link to think that they or their circumstances are special and therefore this entry does not apply to them. That is not the case. If you want to obtain services hosted by a member of our service, and you are not that member, then you have several options:

  1. Obtaining the member's assistance is always the first and best choice.
  2. All disputes involving domain names must follow the Uniform Domain-Name Dispute Resolution Policy (UDRP).
  3. If you know who the member is, sue him or her in a court of competent jurisdiction, win, and obtain a court order requiring the transfer of the assets of interest to you.
  4. If you do not know who the member is, file an in rem lawsuit against the content itself in a court of competent jurisdiction, make sure we are notified of the proceedings so we can attempt to notify the member, win, and obtain a court order requiring the transfer of the relevant assets to you.

Absent the above, complaining to us that we will not give you someone else's stuff is a complete waste of your time.

Why do you host really, really offensive content?

The simple answer is that we allow offensive content — whether that means offensive to you or offensive to us — because our Terms and Conditions of Service allow all legal content and it's not illegal to be offensive.

The real question, then, is: why we don't we change our Terms and Conditions of Service?

Well, everything from this FAQ entry and our Abuse page definitely applies. But when you get into websites that advocate or represent viewpoints that are particularly offensive and harmful, there are additional reasons.

Most importantly, websites that advocate or represent viewpoints are created by people who hold those views. If those people are willing to stand up and wave their hands and say "Hey! Here I am! Over here! Look at me!" we prefer to let them. To some extent, we are willing to host certain types of content to rub the world's nose in the fact that people who think that way still exist. And if that makes you uncomfortable, good, it's working.

In addition to that, we have very strict requirements to provide accurate contact information and we operate from a nation of laws. If someone who hosts a site on our service engages in criminal activity and the police come to us for help (with appropriate warrants/subpoenas/etc), we're very likely to be able to provide not only information, but technical assistance that may be essential to catching them. If we kick them off and they pop up twenty minutes later on some third-world ISP that hasn't put our level of thought into their policies, doesn't keep good records, and doesn't have the legal system we enjoy, that opportunity is lost.

Of course, the simplest reason is that it's not up to us to decide what the rest of the world should or shouldn't see. Bad news, it's not up to you either. Worse news, it's still true even when we agree. Which is probably most of the time.

Finally, censorship is always bad, for a variety of well understood reasons that we don't need to repeat here. But in the case of some types of content, it has special dangers. When you censor a web site based on the extreme or dangerous views of its creator(s), you haven't stopped those people from thinking that way. You haven't made them go away. You certainly haven't stopped whatever behavior those views induce when the people who hold them engage in when they're not posting on the Internet. What you've actually done is given yourself a false sense of accomplishment by closing your eyes, clapping your hands over your ears, and yelling "Lalala! I can't hear you!" at the top of your voice. Pretending a problem doesn't exist is not only not a solution, it makes real solutions harder to reach.

So that's why we host really, really offensive content. It's not because we like it. It's certainly not because we agree with it. And it's not because we profit from it; our MFFAM policy makes sure of that.

It's because we've spent a long time thinking about this very carefully and concluded that it's the best course of action. But that's our opinion. We respect your right to hold — and to express — a different view.

Please note: If you found this because of a specific site that falls into the offensive-but-legal category that you were hoping to censor, here is what you should do instead:

That's what we do. Unfortunately, all of those things do take more effort than demanding censorship. But they're both useful and effective, whereas censorship is neither. If you're upset by something you see online but not upset enough to do these sorts of things, then "don't look at it" is probably the best advice we can offer.

Of course, if you find something that's actually illegal rather than merely offensive, take appropriate action immediately.

How do I take over responsibility for something hosted by one of your members?

This process works a little differently here than it does with most other services. At NearlyFreeSpeech.NET, responsibility is divided into two distinct pieces: a membership and an account.

A membership represents an individual person. A person can only have one membership, which has their real, personal name on it. This membership cannot be shared or transferred.

The account is a separate piece under the membership that contains money, sites, domains, everything related to hosting for a specific entity (which might be the same person, or it might be a company, club, or organization.).

So, in order to take over responsibility for hosted services, following process:

  1. Make sure our service is a good fit for you. If it isn't, it's best to find that out beforehand.
  2. Create your own membership in your own name. If the other person tries to give you their username and password, don't let them! You must never access a membership belonging to someone else.
  3. Establish with the other person exactly what you are taking over. This could range from a whole account full of services down to a single site or domain name. The important thing is that you both agree on exactly what is to be transferred.
  4. If you are receiving anything other than a full account, you must create an account of your own and fund it.
  5. When you are ready, both you and the other person should submit identical "transfer" assistance requests in our user interface. (More detailed instructions are available in our Member FAQ.)
  6. We will take care of the rest.

If I think services you host are currently unavailable due to lack of funds; is there anything I can do?

Requests to manage hosted services or renew domains will not be honored unless they have been properly verified according to the authentication methods previously established by the membership owner. Generally this means that the individual member logs in to our system to take the appropriate action. However, there is one exception to this policy.

Transfers between member accounts that consist only of funds may be made with only the approval of the sending member. In other words, anyone with a funded NearlyFreeSpeech.NET membership can transfer funds to any other member's account simply by knowing the recipient's account number.

This means that the following conditions (and only these conditions) can be resolved by anyone:

Please note that our system does send out-of-funds and domain auto-renewal failure notifications to the member's contact email address, but that our privacy policy strictly prohibits us from discussing or disclosing information about the applicability of these conditions to any particular situation in the absence of a properly-verified request from the member. In other words, we cannot tell you whether or not the unavailability of services obtained through us is a result of lack of funds.

If you believe you are in this situation, you can take the following steps:

  1. Create a new NearlyFreeSpeech.NET membership.
  2. Make a payment sufficient to cover the expected costs.
  3. Use the "Transfer Funds Between Accounts" action on the Accounts tab.
  4. Enter the recipient member's account number as the Destination Account.
  5. Select the "To another member's account" transfer type.
  6. Enter a transfer amount sufficient to cover the expected costs.
  7. Select the "Transfer Funds" button.

Please keep in mind that although hosted services typically come back online within a few minutes if lack of funds was the problem, domain registrations can take 24-48 hours to start working again if they were expired at the time of renewal.

If you do not know the member's 12-digit account number, you will not be able to use the process above. Instead, you will have to open a free "Transfer" assistance request providing a site or domain name sufficient for us to identify the recipient and specifying the amount of funds you wish to send. This is a manual process that can take significantly longer to complete, so please use the automated process above if it all possible.

The following additional information applies only to individuals who are unable to access their own membership.

Under ordinary circumstances, our Terms & Conditions of Service impose a strict limitation of one membership per individual, for good reasons. Under ordinary circumstances, it is strongly preferable to complete the appropriate recovery process to regain access to your membership. We provide extensive recovery options for a lost username or password, a lost email address, or a lost 2-factor device. But under ordinary circumstances, a member just logs in to our site and does whatever they need to do, and they do not wind up reading this.

If extraordinary (but temporary) circumstances exist — like if a member is temporarily unable to log in to their regular membership because they are traveling and don't have needed info to access or recover it — where violating the letter of the one-membership-per-person policy by creating a second membership for the sole purpose of depositing funds into the first will mitigate a larger harm, we allow it.

However the "temporary" qualification of those extraordinary circumstances is very important and bears close scrutiny. Taking this action is only a good idea if that applies. In other situations, taking this action may not mitigate a larger harm, they may exacerbate it.

Although it is extremely rare and our system takes many precautions to prevent it, it is remotely possible for a member to, through a sufficiently large combination of consecutive instances of bad judgement and/or dishonesty, engineer a situation where they have set security protocols to verify their identity that they subsequently they have no way to meet. In such cases, it is very likely to be preferable to allow services to be deleted, and then pursue re-obtaining them once they are removed from the inaccessible membership. Adding funds through this process may only serve to increase the delay before that happens.

Our Service (*)

What is adjunct membership?

Adjunct membership is a sharing tool that allows you to grant another member SSH and SFTP (and, if you enable it, FTP) access to one of your sites. It also allows them to view information about the site in our member interface, but does not allow them to modify that information.

If you need more powerful sharing that allows editing site settings, DNS, and other services, account sharing may be a better choice than adjunct membership.

To grant adjunct access to another NearlyFreeSpeech.NET member:

  1. Visit the Sites panel.
  2. Select the "short name" of the site you want to share; this will take you to the Site Information panel for that site.
  3. Choose "Add an Adjunct Member" in the "Actions" box.

If you have more than one site, granting a member adjunct access to one site will not enable them to edit any of your other sites.

When the other member does not have a funded account, adding the member to your site confers "Adjunct" status on that member. The member you add must already exist with a confirmed membership.

Adjunct members are not required to pay anything and their memberships will not expire for non-payment as long as they are adjunct members on at least one site. Of course, they are still entitled to fund an account and create their own sites at any time, without restricting their ability to share one or more sites with you.

There is no additional security within a site; any member who has permission to access the site can access or modify any part of the site content. Adjunct members have full control over the content of your site, but not the administration of it. Therefore, they may change or delete all the content on your site, but they cannot remove the site from our system, close your accounts, see your balances, or perform any other activity not related to site content.

You are solely responsible for providing any support needed by adjunct members who do not have their own account and support subscription with us.

Adjunct members must go through the signup process themselves to create their own memberships and agree to our Terms & Conditions of Service; you may not create NearlyFreeSpeech.NET memberships for other people.

What is the fine print on the "two cents" free trial?

We offer a "give us your two cents' worth" free trial to new members. This trial allows people to use many of our services for about a month to help figure out if our service is right for them without the need to make a deposit. However, we have been forced to apply certain limitations and restrictions. Here they are:

We are happy to provide member support to free trial members through our free support options, such as our forum. However, if a question indicates usage not consistent with the intent of the trial offer, we may not be able to assist.

What is a resource accounting unit?

A resource accounting unit (RAU) is a basic unit of web site resource utilization on our network. It is currently defined as a memory usage integral totaling use of one gigabyte of memory for one minute, or the equivalent amount of CPU if a system is CPU constrained.

To provide a simplified example, suppose a single site is running on a dedicated server with 4 gigs of RAM. That server is "worth" 4 RAUs per minute. But if the site is only using half that server's resources (whether RAM or CPU -- whichever is greater since the server is "full" no matter which one runs out first) over a minute, then it would accrue only 2 RAUs during that minute. If the site becomes idle the next minute and has no requests, it accrues no RAUs during that minute.

RAUs are currently used in conjunction with server types that feature resource billing. If you are not using such a server type, RAUs used by your site are ignored and will not be billed. They are still calculated and presented for your information and for our use in capacity planning.

What is an alternate emergency contact?

Each account can have an optional alternate emergency contact, which is the email address of someone who you are authorizing to take certain very specific actions related to that account if you are unavailable:

  1. If something is down or disabled and they inquire, we may explain what the problem is and what they may be able to do about it, if anything.
  2. We will help them deposit funds into the account if it is empty or nearly empty. (Nearly empty = below the lowest account balance warning.)
  3. We will allow them to authorize the renewal of expired or nearly expired domains on that account using funds on that account. (Nearly expired = set to "manual renewal" and generating renewal warnings.)
  4. We may allow them to take or authorize other actions necessary to preserve the account or the operability of the services it funds. In cases like this, if we think something fits the spirit of the alternate emergency contact, we will ask both them and you if it should be done, and it will only be allowed if they say yes and you don't respond within a reasonable time depending on the urgency of the situation -- defaulting to 24 hours.

These are the only circumstances where the alternate emergency contact can be used. Alternate emergency contacts cannot: close accounts or request refunds, request inbound or outbound domain transfers, or delete anything. The emergency contact role is limited to preserving what's already there. Even so, human factors and judgment are involved, so you should not make someone an emergency contact unless you trust them and their judgment; you will ultimately be responsible for whatever they do, because you authorized them to do it.

This feature is intended to allow a level of resilience in the case of accounts held on behalf of businesses or customers where the member responsible for the account might go on vacation or otherwise be unavailable when something goes awry. It does not change the ultimate responsibility for the account and its assets at all; specifically, the alternate emergency contact does not create any sort of shared or simultaneous control of the account.

The emergency contact need not be a NearlyFreeSpeech.NET member already, though we may ask them to create a membership if necessary to perform a certain function, like making a deposit.

Do not enter your own email address as the emergency contact. The emergency contact is the person we contact when you are unreachable. Telling us to contact you when you are unreachable serves no purpose.

How exactly are storage charges calculated?

Storage is billed in terms of megabyte-days. A megabyte-day represents the use of one megabyte of space for a one day period. This means using 31 megabytes for one day is the same as using one megabyte for 31 days. The "Unbilled Storage" numbers displayed on the Account, Site, and MySQL panels are in byte-days. 31 megabyte-days is equal to 32,505,856 byte-days.

The amount of space that your sites and MySQL processes use is measured periodically based on the number of 2 kilobyte (KiB) disk blocks they utilize. These 2 KiB blocks are the system default block size, and represent the smallest possible allocation of disk space; even very small files and empty directories require at least one block each. The system then takes the average of that measurement and the prior measurement. The number of megabyte-days is then calculated on a pro-rata basis using the interval between the two measurements.

Will bandwidth charges apply to my ssh usage?

No. Currently you are not charged for ssh bandwidth usage. That's subject to change at some point, but it would hardly matter as it would take you a very long time indeed to pass a gigabyte of data doing the sort of activities we allow via ssh. For example, if you are editing a web page on an 80x25 terminal, you would have to redraw the entire screen over 530,000 times to get to a gigabyte of traffic.

Because this traffic is negligible, we've never bothered. Of course, if this feature were to start getting abused, we would have to reconsider, but fortunately our members have been very conscientious about their ssh usage.

What is resource billing?

Resource billing plans charge you based on the amount of resources (currently CPU and RAM) that your site uses. There are two types of resource-based billing: individual and stochastic. For both types, your site will be assessed a charge based on the resource accounting units it accrues.

Most newer sites types (mainly PHP 5.4 and later) support individual resource billing. For these, our system keeps track of the amount of CPU and RAM used by that individual site and generates accounting records based on that usage.

Older site types use a method called stochastic billing. For purposes of load balancing and configuration management, these sites are bundled into groups. Once per minute, we tag a web request from each group at random, and the site responsible for that request accrues RAUs based on the total resource usage of the group that minute. Requests that use more resources are more likely to be tagged, busier sites will be tagged more frequently than less busy sites, and sites that are completely quiescent will not be tagged at all. Very quickly, the random measurement approaches the actual usage patterns of each site to a high degree of accuracy.

If you have an older site that is not using a resource-billing server type (aka "legacy billing"), its resource usage may still be measured for our internal use in load balancing, so you may see resource usage information in the control panel, but you will not be charged for it. Your storage costs, however, will be considerably higher.

What are the default directories created when I set up a new site?

Each site has a home directory that lives somewhere on our network, called the site root. Inside the site root, there are several subdirectories:

conf
This directory can be used for configuration files that shouldn't be in the public web directory. It can be used to customize PHP or to store configuration files for custom web servers and other daemon processes.
logs
This directory is used for your access and error logs (both current and archived) if you choose to enable them. MySQL logs for a process associated with the site will also appear here, if enabled.
private
This directory is yours to use for personal files that you do not want accessible via the web at all. For example, if you're building a custom C++ CGI script, it would be appropriate to put the source code in this directory. This directory is also your "home" directory for Unix shell purposes.
protected
This directory is available for data files and other content that should be indirectly accessible via the web. For example, putting included source files, libraries, configuration and permanent data files that are used by PHP or CGI scripts into this directory makes them accessible to the script, but prevents them from being directly downloaded over the web.
public
This directory is the heart of your site. All of the content in this directory is directly accessible via the web. You can put all your static HTML files, images, .htaccess files, and most scripts in this directory.
tmp
This directory is for transient (temporary) files, like files uploaded via PHP before they get processed, or for session-handling files. We do not automatically remove content in this directory, but we do not back it up either.

Old sites may also have a symbolic link from htdocs to public. htdocs is a historical name for the same directory. It is not used by our system.

How do I transfer something to another member?

Memberships represent an individual person and as such are non-transferable. Therefore, any kind of transfer will require the recipient to have a membership of their own. Once that is accomplished, there are a couple of different ways to proceed.

Option 1: You can transfer an account in its entirety, which will also transfer all sites, domains, and MySQL server processes funded by that account.

Option 2: If the recipient has a funded account, you can transfer items such as sites and domains individually from your account to the recipient's.

Please note that you'll need to make sure you account for the migration of any MySQL data that might be living on a MySQL process you own, but do not wish to transfer to the other member; a site that depends on MySQL will break if it is separated from its database(s). Similarly, if you transfer a site that uses one or more domain names, it is generally necessary to transfer the domain name(s) as well.

In either case, send and have sent identical "Transfer" assistance requests from both the sender and the recipient memberships, each referencing either:

  1. The account(s) you want to move and the source and destination memberships, or
  2. A specific list of the assets that you wish to transfer (sites, domains, and/or MySQL processes) and the source and destination accounts.

Please note that, in accordance with our policies, the balance of any account transferred between two parties becomes nonrefundable. Also, since we do not allow you to have more than one membership, we will generally not help you transfer assets between memberships if we determine that you control both memberships, unless one of the memberships is being closed as part of the transfer.

See also:

The IP addresses listed for my site have changed since I last looked. Should I be concerned?

No. The IP addresses listed for your site in your member control panel may change as part of how our load-balancing system works (although that doesn't happen often) or if a site using a particular IP address suffers certain types of attacks. If this is of concern to you because you are configuring third-party DNS, please see this FAQ entry for instructions.

If you or someone else has cached or is otherwise using an IP address that is no longer listed (perhaps due to not following the instructions above), it is generally not a problem. At any time, any of our dozens of member site IP addresses will provide your site, whether they are listed or not. We will announce if we ever permanently remove any IP addresses from this pool.

To manage services for multiple entities, should I create multiple memberships or accounts?

As long as an account balance is positive, you may create and manage as many assets (web sites, domains, databases, etc) as you like funded by that account.

You should only ever have one active membership (because the membership represents "you" as an individual). Creating or accessing multiple memberships is a violation of our Terms and Conditions of Service. Doing so will cause all sorts of problems, and may result in substantial additional fees if we have to step in. If you've already done this accidentally, and for some reason we haven't detected it, please send us Transfer assistance requests from both memberships and we will consolidate them for you.

Within your one membership, you may have multiple accounts (each of which represents "a discrete pool of money") if you wish. We do not ever require you to have more than one account.

The ability to create additional accounts does not have any technical effect in our system. It is solely a convenience feature for you that allows you to differentiate ownership of funds and assets, help track/control your spending, and share things when there are multiple people involved in a project.

Often, this is done for tax, business, or legal purposes, such as to keep business and personal sites separate, or to segregate expenses if you need to manage sites or domains for clients, organizations, etc. It can also be useful if you have one site that is very active or given to surges and another site that must remain available at all times. If both sites are on the same account and the account runs out of funds, both sites will be disabled. If they are on separate accounts, the busy site can never cause the other site to become disabled.

Therefore, you never have to create a second account for yourself to host an additional site, but you do have that option if it suits your needs.

For more information about setting up services that will be shared with others, see this related FAQ entry.

How do I cancel my membership?

We are very sorry to hear that, but we understand that we are not the right environment for everyone. Just select the "Cancel Membership" action on the Profile tab in our member interface to let us know to close your membership and (if applicable) return the remaining balance in your account(s). We'll take care of it. (You must request the closure via this mechanism; to protect your privacy and security, you cannot close your membership via email.)

We will return your funds by the same means you used to deposit them unless that is not possible (e.g. a closed PayPal account or cancelled credit card, or a credit card payment made more than a few months ago). Otherwise, we will offer you the best available options which include sending a check (less a small fee) if you are a US resident, transferring the funds to another member, or donating them to a deserving site or the EFF.

We have a no-hassle cancel policy, so you aren't required to provide a reason for cancelling, but we hope you do. We really appreciate feedback from all our current, former, and future members because that is the only way our service improves. However, if you think there's something we could help you work out to get you to stay, please let us know before you submit a cancellation request. Specifically, please don't use the "reason for cancelling box" to say anything like "if you do XYZ I won't cancel." By the time we respond, some or all of your cancellation may already have been processed. That's a missed opportunity to put things back on the right track, and we hate to see that.

Important: If you have any domains registered through us, you must transfer them to another registrar or wait for them to expire and be deleted before you will be able to cancel your membership. This is ICANN's policy, not ours.

How did my account get overdrawn?

You probably have a registered domain with RespectMyPrivacy service. That is the only service intentionally allowed to overdraft your account. We could very easily cancel or disable it as soon as you run out of funds, but the consequences of doing so are permanent -- once your information becomes public, reactivating privacy later won't cause people to unsee it or remove it from websites that troll whois info looking for and publishing these kinds of changes.

So, because we care about your privacy and we know that oversights happen, we choose to give you every opportunity to correct the problem before we have to expose your personal details. Our policy is to cancel your RespectMyPrivacy service after 30 days of nonpayment. However, during that time, charges will continue to accrue, leaving you with a negative balance. That negative balance directly reflects that we would rather lose money than let a brief lapse compromise your privacy. Also, please keep in mind that privacy service is still needed for about 75 days after the domain expires.

The best way to resolve this is to add funds. If you don't want to do that, you can also remove RespectMyPrivacy to prevent further charges from accumulating, but the negative balance will hang around (and generate reminder emails) until you resolve it or close your membership.

The best way to avoid this is to prepay your RespectMyPrivacy service. You'll even get a 10% prepayment discount for doing so. This option is so good that it's now baked right into the service, but it's not retroactive so if you have an existing domain without it, the change won't take effect for existing domains until you renew them or manually prepay. If you are reading this because non-prepaid privacy resulted in an overdrawn account, that's an indicator that manually prepaying is probably right for you.

The best way to check this is to go to the Account Information panel for the overdrawn account and look at the "Estimated Recurring Activity" box. It will contain a "RespectMyPrivacy Service" line showing how many domains you have with privacy service, and how many are prepaid.

The rest of our service is fully paid in advance; charges (and services) automatically suspend when your account runs out of funds. In some rare cases, you can wind up with a negative balance of a penny or two if your usage is just right at the moment your account is depleted. If that happens and you don't want to add additional funds, don't worry, when you cancel our system will scratch out those types of small negative balances.

Naturally, issuing chargebacks can also result in a significant negative balance. Any chargeback-related negative balances must be resolved before you can cancel or access any services paid for by the charged-back funds. (For example, chargebacks are one of the few justifications ICANN allows for a registrar to suspend or seize a domain name.)

How do I set up HTTPS (TLS) for my web site?

TLS is supported by default for the .nfshost.com name for all newly-created sites (e.g. example.nfshost.com), and can be enabled for older sites from the Site Information panel for that site in our member interface.

For custom aliases, such as www.example.com, you will need a key, a certificate, and (usually) a certificate chain. If you have these already, you can install them through the shell or the member interface, whichever you prefer.

If you don't already have a certificate provider, the most popular option is Let's Encrypt, a free service. The easiest way to use Let's Encrypt certificates is to type the following command in the shell:

YourPrompt> tls-setup.sh

In most cases, that will set up everything related to TLS for your site using Let's Encrypt certificates, including automatic renewal.

This script handles the simplest, most common cases. If your site uses custom web daemons or custom access controls, the automatic scripts may not work for you. For such cases, we provide the dehydrated ACME client; it provides hooks to install and clean up challenges that you can use to interface with whatever you're doing.

If you would rather have us take care of everything, we can also provide managed installation of Comodo PositiveSSL DV certificates for a small fee.

How can people contribute funds to support my site?

Our system allows the general public to make payments to contribute to the hosting costs of sites hosted on our service. They can use any of the supported payment methods to do so. However, to limit abuse, restrictions apply and there is an approval process for this feature. Contributions can be enabled on a per-site basis. When enabling contributions, you may elect whether or not to set a contribution code that potential contributors will be required to enter. (Use of this code is recommended when the pool of potential contributors is limited to a small, closed community.)

We do impose some strict limitations on you in conjunction with contributions, the largest of which is that you cannot provide anything of measurable value in exchange for contributions. (In other words, you cannot use it as a substitute for eCommerce.) Also, we will not under any circumstances refund to you as cash (or equivalent) any payments made by third parties. Finally, we are very unlikely to accept donations on behalf of members who have not yet funded an account themselves.

It is also possible to use the contribution system if you are a web professional maintaining sites on behalf of a third party who does not have the desire or ability to maintain their own membership on our system. Using the contribution system, they can make payments for the hosting services you are managing for them without having to give you their payment information and without you having to pay us and then seek reimbursement from them.

For complete information about the contribution system, or to request approval, see the relevant assistance request.

Can I have my member login / member name / site name / MySQL process name changed?

As NearlyFreeSpeech.NET memberships are held by individuals and may not be shared or transferred, the only circumstances under which a name can be changed is if you have changed your legal name. (The name shown on the government-issued photo ID you would use to regain access if you ever got locked out.) If you were interested in changing the name because you want to transfer control of your hosted services to someone else, stop and see this FAQ entry instead. (And if you're interested in changing the name because someone gave you the login name and password to a membership with their name on it, stop accessing our system immediately, contact them, and tell them to transfer things to you properly.)

If you have legally changed your name (for any reason), you can submit an assistance request to have us update it in the system for you.

You can change your login name at any time for a small fee (waived for subscription members) through the same assistance request.

MySQL process names (DSN's) and site names can only be changed by deleting the existing process or site and creating a new one.

Why was I warned that my PayPal deposit is nonrefundable?

We use your PayPal email address to match your PayPal deposit to your user account. If the email address does not match your contact address, we have to assume that the deposit came from someone else. Since our Terms and Conditions of Service do not allow our service to be used to transfer money from one person to another, we have to regard such deposits as nonrefundable.

If you receive this message because you used an alternate email address, but you are the one who made the deposit from your own PayPal account, you may safely disregard it. This only ever becomes an issue if you request a refund. If your account was funded by a "nonrefundable" PayPal deposit, we'll review it. We're typically able to return a balance remaining from a PayPal deposit it to the address it came from.

How come I can't ping/traceroute stuff on your network?

Most synthetic traffic (i.e. traffic that does not represent a real person or computer making a real request of a service we host) is dropped at the edge of our network due to our advanced network and firewall architecture. This protects our members' services from several types of denial-of-service attacks.

If you attempt to ping something on our network (e.g. your web site) you may get a response. However, this response is a fake generated by our firewall and does not necessarily indicate that your site is reachable. We do sharply limit the number of outbound ICMP ping replies we send at any given time, which can mean your ping requests won't even get fake replies if someone is ping-flooding us; attempts to ping-flood us are very common and completely ineffective, largely because of precautions like these. For that reason, don't assume the (in)ability to ping your site reflects on whether or not it is working properly.

Some traceroute applications, like most under Unix, use UDP packets to probe network hops. These applications will show a "filter prohibited" response (usually "!X") or a routing loop at the edge of our network. Others, most notably the tracert.exe provided with Windows, use ICMP to probe network hops and may be fooled by our fake ping responses. Both results are normal and should not be used as the basis for a problem report.

If you need to traceroute to our network to diagnose an intermediate connection issue, you can use the hostname traceroute.nearlyfreespeech.net for this purpose.

For an accurate measure of your site's performance and availability, you should complete an actual HTTP request to the site, checking both that it responds correctly and how long that response takes. This would be true even if we weren't playing games with ping and traceroute, because overloaded or malfunctioning servers often respond quickly to pings but slowly or not at all to real traffic. Various utilities exist that can be used to test HTTP servers, such as wget, curl, and fetch.

If I want to start my site over, should I delete it and make another with the same name?

We do not recommend this. It is better to delete all your files and reuse the existing site.

If you do choose to delete a site and then create another with the same, we recommend waiting at least fifteen minutes between deleting and creating. If you don't, some parts of our system may get confused and continue to try to access the old (gone) site.

If your site has the wrong short name then you will have to delete it and create another. Short names cannot be changed.

I tried to change my contact email address but I never got a confirmation email. How do I get another one sent to me?

Follow these steps:

  1. Visit the Profile pane and, under "Details," verify which email address is the existing one, and which is the pending one. They should both be listed.
  2. Click "Change Email Address" from the "Actions" box.
  3. Enter your existing email address in the "New Email Address" field. Click "Save Changes."
  4. You should be taken to a page that says, "Your request to change email addresses has been cancelled." Click "Click here to continue." You should be returned to the Profile pane and see that your existing address is now the only one listed.
  5. Repeat steps 2 and 3 above to change your address again to a new one, and check your email for a confirmation message. If you do not find it, please be sure to check any spam, junk or trash folders you might have on that account before contacting us for assistance.

How do I sign up my friend for NearlyFreeSpeech.NET?

Very carefully.

We're delighted to have people refer us to their friends. In fact, we absolutely depend upon it for growth because we spend our money on servers and programming rather than advertising. However, this situation does create a couple of occasional problems that border on heartbreaking for us, so we've created this FAQ entry to offer some guidelines. (Although there are other types of referrals than male friends, we're using the words 'friend' and 'him' here for the sake of simplicity.)

First, and most importantly, you absolutely, positively, must not ever create a membership for anyone other than yourself. Not only are memberships non-transferrable, but you have no legal authority to agree to our TACOS on behalf of a third party. Your friend needs to read, understand, and agree to our TACOS for himself. Those are the rules for using our service, and we don't want people on our system who don't know the rules. Therefore, your friend must complete the signup process for himself.

Second, please make sure that your friend is equipped to manage or maintain his site(s) without ongoing assistance from you. You are not allowed to access other people's memberships! We have gotten into several painful situations because someone "helped" their less tech-savvy friend by setting them up on our service, then disappeared for whatever reason, and the abandoned friend expected us to provide whatever assistance they were promised because no one ever explained the limited scope of support to them. We simply don't have the resources for that, and it invariably winds up with the friend hating us and blaming our "unhelpful support" for not keeping someone else's promises. Please, please, please don't put us in that position. It hurts.

Third, when telling your friend about our service, make sure your friend understands and is comfortable with the scope of our member support. People who are used to lingering on the phone while someone walks them step-by-step through their individual setup sometimes don't appreciate receiving an emailed link to our FAQ when they ask us a basic question. Remember that although you may not need that type of help, some of your friends might. For friends that do, the added cost of a service that provides the extra assistance they need is a very good investment.

What should you do to refer a friend to our service? There are four basic approaches you can choose from, depending on your needs (and those of your friend).

First, you can tell your friend about it and let him do everything himself. This is by far the easiest way to go, and is often the best if your friend is as smart and clever and inclined to do his own thing as you are. (You must be; you picked us!)

Second, you can tell your friend about it, get him to sign up, and then share a site using our adjunct membership feature. With this option, he can either create an account and site of his own and make you adjunct, or you can create the site on your membership and make him adjunct. This is the best approach for people who are going to be collaborating on a site.

Third, set up your friend's site, domain, etc on your account and then have your friend create a membership of his own and, when everything is ready, transfer the whole deal to him with a couple of quick support requests. You can either create a second bandwidth account to contain the site and transfer the account between memberships, or your friend can create and fund his own account and you can transfer the relevant bits individually. This is the best approach when you're preparing the site as a gift or favor, but your friend is willing and able to maintain it over the long term.

Fourth, you can create a separate bandwidth account under your membership, use it to fund your friend's site, and manage it all yourself. With this approach, your friend never touches the site personally. This is the best approach for people reselling our service, and for use with friends who want websites of their own but still compulsively forward emails about stolen kidneys and Bill Gates paying email users. ;-)

Again, we are thrilled and grateful to receive all kinds of referrals. We're providing this information solely to help you make sure that any referrals you give work out well for everybody involved.

You forwarded me a DMCA notification affecting my site. Now what?

The first thing to notice about our handling of DMCA notices and the notification-and-takedown process, is our consistent use of the term "allegedly infringing." Receiving a DMCA takedown notice does not mean you have done anything wrong, or even that you have infringed someone's copyright. It only means that someone has claimed (alleged) that you infringed their copyright.

When you signed up, you agreed to follow our TACOS, and one of the things you agreed to was not to infringe other people's copyright. When you upload content to our service, you are asserting to us that you have the right to make that material available. So on the one hand, we have you, who we have a contract and a relationship with, promising us that your content is legitimate, and on the other we have some random person we've never met who has no relationship with us making a claim that it isn't. Our first inclination, under those circumstances, is obviously to believe the person we know and trust, which is you. For that reason, we do not interpret receipt of a DMCA notification as prima facie evidence that you have done something wrong.

However, that's not the way the DMCA takedown process works. Our judgment and opinion don't really enter into it. By issuing a DMCA takedown notice, the claimant is swearing under penalty of perjury that their claim is true and accurate. For that reason, the law requires us to go through the notice-and-takedown process, even if the notification looks like complete bunk to us. (Unfortunately, civil perjury is a criminal charge, and we're not aware of even one case where a US prosecutor could be bothered to bring that charge in response to an abuse of the DMCA, due in part to the difficulty in proving that the DMCA abuse was intentional and not "an accident.")

Therefore, when we receive a DMCA takedown notice, we will forward it to you in its entirety and give you 24 hours to disable access to the allegedly infringing content it references. "Disabling access" to the content doesn't necessarily mean deleting it, although that is one approach. You could also disable the site, change the file or directory permissions, or temporarily move the allegedly-infringing content to your site's "protected" or "private" directories. It doesn't matter how you do it, but you must remove the content by the deadline or we will have to do it. Our ability to disable access to content usually entails disabling access to an entire site, whether the entire site is allegedly infringing or not. That really sucks if there is only a small amount of allegedly infringing content.

Once you have disabled access to the allegedly infringing content, let us know that you've done so. When you do so, you must indicate which of these three courses of action you wish to take:

If you do not intend to submit a counter-notification, you may wish to include sufficient supporting justification for us to form an informed opinion on whether to hold this incident against you if future allegations arise, as repeated infringement is grounds for adverse termination of our service.

If you don't respond, or if you indicate that you intend to file a counter-notification and then don't do it, we will assume you are accepting the allegation of infringement. If you don't file the counter-notification, the process ends. Thus, the rest of this FAQ assumes you are filing the counter-notification.

Your counter-notification must be in writing and must contain the following elements or we will reject it:

The best ways to submit your counter-notification are email or fax. If you use email, make sure you're sending a scanned copy that shows your physical signature or a PGP-signed email with a signature that can be correlated to your member contact email address.

Pursuant to the law, we will provide a copy of your counter-notification to the claimant. This means they will know who you are. If you don't want them to be able to identify you, the counter-notification is not an option you can use.

The claimant then has 10 days after receiving the counter-notification from us to file an action against you in the appropriate court seeking a court order to restrain you from engaging in infringing activity relating to the allegedly infringing material, and then to notify us that they've done so. If they do not, we will restore access to the material. (In a case where you disabled access yourself, we will restore access to the material by notifying you when it is OK to restore it. Do not under any circumstances restore access to the allegedly infringing content or make it available at a new location without that notification; that'll result in automatic adverse termination of your service.)

This FAQ entry provides general guidance about our DMCA notification takedown and putback processes. It is not a substitute for legal advice. While we strongly urge everyone not to be bullied or to allow the DMCA process to be abused, we strongly urge you to consult a legal professional if you find yourself in this situation, because the consequences of filing a spurious counter-notification can be significant.

You can get the full text of the Online Copyright Infringement Liability Limitation Act portion of the DMCA here.

What is maintenance mode?

Maintenance mode is a way to disable web access to your site while leaving SSH (and FTP, if enabled) access available. It is suitable for use when you need to edit your site, but you don't want people accessing it while you do, for example if you find out you urgently need to apply a security update to a software package you are using for which an exploit is already available, or if you just don't want people accessing the site while you are in the middle of making major changes to it.

If we discover a problem with your site, such as if it is being exploited to send spam due to a vulnerability in software you are running, we will frequently convert your site to maintenance mode to stop the spam outbreak but leave the site accessible to you so you can fix the problem. Once the problem is fixed, you can bring the site back online yourself. (But if we shift your site to maintenance mode, please make sure you solve whatever problem required us to do that before you bring it back online; we have other ways of disabling sites that our members cannot reverse on their own, and we really dislike being forced to use them.)

The message presented when people attempt to access your site is the same one presented if we perform system maintenance that requires us to take your site offline, and can be seen here, so if you need to work on your site discreetly, you do have the option to put it into maintenance mode and blame us.

To tell the difference, check the Site Information page. If it says the site status is "Member Maintenance" then it is under your control. If it says the site status is "System Maintenance" then we are doing something that requires the site to be offline. (Our system is designed to avoid the need to do this in all but a few rare cases.)

To enter or leave Member Maintenance mode, use the relevant link in the "Actions" box on the Site Information page for the site you want to affect. System Maintenance mode is controlled by our system. Your site status will change automatically to this status when such maintenance starts, and change back once the maintenance is complete.

There is a third type of maintenance mode, called "Restricted Maintenance." Most members never encounter this, but when a site has a bad track record of problem behavior (e.g. being hacked to send spam) and the site operator demonstrates unwillingness or inability to resolve the issue, the site will be placed in this mode. There are two ways to get a site out of restricted maintenance: delete it or, if you are a subscription member, open a support issue explaining what you have done to resolve the problem and asking for the site to be reviewed.

How do I set up TLS using my own key and a third-party certificate?

If you want to secure your site with a certificate that you obtained from a third party for one or more aliases of your site (like example.com and/or www.example.com), that's very straightforward. You will typically need three things, each in PEM format:

These will typically be provided in PEM format, frequently with one file for each item. Once you have all three things, there are two very different ways to load them into our system.

First, you can set it up from our website. To do that:

  1. Go to the Site Information panel for your site.
  2. Select the "Upload TLS Files" action in the Action Box.
  3. Paste the PEM-format key, certificate, and intermediate certificates into the text box.
  4. Select the "Set TLS" button.

Alternatively, you can set it up from the command line. To do that:

  1. Make sure all three files are present on your site.
  2. Run a command similar to: cat privkey.pem cert.pem chain.pem | nfsn -i set-tls

In either case, you will see the results of processing the files you submit, and if the processing is successful, it will take effect within about 5 minutes. Applying TLS files is done on a per-alias basis, so if you have multiple aliases secured by different certificates, that is no problem and they will not overwrite each other.

It's also fine if you include extra intermediate certificates or put things in the wrong order; unlike humans, our system can read the files, and will do its best to figure it out for you and assemble (only) the proper ones in the proper order to get things working.

If you need to generate a key and CSR to get a certificate from a third-party certificate authority, you can do that from the command line:

  1. Generate a key by running a command similar to the following:
    • openssl genrsa -out /home/protected/ssl/www.example.com.key 2048
  2. Generate a certificate signing request (CSR) from your key, by running a command similar to the following:
    • openssl req -new -sha256 -key www.example.com.key -out www.example.com.csr
  3. Using your CSR, obtain a certificate for your site from the certificate authority of your choice.

How do I transfer something from one account to another on my membership?

Sites, domains and MySQL processes can be moved from one account to another on your membership using the Change Site Accounts, Change Domain Accounts and Change MySQL Accounts actions found on the Sites, Domains and MySQL tabs, respectively.

If you want to transfer something to an account on someone else's membership, please see this FAQ entry for more details about coordinating the transfer.

Why does my bank's website say you charged me a bunch of times?

If you enter your card billing address (as determined by your bank, not by us) or card verification code incorrectly, we may not be able to accept the transaction. However, the bank that issued your card may place a "preauthorization hold" in the amount of the deposit anyway, just because we tried.

These temporary holds often show up in online summaries as "pending activity" or similar. However, your bank will automatically remove them after some period, usually a few days. Only the transactions that we accept and credit to your account will ultimately be charged to your credit card balance.

Since such holds are placed by your card-issuing bank, they are entirely beyond our control. We cannot remove them, nor can we accelerate the pace at which your bank removes them. The best way to avoid this situation is to double-check your address information with your billing statement prior to making a deposit.

How can multiple people manage services hosted here?

We provide two separate sharing options that are very different in terms of power and scope.

The less powerful option is adjunct membership. This lets one member of our service share SSH and SFTP access to a site with another member. This is a good option if you just have someone helping you develop the content of one site.

The more powerful option is account sharing. This lets a member share full access to an entire account and all of its contents with another member. This option is suitable for companies and organizations that can't have just one person who has the ability to manage content, or for shared responsibility, for example where one person is primarily paying the bills and someone else is primarily managing the services.

I don't log in to your site all the time. How do I stay up to date on news and announcements?

If you do log in to our site, the System Status panel consolidates most of your need-to-know information about recent updates and downtimes. If our system appears down, you can also check our offsite status page for updates.

If you want to stay up-to-date without logging in, minor updates and timely information about outages can also be found on our Twitter feed. (If you don't like Twitter, this information is mirrored on our site with more history than the other options offer.)

For more significant updates, our primary mechanism for keeping our members informed is our blog. It is relatively low-traffic and is where all important service announcements about our service will appear.

To help you keep up to date without constantly visiting our blog, we offer a couple of useful RSS feeds. The Network Status RSS feed includes announcements about service-affecting maintenance, planned downtimes, and changes to the service that affect all or nearly all of our members, like upgrades that may not be backwards-compatible.

For more detail, the News & Announcements RSS feed includes all the Network Status announcements as well as posts about new service availability, beta test announcements, pricing changes and the like. (Since we try to include everything from Network Status in News & Announcements, it's generally not necessary to follow both feeds.) The News & Announcements feed is the one used to populate our member home page.

These are our primary channels of communication, so we strongly recommend that you follow one or more of them to stay abreast of events affecting you. We try to keep all these channels low-traffic and relevant.

How do I see what users I have granted adjunct access to my site?

If you have any adjunct users, they are listed on the Site Information page for your site.

How do I transfer funds between accounts on my membership?

Visit the Accounts panel and then select "Transfer Funds Between Accounts" from the "Actions" box.

How do I hand over control of hosted services to someone else?

First, we will present the process in brief, as it is very easy and straightforward. After that, we will go into a little bit of detail about why it works the way it does.

  1. Resist the urge for the sender to give the recipient their username and password. That's expressly forbidden by our TACOS and will ultimately cause both of you a lot more expense and hassle than it avoids.
  2. The recipient should create a new membership of their own. (Unless they already have one!)
  3. The sender and the recipient each send us identical (free) assistance requests asking to have an account or specific assets (sites, domains, MySQL processes, etc.) moved over.

That's it. The whole process usually takes about five minutes of your time to arrange.

It's very common for expert web developers and designers to use our service to set up and manage accounts, domains, and sites for third parties. The third party might be an individual (like clients, friends or relatives) or a group, club, or company that the person is involved with. (For the sake of simplicity we'll call people who do this "webmasters" and we'll call the third party the "client" for the rest of this FAQ entry.)

That's a good match for the way our service is set up, and it's fine to do as long as everyone involved understands that, as far as we're concerned, the member managing the account is calling the shots.

From time to time, for various reasons, it becomes necessary to change the responsible party. Maybe a client/designer relationship is ending, or maybe someone is leaving the company or graduating out of a school club. This situation, which is often already delicate enough, does need to be handled with special care.

The very first thing is to be very sure you understand the difference between an account and a membership. It helps this type of transfer a lot if all the relevant assets are bundled up in one account on the current webmaster's membership. Then, it can then be transferred as a single easy piece to the client's membership. (Most people handling hosting for others already manage assets this way anyway for accounting purposes.)

Transferring assets from the developer's membership to the client's membership (whether neatly bundled in one account or not) must be done while following certain very strict rules about NearlyFreeSpeech.NET memberships:

This means that if you are acting as a webmaster for a client, you cannot, for any reason, create or access a membership belonging to them. This specifically includes setting up a new membership on behalf of a client. And they cannot access your membership either. So giving them the login and password information and sailing off into the sunset is right out.

The common question at this point is how a non-technical client is supposed to set up and manage a membership and hosting for themselves. The answer is that they are not. Our service is designed to be used by skilled webmasters, and it's often the case that removing the technical expertise of a professional developer without replacing it with an equivalent is simply not viable. If you find yourself in a situation that would wind up with a NearlyFreeSpeech.NET membership in the hands of someone who won't know what to do with it, stop. That probably means the transfer you need to arrange is to a hosting company that offers a lot of tech support (e.g. telephone tech support) and caters specifically to nonspecialists. That's absolutely fine; there are a large number of such companies. We would much rather that happen, than for someone to end up with a NearlyFreeSpeech.NET member left in the lurch with no idea of what our rules and policies are, or how to use our service.

For this reason, if we detect a transfer request between two memberships that appear to have been accessed by the same person, we will stop the transfer. Depending on the circumstances, we may refuse to process it entirely. But at a minimum, we will contact both parties and ask them to verify their identity and that they submitted their request themselves. We will further ask the recipient to confirm that they personally went through the signup process, that they have read and understood (and agreed to) our Terms and Conditions of Service, that they understand the nature of our service, and that they are comfortable managing their membership and account moving forward without any external assistance (including ours). Only if we're satisfied will we allow the transfer to proceed.

That's a lot of extra hassle. However, it's very simple to completely avoid it: just make sure that the transfer recipient sets up their own membership and that neither the sender nor the recipient ever accesses the other's membership.

For more information on transfers and on helping others get set up on our service, we recommend also reading our FAQ entries about organizations and referrals.

What are the IP addresses of your name servers?

Some domain registrars require you to include the IP addresses of our name servers when setting up your domain. Although this list is subject to change at any time for any reason, here are the IP addresses for all the DNS servers which may serve member domains. Be sure to use the correct name servers for your domain.

ns.phx1.nearlyfreespeech.net
208.94.116.1
ns.phx2.nearlyfreespeech.net
208.94.116.33
ns.phx3.nearlyfreespeech.net
208.94.116.65
ns.phx4.nearlyfreespeech.net
208.94.116.97
ns.phx5.nearlyfreespeech.net
208.94.116.129
ns.phx6.nearlyfreespeech.net
208.94.116.161
ns.phx7.nearlyfreespeech.net
208.94.117.1
ns.phx8.nearlyfreespeech.net
208.94.117.33

If (and only if) you are using our secondary DNS service, one of the following name servers may also apply:

ns.ord1.nearlyfreespeech.net
192.237.182.164

How do I change the contact email address I gave you when I created my membership?

It's very important to keep your contact email address up to date. To change your contact email address:

  1. Visit the Profile panel.
  2. In the Details box, click the "Edit" button on the "Email Address" line.
  3. Enter your new email address on the "Edit Email Address" panel.
  4. For your protection, we will send an email containing a confirmation code to the address you entered. Click the link in that email or follow the email instructions to enter the code manually.

Once you confirm the new email address, it will begin working almost immediately.

If you have NearlyFreeSpeech.NET email forwarding set up to forward messages to your contact address, they will be updated by this process. Any RespectMyPrivacy domains you have will also be updated to forward correspondence to this address.

How do I get a receipt for a deposit I made?

Each deposit generates an email receipt. If you didn't happen to save that email, you can view a record of your deposit by visiting the "accounts" section of our site, selecting the account in question, and then visiting the "Search Account Activity" link in the "Actions" box. (Note that if you made the deposit within the last 12-24 hours, it might be displayed near the bottom of the account information page under "Current Activity.")

We cannot, under any circumstances, print an invoice. Invoices are only used when the amount of goods/services purchased is known prior to payment, which is not the case with a prepaid service like ours. We do offer detailed records of past account activity via our UI which typically provide the same information as would be contained on an invoice.

Why can't I cancel my membership?

Typically the only thing that will stop you from cancelling your membership is a registered domain. Before you can cancel, any domains you have registered through our service must be transferred away or you have to wait for them to expire and be deleted.

What is unbilled storage?

Unbilled storage refers to storage space (for sites or MySQL processes) that our system has recorded as used but which hasn't been billed to your account yet.

The usual reason for this is that the unbilled amount is less than a penny; our system won't bill your account for storage until an individual site or MySQL process accumulates at least a penny's worth. This can cause the "Unbilled" amounts on the Account info panel to be higher than one penny if you have more than one site or MySQL process. E.g. if you have two sites on one account and one has 0.6 pennies worth of unbilled storage and the other has 0.8, your account will show 1.4 cents of unbilled storage, but won't bill you for storage until one or the other gets to the whole penny individually.

The other way you can accrue unbilled storage charges is to allow your account to run out of funds. When an account is empty, storage charges won't be applied, but since we don't immediately delete your content when your account goes empty, each site or MySQL process will continue to accrue unbilled storage until one of two things happens: you make a deposit or the site/MySQL process is deleted. Once you make a deposit, unbilled storage charges in excess of a penny will post to your account. If you delete the site or MySQL process before you add funds, or if your membership expires, associated unbilled storage charges will be discarded along with the content.

If you have large sites or MySQL processes and you leave an account empty for a long time, close to the 30 day limit for example, substantial unbilled storage charges may accrue. You should definitely take this into consideration -- and our system will attempt to warn you about it if applicable -- when adding funds to an account, to prevent further disruptions in service.

How can I send funds to another member's account or site?

The process for sending funds to another member is very straightforward and, unlike other transfers, does not require our intervention.

  1. Have the intended recipient give you their account number.
  2. Make sure the funds you wish to transfer are available in your own account.
  3. Go to the Accounts tab in our member interface.
  4. Select the "Transfer Funds Between Accounts" action from the Actions box.
  5. Select the "To another member's account" transfer type.
  6. Enter the recipient's account number in the "Destination Account" text box.
  7. Complete the transfer.

Please keep in mind that we cannot offer you any guarantee as to how the recipient will use those funds. Also, due to our privacy policy, we are unable to answer questions like "how much is needed to get the site example.nfshost.com back online?" Also keep in mind that we are not a payment service like PayPal; per our Terms and Conditions of Service, funds transferred between members in this fashion become nonrefundable.

How do I remove TLS?

Currently, this is done from the ssh command line. Log in to your site via ssh and run one of the following commands.

To remove TLS from one alias (e.g. www.example.com).

YourPrompt> nfsn unset-tls www.example.com

To remove TLS from all aliases:

YourPrompt> nfsn unset-tls '*'

This command takes about five minutes to take effect.

This can also be done by removing and re-adding the alias via the UI, but that approach is significantly more disruptive.

Please note that we do not recommend removing TLS once you've added it. Doing so may cause problems and security warnings for your site, especially if you have at any point used a Strict-Transport-Security header. In general, you should be able to replace an undesired certificate with a new one without removing it first. Therefore, this command is provided for completeness, testing, and non-production sites.

It is not possible to remove TLS for the shortname.nfshost.com name for your site.

Is my website non-production, production, or critical?

Although this is largely up to you to determine, there are two exceptions.

First, if a site generates revenue of any kind, in any amount, it cannot be a non-production site.

Second, the number of non-production sites you can have is limited to half of your sites, rounded up. If you have more than one site, some of them must be production (or critical) sites regardless of what they're used for. (If you have so many non-production sites that you're running into this limit, you may want to consider consolidating them using tools like per-alias document root.)

Beyond those two criteria, it's your decision. If you have a gut instinct that one of the options is best, you're probably right. If you're not sure, look at the restrictions associated with non-production sites, and the additional custom monitoring associated with critical sites. If your top priority is low cost and you can live with the restrictions, your site is probably non-production. If your top priority is stability, your site is probably production. If your top priority is availability at all costs, your site is probably critical.

Sites that people tend to regard as non-production include (but aren't limited to):

Sites that people tend to regard as production include (but aren't limited to):

Sites that people tend to regard as critical include (but aren't limited to):

But, to reiterate, as long as you maintain appropriate ratios and follow the revenue rule — that non-production sites may not generate revenue — the choice is yours.

Do you provide refunds for services already rendered?

No, we do not. Our service is pay-for-what-you-use in nature and each member is responsible for all fees their use of our service incurs. We cannot provide credits or refunds after the fact for services that were provided as configured by the member.

We have no flexibility in this area; all of our vendors charge us on exactly the same terms.

Is penetration testing of sites hosted here allowed?

Generally, no. Most of the buffoonery that calls itself "penetration testing" is just an attempt to compromise the security and/or availability of our service and/or a member site. We take an extremely dim view of that. It's also a federal crime. We respond to unauthorized "penetration testing" just as we would for any other hacking attempt, ranging from blocking source IPs from accessing our network up to and including contacting the relevant authorities, pressing charges, and seeking civil damages if appropriate. If we find that unauthorized penetration testing was done with a member's cooperation or at a member's direction, that membership will be terminated without warning or refund.

If you do wish to engage in authorized penetration testing, it can be arranged, but the cost is considerable and you must meet significant requirements:

If you fail to abide by these requirements, or agree to them and fail to follow them (for example if you test outside approved hours, deviate from the approved test plan, or fail to provide results after performing a test), then authorization for future tests is unlikely to be granted.

These requirements are onerous, and reflect that penetration testing is a risky practice that must only be undertaken by skilled, qualified professionals after careful planning. (And yes, people with legitimate need can and do meet these requirements.) If the firm you hire to perform the test balks at these requirements, they are not qualified. If you have a legitimate need, please feel free to contact us; we can direct you to qualified firms.

If these requirements are too onerous, or if the cost is too high (which would be odd; while substantial by our standards, they will be a rounding error compared to the cost of having a proper test performed), that is a good sign that your site is not appropriate for penetration testing.

We do regularly perform and have others perform penetration tests on our own network in order to ensure that our service is as secure as possible. No accesses to member web sites are performed by these tests, but representative sites managed by us are thoroughly tested in addition to our own production sites.

What is account sharing?

Account sharing allows multiple members to share access to and control over a single account. This includes actions like making deposits, renewing domains, and editing websites. It is significantly more powerful than adjunct membership.

Account sharing is primarily useful for organizations, where more than one person is involved in the day to day operation of its hosting related services, or even where the one person who is usually involved in those day to day operations has the temerity to get sick or go on vacation.

It can also be useful in cases where a non-expert wants to operate a site with the help of an expert. They can share the account so the expert can adjust DNS settings and manage domain registration as necessary to support the site. It likewise supports setups where one person is paying for things and a different person is doing them.

Account sharing is very powerful, and you should always be very careful that you trust any person with whom you share your account. They essentially become co-owners of the account, with full privileges to do whatever they want with it. That includes, but isn't limited to, transferring funds and assets to accounts of their own, deleting things, or transferring registered domains to other providers.

To use account sharing, each person must have their own membership, which provides them with their own personal username and password. (Remember: accounts and memberships are different, and you can have multiple accounts, but not multiple memberships).

Once each additional person has set up their own membership, then you can share an account with them from the Account Information panel for that account. Just have them give you their login name and add it to the list of "Members Sharing This Account." To remove another member's shared access, click the "Unshare" button next to their name on the list.

Since your service is prepaid, how do I know when to add funds?

By default, our system includes two low-balance warnings for each account: one at $5.00 and one at $1.00. When your balance falls below a warning level, an email will be generated to your member contact email address. Once a balance warning has been triggered, it will not trigger again until the balance has exceeded the level of the warning for at least one minute.

Because one size does not fit all, account balance warnings are fully customizable. You can set up as many balance warnings as you want, at any level you want up to your current balance, and configure whether they are sent by email or, if you have set an SMS number on the Profile tab, by both email and SMS.

You can also remove the default warnings if you want, although we strongly recommend against doing so unless and until you add other warnings that you feel better suit your expected usage.

To calculate good intervals for warning levels, we recommend that you review your use of our service after a few months and figure out about how much it is costing per week and per month, then set at least two reminders: one when your remaining balance should last about another month, and one when it should last about another week. Then, we advise that you maintain a balance high enough to keep both warnings active at all times; the second, lower warning should serve as a fallback if you forget about or miss the first one. But this is just a recommendation; you are free to manage your warnings however you want.

As a last-ditch reminder, our system will also contact you by email (and SMS if configured) when your account runs completely out of funds. This message cannot be configured or disabled.

What do I do if I find a typo or mistake in your documentation?

We hate for that to happen; maintaining high-quality documentation is very important to us. Occasionally, however, we slip up. If you find such a mistake please report it to us. We'll check it out and if we agree that it's a typo or mistake in our documentation, and we fix it as a result of your report, we'll give you a $1.00 service credit as a bounty. (Full details can be found on the typo bounty page.)

Policy (*)

What's the catch?

We're doing the best job we can to ensure that there is no catch. But of course, there's always fine print. Ours is a pay-for-what-you-use infrastructure, and in order to convey your deposits into your account and then keep track of them, we have to maintain our billing infrastructure, do our accounting, file our taxes, and deal with payment compliance issues and fraud. All that adds up, so we have to charge you a small deposit fee.

We do not profit from deposit fees.

The base deposit fee is exactly the same for all members and payment methods. However, before charging you this fee, we offset it as much as we can by applying a variable instant rebate. This helps ensure that small deposits remain cost-effective and helps us tweak the system to make sure deposit fees are distributed fairly without overcharging anyone.

If the deposit fee and instant rebate system seems unnecessarily complicated, it is and we apologize. It is unfortunately necessary in order to provide you with the best possible pricing without running afoul of the conditions imposed upon us by our payment processors. We're constantly on the lookout for ways to reduce (or simplify!) these administrative costs, because they don't help us and they don't help you.

What payment methods do you accept for account deposits?

We currently accept these forms of payment:

Credit card, PayPal, and most Dwolla payments are processed immediately. Bitcoin payments, mail-in deposits, and some Dwolla transactions take longer.

Some prepaid credit cards work with our service and some do not. Whether an individual brand of prepaid card will work is at the discretion of the card issuer, not us, so although some do work, we don't recommend using them.

We do not accept cash payments for the simple reason that cash sent through the mail all-too-frequently does not reach its destination. Even the US Postal Service acknowledges this and officially discourages the practice. You may use cash to obtain money orders from the United States Postal Service, Western Union, and many other vendors in the United States. Internationally, we recommend the use of American Express worldwide money orders denominated in US Dollars.

We do not accept any forms of payment not listed here.

If you wish to pay us anonymously, see this FAQ entry for more information.

What is your refund policy?

A member may easily request cancellation of their service at any time from within our member interface. When a membership is cancelled, we will return the money remaining in your account. All of it.* Since we provide a pay-as-you-go service (for pretty much everything but domain registration and privacy) you're only responsible for the cost of services that you actually use; there's no "OK, but your cancellation won't be effective until the beginning of the next billing cycle." or "OK, we'll cancel you right now but you agreed to pay for a zillion years of hosting in advance, so you don't get a refund." We'll process your cancel request as soon as we can, and (in most cases) return the entire unused balance to you at that point.

If you try out our service and figure out the same day (by early evening) that it is not right for you, let us know right away. Sometimes, but not always, we can void your transaction so that you will not only get a refund, but it will be as if you were never even charged. We can't promise that, but if you let us know fast enough, we will do our best for you.

There are rare cases where funds may be nonrefundable, such as if they were payments made by a third party or transferred to your account from another member, or if we close your membership for certain particularly egregious violations of our policies. Full details can be found in our Terms & Conditions of Service.

Please note that we cannot issue a partial refund of your balance; we can only issue a full refund, and only in conjunction with the close of your membership. Also, if you have any domains registered through us, ICANN requires that you must transfer them to another person or registrar before requesting cancellation. (Fees paid for domain registration are typically nonrefundable.)

*If we have to mail you a check, there will be a small charge, and we won't issue a refund for a balance less than the charge. See our Terms and Conditions of Service for complete details.

What if I want to host unpopular or controversial content?

Please review our Terms and Conditions of Service.

Our primary requirements in this area are as follows:

If you have questions about whether your proposed site is legal, you need to consult an attorney. Under no circumstances can we give a legal opinion or advice, nor can we make binding statements about hypothetical sites and circumstances.

*You must obey all applicable local laws unless you get our prior express consent in writing. We do provide anonymous hosting of content that violates local government censorship laws at our sole discretion in cases outside the United States where we feel government censorship is contrary to the cause of freedom.

If you have questions about our willingness to put up with controversial or unpopular sites that are nonetheless legal, we invite you to review our Abuse @ NearlyFreeSpeech.NET page.

What is customer service like for subscription members?

In addition to all of the options available to baseline members, people who have opted in to subscription membership are eligible for individual private support via email and our ticket system. Our individual private support option is informed by our own support experiences:

What is customer service like for baseline members?

Baseline membership reflects that our do-it-yourself service is designed to be used without individual support. Consequently, support options are limited, but typically unnecessary.

Most of the information members need is maintained in a detailed technical FAQ (available here if you are not yet a member).

When members need a little more help, they generally turn to our community support options. We have a member forum populated by some very, very smart people (including our staff), and members can view and contribute to a wiki that provides a rich variety of perspectives on tips, tricks, and how to get various things to work.

We also offer a specialized type of support, called assistance requests, for specific predefined actions that you need us to perform on your behalf. These are very limited in scope, highly automated, and are often designed to smooth over features that don't have a UI in our control panel, because they are specialized or rarely used. Baseline members also have the ability to report perceived problems with the system, although that channel is one-way; it is not a way to obtain help or support.

These options are sufficient for almost all of our members. Those looking for more can evaluate whether the individual support option included with subscription membership meets their needs.

What happens if my account runs completely out of funds?

Your services will be automatically disabled. As soon as you add more, it'll come back, but that can take a few minutes and that often feels like the longest few minutes of your life, so we recommend using and customizing the account balance warning system (which supports both email and SMS) to keep track of things before they go that far.

If you don't add more funds right away, things will hang around for at least 30 days. You can add more funds at any point during that period and get it all back.

If you haven't added funds after the 30 days, we'll start cleaning things up. Services paid for by that account, including all hosted content, will be removed. If you don't have any registered domains on that account, the account will be removed a few days later.

If 30 days is not a long enough grace period, we offer a feature called "suspended animation" that can help you extend the retention of your content when your balance runs low. That setting can be enabled and managed from the "Suspended Animation Threshold " line of the Account Information box on the page for your account under the Accounts tab.

If you do have one or more registered domains, they will persist until they complete the expiration/deletion process or are transferred elsewhere. That will keep the relevant account and your membership open so that you can continue to manage them.

You can also view (and configure) how long your membership is retained after your last account expires in the "Retention Time" line of the "Details" box on the Profile tab. As long as your membership continues to exist, we can attempt to help you recover deleted content. (A fee applies for this service.) Recoveries of this type are generally successful if requested within several months of deletion.

Once your membership is deleted, however, that's it.

What if my site uses less than $0.01 of bandwidth in a month?

The same thing that happens if your site uses less than $0.01 in a day, in a week, or in a year: it keeps going until it does.

We aren't really interested in months. The amount of bandwidth you use is carried over as long as it takes until you accumulate a penny's worth of usage, even if that takes a month or more.

Yes, we are happy to host sites like this.

Do you allow adult content?

Yes.

See the CONTENT section of our Terms and Conditions of Service for specifics.

Do I get interest on my deposit?

No. The costs of such a program would be more than the actual interest produced. (Especially these days where interest earned is vanishingly small.)

We periodically reevaluate this situation, because we think a web account that runs forever purely off of its own interest is a pretty cool idea.

Can I get a credit if your service goes down?

No, that would be silly. Since we bill primarily based on resource usage, if most of our services go down, you'll never be charged for them in the first place! We charge you primarily based on the bandwidth and resources you use. If the service is down... well, you aren't using much bandwidth or resources!

This business model has another profound consequence. In the event of a service failure, our revenue craters on the spot until it is fixed. The technical term for that is "motivation." For this reason, we do not offer any service level agreements or uptime guarantees other than "you will get the very best we have to offer."

By way of disclaimer, the above applies only to bandwidth and resource charges. Storage and other charges have always continued to apply during network outages. We don't know what we would do if we ever had a storage outage that resulted in data loss, since it's never happened. If it ever does, we'll try to do the right thing.

What's the difference between an 'account' and a 'membership?'

A "membership" represents you as an individual person (not a company, group, club, or organization). It's how you identify yourself to us, and how you access our services. If you're a US worker, it's like your social security number except, you know, less social and more secure. And, in most cases, less number-y.

An "account" is how you pay for our services. It contains the funds that you use to purchase hosting. You'll need at least one. You may create more, if you want, but you don't have to. Accounts also hold hosting-related assets, like web sites, domains, and database processes. Just as one membership can have several accounts, one account can fund several different assets.

Accounts also contain contact information about their owners, which may or may not be the member who manages the account. A web designer managing an account for a client would be a good example of a case where the member who manages the account is not the owner. Similarly, a company might own an account, even though it's managed from the company's webmaster's membership. Keep in mind that from our perspective, regardless of account ownership, the member is the only representative of the owner authorized to access the account. (There's no point in having any other policy, since the member can change the account's contact information at any time.)

People use accounts to group related stuff together, to separate business and personal expenses, or to keep track of multiple clients. All sorts of reasons. Other people are perfectly happy to jam everything into one account and have only one balance to keep track of.

It's a little like a bank. You are one person, but you might have two savings accounts: one for college, and one for "rainy days." The bank (if they know you at all these days) knows that you are just one person, and you have your social security number (membership) to prove it.

Unlike accounts, you may not have more than one membership. That would be like opening an account at your bank, then going out to your car, putting on a fake moustache, and going back in to open a second account.* Even if you could, why? Likewise, you cannot go into the bank, give them someone else's social security number, and open an account in their name.** So please don't open memberships for other people here.

*At least, I assume it's like that, but I've never actually tried it. My bank has a pretty good sense of humor, but why push my luck?

**Sense of humor or not, I'm pretty sure that's a felony.

If I use your web hosting, will you put banners or ads onto my site?

No, of course not. That wouldn't really be your site.

Your site will have on it exactly what you put there, and nothing else.

Naturally, if you want to put banners or ads on your site, you're welcome to do so, what with it being your site and all.

Do you impose CPU limits?

Yes. CGI processes and individual ssh commands are limited to two to five minutes of CPU time, and PHP requests are limited to three minutes of wall-clock time by default.

These restrictions are designed to catch runaway processes, not to interfere with ordinary usage. "Stock" web applications, specifically including phpBB and WordPress, simply do not use enough resources to encounter these limits. Who would wait three minutes for a web page to load anyway?

If you have a need for longer-running processes (e.g. for non-interactive use), there is usually a way to make that work or adjust our system settings to accommodate it.

Although we do not impose an overall specific per-site CPU limit, ours is a shared hosting service. We try to accommodate individual needs, particularly on plans where you pay for the resources you use, but we do reserve that right (and responsibility) to limit anything that causes disruption to others. If you have a site on one of our older plans that does not include a resource-billing component, attempts to use large amounts of resources are more likely to encounter limits depending on total available resources.

May I send email from a website hosted at NearlyFreeSpeech.NET?

Yes, but. Because of the ever-present threat of spam, we monitor email usage very closely. Therefore, you should expect an amount of scrutiny directly proportional to the volume of email you send.

It is also very important to be aware of potential vulnerabilities introduced by email-enabled web pages. In particular, generic PHP "feedback" form scripts have proven to be very popular targets for spammers, who can find and exploit them automatically. You should be extremely cautious, and make sure that any email-enabled web sites you create are safe from exploit.

We will hold you responsible for email activity caused by your site, whether you intended to allow it or not. If a spammer exploits a script on your site to send spam, we will have to clean up the mess. At a minimum, that will probably entail temporarily disabling your site, and it may result in additional charges for you.

What if my site gets a DMCA complaint?

Please be aware that when we address questions of this nature, we cannot speak to hypothetical situations, nor can we guess what we would have done in a situation where we were not involved. Nor we can offer you legal advice.

In the United States, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) defines the process by which a copyright holder can request that material be removed. In such cases, a provider is legally obligated to remove the allegedly infringing material without judging the merits of the claim. It is essentially done on the copyright holder's sworn say-so.

However, the DMCA also governs the process for restoring material, and that process is similarly rubber-stamp on the part of the service provider. Once that's done, it becomes a matter for the courts, not the service provider.

In this regard, the DMCA is a good law for us and for you. (Although it can and does suck in many areas, this isn't one of them.) The DMCA is, in part, supposed to protect you from capricious decisions made by the service provider based on some subset of the facts. At no point does or should an Internet service provider investigate or make judgment calls about complex copyright law and questions of what might be infringing. (We specialize in server processes, not process servers.) The DMCA gives us (and you) a certain (non-perfect) confidence that the copyright owner's claim has at least some legitimacy, and provides decent protection (once you get over the initial take-down hurdle) against the use of false claims of copyright infringement to suppress legitimate content.

If you wish to host a controversial site in the US, it behooves you to know the law, particularly this one, and how to use it to your advantage in the event of a dispute. You should also be prepared for a downtime of some or all "allegedly infringing" material for a couple of weeks if the copyright owner wants to fight.

We adhere to the entire law very closely. We do not generally pull the plug on an entire site if, for example, someone claims that a single graphic is infringing. We do our best to remove only the content that the copyright owner specifically identifies as allegedly infringing -- usually by allowing you to handle it yourself unless you decline or fail to do so. We allow and encourage the use of the "putback notification" process when material is incorrectly identified as infringing. But we do not automatically terminate a member's service merely for receiving a complaint alleging infringement. (However, actually infringing someone's copyright does violate our TACOS and will generally result in immediate termination.)

Keep in mind that while we aren't lawyers, neither are we idiots. We can tell the difference between people harassing our members via the DMCA and cases where our service is genuinely being misused, and we can adjust our attitude accordingly. Fortunately, both of these cases are very rare.

Do you provide anonymous hosting?

In most cases, we do not allow our members to remain anonymous to us.

In general, the concern is that information not be disclosed to third parties. Our industry-leading privacy policy reflects our commitment not to let that happen. Therefore, from our perspective, there are very few legitimate reasons why a member would need to conceal his or her identity from us. Most people who request anonymous hosting are attempting to perpetrate fraud (on us or on the public) or wish to escape accountability for their actions.

At NearlyFreeSpeech.NET, we believe that with great power comes great responsibility, so we take a dim view of such behavior. For that reason, our TACOS require our members to provide complete and correct contact information, and requests for anonymous hosting are typically denied.

However, we do make one important exception. If you live outside the United States and can demonstrate that the site you wish to host would put you at significant, legitimate risk of retaliation from a government with a documented track record of reprisal against people who speak out against it, we may be able to help. Anonymous hosting is serious business; it can be one component of a coordinated plan to protect you and your family from torture and murder. It's absolutely not an option you can use to dodge lawsuits or unpopularity arising from hosted material.

If you feel you need this level of protection, please contact us, taking appropriate privacy precautions with respect to your correspondence. Be sure to explain where you live, what you want to host, and why you feel hosting the material anonymously is the only way to guarantee your safety. Be very specific; you will need to explain your situation in enough detail so we can make an informed decision. We may, in our sole discretion, decide to waive the contact information requirement in exchange for periodic reviews of your site content by NearlyFreeSpeech.NET personnel to verify that your usage of the service is consistent with your claims. Please be aware that even if we approve your request, paying anonymously is extremely difficult.

We regret we are not able to provide anonymous hosting to residents of the United States under any circumstances.

Please don't attempt to circumvent our restrictions on anonymous hosting by using fake contact information. Sooner or later we'll figure it out and terminate your membership. And, since you gave us fake information, we won't even be able to give you a refund.

Can I use my NearlyFreeSpeech.NET site to accept credit cards?

Not directly. We are a shared hosting provider. The credit card issuers impose security requirements on the acceptance of credit cards that prevent you from accepting or storing credit card information on any shared server unless very specific criteria ("PCI DSS requirement A.1") exist and have been audited. We have not been audited for compliance, as it is our opinion that the criteria can only be met by VPS-type services, which we are not.

Therefore in order to accept credit cards and most other payments, you will need to use a third-party secure checkout service. Examples that are known to work include Stripe, Authorize.Net Server Integration Method and PayPal.

What types of sites should not be hosted on your service?

By default, we do not allow:

What these types of sites have in common is that they will be abused within minutes of discovery. It just saves time to say "no" up front rather than wait and shut it down later after there's a problem.

There aren't any circumstances where an IRC proxy or bot is allowable, and you will find most common IRC ports firewalled on our network.

If you need to set up a CGI or PHP based private web proxy on your site for your personal use that is appropriately access-limited, that is typically no problem as long as your use of it is legitimate. (This does not include using our ssh server as a socks or HTTP proxy. Doing so is strictly prohibited by our Terms & Conditions of Service.)

URL shorteners are, unfortunately, a lot more fun to write than they are to maintain. If you want to set up a URL shortener for your own use, that's fine. If you let the general public submit URLs to it, expect us to shut it down the first time it gets exploited. (And it will get exploited.) Properly-run URL shorteners aren't successful because they have the shortest or cleverest URL, they're successful because they have a team of people working 24x7 both proactively and reactively to prevent and mitigate abuse. If you have such a team, and you want to run a public URL shortener on our service, please contact us for special arrangements. If you don't have such a team, you'll have to find another host that's less concerned about the Internet's welfare.

How do I sign up for my company/club/organization?

Memberships represent individual people. (The law calls this "a natural person." At NearlyFreeSpeech.NET at least, corporations are not people.) A company, club, or organization (we'll go with "company" for the rest of this FAQ entry, but it applies just as well to clubs, organizations, or other types of groups) has no arms, fingers, and eyes and cannot read our Terms and Conditions of Service or complete our signup form.

If you're signing up to host stuff for any kind of organization in which you're not the sole participant, you still have to create your membership as yourself, at which point you, personally, agree to adhere to our Terms and Conditions of Service. This is not too different from opening a company bank account; you still have to give them your own ID and sign the signature card and checks with your own name, not "President" or "Company Name, Inc."

It is very important to understand that once you create a membership for yourself, it's yours. (To reiterate the above, your membership represents you as an individual.) Although you can cancel your membership, or it can expire if you don't have any accounts or services for awhile, you can never give it away, nor ever let anyone else access it, just like you can't give away your personhood, nor allow other people to pretend to be you. This means we do not allow multiple people to simultaneously manage one membership. We are simply not equipped to handle disputes where multiple people are claiming to be in charge and giving us conflicting instructions. There must always be one person with the final say, and that is the person who, in the event of a dispute, can produce photo ID matching the name on the membership.

After you create your membership, using your own name, you will then have the opportunity to create an account. (Actually you can use your membership to create as many accounts as you want, just like you can have multiple accounts at the same bank.) This is the step where, as the representative of a company, you should be very cautious. You should fill out the account contact information to reflect that of the company, not yourself. This indicates that while you manage the account, the company owns it.

After you fund the company's account, you will be able to set up whatever funds, sites, domains, and other services we offer that the company needs. All of those things attach to the account to make up a neat little package of related stuff. That becomes important if you ever need to transfer control to someone else, because it makes that very easy.

If you need to share responsibility for services here with other people from your company, that is also easily done. Other people from the company can set up memberships of their own. Then, you can share access to a single site or a whole account with them.

If/when the day comes that you need to hand over management of the company's stuff to someone else, it's a very straightforward process. The person taking over simply creates a membership for themselves (again, as an individual, in their own name), at which point they read and agree to our Terms and Conditions of Service. (That part is really, really important.) Then, the company's account has a 12-digit account number like A1B2-C3D4E5F6 you can use to identify it. Give the other person that number, and then each of you should send a free assistance request to us through the member interface asking to move the company's account from the old manager's membership to the new one. The account, and all the sites/domains/databases it contains get moved over in one easy step. It's very easy to do, and can be handled in a few minutes without any downtime or interruption of service. If you have other stuff hosted in a separate account on the same membership, it won't be affected.

Will you honor a court order requiring the takedown of my site?

Usually. However, we do handle these issues on a case-by-case basis, considering a number of important factors.

First, we look at who is the target of the court order. Some court orders are directed at you as the site owner, and some are directed at your service provider.

If the court orders us to take the material down, and that court has jurisdiction over us, the material comes down. We uphold United States law at all times, end of story. If the court does not have jurisdiction over us, we will typically request that the order be domesticated before implementing it.

If the court orders you to take the material down, it's a bit more complicated. We will then consider whether the court has jurisdiction over you, either due to citizenship or residency. If they do, then we will typically prohibit you from using our service to violate the court order. If there's a court order against your content, you need to fight the order, not try to use the Internet to evade it.

Some countries' legal systems now include the theory that their courts can exercise jurisdiction over any content on the Internet that is visible from inside that country. We repudiate that theory, and do not accept orders from courts that cannot exercise personal jurisdiction over us or you unless they have been properly domesticated, and domestication of such orders is frequently disallowed by US law. (However, if Elbonia instead requires all Elbonian ISPs to block access to your site, that is not something we're likely to be able to help with.)

We will also consider the free speech implications of the order. However, many people don't understand how limited this is. Typically, we will only consider free speech based arguments when the subject of the material is the government issuing the court order, or if the content is primarily political in nature. I.e. we would be very likely to disregard an Elbonian court order requiring removal of content critical of the government of Elbonia. We would be significantly less likely to disregard an Elbonian court order requiring you to remove material that the Elbonian court found to be defamatory of an Elbonian citizen if you are also an Elbonian citizen or resident. Using our service is not a way to opt out of your country's laws.

While we will give some consideration as to whether a foreign court order is a travesty of justice, it is definitely one of the least influential factors and, as a practical matter, it rarely comes into play.

One important factor we do not consider at all is your opinion. This includes your opinion of how justified your actions are, how messed up your country's laws are, how easy/unfair/one-sided you feel it is to get such an order in your country, what an ignorant jerk you think the judge was, or how sure you are that they're all out to get you. If you agreed with the order and the process, you'd take the material down yourself and we'd never hear about it. Beyond that, your opinion ceases to have any probative value. Sorry if that's hard to hear.

When we deal with court orders from your jurisdiction, and you are outside the US, it is often helpful for you to make your attorney available to us (at your expense) to answer questions about the matter. If you got a court order issued against you in your own country, but you don't have qualified legal representation, it will be somewhat harder for us to take you seriously.

To reiterate the most important statement at the top, all situations are handled on a case-by-case basis. We will definitely not guarantee any specific response, nor will we even guarantee that all cases will be handled as described here. However, we have been at this for many years, and the guidelines above have well served our goal of staunchly defending freedom of expression without letting the Internet collapse into total anarchy.

In all cases, the indemnification provisions of our Terms and Conditions of Service require you to pay any legal expenses we incur in handling or responding to court orders related to your services with us.

Can I use your ssh server as a web/SOCKS proxy?

No. We are entirely focused on web hosting and our Terms and Conditions of Service expressly forbid the use of our ssh server for any purpose other than maintaining content hosted here. That prohibition definitely includes using our ssh server as any kind of web or SOCKS proxy for accessing the Internet.

We try to run an open system that provides our members with the most powerful tools for managing their content. As a result, we allow outbound network connections from the ssh server for people who need to move content from/to elsewhere, and we allow ssh port forwarding so people can access their MySQL processes from offsite and so that they can securely access their own sites hosted here.

However, we can and do check for outbound network connections that use our ssh subsystem as a proxy, and our system automatically kills them. Furthermore, we may be forced to take appropriate action if we observe repeated or blatant attempts to misuse our system in this way, including but not limited to revoking ssh access (which will require you to use our paid support to regain) or, in extreme cases, terminating a membership.

What is supplemental verification?

Our Terms and Conditions of Service require that accurate contact information is provided for all memberships; free speech is a responsibility as well as a right and part of that responsibility is that you may be held accountable for what you say. Supplemental verification is any step we take to verify your contact information above and beyond our usual policy of trusting what you enter when you sign up for and use our service.

There is a huge correlation between people who provide fake contact info and problems like payment fraud and illegal content. So if during the ordinary course of providing service we find a clear and specific reason to question whether accurate information has been provided, then we get into supplemental verification. To give an extreme example, if you tell us you're John Smith from Ontario, Canada, but pay with Bob Jones' credit card with a billing address in California, and you're logging in from Nigeria, we're probably going to give that a second look.

Depending on the situation, we may inquire about some or all observed discrepancies. That's usually enough to take care of it. In a handful of very rare cases -- about 0.01% of members -- we wind up asking for ID. In those extreme cases, generally any government-issued ID, like a driver's license or passport, is suitable for that purpose, but that comes up so rarely that we're very flexible in handling it on a case-by-case basis.

Typically any problem in this area is easily resolved. If not, it's for one of two reasons. Most of the time the membership was blatant fraud (stolen credit card, illegal content, etc). But sometimes the person involved says something to the effect of "I know your policy, but I don't agree with it, so I won't follow it." The nature of our Terms and Conditions of Service is that if someone refuses to abide by the Terms and Conditions, we will refuse to provide the Services, so that is not an ideological position that is compatible with use of our hosting. Importantly, it may also impair the ability to get a refund. (So if you're thinking about signing up with fake contact information, please don't. It'll eventually end in tears. Yours.)

Supplemental verification is also triggered anytime someone claims they are a member of our service but has neither the login information nor access to the contact email address. In those cases, we skip straight to asking for ID to establish the rightful member. (And naturally anyone who provided fake contact info and winds up in that situation is pretty much out of luck.)

It's also worth remembering that we also have an industry-leading privacy policy that protects contact information from disclosure without a legal requirement to do so, and that we may also offer anonymous hosting with advance written permission in certain very rare cases where personal safety is an issue.

What will you do if I send you email instructing you to do something to my membership?

Nothing.

We cannot process any instructions with respect to a membership via email. This includes, but is not limited to, requests to cancel, to accept payments, to register, renew, or transfer domains, to disable content, or to remove anything.

Email is not secure. Anyone who knows your email address can send an email that appears to be from you. Some people don't even bother using your email address when pretending to be you. We routinely receive emailed requests to do stuff that clearly aren't from the member. But the scary ones are the ones that look like they are from the member but turn out not to be.

Even when we're pretty sure you're you and we believe there would be little risk in doing so, we cannot process an email request. After all, we could be wrong. And even if we're not, we also need to take reasonable steps to protect not only you, but also ourselves.

So, on our system, the way you prove you're you is to log in with your member login name and password (and, optionally, a two-factor device).

If you need help logging on, check out the Login section of our FAQ.

If you need our help with something else, the best way to obtain it is via the support tab of our member site.

If you have a subscription membership, you can submit requests via email if you want, but you'll still have to click a link, log in, and confirm that the message really came from you. (Which basically copies it into our support system as if you had submitted it from our site.) That does introduce delays, so you'll generally get faster response if you send such requests directly from the support tab. Please note the option for individual email-based support is only available to subscription members. Baseline members should check the support tab for community support and self-support options.

Is anything recoverable from a membership that has been closed?

No. Once a membership has been closed, nothing can be recovered.

The permanent deletion of services, content, and account information is an important part of the implementation of our privacy policy, designed to let former customers be confident that they haven't left hidden copies of their data behind.

Closing a membership also entails removing enough of your personal information that even if recovery were possible, we would have no way of proving you are the right person to recover it for.

As such, once a membership is closed it is permanently gone and any associated content, domains, or other services cannot be recovered. (You are, of course, welcome and encouraged to re-create things from your own backups if you choose to set up a new membership with us.)

This applies regardless of whether the membership was closed by request, due to running out of funds for an extended period of time, or for violation of our Terms & Conditions of Service.

What is the "MFFAM" policy?

Because we believe in free speech, we host a small amount of offensive content. Some days, that's really hard to do. There are views expressed using our service that we find personally repugnant. (Although we don't host as much of that type of content as one might expect, given our liberal Terms & Conditions of Service. The simple fact is that our service is for smart people, which rules out at least 90% of the people who hold those views.)

Nonetheless, our content policy does occasionally put us in a position of accepting money from people whose views we find personally repugnant. But we have no interest in profiting from sites like that. For that reason, since our founding in 2002, we have what we have more recently started calling the MFFAM policy: Morons Funding the Fight Against Morons.

When we find a repugnant site on our service, we mark the account. We receive reports about all payments to such accounts, and we take a portion of that money larger than the amount of estimated profit and we donate it to the best organization we can find. The best organization in any given case meets two criteria:

  1. The recipient organization does share our values.
  2. The recipient organization is as opposite (and hopefully as offensive) as possible to the site operator that funded the donation.

Examples of organizations that have received funding over the years include the Anti-Defamation League, the Southern Poverty Law Center, and the NAACP, among others.

This policy isn't perfect by any means, but neither is the world we live in. MFFAM does let us help the organizations that we hope will eventually get us closer to that perfect world. It helps the people who operate such sites understand that they are here because we tolerate them... barely... not because we endorse them or their views. It also does a pretty decent job of thinning out the number of such sites, as a fair number of people who run such sites only believe in free speech when they're the ones talking.

Programming (*)

What is a site realm?

A site's "realm" refers to the combined collection of all the operating system files and third party applications present in its CGI/ssh/PHP environment.

Some people want the latest and greatest versions of applications, particularly programming languages, especially while they are developing a new site. Others strongly prefer things stay as stable as possible so they don't have to deal with their site breaking every time a non-backwards-compatible change gets made by some application developer, especially once their site is up and working.

Likewise, security updates always run the risk of breaking things. Some people prefer to receive security updates immediately to minimize the risk of exposure. Other people prefer to defer updates to a time of their choosing, so they can deal with any problems that result, to minimize the risk of downtime.

Because all of these desires are in direct conflict, we provide multiple types of site realms. They are broadly divided into the following types:

Stable/Current
This is the default realm assigned to new sites. It receives only security updates and important (i.e. "stuff is broken") fixes. If you don't know which realm to choose, choose the Stable/Current realm.
Stable/Upcoming
This is a newer stable realm that will become the default for new sites in the future. It receives only security updates, important (i.e. "stuff is broken") fixes, and (rarely) some non-disruptive new package requests. If you want to get your stuff working in a stable environment that will receive fixes for as long as possible, choose this.
Beta
This is a realm that receives ongoing updates. Although it won't become stable, it serves as a blueprint for future stable realms. Newly-requested software will be installed into a beta realm first. Beta realms also receive frequent updates, including security fixes, bug fixes, and upgrades to installed packages. Programming languages may receive significant upgrades every few months.
Experimental
This is a realm that is not designed to become stable. It contains bleeding-edge languages or software or serves some other purpose that may be grossly incompatible with other realms. Experimental realms may receive large, potentially incompatible, updates at any time. Experimental realms are not supported or recommended for any production usage.
Stable/Deprecated
This is an older stable realm that is still supported, but will be obsolete soon. Once a realm becomes obsolete, any sites still using it will be automatically moved to the current Stable/Upcoming realm. Deprecated realms receive no updates.

We add new stable realms based on the then-current beta realm about every three months. These new realms are stable and reliable, but remain "Upcoming" for about three months to shake out any weird defects or bugs before becoming the current stable realm. Newly-created sites will start in the current stable realm and, by default, when a new realm becomes current, sites in older realms will be automatically migrated to it.

A site's schedule for automatic realm upgrades can be adjusted via the "Realm Updates" setting in the "Config Information" box on the Site Information Panel. This gives you some control over when to upgrade. If you select the "late" update option, we recommend that you upgrade your site's realm manually about every six months to avoid falling too far behind. (The farther behind you fall, the greater the likelihood of problems when you update.) Although rare, compatibility issues are possible, so it's best to do this at a time when you are ready to deal with them.

You can also switch between available site realms, or get a list of currently-supported realms, by selecting "Edit" on the "CGI/SSH Realm" line of the same box.

Caution: This is not a subtle change; if you're logged in to ssh when you change realms, it will attempt to kick you off. It is a little like rebooting. So make sure you have saved your work!

How do I set up the server to allow web scripts to write files?

By default, your site is set up with secure default permissions that don't allow web scripts to write files anywhere except in /tmp. You must set permissions to allow any additional locations to be written.

In order for a PHP or CGI script, or a daemon processes run as the "web" user, to write to a file, the "web" user must have write access to that file. There are two ways to accomplish this.

In order for a script or web process to create a file, it's the permissions of the directory in which the file is to be created that matter. To allow this, do either of the following:

The choice of whether to use group-write or all-write is one of personal preference. There is no meaningful difference on our system at this time. Likewise, the choice of semantic ("a+w") vs. octal (777) is one of personal preference. Just be careful not to set directories to 666 permissions, as they will not work correctly and the result can be very confusing.

If you look online, you may find advice telling you to set all directories to 777 and all files to 666. This is terrible advice. Roughly translated it means "I don't understand Unix file permissions well enough to help you, but doing this will hide the problem for now, and I'll be long gone when this terrible advice I'm giving you lets hackers completely overwrite your site."

PHP's security track record is not very good, and our system security is designed primarily to protect sites from each other; it does not (and cannot) protect sites from themselves. So while "writeable everything" may appear to work initially, and it seems easy, sooner or later a flaw will be found in your site's PHP code or in PHP itself, and if your site is full writeable files and directories, hackers will make short work of it. When deciding what to make writeable, please keep in mind the old adage, "If you don't have time to do it right, when will you have time to do it over?"

In particular, we strongly discourage members from making script files and key directories (like /home/public) writeable by the web user. This setting is used by some applications to enable self-updating over the web. We discourage that practice as well; if you can update your site over the web, so can someone else, and the site may look very different when they finish with it. We recommend using out-of-band methods to update site applications. For example, we support and recommend the use of the WP-CLI command line tool to keep WordPress installations up-to-date without exposing them to massive compromise resulting from the frequent security problems WordPress is so famous for.

Therefore, the final rule of thumb for writing files is not to set anything to be writeable over the web unless you don't mind restoring it from backup after hackers get to it. We hope this encourages you to both be conservative in what you allow PHP to write, and to keep good backups. :-)

Note: If you are still using a version of PHP older than 5.4, there are additional requirements. However, if you are still using a version of PHP prior to 5.4, stop now and upgrade because writing files is the least of your problems.

How does CGI work at NearlyFreeSpeech.NET?

We support CGI scripts with a .cgi extension in any directory in any of the available CGI languages. You do not need to limit your scripts to a cgi-bin directory, but you may if you wish (they will still need a .cgi extension unless you use the SetHandler directive in your .htaccess file). If you have trouble getting your scripts to execute make sure they are uploaded with execute permissions, that the #! line is correct, and that you've used Unix-format line endings.

CGI applications may be automatically terminated if they consume excessive system resources, run for an excessively long time, or appear to operating as "daemon" style processes.

NOTE: In addition to .cgi the following "default" CGI extensions will also work: .py .pl .rb

What can I do if I want a script to run every so often on my site (like cron)?

We allow the setup of scheduled tasks that run on a regular schedule, as often as once per hour. This feature is available as "Manage Scheduled Tasks" in the "Actions" box on the Site Information page.

This feature is supported for all server types including static sites and can run tasks either as the site owner or the web user.

Output from the scheduled task (stdout and stderr), if any, will be delivered by email if possible. If there is no output, no email will be sent. If your email address is bouncing or refusing messages, or if the output is extremely large, it will be diverted to a file in your site's /home/logs directory.

How do I customize my PHP configuration?

You can place customized PHP configuration directives in the file /home/conf/php.ini. This file will not exist by default, so you'll have to create it and make sure it is readable but not writable by the web server (644 permissions). These options will be parsed at the master level (above even PHP_INI_SYSTEM); you may use any directive supported by the version of PHP you are using, including those marked as "php.ini only." Your php.ini file is parsed in addition to, not in lieu of, the system php.ini file, so you only need your site-specific changes.

Note: The php.ini file is not parsed on every request. Changes may take a few minutes of idle time to take effect. (Which, if your site is never idle, may mean they never take effect.) If you want to help it along, you can place your site in maintenance mode or temporarily disable it for a minute or two to ensure that all running processes are killed. Use the phpinfo() function to review the running config and confirm that your changes have been processed.

Examples:

upload_max_filesize = "20M"
display_errors = Off
log_errors = On
extension = "/home/protected/mycustomphpextension.so"

For more information about which PHP configuration directives are available at which level, see the official PHP documentation.

What is the path to the root of my site in PHP?

For PHP 5.4 and later, PHP and CGI have the same base path: /home.

For older versions of PHP, the path is based on the Apache site root and can vary based on when your site was created and when it was last reconfigured. To make sure you stay pointed at the right location, use the PHP-standard $_SERVER['DOCUMENT_ROOT'] value to refer to your site's public directory.

We also provide the $_SERVER['NFSN_SITE_ROOT'] variable for this purpose, in addition to DOCUMENT_ROOT. NFSN_SITE_ROOT points to your site's root directory, the parent of public and protected, making it the best choice for safely referring to the protected directory from PHP.

We strongly recommend that you use $_SERVER['DOCUMENT_ROOT'] or $_SERVER['NFSN_SITE_ROOT'] whenever possible and avoid hardcoding paths in order to avoid problems in the event of a change. If you have to hardcode the path (for a third-party app not smart enough to understand variables or similar), get it from the "Apache Site Root" value under "Config Information" on your site info panel, but keep in mind the possibility that it could change someday.

Where can I read more about how PHP works at NearlyFreeSpeech.NET?

We keep in-depth information about various aspects of PHP in these locations:

PHP Versions Explanation

Detailed PHP information

PHP is also a frequent topic of discussion in the Member Forum and Member Wiki.

What is the best HTML editor to use with your system?

The best one is the one that works best for you. HTML editors vary widely in terms of features, methodology, and target audience. There is no way to recommend a single best tool for everyone. If the program gets the results you want and you understand how to use it, then it is right for you.

There are many commercial programs that work as well. Some of them are listed in our Pre-Sales FAQ.

There are also many freeware, public domain, and shareware utilities for editing web pages. We don't have any specific recommendations in that area because things tend to change very rapidly. A great place to start if you want to learn more about these programs is the About.com HTML Editors page.

Some factors to consider in choosing a program are:

The NearlyFreeSpeech.NET web site is entirely maintained using vi, except for one guy who insists on using emacs. We do not recommend learning these tools to people getting started with HTML or the Unix command line, as they are both general-purpose text editors. The newer tools are purpose-built for editing HTML pages and are much easier to learn.

How do I increase the PHP memory limit?

The PHP memory_limit is a legacy option that applied only to PHP 5.3 and earlier. This option is no longer used.

If you are still using PHP 5.3 for some reason, don't. It was discontinued years ago, is insecure, and its use is not supported in any form or fashion, including raising the hardcoded memory limit. If you encounter memory issues... or any other issues... with a PHP 5.3 site, the solution is to update the site to a supported version of PHP.

If you are using any supported version of PHP, you do not need to raise the per-process memory limit because there isn't one.

What references do you recommend for web technologies?

For a tutorial/HOWTO approach, we like the w3schools.com site in particular, because it gives you the ability to fiddle with their examples and see the results in real time. They have guides for HTML, CSS, JavaScript and PHP, among others.

For quick reference and looking things up, we recommend MDN, the Mozilla Developer Network. They have references for HTML, CSS, and JavaScript, among others.

The World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) defines many web standards, and they have information about HTML and CSS. The standards documents can be a bit dry, but they are the definitive final word on the subject.

Do you have register_globals enabled for PHP?

No. By default, this feature of PHP is not enabled. It is widely considered a serious security risk and we have seen a number of member sites victimized by exploits related to having register_globals enabled. We discourage its use.

However, if you understand the implications of register_globals and you are prepared to accept the increased security risks associated with its use, we have provided you with the means to enable it on a per-directory basis. Simply create an .htaccess file in your public folder containing the line:

php_flag register_globals on

You can verify that this is working by using the phpinfo() function on a PHP page. You should see register_globals set to "On" in the local context and "Off" in the global context.

If you do not need register_globals support, you do not need to take any steps to protect your site from exploits related to it.

What is the path to the root of my site for CGI scripts?

The path to the root of your site is always seen as /home by CGI scripts, by modern (5.4+) PHP, by any daemon processes you run, and by you via ssh access.

This is reflected in the NFSN_SITE_ROOT environment variable, which will always be set to /home for CGI scripts.

How do I change the version of PHP that my site uses?

To switch a site between PHP versions, follow these steps:

  1. Go to the Sites tab in our member interface.
  2. Select the name of the site you want to change in the "Short Name" column to go to the Site Information panel for that site.
  3. On the Site Information panel, select the "Edit" button on the "PHP Version" line of the "Config Information" box.
  4. On the "Site PHP Version" panel, select the version of PHP you want to use and press the "Save Changes" button.

Note: If you do not see a "PHP Version" line in your site's Config Information box, your site's selected server type may be out of date, or may not support PHP at all. To resolve this, you can change your site's server type.

I used an absolute path in an SSI and it didn't work. What should I do?

Make sure all of your SSI (.shtml) files use relative path paths. The supported SSI for including other files or the output of CGI applications is:

<!--#include virtual="../relative/path/app.cgi" -->

The "#exec cmd" and "#include file" directives are deprecated and are not guaranteed to work at all on our system.

How do I control what user a CGI script runs as?

By default, CGI scripts are executed as the "web" user and group, which has almost no privileges on our system. In most cases, this is the best choice, as it controls the damage that a vulnerable script can inflict. However, for some file-management and other applications, it is necessary for a script to run with the full permissions of the user that owns your files (i.e. you, a.k.a. the "me" user ID when viewed from ssh).

To this end, we allow you to set the suid and/or sgid file permission bits on CGI applications. When the suid bit is set, the web server will execute the script using the user id of the owner of the script (provided that the owner of the script is you). When the sgid bit is set, the web server will execute the script using the group id of the group that owns the script. It is safe to use the suid/sgid bits for this purpose; our system does not otherwise honor them.

Please note that there are security implications to running web scripts as your own user ID. If such a script is compromised, you will need to delete your entire site and recreate it from scratch or otherwise manually check every single file because there will be no other way to ensure that other files have not been subtly changed. For this reason, we strongly discourage the indiscriminate use of this feature as a substitute for properly setting up file permissions.

Can I compile my own CGI application on your servers?

You may be able to use our ssh environment to compile your application for our servers; we provide C & C++ compilers for this purpose. However, we only provide these tools as-is; you are completely on your own with respect to using them or getting custom CGI applications to run on our servers.

How do I write files from scripts run by the web server?

In order to write files successfully from the web server (e.g. via a PHP script), one of two criteria must be met:

By default, most files and directories are not writable by the web server. This is an important security precaution, as this prevents minor (and, sadly, common) security flaws in tools like PHP from turning into catastrophic site-wide destruction. Consequently, you must decide in advance which files and/or directories you will allow the web server to write to. (The exception to this rule is that files created by the web server will generally be writeable by the web server by default.)

The web server runs as the "web" user and is in (only) the "web" group. Each site also has its own private user and group unique to that site. When you create a file, it will go into the site's private user and group. As a result, there are three ways to mark a file or directory as writeable by the web server.

So, setting files or directories to be writable by the web server is a two step process:

  1. Check the user and group ownership of the file and/or parent directory (usually shown by SFTP/FTP clients or the ls -l shell command) to determine whether the web server will be treated as user, group, or other when accessing it.
  2. Make sure that the appropriate user, group, or other write permission is set via chmod on the command line or the equivalent function in your SFTP/FTP tool.

Usually people have trouble getting the web server to write files, but the reverse problem is also possible: when the web server creates files, it is possible for it to set them such that you can't access (or delete) them. If this happens, you can repossess the offending files. To prevent it from happening in the first place, make sure your scripts use an appropriate umask, such as 002. This will cause files and directories to be created with read and write permissions for the web group, which you are in, so you will retain access to them.

Technology (*)

Do you support PHP? FastCGI? SSI?

Yes, absolutely! You can run PHP, python, ruby, perl, lisp and tcl applications on our system, as well as many others.

We have custom integration for PHP, as well as support for using FastCGI, SCGI, and HTTP to speak to an application server written in the language of your choice, like Django, Ruby on Rails, or Node.JS.

CGI has fallen out of favor due to its drawbacks; all of those alternatives didn't emerge because it was so great. However, it still fills a need and works fine here; you can simply put a CGI script in your web space with a .cgi extension, and mark it executable.

We update our support for programming languages very frequently. Check our home page for links to current example configurations.

SSI (server-side includes) can be used by naming your files with a .shtml extension.

What database software do you support?

Full MySQL support is available. We give you your own private MySQL process and full administrator privileges; there's no need to worry about other users trampling on your databases or trying to shoehorn several applications into a single database.

To help you manage your process remotely without having to install and maintain extra software, we provide a private installation of phpMyAdmin that can be used to access hosted processes easily.

We also support a number of common database libraries in both PHP and CGI applications, including SQLite, db4 and gdbm.

Some server types also allow configuring processes like memcached, Mongo, and Redis.

What common web applications and frameworks work with your system?

Lots! Here's a partial list of the ones most frequently asked about or used:

Can I use .htaccess files to customize my web server configuration?

Yes, almost any directive that can be placed in an Apache .htaccess file will work on our system. The most significant ones that will not work are those that perform access control based on IP address; due to our network architecture, IP blocking is performed before requests reach .htaccess and must be configured separately.

The most common location for .htaccess files is /home/public. By default, no .htaccess file exists, so if you want one you will have to create it yourself.

Do you support TLS for member sites?

Yes.

We support modern/secure TLS using certificates issued by the authority of your choice. You are welcome to generate and use your own key and obtain certificates for aliases in any domain name you own, or you can have us do it for you for a small fee, or you can use streamlined tools we provide that work with the Let's Encrypt project to secure your site.

TLS on our system is implemented using the SNI (Server Name Indication) extension of TLS. This has widespread support, but somewhere out there on the Internet, some ridiculously obsolete browser or ancient device with outdated firmware can't handle it. If you have a requirement to support old, known-insecure versions of SSL, we cannot meet that requirement.

Our implementation of TLS has not been audited for and we do not support its use for the following:

May I install other types of servers that are not web-based?

To an extent, yes. However, we only allow HTTP services (e.g. web sites) to be accessed from outside our network. A partial list of servers that will not work with our system includes:

What type of control panel do you use?

We have our own custom control panel that is as unique as the rest of our service. While it is in no danger of winning any awards for its great beauty, it does allow you to control most aspects of our service without resorting to complicated configuration files. The major benefits of this custom environment are:

There's no "demo" of our control panel, but you can create a membership and kick the real thing around for yourself. Naturally, doing so is completely free. To get a basic idea, all you need to provide is a login name, the name you want us to call you, and a working email address.

To get a better idea, we recommend that you create an account, which will require your basic information (real name, address, etc.), but don't worry, our privacy policy has your back. No payment information is needed to check out the control panel. So please try creating an account; you might be surprised by what happens next!

What software can I use to access your system?

Any program that can upload to our system using the FTP protocol should work. Our members have successfully used many popular WYSIWYG editors (e.g. Dreamweaver) to create web pages and upload them to our system. Given the swiftly-changing nature of this kind of software, we'd recommend visiting our Member Forum or doing a general search for the latest information.

In addition to regular FTP, we also offer SFTP (Secure FTP) and scp support should you wish to upload your files under the aegis of strong encryption.

Of course, since we offer ssh-secured shell access, you are equally welcome to use vi as your HTML editing tool if you prefer. (Or emacs, pico, nano, and others.)

What are the most common things that do not work on your system?

Erm, this is embarrassing. We used to have a list of things here that were known not to work on our system. But now they all work. So, uh, there's not much to see here right now.

Our system is for web sites only. So most of the inquiries we get about things that won't work are things that aren't web-based.

Why don't you offer static IP addresses?

We have a corporate policy that we do not offer services that consume IP address space on a per-site or per-user basis. The most common example of this is when a web site is assigned one (or more) static IP addresses, but it also applies to anonymous FTP sites and some other types of hosted services.

Assigning static IP addresses on a per-site basis is a practice that has devastated the Internet address space, so we don't participate in it. Tens of thousands of IP addresses can be assigned to a single rack of equipment in a datacenter somewhere, but there is a shortage of IP address space. That's not the right way to do things.

We regard this as an "Internet environmental" issue, and it's one about which we're prepared to be a little extremist. Basically, we believe that it's wrong for us to do it, so we don't do it. Not everyone agrees with us, and we definitely do lose business because of this position.

For standards-compliant web hosting (HTTP/1.1), there is no need to assign a static IP address, and no supported browser remains available that requires this. Static IP addresses also severely limit our ability to reroute around equipment that has problems or is being maintained, and even makes it tougher for you to benefit from our load balancing technology.

The most common reason people request a static IP address is to point external DNS at a site hosted with us. As part of our hosting service, we provide our own special DNS records for each site that you can link to external DNS using the CNAME capability that work even better than static IPs. These records preserve full fault tolerance and load balancing.

Does 'NearlyFreeSpeech.NET DNS' support subdomains?

Yes. Our NearlyFreeSpeech.NET DNS service allows unlimited subdomains under a single domain name at no additional charge.

Please be aware, however, that we do not use the subdomain-is-subdirectory hack (unfortunately) made popular by a certain brand of web hosting control panel software. You can use our service to create multiple independent sites and then assign or remove names from one or more NearlyFreeSpeech.NET DNS domains at your discretion. There is no connection between a site and a domain name or subdomain other than what you create, and there is no correlation at all between subdirectories of a site and subdomains of a domain.

Subdomains can be associated with sites we host by adding them as aliases. If you're a member, see this member FAQ entry for more information.

What is your hosting network like?

Our hosting platform uses a network of distributed, fault-tolerant, load-balancing shared servers. Sites are automatically distributed across the servers to make the best use of resources based on the popularity of the site and the capacity of the server. As a result, there is no need to fear having busy or CPU intensive sites on the same server slow you down; our system will re-balance them automatically.

How big is a gigabyte?

On our system, a gigabyte is 1,073,741,824 bytes. Hard drive manufacturers would have you believe that it's 1,000,000,000 bytes, but we don't sell hard drives.

Technically 1,073,741,824 bytes is a gibibyte, but we have a hard time calling it that without a childish urge to snicker, and nobody likes a snickerer. If you want to be strictly accurate, the hard drive manufacturers are right, and we bill storage and bandwidth based on gibibytes* and mebibytes* (1,048,576 bytes), not gigabytes and megabytes.

Someday we'll grow up about this, but that day has not yet arrived. We are moderately more mature when it comes to the abbreviations, and we try to use MiB and GiB to represent base-2 prefixes correctly wherever possible.

*Must... keep from... snickering.

How many MySQL databases can I have?

A MySQL process can contain as many databases as you wish. You can also create multiple MySQL processes if you wish. Doing so will cost more than placing all your databases in a single process, but will increase the available resources.

For those with particularly demanding database needs, we also have hosted dedicated MySQL offerings including reserved resources and advanced features like thread pools.

What sort of spam protection does your email forwarding provide?

We do not provide spam protection per se. As a forwarding server if we discarded spam messages, any "false positives" that were incorrectly flagged as spam would be forever lost. That obviously won't work.

Complicating this, not all of our members are alike. They have a broad difference of opinion about what constitutes spam and/or undesirable messages. Some people provide tech support and need to be able to receive forwarded copies of spam and viruses that most of the rest of us would never want. One size does not fit all!

What we do instead is enforce strict restrictions on the email servers that attempt to send email through our forwarding systems. These restrictions are no problem for legitimate email servers (they should all be passed by default on a properly-configured system) but they represent a tough barrier for the sort of compromised, virus-infected servers that send most of the world's spam. This blocks most illegitimate messages based on delivery mechanisms, not the context of the message. If you want, you can read all about our Email Acceptance Policy.

Although a fair amount of spam slips through this net, it has been pre-screened in such a way that a client-side junk email filter, such as those offered by most email software, can rely on information about its delivery to be accurate and therefore do an excellent job of filtering the spam according to your specific personal criteria without becoming confused by all kinds of forgeries and maliciously-crafted messages.

Naturally, whatever email server ultimately handles the messages we forward for you may also impose content-based junk email filters.

The net result of this is a highly effective, layered defense that, through its dependence on client software under your control, best meets your specific needs.

What kind of hardware and OS will my site be running on?

We use 64-bit Intel Xeon based servers with ECC RAM, and all member sites run on FreeBSD. The specifics of our hardware evolve quite rapidly, and we don't throw away stuff that still works just because something newer came along. Our load-balancing algorithms are sophisticated enough to handle a heterogeneous environment.

Do you support IPv6?

Yes. NearlyFreeSpeech.NET strongly supports the migration of the Internet to IPv6. Most of our own sites, including www.nearlyfreespeech.net and members.nearlyfreespeech.net are IPv6 enabled. We also support IPv6 for ssh access to member sites.

We also offer experimental IPv6 support for HTTP access to member sites hosted here. It can be enabled on a per-site basis from our member interface, but since IPv6 support is not yet ubiquitous on the Internet, it is not yet enabled by default.

Troubleshooting (*)

How should I describe problems I'm having when seeking help with them?

When you encounter a problem that you think may be related to our service, we absolutely want to hear about it so we can fix it or help you get it fixed.

However, in order to help you, we need certain information. If all you tell us is that something is "down" or "doesn't work," you are severely limiting our ability to troubleshoot the problem. This is compounded if you say "my site" or "the service," and that's even more true if you host more than one thing with us.

First and foremost, if the problem you're experiencing involves an error message, absolutely, positively, do not omit or paraphrase the error message. Include the full text of the error message. If you don't, you'll wait around for us to respond, and our response will be "what's the full text of the error message you're receiving?" (Or, possibly, a link to this FAQ entry.) That's wasted time, which is no good if there's really a problem.

If there is no error message, but something doesn't work the way you expect, then carefully explain what you're doing, what you expect the results to be, what the results actually are, and how the actual results differ from your expectations. Be absolutely as specific as possible; things that may be obvious to you often won't be to anyone else unless you mention them. As with error messages, cut and paste any relevant output, configuration data, log entries, or related information -- do not paraphrase or summarize it.

Second, make sure you've read the error message. Many of the error messages produced by our system include specific explanations or lists of reasons why they occur, and it's painful for us to see someone's service disrupted for a reason they could fix at any time.

Third, make it really clear what site (including a specific URL if possible), service, functionality, or email address you're having a problem with. If you don't, particularly if there's more than one possibility, you'll lose more time while you wait for us to ask for clarification.

Fourth, outline what steps that you've already taken to try to identify the problem. Recognize that we control only a limited portion of the Internet; ISPs control part, backbone carriers control others, and you control the stuff on your end. Help us understand why you think the weak link is in our portion of the chain. For example, the Site Troubleshooting Wizard can't solve all problems, but it does identify a lot of weird domain and DNS related issues related to sites hosted here, so it'll help us to know if you've tried that and what the result was.

Finally, if you're asking about an error on your site that may be related to accessing a CGI or PHP script, or if you have a complex .htaccess file, make sure you have your error log enabled. It's disabled by default to save space, but it's an invaluable tool for identifying and resolving many types of problems.

Our goal is for all of your services and all of our systems to be working properly at all times. If something's not right, we want to hear about it. But please help us help you; give us the information we'll need to confirm, troubleshoot, and resolve your problem. Keep in mind that we often have to triage requests, so that people with problems under our control get priority. If you structure your request along the lines shown here, it may help us spot yours as one that needs more immediate attention.

Why can't I delete or change the permissions of these files my web application created?

As a security precaution, CGI and PHP scripts run with different user credentials than you do when you edit your files. Although the CGI/PHP user has significantly fewer privileges overall, it is possible to create a situation where an application creates files or directories that you do not have permission to access or remove via FTP or ssh. This typically happens if an application's umask is set incorrectly; the resulting files or directories will be owned by the "web" user and will not be group or world writable. (Correct umasks are 0 or 002, depending on the expected group ownership. A umask of 0 should work for most web applications, and does not compromise security on our system the way it does on some shared hosts.)

If you get stuck with web-owned files you can't access or delete, you can regain control using the "Repossess Files" action on the Site Information panel for the affected site. However, if you find yourself doing this on a regular basis, that tends to indicate your site's permissions aren't set properly.

If I have a directory called example, why can't I refer to it as /example?

This is a restriction imposed by Apache. It is designed to prohibit ambiguity in determining which access controls apply to the directory.

Assume your public directory contains a subdirectory called example. If you access it via /example, you have not entered that directory. That means that the .htaccess file from your public directory would be applied, but the .htaccess file inside the example directory would not. However, if you access it via /example/, then you have entered the directory and both .htaccess files will be applied.

Now, assume that your public directory's .htaccess file allows all visitors and has directory indexing enabled. Assume that your example directory's .htaccess file allows only visitors with a certain cookie set and denies directory indexing. In this case, if it were allowed, visiting /example would produce a listing of the contents of the example directory while visiting /example/ would produce an access denied error or demand for authentication.

To prevent the confusion and security issues that such conflicting behavior would create, Apache detects attempts to access directories without trailing slashes and automatically issues a redirect to the same URI with the trailing slash appended. That way, you never have to worry about the scenario in the preceding paragraph.

Although you can't stop people from typing one in by hand, make sure you don't use invalid directory URIs internally on your site because they require this extra redirect, thus making your site appear slower.

If you find that these redirects are not using the site alias that you want, for example, if they redirect you to example.nfshost.com instead of www.example.com, then you may need to adjust your site's canonical name settings.

Why does my site keep redirecting to the wrong alias?

There are a couple of possible explanations for this.

  1. Your site may be configured to do so. WordPress, for example, may default to using the wrong name and needs to be manually informed under the General Settings in the WordPress Admin panel sidebar to use your real domain name.
  2. You may be entering an invalid directory URI or something else that causes the network to redirect you. In this case, the server may not be using the name you expect in the redirected URL. (This primarily afflicts sites created prior to April 6, 2008.) If you have problems of this nature, make sure you have appropriate canonical name settings for your site.

I can't access my site at all. What should I check first?

Our Site Troubleshooting Wizard may be able to help. It is pretty good at detecting site problems, DNS misconfiguration, and domain registration errors.

If that doesn't work, you haven't changed anything that may have caused this, and there is nothing listed in the announcements about something wrong right now, please contact support and provide as much information as possible about your problem. Be sure to include the name of the site you are reporting trouble with!

What does it mean that a site "has temporarily exceeded its connection limit?"

This error (also frequently seen as "503 Service Unavailable" or "The requested website is temporarily not available due to a resource limitation.") means there are too many total simultaneous non-cacheable HTTP requests in progress for your site. This is an extremely rare condition, but the causes, in order of decreasing likelihood, are:

  1. For sites like CMS or blog sites that generate content dynamically, a spammer, email address harvester, or lousy web spider attempts to hit all or a large number of the site's dynamic pages at once. Our system will throw up this error to dissuade the spammer and stop them from dragging the whole server down. In this case, the message will typically only appear for a few seconds to a couple of minutes; as soon as they start getting errors, they usually move on.
  2. This message can also occur if requests for your site content hang or take an inordinately long time to complete. In such cases, they can backlog to the point where the server feels that allowing more of them to build up would just cause a death spiral. (I.e. more requests taking longer causing more requests to take even longer, wash-rinse-repeat until nothing happens at all).
  3. Under exceptionally rare circumstances, this message can indicate that the server that hosts your site is having severe problems. Such conditions are automatically detected and we are notified, so they tend not to persist for very long.
  4. If your site has several hundred simultaneous visitors for sustained periods of time, it's remotely possible to hit this limit even if your connections complete very quickly. In this case, and only in this case, we will raise the limit, because this limit provides your site with important protection against all the other cases.

Please be aware that while almost everyone starts out thinking #4 is the reason that applies to their situation, the cause almost inevitably turns out to be something else. A good rule of thumb is that each possible explanation above is about ten times less likely than the one above it, so the top one is 90% likely and the bottom one is about 0.09% likely.

If this message persists long enough to cause problems, the explanation is most likely the second one. In that case, the way to troubleshoot it is to identify and resolve the cause. Coding problems that can cause this include, but aren't limited to:

Some poorly-written WordPress and Drupal plugins have been known to cause these sorts of problems under heavy loads, particularly ones that deal with statistics or running periodic scheduled tasks.

If you have a subscription membership and submit a secure support request while the problem is occurring, we can typically identify the problem URLs for you, and may be able to give you some insight as to what they are waiting for. After the fact, it may be possible for you to get some idea of what happened by looking at your site's access logs, if they were enabled.

Please keep in mind that this limit is not some nuisance we put in at random to cause problems for our members. It is a crucial protection that keeps your site (and others') safe and available. When someone says they want it removed, we hear: "My car would go a lot faster through the mountains if it didn't skid along the guardrail every time I go around those hairpin curves! Take that guardrail out!" We know from experience that if we take out the guardrails, the car won't go faster; it will fly off the side of the mountain and end in a fiery crash. You may be willing to take that risk with your site, but since ours is a shared hosting service, we can't risk letting you take others down with you. If you want the limit raised, be prepared to show us ample concrete evidence documenting both your sustained high traffic levels and the excellent performance of your highly-optimized code.

Why does your credit card form say my address (or zip) "failed validation" even though I know it is correct?

We have no idea. We do not make the determination of whether your address information is correct or not. (We have no way of knowing.)

Our system forwards the address information you provide to your card-issuing bank and basically they tell us "yes that's correct" or "no that's not correct." If your bank tells us that your information isn't correct, then our system tells you that the address information isn't correct. Your bank does not tell us why it is incorrect, nor what they believe the correct information to be.

Consequently, any questions you have about why your address was reported as incorrect should be directed to the bank that issued your card, not to us.

Should you find yourself in this situation, you should also be aware that your bank may place a temporary pre-auth hold on the funds, even though the transaction was declined. Also note that if you call your bank's customer service, it is fairly common for them to see the pre-auth hold and claim (incorrectly) that the transaction was approved without looking into it any further.

You may also encounter this issue if you are using a US-based bank but your billing address is outside the US. We have seen several cases where the banks could get the foreign address right on statements, but where their address verification system was totally unable to cope with it.

If you find yourself in this situation, for whatever reason, you have a couple of options:

Although the above applies mostly to US-based members, and those in other countries with compatible AVS implementations, the UK in particular uses a completely different system. Certain banks in the UK, for reasons we do not fully understand, falsely return that the address (or zip) is incorrect when they should return that they do not support this type of address verification. This error on their part will cause our system to reject your card no matter what you enter for your address details. This affects about 10% of our UK members.

This could happen even if you have successfully used the card other places online in the past. We are not only unusually strict in address verification enforcement to protect our members from fraud, but we are also not large enough to have specialized card processing options for the UK as many huge Internet retailers (e.g. Amazon) do.

Of course, you can try contacting your bank, but it probably won't help, especially if you are in the UK. The customer service agents simply aren't trained on the intricacies of an address verification system that they apparently don't use. There's somebody deep in the bowels of the operations department of your bank who understands what's going on, but good luck getting them on the phone; we've never had a report that a member successfully accomplished that.

We are very sorry for the inconvenience caused to the handful of our members who run into these kinds of problems. It affects only a few, and is caused by a problem completely beyond our control, but it's still endlessly frustrating.

What do I do if someone is trying to waste my site's bandwidth?

You have several options.

First, we always recommend that attack-prone sites minimize their attack profile by consciously examining the use of large files. One good example of this is using graphics compression to make images smaller, or to evaluate whether that one graphic really needs a 24 megapixel click-to-zoom version.

These steps are primarily useful if your site is attacked by a large number of different addresses, or if the addresses used change rapidly. (It's also a good way to save money and ensure a fast-loading site in the far more common not-being-attacked case, including high-usage periods like getting mentioned on Reddit.)

Second, you can edit your site's IP access controls. This is the most efficient way to block access to your site in that it will have the least performance impact on legitimate visitors. However, our system IP access controls are general purpose and not specifically designed for abuse. Therefore they return a small error message to visitors, and that still takes up some bandwidth; an attacker blocked by our IP access controls would have to hit your site about 820,000 times to use a gigabyte of bandwidth.

If you're sure someone is attempting to waste bandwidth, there is a third option you can use to eliminate as much of the response as you can. Take the following steps:

  1. Create a zero-length file called "no" in your site's public directory. (E.g. touch /home/public/no from the ssh server.) Do not skip this step!
  2. Add the following to your .htaccess file (replace 1.2.3.4 with the IP address to block):
    RewriteEngine on
    RewriteCond %{HTTP:X-Forwarded-For} 1.2.3.4
    RewriteCond %{REQUEST_URI} !=/no
    RewriteRule .* /no [L]
    

Affected visitors will receive an empty "OK" response. This still includes HTTP headers, but that's all. An attacker blocked by this would have to hit your site about 3,600,000 times to use even one gigabyte of bandwidth.

There is a variant of this that saves slightly more bandwidth and may fool would-be attackers into thinking they have succeeded in taking your site down. However, it carries an additional risk: It bends the HTTP standard, and if you do not set the IP address properly, search engines who see this response will also think your site is gone and remove references to it. The code for .htaccess is (again replacing 1.2.3.4 with the IP address to block):

# Do not put this in your .htaccess unless you have read the warning above.
RewriteEngine on
RewriteCond %{HTTP:X-Forwarded-For} 1.2.3.4
RewriteRule .* . [L,G]
ErrorDocument 410 "."

This returns an HTTP "410 Gone" response and one byte of content. This has the side effect of eliminating some HTTP headers. As a result, an attacker blocked by this would have to hit your site about 4,600,000 times to use up a gigabyte of bandwidth.

If you need to block more than one IP address using the latter two techniques, combine them as in the following example:

RewriteEngine on
RewriteCond %{HTTP:X-Forwarded-For} 1.2.3.4 [OR]
RewriteCond %{HTTP:X-Forwarded-For} 5.6.7.8 [OR]
RewriteCond %{HTTP:X-Forwarded-For} 9.10.11.12
RewriteCond %{REQUEST_URI} !=/no
RewriteRule .* /no [L]

While the only way to completely protect your site from all Internet attacks is not to put it on the Internet, we hope these options will help you defend yourself in the unlikely event that your site falls victim to a bandwidth-wasting attack.

What does the error message "Zero Sized Reply" mean?

Technically, it means that the web process handling your request closed the connection without returning any data at all, not even HTTP headers. (It sent a "zero-sized reply.")

Unfortunately, there are a number of completely different reasons why this might happen that need to be investigated individually.

If the error message takes a very long time to be displayed (a minute or more), it may just be that the system got tired of waiting for a script or CGI application to respond. In this case, try to identify what's making your script run so slowly.

If the error message appears instantly, it probably means something is aborting the connection. If you receive this error from a CGI script, it may mean that your script (or its interpreter, if applicable) is core dumping.

To help debug this problem, make sure you have your error log enabled. If it happens immediately and there are no error log entries, it may be a core dump. In that case, find a public URL that does it reproducibly and submit it to us in a secure support request; we can check the system logs to find out if requests for that URL are indeed core dumping. If there are error logs, they will probably help identify the problem.

If you are running into this problem on a PHP site, it may help to add the following lines to your .htaccess file:

php_value pcre.recursion_limit 1000
php_value pcre.backtrack_limit 1000

The specific values to use vary from site to site. Some require settings as low as 10, others may be fine with 100000. You want the largest value that you can set without triggering the zero-sized reply. This is caused by a PHP/PCRE bug and is not under our control.

Why do I sometimes receive an "Access Denied" error when visiting my site?

Please see this page for complete information on this message and how to eliminate it.

Why shouldn't I refer to my site as "example.com" in the forum?

When asking for help in our forum, we strongly recommend against replacing the name of your site with example or a domain with example.com or taking similar steps to conceal the specifics of what you're asking about.

Obfuscating the details of a question or problem forces people to guess rather than investigate. Guessing is both difficult and inaccurate, so requiring it severely limits both the amount and the quality of help you are likely to get. Remember that requesting help in the forums is free, so anyone who answers you -- whether they work for us or not -- is doing so on a volunteer basis. So, if you're going to ask for free help, it's always a good idea to make it as easy as possible for people to help you, especially if doing so makes it more likely that their help will actually be helpful.

It's also frequently the case that when people obfuscate the details of what they're asking about, they inadvertently omit the information needed to correctly resolve a problem or answer their question. This is perfectly normal, because it's frequently not possible to know what information is needed to solve a problem without knowing the solution to the problem. And if someone already knows the solution to a problem, they usually don't ask for help with it in the first place.

So, when asking for help in the forums, we recommend providing as many specific details as possible, along with following our standard troubleshooting advice. This will almost always help you answer your question or solve your problem faster and more accurately.

There is one case where this is less true: when the content of the site is controversial enough that it may distract people from helping you. If that's the case, or if you feel you have another reason why posting the details of what you are asking about is inappropriate, you are welcome to try asking without them. But, in our experience, those types of scenarios make resolving issues via a public forum much more difficult and unlikely, so our paid private support may yield better results.

Why am I getting a "premature end of script headers" error when I try to run a script?

This error occurs when a CGI script exits before writing a complete set of HTTP response headers (not even an empty one). It can happen for a variety of reasons:

In all cases, the best thing to do is make sure your site's error log is enabled and see what it says about the problem. If the error output says that there is a system problem preventing execution of your script, or if there is no message in the error log at all, please submit a secure support request indicating the URL of the script you're having trouble with. In many cases, it will be easier to debug a problem if you can provide a simple example at a publicly available URL.

Why doesn't my .htaccess file work with Apache 2.4?

There are a few incompatibilities between Apache 2.2 and 2.4. These are described in detail in the Apache 2.4 documentation.

In most cases, the source of compatibility problems is an .htaccess file. If it is not compatible with Apache 2.4, it will cause your site to return "500 Internal Server Error."

To narrow down the specific cause, we recommend that you enable your site's error log in the member interface (if you haven't already). Once it is enabled, access the site a few times to exercise the error, and then the error_log file in your site's logs directory should point you directly to the problem.

The most common example comes from using the Order directive to restrict access to certain content. It has been completely removed from Apache 2.4, but is still very common in example files and configs distributed with many web applications that haven't been updated yet.

To update a 2.2 .htaccess file containing something like:

Order deny,allow
Deny from all

the 2.4 equivalent of both lines would be the single line:

Require all denied

to deny all access and:

Require all granted

to allow it.

Other 2.2-specific configuration directives that have changed in 2.4 can be similarly adapted. See the Apache documentation linked above for complete details.

Why do I get "The requested URI could not be accessed" when logging in to the control panel of my WordPress site?

If you get a message similar to the following when accessing your WordPress site's control panel:

The requested URI could not be accessed.

Or, for older versions of PHP:

Warning: Unknown: failed to open stream: Permission denied in Unknown on line 0

Warning: Unknown: failed to open stream: Permission denied in Unknown on line 0

Fatal error: Unknown: Failed opening required '.../wp-login.php' (include_path='...') in Unknown on line 0

this indicates that your WordPress login page has been temporarily disabled to protect your site, your wallet (and us, other sites we host, and the Internet at large) from a hostile attacker trying to force their way into your site.

When this happened, an email was sent to you with the full details, including how to resolve the situation. You should have that email. If you don't, stop and make sure your member contact email address is up to date and that your email system is not marking messages from us as spam.

When you next need to log in to your WordPress site, all you need to do is reset the permissions of your wp-login.php script. The recommended permissions for this script are 0644. This is typically done with a command like:

chmod 644 /home/public/wp-login.php

(If your blog is not installed in /home/public, you may have to adjust this.)

You can run this command from the shell or using the "Run Shell Command" action on the Site Information panel for this site in our member interface. You can also perform the same action with whatever SFTP or FTP application you prefer to use to maintain your site files. Just edit the permissions of the wp-login.php file and make sure that it is readable by everyone.

If you have frequent problems with this, you may wish to investigate the security options presented in the "Stopping Login Attacks" and "General Security" sections of our Advanced WordPress Configuration guide.

Why is there a tiny bug icon on a page in the member interface?

This indicates that something unusual happened on that page that the system thinks we need to know about.

We're committed to increasing the quality of our software, so we're constantly implementing new checks and stricter language features. So in almost every case, the "bug" is just the system letting us know that it found something that isn't technically wrong, but could be better. But sometimes, it's a real bug. Either way, we'll be automatically notified, and we'll check it out and fix it.

Most of the time, you can ignore the icon. But if you see one, it's a good indication to double check that everything happened as you expect.

Why do I get a message about "technical difficulties" when making a Dwolla payment?

Sometimes people receive a generic error from the Dwolla site when they attempt to complete a payment initiated from our service. This has nothing to do with us; it appears to be an issue with the Dwolla site itself.

We have had multiple reports that you can resolve it by making sure you are not already logged in to the Dwolla site when you initiate a Dwolla payment from our site. If necessary, you can clear your cookies from the Dwolla site (not from our site) before starting the transaction to make sure you are starting from a clean slate.

Uploading (*)

What is the connection information to upload files to my web site?

FTP, SFTP, and ssh all use the same username and password to access your site. This username is not the same as your member login; it is based on both your member login and the site name. The password is the same as your member password. The specifics are listed in the "FTP/SFTP/ssh Information" box on each site's information panel in our member interface.

To find this information:

  1. Visit the Sites panel to display your list of sites.
  2. Select the site's "short name" in the "Sites" table to display the details about the site you want to access.
  3. Find the box titled "FTP/SFTP/ssh Information."
  4. Locate the username row and the appropriate hostname row for the protocol you wish to use.

Please keep in mind that if you are using FTP to access your site (not recommended), you must enable it in two places.

How do I upload my content to my site?

This question depends largely on what tools you are using to create and manage the content of your site. There are four primary approaches people use.

In all cases, you'll need to check the documentation for the program you are using for specific instructions, but at a minimum you will require the connection information for your site to upload successfully.

We do not provide any "built-in" web tools in our member interface for content authoring. Such tools tend to be very limited and offer only basic functionality. As such, they do not provide the sophisticated and powerful options expected by our members.

Can I access my web site via ssh?

Yes. To access a website via ssh, use the connection information.

The SSH key fingerprints for ssh.phx.nearlyfreespeech.net are in this FAQ entry.

SFTP and scp are supported. Port forwarding is supported but is only permitted for establishing secure remote connections to your MySQL database.

Important: Our ssh environment is provided solely for maintaining your website and is not to be used for any other purpose. This specifically prohibits using it for proxying, port forwarding, or anything similar. Automated access to the ssh server is likewise prohibited, with an exception allowing connections once per day for the purpose of making offsite backups.

What directory do I upload my web site's files to?

All uploading clients should automatically be in the correct folder after they connect. Do not change your upload directory setting unless you are absolutely sure your client is getting it wrong.

For FTP clients (including publishing programs such as Dreamweaver that upload using FTP), the correct directory is /public.

For ssh and SFTP clients, the correct directory is /home/public.

(Once uploaded, scripts that run on your site will use a different path to access your files, depending on whether they are PHP or CGI.)

What hostname should I use for SFTP?

To SFTP files to our service, use the same hostname that you use for ssh, not the one you use for FTP. You can get this hostname by clicking the "Sites" tab at the top of the page, then clicking the site name from the "Your Web Sites" list. The hostname will be listed under "FTP/SFTP/ssh Information." For convenience, we have created an sftp.xxx.nearlyfreespeech.net alias, where the xxx part is the same for you as it is for ssh and FTP.

What program should I use to connect via ssh?

Any working ssh client should be able to connect to our systems. The "reference" implementation in our opinion is the OpenSSH application, available on most Unix platforms (including MacOS X, most easily accessed using the included "Terminal" application) and on Windows via the Cygwin or Interix environments.

On Windows, the far-and-away best ssh application is VanDyke Technologies' Secure CRT. This program is rather expensive ($99) but worth every penny if ssh on Windows is a part of your daily life. PuTTY is a very popular free alternative. It is a little less pleasant to use, but is very workable. (PuTTY requires no local installation and is a perfect tool to slap on a USB memory stick for secure access from anywhere.)

Other alternatives do exist, but these are the most common and the ones we use ourselves.

Why do I have to enable FTP in two places to get it to work?

FTP access can be controlled on a per-member and a per-site basis. Although some people expect these settings to be related, or expect one to supersede the other, they are completely independent. Both the member accessing a site and the site being accessed must have FTP enabled in order for access to succeed.

This is to allow maximum access control granularity in situations where multiple members share access to multiple sites via our adjunct membership feature. For example, if you don't want to allow FTP access to your site, and you want to make sure an adjunct user doesn't enable FTP access for himself and overrule you.

To enable FTP access for your membership, visit the Profile page and toggle that setting in the "Details" box.

To enable FTP access for your site, visit the Sites panel and select the site by its "short name" to view its Site Information page, where you'll see the FTP setting in the "FTP/SFTP/SSH Information" box.

Note that as of May 18, 2010, FTP access is deprecated. While we have no current plans to remove it, it is disabled by default on new sites and memberships. (And must therefore be enabled in both places if you want it.)

FTP is an insecure protocol that should never be used, much less as part of any new development. It is strongly recommended that you leave FTP disabled and access your site with SSH or SFTP.

What is SFTP?

SFTP is the Secure File Transfer Protocol. It is sort of a hybrid between FTP and ssh.

You can use SFTP to send files to our service. It's much safer and more private than regular FTP because it encrypts both your password and your file transfers.

Since SFTP piggybacks on the ssh protocol, SFTP is also robust in the face of NAT routers and firewalls, which often cause problems for FTP.

Due to its advantages, SFTP is the recommended method for uploading content to your site.

There are a number of SFTP applications listed in our member wiki. (Note that "Secure FTP," which only supports SSL/TLS-encrypted FTP, will not work for accessing our servers via SFTP.)

Can I configure my ssh connection to use a public key?

Yes, but.

Our system does not access your site's filesystem until after you have authenticated yourself. Also, correct authentication depends on both member name and site (since more than one member name may have permission to access a given site and a given member name may be able to access more than one site). Therefore, you cannot place a public key file in your site's filesystem to bypass password authentication.

Instead, we keep a separate keychain for ssh keys for each member outside the filesystem. If you have a public key you wish to use to authenticate your ssh connection in lieu of your password, you can set that up on the profile tab.

Per current best security practices, here are the key types we support:

DSA/DSS ("ssh-dss") keys are not supported. This is a US government FIPS standard developed by the NSA and intended only for low-security usage. (Read: they are probably not secure.)

Once installed into your membership's keychain, an ssh key may be used to authenticate access to any site you are authorized to access, including all of your own sites and any sites you may have adjunct access to.

I tried to SFTP to ftp.xxx.nearlyfreespeech.net and it failed. Why?

Despite the similar names, SFTP and FTP have absolutely nothing in common. If your FTP hostname is ftp.xxx.nearlyfreespeech.net then the correct hostname for SFTP is sftp.xxx.nearlyfreespeech.net.

What are the fingerprints for the NearlyFreeSpeech.NET ssh keys?

The current keys are:

RSA (4096 bit)
MD5: fc:89:a1:64:74:70:a4:82:58:c1:73:4e:72:59:63:56
SHA256: 7WCr3k7tjnbA2OhynZ0k7SP6r1bUdeoP8VPdFRURaSg
DSA (1024 bit)
MD5: 8a:75:6f:51:20:90:8e:95:5c:49:d0:e8:d5:f8:4c:e0
SHA256: daDdLp54a4ReZmEmb4g0v8hMyEIb+iSH3f/RASU8vhk
ECDSA (256 bit)
MD5: d0:d8:b4:2b:03:60:44:55:9d:ee:83:10:ad:6f:d2:f0
SHA256: a+Ny0PLkKhm80+5kqzqfVXIlbkQpn/CpMMrzurd8sDI
Ed25519 (256 bit)
MD5: bc:53:6c:e0:9e:b4:e6:d7:5d:20:07:01:63:d9:cb:e5
SHA256: 52JfRUFuT6UWh9jfWYnLensuRn9no6ucwM3ekbjyPFc

I am having trouble uploading with FTP. What could be wrong?

First, please consider using an uploading method other than FTP, such as SFTP or SCP. FTP is a complex, insecure protocol that does not work very well on the modern Internet. If you have an alternative, use it.

Please also keep in mind that, as of May 2010, memberships now come with FTP disabled by default, so if you must use it, you'll need to make sure it's properly enabled first.

With that said, almost all FTP problems are caused by NAT devices (especially cheap residential gateway routers) incorrectly processing FTP connections, or by personal firewall software blocking FTP access. These problems generally manifest as being able to connect to the FTP server, but not to upload or download any files. FTP has two operating modes, active and passive. The first response to any FTP connection problem should be to switch your FTP client from active mode to passive mode, or vice versa. Switching modes almost always clears up FTP issues.

Other potential problem areas for FTP include your local firewall configuration (hardware or software) and incorrect FTP connection information.

What if I think the name of your ssh server is too long?

Easy way: You can use nfsnssh.com instead of ssh.phx.nearlyfreespeech.net if you prefer.

Better way: OpenSSH allows the creation of "nicknames" which serve this function admirably. To use this feature, create (or edit) the file ~/.ssh/config (on the client machine you will be connecting from, not ours!) and add content like this:

Host nfsnssh
        Hostname ssh.phx.nearlyfreespeech.net
        Port 22

With this done, you can use "nfsnssh" as if it were a hostname in ssh, scp, and sftp. For example, just use ssh mylogin_mysite@nfsnssh to connect to mysite as mylogin.

You can even use the User option to create per-site nicknames to make commands even shorter:

Host *_nfsn
        Hostname ssh.phx.nearlyfreespeech.net
        Port 22

Host mysite_nfsn
        User mylogin_mysite

Host othersite_nfsn
        User mylogin_othersite
Then you just ssh mysite_nfsn to connect to mysite and ssh othersite_nfsn to connect to othersite. It doesn't get much shorter than that! See the ssh_config man page for complete details.

If you don't happen to be using OpenSSH, a lot of other ssh tools offer similar options, many with graphical interfaces that make establishing a connection as simple as clicking, regardless of the hostname.

I can connect to NearlyFreeSpeech.NET just fine, so why is your FTP or ssh server unreachable or timing out?

The first thing to check is to make sure you are using the correct connection information for your site, including your username and password as well as the correct name of the server for the service you are trying to use. You should always check this, even if you are sure it is correct, before exploring more exotic options.

If you are unable to connect at all, or if the connection appears to drop immediately, one possible explanation for this is that you are running firewall software (or have a hardware firewall) that is blocking your connection.

If you use P2P file sharing software, many "P2P block list" applications can block connections. As an example, the P2P application PeerBlock (formerly PeerGuardian) in its default configuration uses lists on which we appear and blocks FTP/ssh traffic.

In such cases you will need to either disable the application or set up a manual override to allow the connection.

The most common diagnostics that indicate problems with firewalls and blocking software are "Permission Denied," "No route to host," "Connection refused," "Host unreachable," or "General failure" when attempting to access our FTP or ssh servers, but no similar problem when trying to access your site(s) or ours by HTTP or HTTPS. If you can't access anything at all, the problem is likely something else.

As of October 2010, we are known to be listed on the Bluetack "level1" list and the TBG "PrimaryThreats" list. The stated reasons for listing us are dubious, but since these lists basically say "do not connect to these IPs for illegal P2P file sharing" we don't really mind being listed; that type of usage would not be concordant with our Terms & Conditions of Service.

This can also happen if you have non-functional IPv6 connectivity. Our ssh server supports IPv6 and some home network devices advertise IPv6 capability even if it is not supported by your ISP.

Is automated SSH/FTP access to the system allowed?

For the most part, no. We do not allow unattended, automated access because it is an excessive use of resources we currently do not charge for and because it can be very bad for our system security.

This means that the of use embedded devices that upload information via FTP automatically on a regular basis, such as web cams and certain "weather station" devices in conjunction with our service is strictly prohibited. Such devices are a security disaster; they broadcast your member password over the Internet every few minutes in plaintext, and we will not allow that. If we find evidence of FTP being used in this fashion it will be disabled or, after repeated problems, blocked entirely.

We are somewhat less strict about SSH access, as the focus is more on excessive resource usage. We will overlook unattended SSH access under the following conditions:

Please be respectful of the shared resources assigned to FTP and SSH by observing these guidelines.

If you have an application that needs the ability to remotely upload on a regular/automated basis, it is entirely possible to do so. All you need to do is set those tasks up via HTTP, e.g. using POST or PUT requests and a small script to receive the files.

All these limits apply only to unattended access. As long as you are physically present at the keyboard initiating uploads or downloads yourself, no such limitations are imposed.

If you need FTP access for allowable purposes, but your FTP access to one of your sites has been blocked due to repeated or egregious violation of our policies in this area, and you are a subscription member, you can contact our support for assistance. If you are not a subscription member and you have FTP access blocked under this policy, you will have to alter your methodology to use SSH/SFTP (which you should be doing anyway) and to comply fully with the policies outlined above.

Wikified (*)

How can I set up simple password protection for part or all of my site?

Moved to the wiki.

If I use AWStats, how can I keep just anybody from looking at my statistics?

Moved to the wiki.

How do I set up Dreamweaver to upload files to my site?

Moved to the wiki.

While running AWStats, I get the message "Error 500: Internal Server Error (Premature end of script headers)." What's wrong?

Moved to the wiki.

While running AWStats for the first time, I get a message about permissions. What's going on?

Moved to the wiki.

How can I customize NearlyFreeSpeech's provided AWStats script?

Moved to the wiki.

When I try to run AWStats it just times out. What's wrong?

Moved to wiki.