Thomas Crampton

Social Media in China and across Asia

Best blog hosting service to sidestep China’s Great Firewall?

Mar 26, 2008

Which is the best hosting service for a China-focussed blog?

WordPress.com, blogger.com and other free services can be blocked by the Great Firewall, so I need advice on where to host my blog. (It is currently parked with a very generous friend.)Should I use Dreamhost? A US-based service?

A Hong Kong-based service?My readership is divided between the US, China and Europe (in that order) so want to serve both as well as possible.

All thoughts welcome!

For anyone looking into Great Firewall issues, there is a nice piece by James Fallows that ran in the Atlantic. Along with this follow-up James Fallows Q and A.

This posting on the China Hosting Blog includes 6 tips to how avoid your blog getting blocked in China. (The company that runs the blog, SinoHosting.net, promised to move your blog to a new IP address within 30mn if it gets blocked. Presumably they reserve the right to decide whether they will help unblock your or not.)

Great and highly detailed advice sent to me from Alex Bowman who is based in China and has clearly studied the issue:

I am not employed by any telecom companies, so none of this is insider information.The most important factor is probably the type of site you’re hosting and as you say your readership.

US Advantage: Fast for US and because of the variety and amount of connections to Europe fast for there too. Trans-pacific is a bit slower, adding around 300ms latency. For a basic HTML page this is not a problem (a couple of seconds), for a simple database-driven blog not really much of an issue (10 seconds), but something like a complex portal or community site, one serving lots of maps, flash or many large graphics the loading speed may switch many off (30 seconds+ loading time).

Hong Kong’s advantages: Fast for mainland China and Asia in general. This fastness for mainland China depends on the section of the Great Firewall you’re going through – it seems some of the machines that filter are faster than others. Worria.com is the fastest budget host for HK to mainland China connections at the moment, but this varies monthly. IDC is not bad. Hong Kong is outside the People’s Firewall, meaning it carries the same mainland-specific disadvantage as hosting anywhere else in the world – it is possible that it will be blocked.

The reason many, if not most, sites are blocked inside China (excluding well known news organisations, political groups or pornography sites) is because the computer they’re hosted on is blocked, not the site itself. China tends to impose blocks on IP addresses (the physical address of a computer, not the domain name) – this affects many because while they’re site has done nothing ‘wrong’ in the eyes of the law or the government it still gets blocked. The reason for this is budget hosts put a few, sometimes 20, sometimes 100s of sites on the same machine (and therefore the same IP address) – if one does something wrong, like host some porn or spam other websites, the IP address takes the blame and all the sites on that IP get blocked. If this happens it is possible to test if it’s an IP address or URL block and ask your host to change IP address, or even give you a private one that is yours alone.

Avoid shared blog providers like Blogspot, WordPress.com, etc. They are blocked.

Avoid Feedburner, while their basic RSS service (counting subscribers and no more) is fine, their email and track-click functionality are blocked (email is not blocked if the server, like gmail.com is outside China, but an email server inside China like sina.com would often block these emails). english.feedsky.com is an alternative that should work in both the West and the East. Or just feed the RSS directly, some people are obsessive about it, some are not.

The one issue which caused a lot of problems last year was a cable cut caused by an earthquake off Taiwan. Most Internet communication is done by cable, at that time China and much of Asia was cut off from the rest of the world, much like Iran has been cut off by the recent cable cuts/turn offs in the Middle East/Mediterranean. More trans-Pacific cables are being completed at the moment, reducing the likelihood of this happening again.I have non-complex sites on Dreamhost which do not have a problem and the speed is acceptable from the mainland. They’re cheap, support is fine, and fully featured.

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View Comments for “Best blog hosting service to sidestep China’s Great Firewall?”

  • I believe whatever hosting you use your great firewall is going to block it some day or the other. But I dont think they can block biggies like GoDaddy, which has reputation all over world. Better, get limited period package and if it is blocked go for another. How does it sound?

  • Jane Ross

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  • Jeany Meets

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  • It is very hard to make blogs with high secure firewall system. This is really great information and discuss with creating blog in china. It is not possible to reach that firewall system.

  • China has got a great firewall for sure even from the technical point of view. I think this is really great.
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  • adawakeman42

    I think one of the best and the most affordable is this blog hosting. It's very good! I am using it for almost two years now and I've ever had problems with it.

  • Good tips for hosting blogs to avoid Firewall settings

  • Excellent text. I am very grateful that I had a chance to look at.

  • Very interesting news.. I never thought that China is over protective like that

  • I have not much time, but I've got many useful things here, love it!

  • eddiepetosa

    I chose to use a shared web hosting service and it never failed me. I don't know if it can sidestep China’s Great Firewall but it's worth submitting a question.

  • ali

    Thanks! Does anyone know if having 'china' in the URL has any effect?

  • I just got my site privately hosted and picked Bluehost, because they make it easy to work with Wordpress templates, which I like. I also registered my domain with Bluehost. Very happy with their service so far, no issues whatsoever. However, in subsequently talking with a number of friends/bloggers, Dreamhost seems to be the most popular choice.

  • Cool Technical support ,prise ,Bandwidth are some most important part of a website Here i recommend you torevie our post on How To Chosse Best Hosting for yours Blog .

  • jason truman

    HTTPS.

    This is the thing that can tunnel through any filter. If anyone wants to visit sensitive pages from outside of greatfirewall, then try https

  • A new, quick and reliable web proxy: meckmeck proxy servers

  • jason truman

    Hi, you have my email. Check it please. guess you know what I mean.

    I just added you to my following list. Hope you add me back.

  • jason truman

    test

  • check this site for some hosting info http://www.totoidc.com

  • I would to all of you. I used Free hosting for My 3 site, I think you could use to for your blog hosting. So far so good for Me.

    You can try it for 2-3 month or for along time, its free. Here is the link www.hosting-gratisan.com

  • MediaTemple rocks. They won a vendor selection for hosting I did last year in the U.S. See what Jeffery Zeldman, web standards guru has to say about MediaTemple:
    http://www.zeldman.com/mediate...

    I didn't choose MediaTemple for my blog as it's a lot more work than a WordPress.com account--even with the things they've done to make running WordPress easier. Plus I don't have the traffic to warrant it (yet!). I now see there'd be an advantage--getting accessed in China.

  • One more note regarding what Sinohosting said about hosting in China.

    Speedwise this may help but I don't think you want to go down the ICP license road.

    Besides the hassle it's also the best way to put yourself and your content under the scrutiny of the civil servants. See for an experience of that, http://www.chinasnippets.com/2...

  • onemanbandwidth

    You have heard from the China pros: Fons, Ryan, Alex...

    My 2-cents: I am not a fan of Dream Host. I switched all service away from them several black-out ago....I have also had several bad experiences with their marketing and service departments. They seem to have grown a little too fast and humility did not accompany success.
    Ryan would be a good bet and a nice way to compensate someone doing great good on the China net....

    Lon

  • I would generally agree with much of the above - though I'm not certain if Pat's multi-location servers would play much difference, any more than just being able to change IP addresses anyway.

    I avoid the issues of shared hosting by running a VPS with multiple IPs. If one site gets blocked (as happened during the recent troubles in the West and the ensuing blogging about it), I simply switch that site onto a different IP.

    However, I host quite a few sites, and so this is essential.

    For a simple blog, pretty much any shared hosting will do, but I'd agree that registering your own domain separate from your hosting is a good practice - though most good shared hosting packages that come with a domain name technically have it registered through a different registrar anyway, and so you can continue on hosting your domain with them even if you decide to move hosting.

    I use Omnis frequently for domain registration, but recommend against using them for hosting. They use proprietary site management software (as opposed to the likes of cPanel or Plesk), and it's more limiting than useful.

    Completely agree that the issue of US-based or China-based is moot for anything shy of a large and heavy site.

    I've sites on various US-based servers, obviously including a good number on my own hosting, and they consistently run pings at less than 300ms.

    Kenneth is absolutely right that no single blogger site has ever gotten blocked (to my knowledge) - so unless you're the next Wikipedia or unleashing a platform on which massive numbers of Chinese can exchange free thought and celebrity gossip - you've little to worry about your physical site being blacklisted.

    Keyword trapping is pretty easily avoidable with a bit of foresight and good word choice. And (not to be too selly - as it's free), WordPress users can put to use a plugin called Censortive I created a while back that changes sensitive words into "untrappable" images. It's not perfect, but has helped me from having my posts trip the wires.

    One thing that should be mentioned about Chinese hosting that I've heard time and time again - hosting companies here are notorious for just closing shop, deleting your data and disappearing into the night. If you go with a Chinese hosting company, be sure they are long-standing and reputable (good advice for anything I guess).

  • Ryan, can you tell me exactly what aspect of the omnis control panel does not work like cPanel or Plesk? We are striving to keep our control panel up to date with all the features that everyone else has. I am not sure there are any features that cPanel or Plesk has that we dont.

  • ali

    I built a simple blog site that seemed to get blocked. I suppose it could have been someone else on the shared hosting. Or the content? http://www.china-survival-guid...

  • Thanks for citing our site in your blog post. We are a web host in Shanghai. First of all, any site hosted overseas may be blocked, especially if it is on a shared server, since the blocking is in most cases based on IP address rather than actual domain name.

    Having a dedicated IP will definitely help in keeping the site unblocked from China, but this is not a 100% guarantee as cases of "errors" of the GFW have happened frequently in the past.

    Popular hosts are more susceptible to be blocked because of the greater number of domains each server host (sometimes up to a few hundreds on a single IP). One black sheep that does not please Beijing? You've got hundreds of legitimate site owners with sites inaccessible from China.

    We have six server locations (accross Singapore and the US), with the possibility of moving sites from one to another within 30mn. This way in case a location happened to be blocked, we are able to move all sites to an unblocked one. So it should help minimize any possible downtime to our clients (unless all six locations happen to be blocked at the same time!)

    However, I believe that the best way to avoid your blog being blocked from China ultimately is to host it within the GFW (and get an ICP license). Plus the speed is faster, which is great if you expect most of your audience from China.

    Cheers,
    Pat

  • AlexBowman

    Edit in response to the Disqus Terms of Service.

  • thomascrampton

    Two hosting services that China-based bloggers have recommended for their reliability and speed in China: Omnis.com and mediatemple.net.

  • I was with Yahoo! hosting a few years back when for some reason the GFW just decided to ban it and it was no longer accessible in China. Blogs are generally pretty easy to migrate but this was an e-commerce website, so it cost us lots of time and heartache and Yahoo! was totally unable to help.

    Dreamhost is good but I think they had a massive global outtage recently. Not very reliable?

    I am currently with IxWebhosting.com based in Kentucky. Great pricing (especially if you have multiple domains) and not too bad service.

    Re: the GFW. Sure, major blog services like Wordpress and Blogspot and Typepad are blocked, but if you are hosting your own domain somewhere safe with Wordpress installed, you should experience no problem. Someone correct me, but I don't think there is any English-language China blog that has been specifically pinpointed for blocking by the Net Nanny yet. Yes, we may run into keyword traps which may cause specific pages to blank out, but that's not the same as getting "blocked".

    In the grand scheme of things, English-language China blogs have tiny/negligible traffic, so for now the GFW is only concerned with major news outlets such BBC/CNN/Deutsche Welle and other key portals such as Youtube. English-language China blogs are easily "managed" with keyword traps.

  • Gemme

    A US Host should be fine, like Fons said, "Unless you are massively hosting video’s or running a portal-like service you should look for a cheap offer and a good service outside China."

    Having said that,

    Separate hosting from your domain registrar (never use the same provider, it makes it easier to move if necessary)

    Check how many other sites are hosted on the same IP (shared hosting), the more, the worse.

    Avoid Godaddy and Yahoo hosting, they have had issues with being blocked.

    Price is important but quality and service is even more important. Check with some of the hosting companies on your shortlist and test their response time by asking some random questions

    There's a nice alternative for feedburner for Wordpress, http://www.chrisfinke.com/word...

  • My thoughts - get your own domain. Do not host in Hong Kong as censorship and prosecution has proven to be, um, unpredictable lately.

  • Blogger

    Dreamhost has far too many outages recently. I think they are massively overselling.

  • For sure and interesting discussion, Tom!
    Let's first conclude that the GFW is a fast moving target itself and whatever might be true today, could be - and probably will be - different next week. I have a theory, based on recent observations I made, and if my theory is even partly right, we might be looking at a whole different ball game:
    http://www.chinaherald.net/200...

    For technical reasons your exact location is not that interesting, unless you expect high volumes of traffic. Unless you are massively hosting video's or running a portal-like service you should look for a cheap offer and a good service outside China.
    Hosting in China would be a liability anyway, even when you cannot get blocked. You get kicked off by your hosting firm, because their selfcensorship is often worse than whatever the Chinese censors can come up with.
    You should also avoid hosting ventures that have a tradition of also hosting many sites of Chinese dissidents, like Godaddy.com: they are likely to be blocked.
    I'm hosting my weblog now in the US with Bluehost.com. In the past I have been moving every two years or so, since most hosting companies get sloppy after a few years of winning awards, but Bluehost has up to now a rather consistent performance.
    The costs US$ 6 per month are low and could even be shared, since I'm using only a fraction of the bandwidth I have - although I would not have the time to change into a weblog host myself.
    Much of the filter technology is based on banned words and while that list is changing all the time, it makes sense to try to avoid certain words. So, I would write about the "double T-crisis", pointing at two parts of China with different grades of autonomy. Sometimes I would include a host of possibly banned words, also to test the system. That works sometimes.

  • Thanks for the tips.

    I got the same conclusion even with a different circulation of my readers (France, China, US). US based host is still relatively fast and dreamhost have good offer plans.

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