Tips for giving a developer access to your hosting account

If you need to hire a developer, designer or any other type of contractor, there will likely come a point where they need to access your hosting account. If you’re using a control panel that allows multiple account logins, you may be able to create a login with limited access for the contractor to use. If you’re using a control panel like CPanel, one which only provides a single sign on, things can get a little more complicated.

Providing a stranger with your account login has risks, especially when there is live data on the account. If the contractor is someone you’ve only recently met from a site like Elancer, Guru, or Freelancer, you should lean to the side of caution. This isn’t to say that these developers are bad (I myself can be found on each site). It’s more of a warning to be aware that some lack a moral compass. Doing something damaging to your existing data or outright stealing information is well within the realm of possibility.

So what can you do in order to provide a developer access to your CPanel account? Depending on what the developer needs to do, you may be able to grant access to specific functions.

Create an FTP Account

If the developer needs to access your file system, you can easily create an FTP account in CPanel. We provide a tutorial here which can guide you through the process. Once the account is created, it will provide the developer access to the chosen directory (and it’s subdirectories) so they can work with the files within. Often times, this is all that is needed.

Once the developer has finished their work, you can delete the FTP account to remove access.

Install the Application Yourself

If the developer will be using an off the shelf piece of software such as WordPress, Joomla, Drupal or Prestashop, they would typically need access to your account in order to setup a database. To avoid giving them access for this task, you can install the software yourself. If you have Softaculous or Fantastico on your CPanel account, you can instantly install any of the applications I’ve mentioned, along with hundreds of others. It will create the file system, database and database user in about one minute.

Some applications require you to manually create a database. Application frameworks like Codeigniter, CakePHP, and Laravel are pieces of code used to build on. There is no database until you create one. Fortunately, we also have a tutorial on manually creating a database in CPanel.

Reseller account

Having a new site developed when you have a reseller account is an easy process. Simply create a CPanel account for the developer to use. You can also limit the features of the account, such as removing Email or SSH. Instead of purchasing a domain, you can setup the account using a subdomain of an existing domain. For instance, if you have example.com on your reseller account, you can create this account using the domain dev.example.com.

Once the developer has completed their work, you will have a full working site in a real environment. From there you can backup the account and copy the files into your live location.

If you are a web developer, this is a great way to manage your own development. I make frequent use of creating under CPanel accounts because it allows me to work in a live environment without affecting the real website.

What to do after giving a developer your login

In some cases you may have to provide the master login for your account. If that’s the case, there are steps you must take in order to limit the various risks involved.

Make sure you have real contact information for the developer. Get as much information as you can. A single email address will not do it, especially if it’s a GMail, Yahoo! or other disposable address. At the very least, get a phone number.

Sign a contract. I myself have signed NDAs (non disclosure agreement) which are used to protect the client. I understand why they are necessary. Some developers like to show off their client list, which is fine. If you are OK with the developer doing so, put that in the NDA, but make sure there is information contained to prevent them from taking or utilizing your data without your consent.

Backup your data. CPanel makes this very easy. We have a tutorial which walks you through taking a full CPanel backup which automatically includes your files, email, database and more. If the developer breaks something that they can not fix, you will have a backup of your site.

Always change your password after you’ve allowed anyone into your control panel. Make sure it is a difficult password to guess. It’s also recommended to change the passwords on anything else you’ve given the developer access to, including databases, email, and content management systems.

Run a virus scan after they are finished. Part of my work has involved cleaning up after various developers. I could tell some very horrible stories of what I’ve found in customer accounts. The worst has been finding hacked files that were infected with malware. These files were likely from less than reputable sources, so the developer who installed them may not have been aware of their infections. The customer would pay the developer and soon after find their websites hacked or being used to blast out thousands of spam emails a day. This causes more headaches because a web host will often shut down a site if it is spamming, regardless of why it happened.

If you have an account with 6Scan or Sucuri, run it as well. If you do not have one, it’s recommend that you purchase one. Both companies make it their business to clean up hacked sites and prevent future issues. Even if you aren’t allowing a contractor into your site, either of these services are good to have to help prevent future issues.

Now that you have the tips to help you give a web developer access to your hosting account, you will have a much better chance of keeping your account safe. As a web developer and server technician, I know what can happen when bad developers get into your system. The information provided should help reduce the risk. If you have any additional tips, feel free to leave them in the comments section below.

When a Simple Article Becomes a Monster

I love to write. This is a good thing considering I write a lot, for several different things. However, like a lot of people, I will occasionally find myself writing much more than I originally intended. My topic might relate to other ideas or may possibly have core concepts that can be branched out on even further. This becomes a problem when what I’m writing takes on a life of it’s own and becomes a monster.

Just a few moments ago I was writing an article for Webmaster Notebook entitled “Understanding Shared Web Hosting”. The article is intended to be a generalized view of what to expect out of shared web hosting. I wrote about the same topic a little more conservatively back in 2012 for my web design and development company, so it seemed fitting to revisit the topic here and flesh it out even further for beginning webmasters and site owners.

As I got through a few paragraphs, I found myself writing quite easily. By page 3 (according to Google Docs), I found that I may have ventured further into life of shared web hosting than I wanted to. I started backing up, pulling apart different ideas and separating them into their own articles. It was during that time, somewhere around the part I discuss the true nature of Unlimited storage and bandwidth, that I had the idea for this article.

Make a wireframe for your writing

Back when I was teaching a student from Asheboro High School how to create web site mockups, I explained to her the importance of wireframes. A wireframe in this respect is a very basic idea of what a website will look like. It’s often a sketch of where specific elements will go. This allows the web designer to have a good grasp of what the site will look like before they actually start designing.

When you start writing, it’s a good idea to work from a wireframe. Pull out a list of specific parts of the topic you want to cover. As your list grows, you will inevitably find that there is a lot which can be removed and written independently. Move those ideas to the side and try to stick to a short, concise group of ideas which you can focus on. This will prevent your writing from straying too far into different ideas and leaving your reader bored, overloaded or simply lost.

A wireframe for your writing doesn’t have to be overly complex. Try to keep things simple. Even though my article about shared web hosting is a topic that can be very complex, it doesn’t have to be. After all, the target audience of this site has always been those who just beginning, those who want to learn the basics. Making it too complicated would destroy the reason it exists.

Follow your rules, remove the excess and use it to build more

Your wireframe should be easy to understand, stick to the core concept and allow little room for deviation. If you do this, it will help you stick to a much more clear path.

When you find yourself writing more than you intend to, take that writing and store it somewhere else. Revisit the parts you remove and explore the possibility of turning some of that excess into additional writing, perhaps as a follow up or supportive to the original article.

The more information you can provide, the better. Just remember that you don’t have to put it all in the same article.

Resize and Compress Your Images

A common mistake by beginner webmasters comes from the use of images. Too often have I come across a website that uses photos that are physically huge but display much smaller. This is done by using a large image as the source file and then setting the height and width to be a fraction of the size.

I primarily see this happen with photos that have come direct from a camera without being resized or compressed. Most digital cameras and smart phones take photos at file sizes and dimensions that do not belong on a website. I’m talking about pictures that are three or more times the size of your screen and upwards of 10 megabytes. A photo like that does not belong on a webpage with other content.

Why you should resize and compress your photos

You may be wondering why you should bother resizing the image. After all, you may want to show the big version to your visitors.

The reason you should resize and compress your images is because loading a massive image on your page is going to take time. Though it may only be a few seconds, seconds on the web can mean the difference between a visitor sticking around and leaving. The images will load slowly, and if you are showing more than one of these large images on the same page, you’re only causing your visitors to get annoyed with the lack of speed.

Another issue with using these oversized images is bandwidth consumption. The larger the file, the more bandwidth you are going to use. For some hosting accounts, bandwidth may be limited. Reduction in file size can keep your bandwidth costs down.

Resize Your Images

There are many tools that you can use to resize your images, both commercial and free. One great free resource is Picresize.com. Upload your photo to the site and set the dimensions you would like. Set only the width and the image will resize the height appropriately. You can even set an effect to apply to your photo. There is no required registration and the whole process can be finished in under a minute.

Compress your files

Yahoo! provides a tool called Smush.it which can reduce the weight of your photos. It applies file compression to bring your photo down to a smaller file size without not much noticeable visual difference. Simply upload your photo and Smush.it does the rest. Like Picresize.com, Smush.it does not require registration to use.

Make your visitors happier by resizing and compressing your photos. It will speed up the loading of your site and reduce the amount of bandwidth you use.