Is it possible to use a Mac as a server to host a website, rather than paying for a more traditional web host?
The Mac is capable of doing it, but the biggest glitch you'd encounter is whether your ISP allows you to serve files over your connection or not. Most home accounts don't allow that or severely restrict what you can do with it. Even if you can, you'd likely have difficulty with DNS, as most ISP's will use dynamic addressing for your connection, which makes it difficult for users to find your server. I've heard that http://www.dyndns.org/ can help in that, but I've never used it.
Actually, for the trouble that it would be to host your own, buying hosting services isn't that terribly expensive. I've got a site on http://www.2mhost.com/ and it works very well. 50MB storage space and 20 email accounts only costs me $30 a year, with a domain name. Very solid service, and very responsive support people. Lots of support tools on the website to help keep track of things. I've heard of other services that are even less expensive, but haven't had the need or desire to check them out.
if you are running OS X then it is easy ... just open up your "System Preferences" then click on the "Sharing" tab ... now click the box next to "Personal Web Sharing" ... now all you need to do is drop your site into the "Sites" folder in your home folder ... you can get at your site at http://your_ip/~your_username
if you are running OS 9 then you can download a program called MacHTTP that does a similar job ...
As an exercise you might want to calculate how much it costs to leave a Mac powered up all day to host your web pages. My educated guess (I did some power consumption tests on PCs at work last week) is that a G3 system without monitor will use 45 or 50 watts with the monitor switched off. Multiply that by the number of hours in a year, check your family's electricity bill for the kWh rate and do the maths. Add on $10 per annum as insurance for additional wear and tear to the disk and psu. Then you don't even think about writing a cheque for $30 each year to a basic web hosting company...
Addition Thurs 16 Sept: A beige G3 with Radeon 7000 card consumed 48 watts when tested five minutes ago. This figure does not include monitor power.
I run www.kinstle.com on a dual CPU G4 cube running OSX server. It has mail, www, webmail, sftp, scp, and AFP servers. Most days it averages 5-15% cpu utilization. Works like a champ. It also is connected to my stereo for playing MP3's.
As for costs, the machine uses about 25 watts with no display attached. While I probably can't compete with to cost of one good web host, I have about a dozen sites on my server that I host for friends for free, and since the server is literally a few feet away from me, I can run it in any way I choose. When I wanted PHP, I just turned it on. MySQL? No problem! In my opinion, being in total control of the services I provide is worth any extra costs.
Charlie: HD's prefer to be left on 24/7, they get the most wear when they turn on. The same goes for the PSU, so long as the PSU is properly cooled, it prefers to be left on with a constant load, turn ons are hard for them because the most amperage is pulled at this time. Also, when you host your own site you are in control of it, your not rellying on somebody elses backups or anything. You can run what you want, for how long you want. Imuch prefer to run my own server then somebody elses. Unfortunately my sites have a high enough traffic base that I cant serve them with the connection I have here at home. So I only serve small stuff from here.
Now for many using a hosting company is far easier. Although OSX makes it very easy to do so. And yes, many ISP's block port 80, but thats easy to get around, just change apache to another port.
So really its the users choice, and if you use your machine all the time anyways, it will be on a lot, and running a web server that is fairly low traffic should not make the system run any slower if you serve from your main machine.
If you have an Internet connection which doesn't change your IP often (cable modem good, PPPoE DSL bad), it's not hard at all.
Turn on Personal Web Sharing (assuming you're running OS X).
If you need DNS to point to your machine, that's a little more work. But many domain registrars will do that for you for free or for cheap. BEWARE, though, of registrars which use web redirects - some insert cookies, redirect in frames, and track users, sometimes inserting ads and such.
Feel free to contact me if you'd like to have your DNS hosted; we also do personal web hosting for $5 a month for public_html type hosting or $10 a month for full virtual hosting (or free for non-profit / open source / free software projects).
Oh - and our colocated servers are Macs and Amigas. No cheesy PCs!
I use www.dotyou.com. They cost about $10 a year and play no games. Plus I can administer the domains myself from a web page interface 24/7.