Hosted versus self-hosted WordPress in 2017
For anyone new to using WordPress, the difference between WordPress.com and WordPress.org and all of the details in-between can be quite confusing. With some recent changes at WordPress.com, we thought it would be a good time to revisit this topic and clear up any confusion you might have about where to host your WordPress site.
First, let’s talk about a few of the terms you’ll run into when choosing hosting. When you visit WordPress hosting sites these days, you often see talk of “hosted” and “self-hosted” options. Both options mean that your site will be hosted on a live server, but there is a big difference between the two.
A self-hosted install is the traditional method of hosting your WordPress site. Your web host will give you access to your own FTP, control panel, databases, and server settings and you are responsible for installing WordPress and administering everything that goes along with it. This option is good for users who are comfortable managing their own hosting and maybe want a little more control over the hosting environment.
It’s also worth mentioning that these days many hosts have a “one-click install” for WordPress. Instead of installing WordPress and setting up databases and users yourself, hosts will do all the heavy lifting for you within a few clicks. This is really nice because it’s super quick and you still get the flexibility of your own install of WordPress.
When you download WordPress from WordPress.org, you are downloading a zip file of WordPress that needs to be installed on a self-hosted site or a local dev environment. That means you’ll need to have hosting that gives you access to FTP and databases or has a WordPress installer available. You can also download WordPress plugins and themes from WordPress.org. These can be uploaded into your self-hosted site via the WordPress admin area.
A hosted install of WordPress means that your web host creates an install of WordPress for you and manages all of the technical so you can focus on building and managing your site. You don’t have to deal with FTP, databases or worry about updating WordPress. Instead, you get access to a WordPress admin area, where you can upload themes, plugins and use WordPress as you would normally.
Depending on the host, a self-hosted site may even come with SSL certificates, backups, staging sites and more. What comes with your hosted install will differ from host to host. This option is good for users who may not be comfortable administering hosting or simply don’t want to deal with some of the headaches that can come with self-hosting a site.
WordPress.com in 2017
This year has brought some unique changes to WordPress.com. If you sign up for the WordPress.com Business Plan ($24.92/mo), you can now upload your own themes and plugins. Previously, if you chose to host on WordPress.com, you were stuck with themes that were available on WordPress.com and only had access to features that were offered by the Jetpack plugin. The addition of custom themes and plugins on WordPress.com gives you a lot more flexibility and freedom and starts to blur the lines between self-hosted and hosted solutions.
It’s a modern take on how to write and manage content, that retains the same open source WordPress at its central core, powering everything through our REST API.
The standard WordPress dashboard is available if you need to flip over to it, but the WordPress.com ecosystem runs Calypso and many links and features will lead you back into the Calypso interface. Calypso currently only supports core WordPress features, so things like custom metaboxes and similar features added with plugins will have to be managed by switching over to the standard WordPress dashboard.
Calypso has seen a lot of mixed reviews. Some users like the speed of it and the desktop app that you can download for local use, and some prefer the tried and true WordPress admin without all of the bells and whistles.
Which one is right for you?
The ability to upload themes and plugins at WordPress.com has certainly opened up some more choices for users on the fence about where to host their site. Ultimately, where you end up will depend on what you want your involvement to be on your site. Do you want more control over the nitty gritty details of your hosting? If so, you might want to try a self-hosted install. Do you want a more hands-off approach so you can focus on content instead of databases? Then you might want to check out WordPress.com, Flywheel or SiteGround, all of which have a hosted WordPress option.
I hope this provides a little clarity on the difference between WordPress.com and WordPress.org these days. Let me know if you have any specific questions in the comments and I’ll be happy to answer.