There’s a whole bag of tricks that your Dropbox public folder makes possible, and here’s one of my favorites: if you have a simple, static HTML website, you can host it entirely via Dropbox. Don’t believe me? Take a look:
It works! Now, there are some things you should notice about this Dropbox-hosted website:
- It uses an actual domain name. Usually, when you link to files in your Dropbox public folder, the link looks like this: http://dl.dropbox.com/u/1261672/groovy/index.html. But with this site, all you see is the domain name: mr-shirts.com (don’t ask why I bought that domain name).
- If you navigate to links on that page, it still says mr-shirts.com. No one has to know that I’m using Dropbox as a webhost.
- The site isn’t bland HTML. You’ve got images, forms, a stylish nav menu, etc. I’m using a CSS-template called Luvbold (h/t Smashing Magazine). It uses JQuery, CSS and HTML and it even has a Flash element in there.
So, how do you do this? It’s simple. Just place your entire website into your Dropbox public folder or a subfolder in your Dropbox public folder and then copy the public link. Go ahead and try it with a simple index.html file that just says “It worked!” or something.
As you’ll see, the ugly long Dropbox public link displays your HTML file just like any other page on the web. Just make sure you get the public link for an actual HTML file, and not the folder itself.
Forwarding a Domain Name to a Public Dropbox Folder (optional)
So, how do you get the domain name to show up instead of the public link? It depends on which domain registrar you’re using, but the feature you’re looking for is Domain Masking or Domain Forwarding.
With GoDaddy, you’ll find it under Domain Manager > Domain Information > Forwarding > Manage. Choose Forward with Masking and copy and paste your Dropbox public link into the “Forward to” field.
So, there you have it. You can host a simple website for free on your public Dropbox folder. Of course, this isn’t the ideal way to go, but depending on your needs it could work.
Pros of a Dropbox-hosted website:
- Free bandwidth
- Free web storage (up to 10 GB)
- Easy uploading—no FTPing, just edit your HTML files directly in your Dropbox folder. Works great with WYSIWYG editors.
- No advertising
Cons of a Dropbox-hosted website:
- No server-side scripting, e.g. PHP, ASP.net, no databases and no server-side anything actually. So forget about installing WordPress or pretty much any blogging or forum platforms.
- Probably pretty bad in terms of SEO. Domain masking will either confuse search engine bots or raise red flags for them, since the actual location of the website won’t be shown in the address bar. I believe it works similar to an iframe—so you’re really viewing a webpage within a webpage.
- Dropbox doesn’t officially support this feature. So, they could end up changing something about their TOS or the functionality of the service that makes this no longer work or the TOS might say they will delete your account if they catch you doing this…???
If all you want is a personal web portal, an online journal for your family and friends or a basic one-page brochure website for a brick and mortar business, this could work well for you. It could save you the $10 to $20 a year it’ll cost to get a real web host. But if you ever get serious about developing your website, you’ll probably want to upgrade to the real deal.