Many companies claim to offer free cloud hosting, yet few offer anything worth using. What good is a “free” service when what you get is a disappointing combo of unreliable and excruciatingly slow? The best free cloud hosting services let you actually try their platforms, without any trickery or false promises.
Are there limitations on free hosting? Well, of course. Each host takes a different approach to its free plan, and they all offer paid upgrades to more powerful services. I’ve tried them myself and detailed exactly what you’ll get with each cloud platform and how you can use each to build your website or app.
Before we continue, a word of advice. To get the most out of free cloud hosting, you’ll need to put in quite a bit of time and effort. If you’re willing to pay (a bit!) to make your life a whole lot easier, jump to the last service (#6) on the list.
Our Top Picks for the Best Free Cloud Hosting Services
- Amazon Web Services (AWS) – A low-end cloud instance is available for free for 12 months
- Heroku – Geared toward developers to get a project running quickly and for free
- Google Compute Engine (GCE) – Many cloud options available, including a free low-end instance coupled with a decent amount of storage
- Microsoft Azure – Most reliable and bandwidth-generous free tier around
- Red Hat OpenShift – A powerful US-based instance available for free
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What We Look For in the Best Free Cloud Hosting Services
- Reliability and uptime – It’s easy to give away cloud hosting like candy, but it takes the best, most cutting-edge infrastructure to make it really shine. These companies provide reliable, redundant servers, which translates to high uptime and blazing-fast speeds.
- Multiple deployment locations – The best clouds aren’t made of a few servers located in Bangladesh, but of thousands of servers, located all over the globe, working together. Almost all services on this list provide multiple deployment options, ensuring that you’ll always have a nearby location promptly serving your visitors.
- Access to resources – As I said before, free cloud hosting does come with limitations. What differentiates these guys from the rest is that the free tiers come with enough resources to actually test the service.
- Scalability – With sub-par hosting, success is actually your biggest fear. It’s hardly scalable, so once you get some traffic, your website is going to grind to a halt. With the companies on this list, you always have room to grow.
- Developer friendly – To develop the best apps in the least amount of time, you need a service that makes things easier. All the services on this list are developer-oriented, but a couple really go the extra mile in streamlining the process.
1. Amazon Web Services (AWS) – Fast, Reliable, Secure, and Free to Try
Amazon’s premier cloud web service, AWS, is divided into three products: Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2), Elastic Beanstalk, and Lightsail. The last two are designed as easy-to-use platforms that utilize the cloud computing resources that EC2 provides.
The best part? EC2 has a free tier that offers complete access to a limited set of resources, allowing you to familiarize yourself with AWS’ service and configure it to your exact needs. The AWS free tier includes 12 months of access, during which you’ll get 750 computing hours a month. Impressive, and our expert thought so too. Read all about it in our detailed review of AWS.
The micro instance that comes with the free tier can run either Linux or Windows and is fit for low to moderate performance needs. This won’t be enough for a production-ready site, but you’ll be able to install and test WordPress, as well as advanced frameworks like Django and Node.js.
- t2.micro instance – A general purpose cloud instance. Has 1 vCPU and 1 GB of RAM, and provides bursts of extra CPU in addition to the baseline level.
- Complete control – EC2’s instances are completely customizable, which puts a lot of responsibility on you. The interface isn’t the prettiest, either, so prepare to work overtime to get everything perfectly configured.
- Additional services available for free or for trial – Options include GuardDuty for intelligent threat detection, RDS (Relational Database Service) for relational managed databases, and SNS (Simple Notification Service) for push messaging services.
- Easily scalable into high-performance machines – Once you have an account active with AWS, you can always add more computing instances. Just pick an instance size and location and deploy it within minutes.
2. Heroku – Best Free Cloud Hosting for Developers
Of all the companies on this list, none provide a service as streamlined and easy to use as Heroku’s. There are far fewer options and features to concern yourself with: Dynos make the building blocks of their service. In Heroku’s own words, “Dynos are isolated, virtualized Linux containers”. They’re designed to execute code based on a user-specified command, and here there are only six types are available. The first one is completely free to use.
It’s through this combination of zero cost and ease of use that Heroku becomes such a great option for students and developers. Once you sign up and get your dyno going, you can immediately get a runtime environment up. Multiple languages and frameworks, such as Python, Node.js, and Ruby, are available for deployment without any extra configurations.
The free dyno will net you 512 MB of RAM and 2 process types (equal to 1 vCPU), making it a great platform for school projects and general experimentation. You’ll be able to run WordPress and similar platforms on a PHP environment, but you’ll find Heroku’s cloud instance to be slightly weaker than its competitors.
- Free dyno – The free cloud instance is not always on, and you’ll have to turn it back on after 30 minutes of inactivity. This limits its functionality to situations like code and app presentations, as its availability can’t be counted on.
- Easy to use – Using Heroku’s sleek user interface, dynos and any other extras can be easily and immediately added. Heroku lets you focus on the actual development, taking most of the infrastructure responsibility off your back.
- Buildpacks – Heroku lets you immediately deploy development environments for PHP, Node.js, Python, and many other languages, pre-configured with all necessary settings and dependencies.
- Add-ons – Many add-ons are available to install on your cloud account, some for free and others for a low monthly cost. Add-ons like Heroku Redis, Timber.io, and Mailgun all offer a free plan. Find out more in our in-depth review.
3. Google Compute Engine (GCE) – Free US-Based Instances with a Lot of Storage Space
Google’s cloud service, GCE, offers a ton of products – but it can get very confusing. The sheer number of options is sure to send novice developers back to the cozy arms of regular providers, so take a moment to decide if you’re ready to get your hands dirty.
Compute Engine instances are going to be your best buddies for building a WordPress website, and the free tier is always free. You’ll get one f1-micro instance per month on the free tier, and it offers a surprising amount of storage space to play with.
Google’s free GCE tier is an excellent option if you’re looking for free cloud hosting for developers, but you’ll need to be in the United States to get the most out of it. You’ll only get US-based cloud instances, and your bandwidth won’t be available to destinations such as China or Australia.
- F1-micro instance – The instance includes 1 vCPU, 0.6 GB of RAM, 30 GB of storage space, 5 GB of snapshot storage, and 1 GB of bandwidth.
- Trial with $300 of credit – If you’re looking to test GCE’s other services, you can get $300 of credit for the first year of use. All you need to do is open an account and provide identity verification and credit card details. You will not be charged.
- Free access to Google’s advanced technologies – Google is an industry leader in quickly evolving fields such as speech recognition, artificial intelligence, and diagnostics. Free trials or limited free plans are available for each of them.
- Integration with Google products – If you’re using G Suite, Docs, Ads, or the many other online products Google offers, it only makes sense to keep everything in one place and under the same account.
4. Microsoft Azure – The Best Uptimes and the Most Bandwidth
Azure offers a free product system very similar to AWS’: Some are free for 12 months, others for life, and some are available for trial through the use of credit. Among the cloud resources that are free for 12 months, you’ll find Linux virtual machines, storage space, databases, and bandwidth.
Azure’s generous free resources allotment, specifically the bandwidth, make it a great place for projects aiming for production-readiness. The resources you’ll get for free (1 vCPU, 1 GB RAM, 5 GB space) are actually more than what a lot of shared hosting providers offer on their intermediate to advanced plans!
What’s the catch? No catch really, except the one that affects all of these cloud providers – these platforms were not built for the novice user. It takes expertise, knowledge, and a lot of time to get everything working together nicely – read about our expert’s experiences in the full review.
- B1S virtual machine – 1 vCPU and 1 GB of RAM memory. The free storage space includes 5 GB.
- Trial with $200 of credit – Use the credit to purchase any of the trial products and try them out for 30 days.
- Linux or Windows – Surprising no one, Microsoft’s Azure offers the most comprehensive support for Microsoft’s own Windows operating system. Linux machines are also available, and both are offered as part of the free tier.
- Extremely high uptime guarantees – The basic single instance virtual machines come with a 99.9% uptime guarantee, and a whopping 99.99% guarantee is available if you choose to upgrade and add redundant instances.
5. Red Hat OpenShift – Most Powerful Free Cloud Instance Available
Red Hat, known for the popular Red Hat Linux distribution, offers an always-free Starter plan for its reliable cloud platform. This Starter plan includes the most powerful virtual cloud instance on this list.
It’s quite the formidable setup, but your machine will go into hibernation after 30 minutes of inactivity. The subscription itself will require reactivation every 60 days, otherwise it expires completely.
It’s a disadvantage, but it doesn’t stop OpenShift from being the best free cloud hosting for students available today. The platform is geared toward rapid development (not as much as Heroku, but much more than AWS, GCE, and Azure), and can ably run almost any test project or school app you can conjure.
- Starter plan – Includes a US-based cloud instance with 4 vCPUs, 2 GB of RAM, and 2 GB of storage space.
- Customized management console – Your cloud hosting can be managed and configured using either the command line or a customized console developed by OpenShift.
- Development support – OpenShift’s platform makes it easy to quickly install frameworks and languages through the use of preconfigured containers.
- Git functionality – Use OpenShift’s interface to push code updates and changes into a base image. Allows for easy team collaborations.