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Looking for free iWeb hosting? Here's how to use Dropbox as your host

Since iWeb comes with just about every Mac, it's surprising that it isn't used by more Mac users. For some people, coughing up US$99 a year for MobileMe hosting is the barrier, but there are other ways to get your iWeb pages out where the world can see them.

Last night, while participating in a recording of the MacJury podcast, one of my gift ideas was to sign somebody up for a free trial of Dropbox and show them how to use it for syncing all sorts of things. While I was touting all of the things that Dropbox can be used for, I pulled up the Dropbox wiki for reference, and I noticed a link for Tips and Tricks. One of the tips was "Use Dropbox to host a website."

iWeb is one of my personal specialties, so I immediately wondered if someone could use Dropbox to host an iWeb site. Within two minutes, I had my answer and an idea for a how-to post. Follow along as I show you how to publish your iWeb site on a free Dropbox account.

Note: As our commenters point out, even though the suggestion for website hosting comes direct from the Dropbox wiki, the service is not intended for 'production' web hosting. A few personal pages or a testing site shouldn't cause you any grief, but Dropbox does reserve the right to turn off your public links if the system detects unusual levels of bandwidth consumption.

1) To begin with, you must have a Dropbox account. If you don't have one, go to http://www.dropbox.com right now and download the software, install it, and then set up your account. I also suggest watching the video on the Dropbox home page to understand the concept behind the application and service (or reading some of our previous Dropbox coverage).

2) Once you've installed the Dropbox software and have familiarized yourself with it, you're ready to roll. In the Finder, open your Dropbox folder and create a new folder inside of your Public folder. You can name it anything you want. For this example, I named mine "web." I can really come up with some amazingly original names when I want to...

3) Open up iWeb and put together a website, or open an existing site. Clicking on the icon for your website in the left sidebar, the Site Publishing Settings page appears:
4) Select Local Folder from the Publish to pop-up menu.

5) Enter the name for your site, your contact email address, and then click on the Choose button for Folder Location.

6) Navigate to the folder that you created in Step 2, then click the Choose button:
The path to the web folder you created in your Dropbox Public folder is listed in the Location edit field.

7) For now, that's it. If your website is ready to publish, go ahead and click the Publish Site button at the bottom of the iWeb window. This will publish the site files to the web folder in your Dropbox Public folder. Within a few seconds or minutes, depending on your connection speed and the size of your website, those files are synced to your Dropbox "in the cloud."

8) As soon as folder syncing is done, select Launch Dropbox Website to log into the web interface for Dropbox.

9) Click on the Public folder icon to open it, then click on the name of the web folder where you published your site. Within the folder, you'll see a folder containing all of your web files, and there will also be an "index.html" file. Click on the pop-up menu next to the index.html file and select Copy Public Link:
The URL that appears is the address where your website can be reached, and you can send that URL to friends or clients to show them the site.

10) One more step! In order to make sure that all of your links work properly, go back to the Site Publishing Settings in iWeb for your site. See that big, empty space where it says Website URL? Paste the URL that you just copied in Step 9 into that edit field and then delete the index.html at the end of the URL. That address is the root URL for your new site. Republish your site, then go admire your handiwork.

While I did not have time to check all of the widgets and features that are part of iWeb '09, all of the ones that I was using on my sample site, including Countdown Timer and HTML Snippets, were working perfectly. Note that anything that uses a server-side capability that is specific to MobileMe will not work, so be sure to test your site functionality before sending out the URL. Note that the Site Publishing Settings are only available in iWeb '09.

Is that URL ugly? Yep. Mine ended up being http://dl.dropbox.com/u/[redacted]/web/index.html (the user ID has been redacted to protect my Dropbox). If you're setting up a website for family or friends, or just want someone to see what an iWeb site is going to look like before you publish it under their real domain name, this free solution is a great way to get your iWeb site online in a hurry.

You could try registering a domain name for a few bucks and then setting up a redirect to the Dropbox URL, but I'm going to leave that as an exercise to the reader to see if links and RSS feeds would still work properly.

Since iWeb comes with just about every Mac, it's surprising that it isn't used by more Mac users. For some people, coughing up US$99 a year...