Quotas – storage for web space and e-mail

The term 'quota' is used in information technology when referring to the storage limit of a physical or virtual disk, also known as a disk quota. With Unix-based multi-user systems there is a mechanism directly in the system’s core, which distributes available memory capacity between different users or user groups. Since Windows 2000, it has also been available for Microsoft operating systems under the term 'disk quotas'.

In web hosting, quotas are of central importance when it comes to the task of allocating web space and e-mail storage. Memory limits allow specific percentages of disk space to be assigned to various users who share a hardware basis. If a user exceeds their allocated storage quota, this is known as a quota violation.

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Types of quotas

In order to prevent quota violations, system administrators can define two kinds of storage space limits:

  • Soft quotas: this is a 'soft' warning limit. If this limit is exceeded, a user is considered 'over quota'. The system sends out a warning message and the administrator is possibly notified. The disk space can still be used until the hard quota limit is reached. Administrators determine a 'grace period', which indicates how long a visitor is allowed to exceed the soft limit.
  • Hard quotas: disk space limits, which are defined as hard quotas, cannot be exceeded. Once a user reaches their hard quota, they are prevented from using any more disk space. If this is the case, users should contact their system administrator to obtain a hard quota extension, or they should delete data to free up some space.

Besides the difference in hard and soft limits, quotas can also be defined depending on the storage limit. Possible measurable quantities are data blocks and inodes (from index node).

  • Block quotas: this type of storage limits the desk space since each user is allocated a certain number of data blocks.
  • Inode quotas: disk quota limits, which refer to the number of inodes, are also known as file quotas since they limit how many files and directories can be created by a user on the hard disk.

Quotas in web hosting

Many users encounter quotas in the web hosting sector when they rent web space or use e-mail hosting with fixed, defined mail storage.

Web space quota

It’s common to host multiple client projects on a shared server using web hosting models like shared hosting. The hardware resources of the physical server are divided among individual users. Limits such as web space quotas are used in order to state the amount of memory available (which was rented within the chosen hosting package) for each customer project. The web space, which each user is entitled to, cannot therefore be used by anyone else even when storage quotas are distributed. Quotas give web hosts the chance to offer web hosting products in different performance categories.

Mail quota

A quota used in the e-mail field limits the space available for storing e-mails and e-mail attachments and is known as a mail quota. Since many users have e-mail inboxes stored on a shared mail server, mail quotas are there to make sure users don’t exceed their allocated quota. While messages are automatically deleted by the mail server when retrieved via POP3 (Post Office Protocol), mails that are accessed via IMAP (Internet Message Access Protocol) are kept on the server until the user decides to delete them themselves. Considerably larger quotas are needed if IMAP is used instead of POP3.

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