I was working on an article discussing how to implement Yahoo's 13 rules for front-end performance on a shared host, I hope the article will be out soon. Anyway I have access to accounts at a few hosts - icdsoft.com, site5.com, dreamhost.com, so I was trying out the stuff I wrote in the article and had different issues with the different hosts.
I know choosing a hosting company is not easy, mainly because of all affiliate sites that publish fake reviews selling the host. Just like most other things, it's pretty hard to find unbiased reviews. So here's a list of questions to ask your future host-to-be, hopefully if they say YES to all, they have a pretty good shot at being decent. Of course there are other non-technical questions that are equally important (customer service, speed, price, etc) but hopefully this list can get you something to ask when wondering which host to pick.
- Can I create any number of subdomains?
- When I create a subdomain can I pick the directory where it points to?
- Can I park several domains?
- Can I set up cron jobs?
- Can I create use symlinks?
- Can I create .htaccess files?
- Is mod_expires ON and can it be enabled/configured in .htaccess?
- Can I use per-directory php.ini files?
- Can I use php_value (and php_flag) directives in .htaccess?
- Is mod_gzip (or mod_deflate) installed?
- Is mod_headers ON and can I use Header directive in .htaccess?
- (bonus/trick question, nothing to do with performance) Is there monthly bandwidth limit? If the hosts says something like "unlimited" or "unmetered" bandwidth for under $99, you should most likely avoid them
Again, a good host should be able to answer all questions YES, except for the trick one. Note that not all these things are required to implement the performance rules, some are substitutes for each other. For example you might not need local php.ini files at all if the hosts allows all things to be setup in .htaccess. But anyway, your future host should have as many YES answers as possible.