Minecraft's been around for a long time, and accordingly, Minecraft multiplayer has been around for a long time. But Minecraft's multiplayer component doesn't work like traditional games where you simply queue up and get matched with a bunch of different players. In Minecraft, there are servers, and servers work a bit differently spread across the Java and Bedrock versions of the game. So, in this article, we'll once and for all answer the question: Are Minecraft servers free?
Are Minecraft Servers Free on Java?
For Minecraft Java, you don't have to spend anything to start up a server, but that doesn't mean just anybody can do that, either. First off, running (and starting) a server on Java is a fairly technical process. This isn't to say it's impossibly tough to figure out, but it involves a fair bit of command-line usage, some scripting, and some general technical know-how.
These kinds of knowledge requirements also scale with what you want out of your server, like if you want cool custom mods and tweaks, if you want to always keep it updated to the latest Minecraft version, how many players you want to be able to support at once, all that stuff. The more complicated setup you want, the more tedious it can be to get that going, especially if you're new to the server hosting game.
However, there are major reasons why you might not want to actually host your own server for free directly on your computer. For one, processing power and network bandwidth. Depending on your rig, this may not be a major concern, but you can effectively slow down both your internet and lower your FPS by hosting a server in the background while you play.
Also, unless you spend tons of money, time, and energy making a crazy home server setup, you're probably not going to be able to practically support tons of players without crippling lag on just your computer at home. So, you can also opt to pay for a third-party to host and manage your server that you can then have be set up to your preferences and specifications. These services take a lot of the tedium and technical know-how required out of the Minecraft server hosting experience.
Generally, these services range from somewhere between $10 and $50 a month depending on what level of hardware you want backing your server as well as how many players you plan on supporting at once on your server. But if you want to play online with Minecraft Java on your own world, you don't have to go the route of a server.
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You can also sign up for Minecraft Realms for Java, which you do directly through Mojang. A Minecraft Realm is a private multiplayer server hosted by Mojang for you and your friends. There's a hard-cap at 10 players allowed at once on the server, and while you can do some light modding and get access to most admin commands, the full control you get over a traditional server is not available on Realms.
It's also important to remember that Minecraft Java players can only play with other Minecraft Java players. Bedrock describes the version of Minecraft on every other platform, including consoles, phones, and even the Minecraft you find on the Windows Store, and all these different versions can play together, just not with Java players.
Are Minecraft Servers Free on Bedrock?
Minecraft Bedrock works a bit differently in general in terms of its multiplayer. You have about the same free and paid options as you do in Java on Bedrock, but they work differently and mean, practically, different things.
In general, Bedrock comes packed with drop-in-drop-out four-player co-op. Meaning whenever you're playing in your own world, you can open it up to all your friends playing Minecraft Bedrock in just a few clicks and have them drop in. Of course, you can play Minecraft Java however you want with your friends, but out of the gate, it's less plug-and-play to do this on Java, which helps to make the Minecraft Realms on Java arguably a better deal than Realms on Bedrock.
But it's more complicated than just that. See, there are nearly infinite Minecraft Java servers that get quite complicated mechanically and house tons and tons of players simultaneously. Some of these servers have grown to the scale and complexity of an MMO, supported by whole development teams and a monetization strategy, all for a Minecraft Java sever.
Bedrock has tons of servers, you can run your own, and you can have your own server hosted by a third-party for cheap, too, but there are fewer servers with less variety and fewer players than servers on Java. In general, Bedrock servers (and Bedrock itself) is far less customizable than Minecraft Java servers, so you'll see most of the most popular, most-played, and most interesting servers exist exclusively on Minecraft Java.
Realms are on Bedrock, too, meaning you can pay for your world to be hosted by Mojang so you and your friends can all play on it independently of one another, but unless you've got a lot of friends or very, very different schedules, honestly, it's not so necessary most of the time. Considering how easy it is to hop into a friend's world normally, if you mostly play together and only don't occasionally, it's really easy for the host of the world to just turn on Minecraft while they go about their business.