Lost in space? If you’re confused by the relationship between a domain name and hosting, you’re not alone. In fact the whole hosting thing can be pretty confusing if you’re not familiar with it, with all sorts of mysterious dots to join up. This article reveals everything you need to know about the difference between the hosting side of online life and the domain name element, provided by B2B web design agency experts who know hosting inside out. By the end of it you’ll be confident in the difference between domain name and web hosting, both crucial elements of every site on the web.
Let’s assume you have no previous knowledge at all about what a website domain name is. You need a really simple explanation, so here goes. A domain name is a website address, the thing that users type into their browser search box to take them straight to the site they want to visit. Some simple examples are BBC.com, Microsoft.com, Google.com, and our own web design Oxford site, Intuitiv.net.
As you can see, domain names are unique to a particular site. You can’t share a domain name with another site or another business. Once you’ve typed it in, the server translates domain names behind the scenes from the human-friendly name you typed in to a numerical IP address, which is what computers use.
Domain names come in several parts. Your Top Level Domain is the vital final part of the address, the .com. .org or .co.uk part. The Second Level Domain is the part to the left of the Top Level section, just before the full stop, for example ‘Google’, which comes before ‘.com’.
Where do you get a domain name? You can secure the domain names you want and register them officially via online businesses called domain name registrars. A domain name registrar is simply a business that reserves domain names and assigns IP addresses for them.
You’d also use a domain name registrar to check the availability of the domain name you want for your business. If it isn’t available, the registrar will suggest a list of alternatives. If the .com domain name is already being used by another business, for example, you might still be able to buy the .co.uk or .biz version.
Let’s also assume you have no idea what web hosting involves. Also simply called hosting, ‘website hosting, web hosting, and webhosting, it is the business of housing, serving, and maintaining the files for one or more sites – your ‘files’ being anything from images to video content and the code for the web pages themselves.
You can’t run a website without hosting. Hosting is what makes your site visible online. Without it all you have is a bunch of files on a computer, impossible to access or view. Once you’ve registered the website domain name you want for your business, hosting connects up all the files that make up your website via something called ‘nameservers’. Nameservers translate the human readable domain name, the URL address you type into Google or whatever other browser you use, into the right IP address – the computer address for the hosted website files. In other words, your domain name will ‘resolve’ to the valid IP address of a physical server to open a website.
Let’s clarify. The key difference between domain names and web hosting is this: while the domain name is the human-readable address for a website, the web host is where the files that make up that website are kept.
You can usually buy domain names and web hosting services from the same provider, but it isn’t essential. You can buy a domain name separately from your hosting. Why would you do that? Maybe you’ve found the domain name you want somewhere else, on sale for less money than it is from the host you’ll be using. It isn’t unusual to buy them separately but it’s often more convenient from a beginner’s perspective to buy them from the same place, where they’ll join the dots for you.
There are masses of domain name registrars out there, and the prices of the domains they sell differ dramatically depending on who you buy from. Popular registrars trusted by many businesses and personal users include Godaddy, Namecheap, and Fasthosts. Before you decide, check a few domain name registrars out to see the difference in price.
So it isn’t necessary for a domain name and hosting service to come from the same source. If a domain is registered with a registrar but the website is going to be hosted with a different hosting provider, the nameserver settings at the registrar will automatically translate the domain into the IP addresses of the location of the website files held with the hosting service. These crucial nameserver settings originate with the web hosting service, and they’re easy to enter so everything joins up properly with the domain registrar.
Next we’ll dive into three popular questions about web hosting and domain names, giving you an at-a –glance guide.
What are the key differences between domain names and web hosting?
Domain names are names allocated to websites that humans can read, for example BBC.com. Web hosting stores all the computer files that make up a website on computers called web servers, which are specially configured to host sites safely and securely. Domain names are part of the URLs (or Universal Resource Locators) that you enter into your browser address bar when you want to visit websites. These are translated into the IP addresses belonging to the web hosting servers used to store and serve up the website files.
Do I need a domain name and web hosting to build a website?
If you only have a domain name, you don’t have a website. Just a name for a website. If you don’t have hosting you don’t have a website either, just a bunch of files kept on a hosting server. But it’s entirely possible to build a website entirely offline, without either a domain name or web hosting, and that’s how web developers tend to work. It makes sense since there’s no need for anyone except the client to see a site being built, when it’s work in progress. Once it’s time to launch the site you’ll need a domain name and hosting.
Do you have to buy web hosting and domain names together?
The short answer is - no you don’t. You can register a domain name with one of countless registrars online, and host your site with one of many thousands of hosting companies. The nameserver settings allocated to your domain name at the registrar will associate the domain with the hosted files that make up your website, then once you’ve published your site people will be able to use your domain name to visit it.
Now you know the difference between domain names and web hosting. It’s a handy thing to know because it underpins the visibility and usability of your site. Unless both things are in place and talking to each other in the right way, your website won’t be visible and nobody will be able to find it online.
The Intuitiv team is expert in every aspect of hosting, web design and web development, Oxford based and a popular choice with businesses all over the country. We’re your perfect choice for everything from domain names and hosting to web design, development and more. If you’d like to leave it all in our more-than-capable hands, we’ll be delighted to make it all happen for you.