What’s the difference between a domain name and web hosting? This is a very common question among beginners and anyone who’s thinking of starting a website.
A domain name and web hosting are two elements of running a website. All websites require a domain name and web host to be visible throughout the internet.
Domain name is a human-readable word that directs people to your website. It’s your website address that people type into the URL or search bar of their web browser.
Web hosting is an account on a computer(aka Server) that stores and serves website files that are accessed by the internet. This is where all your website files live.
As an analogy, if your website was a physical business or house, then a web host would be the land or building and a domain name would be the street address.
In this beginner’s guide, the goal is to alleviate any misconception or confusion about the difference between a domain name and web hosting and explain how they both work and how to get started.
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How Does a Domain Name and Web Hosting Work?
Many times domain names and web hosting get paired together. Often this leads beginners to believe they are the same thing. Even though you can’t have one without the other, they are two completely separate things. It’s essential to understand what they do and how they work.
The internet in its entirety is essentially just a massive community of computers connected through cables, called a network.
To identify each of the computers, they are assigned a numerical label called an IP Address. An IP Address is a combination of letters and numbers separated by dots and colons.
At the time of this article, there are two main versions of IP addresses used. Below are some examples of the two versions and how they look.
IP Address Examples
IPv4: 188.8.131.52 (Version 4) IPv6: FE80:0000:0000:0000:0202:B3FF:FE1E:8329 (Version 6)
As you can see, IP Addresses are complicated and are very difficult for humans to remember and use to connect to websites.
On the other hand, computers are designed to calculate numbers and have no problem identifying and remembering them.
For this reason, domain names were created to give humans a way to remember website addresses by using human-readable words that are easy to remember.
Now, if you want to visit your favorite website, it’s as simple as typing an easy-to-remember word into your web browser’s URL or search bar.
Additionally, once a domain name is registered, it is being leased from the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). ICANN is an American multistakeholder group and nonprofit organization responsible for providing domains to approved registrars.
Furthermore, a domain name on its own does nothing. Alternatively, you can point your domain wherever you want, even redirect to another website. But most of the time you’ll want to point your domain to your website on your web hosting account.
Here are some resources for finding a domain name:
- How to Choose the Best Domain Name for Your Website
- Top 10 Best Domain Name Generators to Help You Find the Perfect Domain
- How to Choose the Best Domain Name Registrar
A web host is a computer also known as a web server that stores and hosts your website files. Your web host is where your website files live.
When you enter a domain name into a web browser, it gets translated into the IP Address of the web host’s computer.
The web host’s computer is where your website files live. It then sends or serves those files back to the user’s web browser.
Although it’s possible to set up a web host at home, it can be very challenging and expensive for most people. The easiest route is to choose a hosting company to host your website files.
Web hosting companies specialize in hosting websites and have web servers pre-configured and leased out according to different hosting plans.
Below is a list of some of the most common web hosting plans.
Most Common Web Hosting Plans
- Shared Hosting: This is where you share a web server with other websites. So, one machine with multiple websites running.
- Dedicated Hosting: This is where you get a web server all to yourself. So, one machine with just your website.
- VPS Hosting: This is a split between shared and dedicated hosting. So, one web server that functions as multiple separate servers.
- Cloud Hosting: This is where you get a virtual server that runs in a cloud computing environment that stores data across a network of computers.
- Managed Hosting: This is where the web hosting provider handles the set-up, administration, and support of the server. This option is more of a service than a type of hosting, that web hosting providers offer to customers.
- Specialized WordPress Hosting: This is web hosting specifically designed and optimized to run WordPress websites. This option is similar to managed hosting but for WordPress only. This is beginner recommended.
- Ecommerce Hosting: This is web hosting specifically designed and optimized to run online store websites, including payment processing, shopping carts, and inventory management.
Most web hosting companies will typically include instructions on how to point your domain name to a web hosting account, including instructions for building and managing your website.
The best web hosting companies will have a wealth of support and offer things like in-depth documentation, forums, and customer service, so be aware of these when shopping for web hosts.
For further reading on shopping for web hosts, we recommend: How to Choose the Best Web Hosting Provider for Your Website.
Additionally, there are many different kinds of web hosting platforms, depending on the type of website you want to host.
How to Get Started Buying a Domain and Web Hosting
At this point, you should now have a general understanding of what a domain name and web host are.
In this section, the three most common paths for beginners will be covered, hopefully clearing up any confusion you might still have about getting started.
Buy a Domain Name and Web Hosting Separately
This path is where you will buy a domain name from a domain company and then buy your web hosting from a separate company. Then you will need to point your domain name to your web host.
Advantages of Buying a Domain and Hosting Separately
- The most significant advantage is going to be better long-term pricing.
- Moving your website to a new hosting provider will be easier while your domain stays with its provider.
- These companies often specialize in domains or hosting.
Disadvantages of Buying a Domain and Hosting Separately
- The most significant disadvantage is that it’s not as convenient as using a single company.
- Troubleshooting across different companies can be difficult.
- Getting setup has more configuration steps and takes more time.
Domain Provider Examples
There are a lot of reputable and well-established companies that sell and specialize in domain names.
Web Hosting Provider Examples
The sheer number of web hosting providers on the internet is quite considerable; instead of listing them all, below is a list of WordPress recommended hosts.
Remember, when you buy a domain name and web hosting separately, you will need to point your domain to your web host.
Buy a Domain Name and Web Hosting Together
This path is the easiest for individuals that are beginners. This path is where you will buy a domain name and web hosting together.
We recommend this option if you are new to building a WordPress website.
This path will make managing your website easier because your website and domain name are within the same company.
Additionally, many web hosting providers will provide a free domain with a bundled hosting package for the first year.
Advantages of Buying a Domain and Web Hosting Together
- The most significant advantage here is the convenience and simplicity you get from having both within the same company.
- If problems should arise, you will get unified support from one company.
- There are no extra configuration steps to get started, like pointing your domain to your web host.
- Most web hosts that offer both will have bundled specials and discounts for new accounts.
- Many providers will have a one-click install that takes just a couple of minutes.
Disadvantages of Buying a Domain and Web Hosting Together
- It can sometimes be difficult to leave and transition to a new provider.
- Domain renewals can be more expensive.
- If your website goes offline, so does your domain.
- Less reputable companies may try to hold your domain hostage. This is why you should signup with a provider that is trusted.
Domain + Web Hosting Provider Examples
Furthermore, once you purchase a web hosting package from a trusted provider, you’ll then be able to install the WordPress software on your account and go from there.
Buy Everything Bundled Together
With this path, you will buy a domain name, web hosting, website software, and website services from a single company all in one bundle.
This path is known as going with a hosted website builder. This is common among beginners because of its simplicity and convenience.
But most importantly, you should understand that this is essentially the same as the first two paths, except that your paying for a bundle with everything included.
Advantages of Buying Everything Together
- The most significant advantage here is the convenience and simplicity of having everything bundled together.
- If problems should arise, you will have unified support from one company for a single product.
- All the functionality of your website is integrated, so everything works great.
- Speed, maintenance, and security are all managed for you.
Disadvantages of Buying Everything Together
- The most significant disadvantage is the loss of total control with no access to the server.
- Typically will be more expensive long-term.
- The ability to customize specific features is lost.
- No ability to troubleshoot without customer support.
- It’s difficult to leave for another option because you can’t take your website with you.
Domain + Web Hosting Provider Examples
- GoDaddy Website Builder
- Shopify (Focused on eCommerce)
Once you choose and activate a plan, a clear path is usually laid out with step-by-step instructions to help you get up and running quickly.
In conclusion, some basic information about what the difference between a domain name and web hosting has been covered by pointing out what they are and what they do.
Understanding the difference between the two is an important step. And that you cannot have a website without these two elements.
Additionally, we took a look at the three of the most common paths when considering a new website project.
A domain name will usually cost around 14.99 per year, with web hosting starting from $3 – $10 per month.
DreamHost is currently offering TarttWeb users a special discount on hosting that includes a free domain name for the first year including a free SSL certificate,domain privacy, and email that matches your domain.
You can get started building and creating your website project for just $2.59 per month.
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