Even for those with experience of websites, explaining the difference between a domain name and web hosting in simple terms is not easy. They are very different, but they need each other. They can be transferred elsewhere but a live website still requires a domain name and a web hosting account. So, what is the difference between a domain name and web hosting?
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What’s web hosting?
There are many different types of website hosting. In its simplest form web hosting is a computer server where people store their websites/files. Many people compare this to a home/warehouse where you would traditionally store goods/furniture. However in this instance you store computer files which may take in videos, content management platforms, images, documents and a whole range of coding files. Using the analogy of a warehouse, without a front door and an address the computer files are useless. Nobody knows where you are!
What is a domain name?
A domain name is simply the address of your website. Think of it as the front door to your website. It is vital in presenting your website to the World Wide Web. You can’t touch a domain name. It is not physical component, but for many businesses its value is literally priceless. This reveals a website’s true identity. Once you buy a domain name with a particular extension such as .com, .co.uk, etc, that domain name is unique and yours. Some people may attempt to buy your domain name with a different extension, and sometimes cause confusion with your audience. Whatever the case, they cannot buy your full domain name including the extension. Let’s illustrate an example of a full domain name extension with Google.com. In this case, Google is the name of the domain and .com is the domain extension. These two elements make up the full domain name.
How do domain names and web hosting work together?
If we use the analogy of a home/warehouse as above, the domain name is the address on the door. The web hosting company is the building. While the “furniture” inside is the computer files. The files and domain name are useless without a hosting account. The files and host account are useless without a domain, etc. In actuality, they all form part of the same jigsaw puzzle. However, this is not where the analogy ends!
There are various different types of hosting which include:-
Shared web hosting services
Perhaps the best way to describe shared hosting would be a home with various areas assigned to individuals. Each of these areas would have an address, i.e. your domain name. While there are no physical boundaries, each has their own space on a server. They share the expenses for the property while maintaining a degree of individuality. This could be described as an open plan home or an open plan office. However, when one resident begins to expand and needs more space for more furniture/files then this can tip over into areas which are set aside for other people – their neighbours. Also, if one tenant is using all of the electric or all of the water then this will impact the supply to others in the building. This is in effect the server resources.
This is the first sign that the website of one or more of the resident is becoming too large for the space assigned to them – shared hosting.
Virtual Private Server
A Virtual Private Server (VPS) hosting option is the next step up from shared hosting. The main difference is that while each of the many residents is still living in the same property, albeit with individual addresses, each are assigned an individual area which is cordoned off from the rest. In effect, each of the accounts on a VPS is akin to having a room in a large building with its own running water, electricity, etc. There are physical constraints for the amount of storage facilities and neighbours are not able to encroach into their neighbour’s space. In effect they have a private cordoned off area, their room, which they can decorate (customise) however they like. For growing websites there may come a time when a VPS hosting account is too small and they require a dedicated server.
Dedicated server hosting
A dedicated server is in effect a whole property taken up by one member with one address on the door and no other tenants in the property. The client can move freely round the property; they have large storage facilities very often with the option of extending the “property” i.e. extending their storage facilities/processing power as their website grows. However, in this situation, unlike shared hosting and VPS where costs are shared, a dedicated server customer will be liable for all costs associated with the server. To use the property analogy, they are liable for the rent and all of the utility bills!
This perfectly illustrates the role of domain names and web hosting together with the different types of hosting accounts available.
Transfer web hosting service providers
It is relatively easy to transfer web hosting service providers. While this is where the analogy with a home falls down a little, it is simply a case of placing your domain name/address on another front door/web hosting service. This means that your domain name will point to a different host server which is likely to contain transferred files from your previous hosting account. While not advisable to transfer hosting companies on a regular basis there will be occasions when you are looking for the best web hosting deals and are effectively forced to move.
Many people automatically assume that you need to transfer website domain names to your new host provider. This is not the case. All you do is simply redirect the domain name to your new web hosting provider which is done through the registration company from which you bought your domain name. Your new hosting company will give you some very simple server address details to add to your domain name registrar account or they will do it themselves if you give them the log in details. The best web hosting providers offer free hosting migration to make the process seamless and as simple as possible.
Maintaining control of your domain name
In the past we have seen instances where host companies and advisers have acquired domain names on behalf of clients but “held them” in their own names. To all intents and purposes the actual customer is not seen as the legal owner of the domain names. When in fact they bought it and they use it. In the event of fraudulent activity or a company going out of business, it can be extremely difficult to reclaim and re-register your domain name. When you bear in mind it probably took significant investment in time and money to build up your online business, this can be devastating.
Therefore, when acquiring a domain name, and many hosting companies offer domain name registration services, it is imperative that you register the domain name in your own name/your company name. It is very easy to set up a domain name account, to hold your portfolio of domain names, and then simply point them towards different hosting companies. If you find that the domain name that you want is taken, these steps can help you to acquire the perfect domain.
Best web hosting deals
The best web hosting deals available will depend upon the size of your website, your budget and your plans for the future. This is not a one size fits all situation, as we touched on above, there are pros and cons with shared hosting, VPS and dedicated servers. It is also advisable to plan ahead for the future and factor in the need for additional storage space and processing power. It could really help by saving you time of switching from plan to plan as your business grows. The easiest way to find the best web hosting deals is to speak to your web host. Share your plans, your current situation and the level of assistance and guidance you will need.
Managed hosting accounts
Once you begin the journey to build your website and find the best web hosting packages it can be difficult to know where to start. Thankfully, there are numerous managed hosting accounts available. In managed hosting, a hosting provider assist every step of the way. They carry out an array of regular functions like server monitoring and maintenance. This allows business entrepreneurs to focus on growing their businesses and increasing sales. As a website owner you should not have to fret about the technicalities of hosting your website. This is why managed hosting was created. It gives the job of maintaining and monitoring a server to those with the relevant experience.
Whether you need assistance for WordPress hosting, one click web apps like Joomla or your design, you can get help. In fact, most web hosting accounts have access to unlimited hosting service support help 24 hours a day. Even if the type of assistance you are looking for is out of the remit of your managed hosting account, your host provider will likely have alternative solutions for you to consider.
Comparing and contrasting various types of web hosting services with home/warehouse facilities is a very simple. They effectively get the message across the web. The domain name, web server and website files are all vital elements of your online business jigsaw. If just one of these elements is missing the whole system will fail.