Explainer: The Difference Between Your Domain Name Registration and Website Hosting

By GEOF BOWIE

Our readers often ask us to explain the difference between a domain name and web hosting.

It’s not uncommon to confuse them as the same thing.

Let’s talk about the difference between registration and hosting.

Start with “What is a Domain Name”?

Your domain name is the www address of your website that visitors use to go to your website.

Think of it in terms of snail mail: your domain name is the most straightforward place to handle mail. I like to consider it the Post Office itself. A PO Box, maybe. Your website is where the mail ends up with you: a home, office, apartment, trusted administrator, and so on.  

Let’s zoom out for a second and talk about how this part of the system works. The “internet” is simply a bunch of computers connected. They talk to each other in numbers, not names. Therefore your friendly www.myawesomebusiness.com has to be translated into those numbers so the “servers” that the computers use can connect.

You might have heard the term “IP Address” (probably from your tech support person in regards to your broken wifi.). Servers assign unique IP Addresses to each friendly www name.

This process happens when you “register” the domain name. For example, once you register www.myawesomebusiness.com, the registrar (more on that later) assigns you an IP address unique to you.

So far, so good? We are missing a big part. Ready?

“Think of it in terms of snail mail: your domain name is the most straightforward place to handle mail. I like to consider it the Post Office itself. A PO Box, maybe. Your website is where the mail ends up with you: a home, office, apartment, trusted administrator, and so on. “

Now when someone sends you a “letter” (back to our mail metaphor), the mail carriers (servers) need to know where to send this information. At this point, they don’t know where to send it, only that you’ve registered your domain name. So we need to set up “services” like web hosting and email to be found online.  

Enter web hosting.

What is Web Hosting?

In our metaphor, web hosting is the place you eventually want to receive messages/visitors. So let’s pick your office because we best serve businesses.

The information knows that your domain has a place like a post office that can route information correctly. When you set up web hosting, you use settings at your registrar to tell these other services (email, web hosting) where to go (numerical addresses).

Let’s say someone wants to visit your website. This website visitor will type in (or link to) www.myawesomebusiness.com, and the internet servers say, “OH hey! I know who controls this domain at XYZ address (registrar), so here you go. And it hands off the information. More settings at your registrar then tell that www request that “OH hey! That website address lives over at ABC hosting… Here you go!”

All of this takes seconds.

So now they have arrived, your website serves up files which look all pretty and amazing on their computer or mobile device. Magic!

Ok. So how do I set all this up?

Great question! The first thing is to reserve your domain name through a trusted registrar. There are a few things to be careful of:

  1. Be sure to register with an email you won’t ever lose or not control. Too often see agencies take charge of this as a service, but later the client cannot get access. Be in control of your registration!
  2. Set registration up independently of your hosting. Every registrar wants you to buy hosting. Hold off at first so you can best separate the services.
  3. Buyer beware! You will receive many shady upsell offers (see video) because nobody can make money by selling registrations. If you are unsure at any stage, hold off and talk to a professional. It might save you tons of headaches later in trying to recover your domain.

Is it ok to have both registrations and hosting with the same company?

Absolutely. However, we recommend adding an extra layer of security between the two using Cloudflare as a service. In this case, you change some basic settings on your registration control panel first. Cloudflare is free and an industry leader in internet security.

Can I ever change registrars?

Yes, with some warnings:

  1. They don’t want you to move away, so it can be tricky to change, but not impossible.
  2. As long as you own the registration (and not a third party), you have the right to move it anywhere you want.
  3. There is a straightforward way to make the change, requiring a request from the new registrar and authorization from you from the current registrar.

Can I Move My Website Hosting?

You bet. And that Cloudflare setup will make it dead simple for you. It does require some tech chops to understand the dark arts of DNS, but you can move your site anytime you like. (For SEO (search results) purposes, we recommend keeping as much of the website content as possible, so you don’t backslide in rankings, even if you do a complete redesign).

Conclusion:

Registration comes first, and it’s reserving the domain name you want to use. Then to use it, you need a website or email hosting to house that data for your visitors.

Keep these things straight in your mind, and you will be way ahead of the game.  

Often we talk to people who are already down the path on this and need help sorting it out. You are not alone, and we are happy to hear what you have set up and see if we can help out.

If you’d like to dig in more, there are some articles here about WordPress and SEO you might like.

Iron Egg is committed to helping small businesses grow affordably through website design and digital marketing. Contact us today to see if what we do is right for you.