There is a lot of confusion between web hosting and domain names. On the surface, they both seem like the same thing. When someone asks for a website, the response is something like “its www.website.com”. So there you go, same thing, right?
To put it simply, the domain name is the address (or URL) you type into your browser, and the website itself is on a hosting server. This can be likened to your own address and your house. Your address is how someone finds your house, and the actual house is where you can play host to visitors.
Lets break this down further.
What is “Website Hosting”?
Everything on the internet is hosted on a server. A server is another term for a computer that has a specialized purpose. That purpose is to serve a website to your device.
The files that make up a website, like all the images and code files, live on a server. All of the files are stored on a server, and hosted to the public. This is why Web Hosting has a monthly cost. Although, cheap hosting does exist, it is quite expensive to run a server and keep it online with zero down-time.
There is a lot more we can get into with website hosting, but to keep this brief, lets just move on to domains.
What is a “Domain Name” or DNS?
Have you ever heard of an “IP address”? An IP address looks something like 220.127.116.11. The IP address of a server is just like your street address. It’s how your house differentiates itself from the house next to yours.
Now imagine your address didn’t have any words in it. Imagine your home address was just numbers. Something like 123 First Street, might look like 123.514.87.87. You would have to be half-android to remember or recognize anybody’s address! This is what the internet would be like (and actually was in the early days) without a Domain Naming Service (DNS).
This is where Domain Names come into play. A domain name is simply a human-readable address, that points to a server IP. This way, we don’t need to remember a bunch of numbers to get where we’re going. Domain names also operate on their own servers and need to be officially registered with a “domain registrar”. That’s why there is also a cost when purchasing a domain name.
Unlike a costly website host, domain’s are typically pretty cheap, and you buy them for the year, not monthly. They can get very expensive if you’re looking for a premium domain however. Since the best domains are the most memorable ones, anything short will be pricey. I don’t think anything with 4 letters or less is even available at this point, not without a very high price tag.
Do I NEED a host for my domain?
No! You don’t! If there is a domain available that you think you might need in the future, just snag it now. Even if you don’t have a website, you should grab your domain if its available. There’s plenty of free websites you can point it to.
For example, I purchased a domain with my own birth name. Any individuals out there who want to market themselves, in any capacity, should own their domain with their name in it. A domain like that is generic enough to be used for almost anything you do. Point it to your ebay store while you’re building your ecomm website. Or point it to your instagram profile while you build your audience there, making it easier for people to find you.
You can get a domain and use it for e-mail only, if that’s all you want to do. There’s many reasons why someone might buy a domain without a website.
So, do I need a domain for my website host?
Nope! You can build a website without a domain. This can come in handy if you’re trying to get a head start on the website, but your branding isn’t completely finish yet. This is basically how I develop new websites. When its time to finally launch the website, I just point the domain over to the host where the site has been developed. Between the domain and the host, you don’t technically need them both, it just depends on what exactly you’re trying to accomplish.
For the record, I host most of my client’s websites on WPEngine. I chose WPEngine because I typically build websites on the WordPress platform, and they specialize in hosting wordpress websites. Their servers are very quick and secure, and come with all the bells and whistles you could want with a WP website, along with fantastic support, based in the U.S.
GoDaddy is very popular, but I have been hell-bent on transferring all of my domains to Googles domain service: domains.google. Google’s service has a very simple interface and the best prices, and not really lacking anything either. Except for their phone support. Most of Google’s support is outsourced to India, so if you prefer to do business on the phone, you might want to find another company.
Addressing the Confusion
A Domain Name Service and a Web Hosting Service are often different services. Can you get them both from the same place? Of course! Places like GoDaddy are both an official domain registrar, as well as offering hosting plans. I recommend against it however, especially if you’re building a wordpress website. Their servers are very slow, and lacking in security for wp websites.