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What’s the Difference Between Domain and Web Hosting?

Let’s face it, the internet can be a little confusing. In this series of posts, we are going to break down some of the key concepts behind your website, how to get it online, ranking on google, and driving growth for your business. To kick us off, let’s start with where your website actually resides (web hosting) and how to get the address right (domain hosting) so people can find it.

Read time: 5 mins

Technical Difficulty: Basic

Don’t worry, we are not going deep into technical jargon. The goal here is to develop an understanding of these concepts so you can better work with you website provider and ensure you get the best results from your website. Sound good? read on.

Website Terminology

One of the better analogies used to help describe the relationship between a domain and a website is real estate.

Domain Hosting

These terms probably feel pretty familiar, they are the basic building blocks of the majority of the internet. The domain is the www.(your business name).ca that you purchase and type into a web browser to access your website. This domain is like a sign post on a street that identifies an address.

The website itself is the building on a property. The images, the content and all the code are the brick, mortar, and windows that make your website yours. This is your digital storefront and the best place to make your brand shine online. You don’t have to build it yourself, in fact, it’s often best to bring in experienced website developers to take care of this for you.

All website developer does, actually boils down to bits and bytes of data that need to be stored on a physical storage device somewhere. These hard drives are housed in data centers around the world and are connected to computers that deliver the data to your browser when requested. These data centers are called hosting companies. Think of this as the physical land that you’re building is actually constructed on. You lease this land to build on, and it’s maintained for you by experts that keep it safe from intrusion and running optimally.

What is Domain Hosting?

So, we have covered the basic building blocks of how websites work, but how does domain hosting actually differ from web hosting. Well, the domains that we use every day are held in registries (like a giant computer phone book). There are hundreds of registries around the world that manage different types of domains. Most countries have one (.com, .ca, .co.uk, .fr, .au  etc etc) and there are many variations. Your computer looks to this registry using every time you type in a domain to find the physical address of the corresponding hosting server that actually contains your website. This physical address is called the IP Address and is used by computers to navigate the internet. These registers are also held on other computers and databases that cost money to run and this is why domains have an annual fee. Registrars are companies like Godaddy, Name.com, and Dreamhost that resell these domains and provide management services. They then tell the registries which domain names point to which IP address (using a protocol called DNS) so your website can be delivered to a user in the blink of an eye. Phew! you still with me?

In summary, domains are also managed on a network of computers and hosted by organizations that you buy them from. Your domain host and your web host do not need to be the same company. Domain resellers often also sell web hosting as the two things are closely linked.

While the domain is the address on the sign post outside your property that a human can understand, it is also listed in a phone directory (registry) with an associated phone number (IP) that can be used to lookup (DNS) and retrieve your what you are looking for (website).

How do I manage my domain hosting?

My top recommendation is to ask your web designer or developer to purchase your domain for you and make you the primary registrant. This means that although they manage the domain, your name is in the registry as the legal owner of the domain and you can always keep control of it. We provide this as a complimentary service to all of our customers and is by far the easiest way to operate.

If this is not an option. I would suggest finding a local domain company and working with them to purchase your domain and get it configured to point to your website. Keep the login credentials for this provider safe and secure. You will need them to access it in the following years to renew or manage. Then if your web developer needs access to your domain for further configuration, you can also provide access.

Have a domain but not sure who bought it or where it is hosted? No need to worry, there are services that allow you to lookup domain information from the relevant registry so you can track down the person or organization who controls it. Or call your friendly local web designers so they can help you figure it out.