Many people choose to buy their web hosting and domain name together, from the same provider. But they’re not the same thing. If you’re planning to build a website for your business, you’ll need both.
In this guide, we’ll help you understand the difference between web hosting and domain names. We’ve covered the subject in depth, using simple examples to make things easy to understand.
You’ll also find links to other articles on our blog, where we’ve covered similar topics in more detail. By the end, you should feel confident about creating a website of your own and getting your business online.
Let’s get started…
How Does Web Hosting Work?
Each website is made up of a collection of files. These files contain:
- The text you read on the webpage
- The graphics and pictures you see
- Videos and audio
- Instructions for the browser on how to display the webpages
Web hosting involves storing these website files on a powerful computer connected to the internet. We call these computers ‘web servers’ – because they ‘serve’ files to anyone who requests them.
Think of it like this:
- Each time you visit a website, your web browser requests a set of files from a web server.
- Your browser then reads the CSS file. It uses the instructions inside to display the other content correctly on your screen.
- If everything’s working properly, the process should be complete in a few seconds.
How Things are Changing
In the early days of the internet, many websites were run by tech enthusiasts. Back then, it was quite common for people to host their own websites on a server in their home or office.
Nowadays, most websites are run by small-business owners. But few business people want a web server in their office. (In fact, many internet service providers ban customers from running public web servers behind their home or business internet connections.)
The solution is to use a professional web hosting service. Here’s how that works:
The web hosting company sets up servers in large data centres. They then rent out space on these servers for a monthly fee. So when you buy web hosting, you’re paying to use their servers to store your website and make it available to the public.
Types of Web Hosting
There are all kinds of websites. Some are large and some are small. Some need powerful servers with plenty of storage. Some only need basic resources.
Luckily, there are many varieties of web hosting to cater to these varied needs. Some common examples include:
Shared web hosting is the go-to choice for most small websites. Within a shared hosting plan, one shared server is used to host many different websites belonging to many different businesses.
- Managed WordPress hosting uses servers optimised for WordPress content management system – one of the most popular website builders.
- Cloud hosting is a modern, advanced service. Cloud hosting relies on many connected servers to deliver a flexible, scalable solution.
- Managed cloud hosting is a hassle-free option for customers who don’t want to deal with server maintenance.
- Dedicated Web hosting is a website hosting environment that provides the highest level of resource allocation, privacy, and control thanks to a dedicated server.
Learn More: Why not explore our guide to the types of web hosting?
We’ve also published a beginner’s guide to website hosting – which covers the whole topic more widely.
What is a Web Domain?
A web domain is a website’s address on the internet. When visitors want to visit a website, they type its address into their web browsers. (They might also click a link that points back to that website.)
Web domains are commonly known as domain names, or simply domains. It’s important to understand that each and every one is unique. Even though many domain names are very similar, no two websites can ever share the exact same domain. Domains can also be used at the end of your email address, for example your email account could be [email protected]
Parts of a Domain Name
Each domain name is made of different sections – known as levels. And each level is separated by a full stop.
The last part of the domain name is the top level. Top level domains can be generic or location-based:
- .com is the best-known generic top-level domain. Other examples are .net, .org, and .biz. (There’s more detail on these coming up later.)
- Country code top-level domains (ccTLDs) relate to a specific country. As an example, the UAE’s ccTLD is .ae. The UK’s ccTLD is .uk, and Australia’s is .au.
NB: The top level is also known as the ‘domain extension’. Both terms mean the same thing.
The second-to-last part of the domain name is called the second-level domain. This is (usually) the part you can make up yourself.
Let’s break down our own domain name – www.tasjeel.ae – as an example:
- The top-level domain is .ae
- The second-level domain is tasjeel (our business name)
- The sub-domain is www (which is short for ‘world wide web’)
- Each part is separated by a full stop
How Things are Changing
In the early days of the internet, there were only a few top-level domains to choose from. The first 7 domain extensions were created way back in 1985:
- .com: Short for ‘commercial’. Traditionally used by businesses.
- .net: Short for ‘network’. Traditionally used by internet technology businesses/organisations.
- .org: Short for ‘organisation’. Traditionally used by charities and non-profits.
- .gov: Short for ‘government’. Normally used by governments or government agencies.
- .int: Short for ‘international’. Traditionally used by international organisations, but not very common today.
- .edu: Short for education. Normally used by educational/academic institutions, such as universities.
- .mil: Short for ‘military’. Normally used by military organisations.
.com domain names are the most popular, so choice is limited. In recent years, more businesses have started using alternatives – like .org. (There’s no restriction to stop a profit-making business from using the .org domain extension.)
Newer top-level domains have also been created. An example is the ‘.biz’ extension, launched in 2001 as an alternative to .com.These alternative domain extensions are less popular. If the .com domain name you want is already taken, you might be able to register a similar name that ends with the .biz extension instead.
The downside is that alternative top-level domains aren’t as prestigious. In fact, some people don’t trust websites that use them as much.
Another alternative is to choose a country code top-level domain – like .ae if you’re in the UAE. As well as offering more choice, country code top-level domains can actually build trust by showing customers that your business is local to them.
You might also have noticed that ‘www’ isn’t always used any more. In the last few years, some website owners have started leaving this out from the beginning of their domain names.
The idea is to make the web address simpler or ‘cleaner’. But some people are so used to seeing ‘www’ that they feel domains look wrong without it! Ultimately, it’s just a matter of personal choice.
Learn more: We’ve also put together a more detailed guide to top-level domains.
People sometimes talk about ‘domain hosts’, or having their ‘domain hosted’. We prefer not to use these labels, as they can create confusion between domain registration and web hosting.
Although it’s common to talk about buying a domain, what you’re actually doing is exclusively registering it for a set length of time.
You have 2 main choices when you come to register a domain:
- You can register a new web domain that’s not owned by anyone.
- Buy a premium domain name from someone who’s already registered it.
There are pros and cons to both approaches:
Registering a new domain is fast. In fact, if you have a credit/debit card ready, you can do it with just a few clicks!
It’s also affordable and hassle-free. You’ll simply pay a flat price according to the type of top-level domain you’ve chosen. (Depending on your provider, you might even get free registration as part of your web hosting plan.)
Buying a premium domain is usually more expensive, and it may take longer to complete the transaction. You might also need to negotiate the price – or bid against other buyers.
On the plus side, buying a premium domain name can give you more choice. Because many of the best domains are already registered, it might be the only way to get a stellar web address for your business!
What Domain Name Should I Choose for My Site?
Whichever path you take, you’ll need to choose which domain name is best for your website.
Generally, the best domain names are:
- Short and simple
- Easy to spell, pronounce and remember
- Related to your business name or business activities
Learn More: We’ve created a helpful guide to picking a domain name, which includes more useful pointers.
What is an IP Address?
Domain names offer a simple, user-friendly way of finding websites. That’s because they’re based on words that people can recognise, remember, and type into a web browser.
So far, so simple.
But computers aren’t so great at dealing with words. Computers prefer to use numbers to store or request data. In the case of a website, that number is called an Internet Protocol address – or IP address, for short.
An IP address is a lot like a phone number. Unfortunately, like phone numbers, IP addresses can be hard for people to remember.
This is where the domain name system steps in, to make life simple for people and computers! Next, we’ll look at how that works…
What is the Relationship Between Domain Name and Web Hosting?When a visitor types your domain name into their web browser, a few things need to happen before the browser can display your website:
- The domain name system matches your website’s domain name with its IP address.
- The IP address is used to find the server where your data center hosts your website
- Copies of your website’s files are shared with the visitor’s web browser.
- The browser checks the CSS file and follows the instructions to display your website content to the visitor.
Of course, all of this happens automatically, behind the scenes. The only thing the visitor has to do is remember your domain name.
Can I Use My Domain Name With Any Host?
Yes, you’re usually free to use your domain name with any host.
Many customers choose a combined domain and hosting package from one company. This approach can make things a little simpler, but you’re normally free to use separate companies for each service, if you prefer.
You can link the two by ‘pointing’ your domain name to the servers hosting your website. Your domain registrar or web hosting provider should offer simple guidelines on how to do this.
Before You Buy Website Hosting
Before buying web hosting and a domain name separately, it’s worth checking that you actually need to. That’s because many web hosts include a free domain as part of their hosting plans.
Here at tasjeel, domain names are just one of the great freebies we offer as part of our web hosting packages.
Conclusion: Web Hosting vs Domain
Now that we’ve explored hosting and know how domain names work, let’s return to the question we started with:
What is the difference between web hosting and domain name?
As we’ve seen, web hosting is all about giving a website somewhere to ‘live’ online. Meanwhile, the domain name is the address used to find that website.
To make the point even clearer, you might like to think of a comparison with a house:
Just as a website is on a server, a house needs a plot of land to stand on. Meanwhile, the web domain used for that website is a lot like the address of a house.
Put like this, web hosting and domain names are surprisingly simple! But if you want to explore the technical side to this topic, this guide created by WP Beginner will help: Domain Name vs Web Hosting – What’s the Difference?