What’s the Difference Between a Domain and Web Hosting?

If you’re launching your first website and are completely new to it, you may have heard terms like “domain” and “web hosting” being thrown around. But what are they, and what’s the difference? Take a look at this brief overview.

The Makeup of a Website

Every time you visit a website, your computer goes through a process to display that site for you. It starts by entering the domain name into the browser, which can be done through clicking on a link, for example. Then the domain is translated into the owner’s server IP address. That server sends the user the site files, which display as a web page.

Broken down, websites are made up of three components:

  • Domain name
  • Web hosting server
  • Site Files

Some people use the metaphor of a house to describe how these pieces come together. Essentially, your domain name is your address, your web hosting is the house, and your site files are your furniture.

What is a Domain?

Your domain name is your website’s address, such as www.example.com. This address is a lot like a mailing address. It tells computers where to find the site on connected servers so they can send and receive information. Without a domain name, it’d be like trying to call someone on the phone when they don’t have a phone number. They could have a phone, just as you might have a website, but you’d have no way of reaching them.

What is Web Hosting?

A server is a device that’s connected to the Internet and stores site files. When you pay for web hosting services, you’re renting out a space on their hard-drive so that users across the world can access your site files. Many hosts have multiple server locations so they can back up your site files, which helps prepare you both for emergencies like natural disasters.

Web hosting is storage space. It alone cannot stand as your website. Instead, you use that space to store your site files, which save your layout, content, images, etc. Content management systems like WordPress make it easy to work with those files without going into the backend of your hosting account. The best WordPress hosts make it easy to get your site on the web through one-click WordPress installs.

Without web hosting, your domain name would act as a disconnected telephone number—there’d be no way to reach you.

There are multiple types of web hosting. The most common are:

  • Shared: Shared hosting has multiple users on the same server, all sharing the same resources. It’s a lot like renting an apartment. You all share the building and common areas, but you have your own “space” to call your own.
  • VPS: VPS refers to “virtual private server.” With this, multiple sites are on the same server, but the resources are divided up rather than all shared at once. It’s like owning a condo. You share the building with everyone, but you own the part that’s yours. That means you have a specific amount of resources allotted to you and only you. The benefit is that your site will be much faster than with shared web hosting, and it’s scalable.
  • Dedicated: Dedicated hosting means you’re the one on the server. It’s like owning a house. That means all the resources are yours and you can control your server. That makes for lightning-fast websites, and it’s great for people with high traffic numbers.

The best web hosts offer all three types of web hosting so that you can scale your site as your traffic grows.

Do You Need to Use the Same Company for Both?

One thing that confuses people about the difference between web hosting and domains is that many companies in the industry offer both services. That said, you don’t have to use the same company for both. You can use one company to register your domain name and another to host your site files.

This means that you’re not stuck with your first choices if you want to change things down the line. You can always choose a different domain name and point it to the same website. In fact, you can point multiple domain names to the same site at once.

You can also change web hosts without losing your domain name or your site files. You may need to contact support for this to get everything transferred over properly. However, if you find you need a better web host, you don’t have to start all over.

Some people choose to register their domain name through their web host because it’s more convenient. Others choose not to keep everything in the same place to make transferring to a new host easier and to improve site security. Be sure to weigh the pros and cons yourself before deciding which companies to work with.

Hopefully you have a better understanding of domain names and web hosting now to make setting up your site easier.