Getting to grips with the difference between web hosting and domain names is essential when you’re running a website. Here, we talk you through each one – and what the key differences are.
When you’re a beginner in the world of websites (and even when you’re not!) there can be a lot of jargon and technical terms to get your head around.
Two of the most important features of a website are web hosting and a domain name. However, many people often get these two different web elements confused.
Fear not, though – it’s an easy mistake to make. So in this article, we’ll explain the differences between the two – and why you need to understand both to be successful at building your online presence.
A web host stores the files that make up your website. Every website is made up of a number of files that are accessed every time a user visits and loads your website. Web hosting is the storage of these files, folders, and data.
For a user to access all of those files, they need to be placed on a server. Web hosting providers will store all of your website’s files on their server, for a fee, allowing users worldwide to have access to your website.
Every website on the internet needs to have web hosting. Web hosting companies present users with all of the files that make up your website when they load up your web pages.
There are different types of web hosting options, and the one you need will differ depending on your website.
- Shared hosting: this is where your website will be hosted on a server alongside multiple other websites. The cost of shared hosting is usually pretty low, so it’s the ideal option for entry-level websites.
- Dedicated hosting: this is where you exclusively rent a server, and your website is the only one that’s stored and hosted on it. This will give you extensive control over the admin and security of your server – however, it’s also the most expensive option.
- VPS hosting: VPS (Virtual Private Server) is a middle ground between shared and dedicated hosting. Each website is stored within its own space within the server, yet still shares the wider, physical server with other users.
A domain name is the address of your website. It’s the URL that people type into the address bar to be directed to your website, such as amazon.com or websitebuilderexpert.com.
To help servers and browsers identify individual websites, each one is given an IP address. IP addresses are made up of a series of numbers separated by dots. Whilst computers are easily able to remember and identify IP addresses, it’s considerably harder for humans to remember multiple number combinations.
Domain names help ensure that human users can access the exact website they want, by making the address of that website unique and simple to remember. For a user to visit a particular website, all they have to do is type in the domain name, rather than a confusing sequence of numbers.
Domain names will feature both a Second Level Domain (SLD) and Top Level Domain (TLD). The SLD is the part to the left-hand side of the dot (e.g. “amazon”), whilst the TLD is the part that comes after the dot (e.g. “.com”).
While web hosting and domain names may be two separate things, you can’t have one without the other when it comes to running a website. They both work together in order to ensure users can access a website.
Domain names are addresses for websites – so think of your website as a house. Your domain name is your house address e.g. “5 Queens Close”, whilst your web hosting is the actual bricks and mortar house that the address directs to. Both complement each other.
Now you’ve got an idea of what web hosting and domain names are – and why they’re so important – you need to understand where and how you can get them for your website.
Where to Get Web Hosting
In today’s online world, it will come as no surprise that there are now plenty of specialist web hosting providers who will “rent out” space on their servers to host your website.
Our recommended top-rated hosting providers are:
- Bluehost – Bluehost is a great choice if you’re looking for a budget-friendly hosting option. Hosting plans start at as little as just $2.99 per month. You can also get a free domain name as part of your purchase.
- HostGator – HostGator has great customer support and fast server speeds for shared hosting. You can also often benefit from discounts tailored especially to first-time users.
- InMotion Hosting – InMotion Hosting is easy to use, and has no limitations on bandwidth. This hosting provider offers various plan options depending on your requirements.
When choosing a hosting provider, it’s important to think about exactly what you’ll need your hosting to provide, as well as how much you’re willing to pay for website hosting.
Where to Get a Domain Name
You can purchase a domain name through a domain name registrar. Once you have purchased and registered the domain name, it’s yours for the duration of time you’ve chosen (usually 12 months). Don’t forget to renew your domain each time it comes up for renewal, or you could wind up slapped with a penalty fee (usually around $100) if you want to do this later on down the line!
You can use the domain name you purchase from a domain registrar with any hosting company.
There are various places you can purchase a domain, but our recommended domain name registrars are:
- Domain.com – Domain.com is straightforward to use, and also offers services such as hosting, SSL certificates, and emails.
- NameCheap – NameCheap is a great budget-friendly option, with domains starting at just $9 per year. Their domain management system is easy to use, and the company is one of the most trusted domain name registrars operating today.
When choosing your domain name provider, make sure to look at the additional help and support it provides, such as security and renewal reminders. You’ll also need to decide exactly how much to spend on your domain name, too.
Can You Get Web Hosting and a Domain Name Together?
You can choose to purchase both your web hosting and your domain name together from the same place. Take a look at the table below to see the pros and cons of purchasing the two together.
- Easy to manage and renew both services under the same dashboard
- No additional configuration is required, e.g. pointing your domain to your hosting provider
- Bundled special offers and discounts are often available
- Can lead to a loss of personalization or specialist services
- Harder to leave and transition one or both to a new company
- Domain renewals are often pricier
Below, we’ve put together some of the most common questions and answers about domain names, web hosting, and the differences between them.
Yes, once you own the domain name it’s yours to do what you want with it. For example, if you bought your domain name from company A, and your hosting from company B, but now want everything to run under company B’s systems and control panel, you can easily transfer your domain by following the individual step-by-step instructions that both companies will provide.
Yes. A domain name can become much more than just a way to direct people to a website. Over time, domain names will build up authority that makes them more valuable than their original sale price. Domain auctions allow you to sell a domain for the best price available.
Yep, you’ll normally need to renew both your domain name and your web hosting once a year, depending on the plan you originally purchased. Most companies will remind you when your plan is up for renewal, so you don’t need to worry about forgetting.