Prospective clients often don’t understand the difference between domain name registration and website hosting. It is a confusing system, and hopefully this article will remove some of the mystery of website design basics.
Overview: Domain Name Registration
A “domain name” is your online identity, the “mybusinessname.com” or “mynonprofit.org” or “widgets.net”. Domain names are unique, meaning that once you purchase your domain name from a domain name registrar, you alone own the rights to use it – just like buying a car. You can build a website and use the domain name for yourself, or sell it someone else. New, never used domain names can be purchased from a domain name registrar. You can also purchase a domain from a person who already owns the domain – but they’ll charge you much more than a domain registrar will because they’re trying to make a profit. Since new domains cost around $10/year and existing domains can be much, much more, I generally recommend that new website owners purchase new domain names from domain registrars whenever possible.
Overview: Website Hosting
Website “hosting” refers to a company or person who rents you space on one of their computers, called a “server”. It’s the server’s job to store the various files that comprise your website. When someone uses an internet browser, like Firefox, Safari or Internet Explorer and types in your domain name, the server “serves” the appropriate files, just like a waiter brings you the dinner your ordered. Servers do more than just “serve”, they also execute “server-side” code, which means they are also like the cooks in the kitchen. Servers work really hard, which is sometimes why websites may be unavailable for short periods of time. A website hosting company may have one or dozens or hundreds of servers – depending on the size of the company. I’ve worked with many different hosting companies, and DreamHost.com is my favorite.
Can your domain registrar and hosting company be the same?
Now, it is possible to purchase your domain name from one company (like GoDaddy.com), and purchase website hosting from another (like DreamHost.com). It’s also possible to purchase both from the same company. Domain name registration and website hosting are apples and oranges, but many folks find it less confusing to purchase both from the same company – one less password to remember!
What’s the connection between domain name and hosting?
Domain names and website hosting companies are connected to one another through a setting called “domain name server” or “DNS”. The DNS indicates where your website files are. It’s a link between the domain name and your server. It’s similar to looking up a business name in the phone book to find their address. It says: ‘oh, I see you’re looking for AldebaranWebDesign.com, well it’s located right here on a server at DreamHost.” You can see these DNS settings for any website by using this DNS Lookup Tool.
Tips To Avoid Trouble – Domain Name Ownership
Be sure that you purchase and own your domain name – don’t let your web designer do this for you. I’ve had clients who used other web designers to design their sites, and were shocked to find out that their former web designer actually owned their domain name. You can use a website like http://whois.domaintools.com/ to check domain name ownership.
Tips To Avoid Trouble – Selecting An Appropriate Domain Name
Selecting the best domain name for your business is a challenging process, but can be fun. I often use DreamHost.com/domains to see if a domain name is available. But changing your domain name AFTER you’ve established a website can be a painful process. Read here about my own experience changing my domain name.
Pick a Good, Reputable, Reliable Hosting Company
Read this article on how to select a hosting company. I don’t recommend letting your web designer do the hosting – but rather pick a nice big reputable company that has the resources and technical ability to keep your website running – no matter what happens to your designer.
Aldebaran Web Design, Seattle
Jill Olkoski has a BS in Engineering, a BS in Computer Science and an MA in Clinical Psychology. She delights in using her advanced technical and psychological skills to help small business owners develop cost-effective and successful websites.