When it comes to building a website, sometimes even the basics can be tricky. As with any skill, the hardest part to get right is the jargon. If you’ve ever done a research paper for school, you’ve probably run into a one or two super dense journals you can’t get your head around. For experts, it may be an breeze, but for the rest of us, it can be like reading another language. In fact, sometimes it really is: a “cut” will mean two different things depending on if you talk to a surgeon or a film editor.
Likewise, if someone throws around words like “host” and “domain” and “address” in other contexts, they may have very similar- even identical- meanings. So, here we’ll be covering what exactly is website domain and hosting. Here we’ll specifically be talking about the difference between the website hosting and domain, and why you need both to get your website started. Use the table of contents to quickly jump between each section.
Table of Contents
What Is a Website Domain?
A domain is something that everyone on the internet uses, whether you know it or not.
You’ve probably heard a website domain more often referred to as a “web address”. These terms both refer to the string of characters you type into your address bar in order to access a site. They are completely interchangeable. Usually, a domain will also be the site’s title or brand name, but it can really be any combination of letters and numbers. A site’s web address is, in the end, entirely the choice of the one building it.
A website builder can also choose the top-level domain of their site. depending on its function. Top-level domain simply refers to the part of the domain which follows the dot. “.com”, “.net”, and “.org” TLDs are all for commercial use, while others can denote sites for education (.edu), country codes (.ca), and more.
What Is Website Hosting?
As the name suggests, a web host is more than just a name or address.
A domain is simply a name given to a site. On the other hand, a web host has much more to do with the physical server. It’s easy to forget that the internet actually does have an infrastructure, and one that isn’t just made of ones and zeroes. While we like to think of the internet as just a concept or as the pixels on our screen, to understand web hosting, you have to remember that the internet is a real “net” of computers, cables, and wireless connections. Even the “cloud” is really just a storage device- or devices- that you can access remotely.
Essentially, each website has to keep its data somewhere on a physical drive. This is where hosting comes in. In order for a user like yourself to access a site like this, all of the images, text, and code from this article has to be stored on one computer and sent to yours. In order to do this securely, quickly, and with ease, most sites rely on a hosting services. These typically are third-party companies which provide space on their servers for a website to be stored and accessed.
Key Differences Between Domain and Website Hosting
So, the main differences between a domain and website hosting break down like this:
- Is a string of characters
- Functions as the address for a site
- Allows users to access a site from a browser
- Is for the convenience of users
- Links to an IP address, which allows one computer to access another
A website host:
- Refers to the place where a website’s data is stored
- Sends data to users once accessed through a domain
- Is used by website builders
Both your domain and your web host are vital parts of starting a site. One is useless without the other and you can’t build a website without both. So, let’s take a look at how securing website domains and hosting works on WordPress.
Website Hosting and Domains on WordPress
WordPress provides the best options for getting started with a site.
Securing domains with WordPress
A lot of other sites don’t offer nearly as much flexibility when it comes to building a site. This includes limiting your options for both domains and website hosts. Most sites offer either subdomains with a free plan (as in your site will have the name of the service in its domain) or a free year of a custom domain with paid plans. WordPress functions pretty much the same as most. However, WordPress’ flexibility in customization means that you have other avenues to define your site’s identity, even if you choose a free plan.
As for paid plans, there are some things to be aware of when securing your site’s domain. When you secure a domain through a plan, that license is only good for a year. Once it’s up, you’ll have to renew it. If you don’t someone else could take your site’s name right out from under your nose. Luckily, securing a domain outside of WordPress plans is just as easy. All you have to do is navigate to a preferred domain registrar site, look up your domain, and buy it. My preferred registrar is NameCheap, though it’s always wise to check other sites to see if they will register you domain at a lower cost.
WordPress and Web Hosting
Unlike domains, WordPress plans do not offer web hosting services. This may sound like a downside, but it’s actually good news for your site. Some tool force you to use their own hosting services, which can mean higher plan costs and less options down the road. If you’re not happy with their host services, then you’re out of luck! With WordPress, you get your pick of web hosts from the get-go.
Choosing the best domain for your site
You have a lot of options when choosing both you domain and your website host.
When it comes to domains, choosing the best one for you site is an important first step for your site. It’ll be your site’s identity, one of the first things users see in their search bar. It’ll also be the thing users have to drill into their heads to get back to your website. So, be sure to make it distinct, relevant to your content, and memorable. Don’t forget that a domain can be any combination of characters, so get creative! This is one of the first places you get to define your site’s identity!
According to Versign statistics, there are over 300 million registered domains already in use, with over 4 million added in the first quarter of the year alone. While domains are nearly limitless, it’s better to register as soon as you make your choice. You never know when someone might come up with the same address and snatch it out from under you.
Choosing the best web host
Web hosting, on the other hand is a bit more technical. While you get to control your domain, but third parties typically handle web hosting. Although being able to choose your own host on WordPress does mean that you can host your own site, this is not recommended. It’s costly, time-consuming and make they speed and security of you site entirely your responsibility. You can learn more about self-hosting and why services are more cost-effective at this blog post about hosting a site. I always warn against free hosting, given that your site’s security, speed, and reliability are all at stake. Fortunately, WP Super Host provides all of those things and more. With up-to-date security, reliable support teams, and custom pricing options, it’s hands-down the best choice for hosting a site on WordPress. Compare plans and prices for WP Super Host at the pricing page.
Putting the Two Together
You need both a domain and website hosting to get your site started.
As you’ve seen, setting up a plan on WordPress is just one step in building a website. Securing your domain and web hosting were the next. Now, it’s time to put two together. Since your domain can’t have content without a host and your host needs a domain for your site, there is a simple process for linking the two:
- Make sure your domain is registered through a registrar and secure your web hosting plan through the pricing page.
- Once you set up an account with your host, you should receive a DNS address from them. It will begin with “ns” followed by a number and a site.
- Navigate back to your domain registrar and access your dashboard. Find the “DNS settings” and copy/paste your DNS address in the Domain Name Setup form field. Confirm and save your settings.
It’s as easy as that! Once you save your settings, DNS propagation may take a few days, so be patient. Keep an eye on your site and contact relevant support if you run into any issues.
One last thing to keep in mind is site migration. If you aren’t happy with anything about a domain you have under another service and want to switch to WordPress, you can. Migrating a site means you get to keep your registered domain and keep you options open, and easy migration is yet another feature WP Super Host boasts. Check out this blog on website migration for a detailed walkthrough of the process.
To Sum Up
The concepts of website hosting and domains might seem very similar, even when you get into the nitty gritty. However, when your building a site, it’s important to remember why you need each to fill a specific need. Knowing the terms is an easy step to make sure you know the best options when building your site, and keep you in the loop while running it.