When you build a website, it’s on your computer until you make the decision to publish it online for people to see. In order to be visible online your website needs two things: a domain and web hosting. In a nutshell and in plain terms, your domain is your website address, and your web hosting is where your website files are stored and with door access to the internet.
If we were to describe this in abstract metaphor examples:
It’s Like Having a House:
- Your domain is your unique house address (12345 Willow).
- Your hosting is your neighborhood (Woodside Oaks)
It’s Like Having a Car:
- Your domain is your unique license plate (IC0DE)
- Your hosting is your parking spot in Lot A
It’s Like a Library:
- Your domain is your unique book name (How to Code)
- Your hosting is your shelf category (technology section)
There are many companies that offer domain and hosting services, and they are often a yearly fee. It’s important that you do research when purchasing these because there are better service providers than others. You want to ensure you purchase a domain and hosting provider that is easy-to-understand of their services, is reliable with excellent support, and offers great quality solutions.
What is a Domain?
A domain is your website address, and it’s used to be identified within the Domain Name System (DNS) of the internet. In simple terms, it’s the URL name of your website.
A domain is often referred to as a “dot-com” name. However, not all websites use a dot-com. Take for instance this website, brandroots.co. I’m using a dot-co instead of dot-com. A lot of the dot-com names are getting used up, and it’s becoming more common to use a dot-co or other “TLD”. This stands for Top-Level Domain which basically means “what kind of domain extension are we using?” Example TLD’s include:
- .com – The most common type of domains for commercial and for-profit
- .co – a shorter version of the dot-com and popular for newer companies
- .org – often used for non-profit organizations
- .edu – used for academic institutions
- .gov – used for government agencies
- .io – growingly being used for tech companies (to mimic input/output (IO) abbreviation)
The most common types of TLD’s tend to be favored by search engines, but I would argue that this largely depends on your marketing and SEO (Search Engine Optimization) efforts. There are literally dozens of types to choose from. Some off-the-main-road TLD’s include:
In summary, you need to purchase a domain for your website. The price varies depending on the type of TLD you choose, but average costs range from $10-40/year. If you’re unsure how to best choose a domain, check out my article called “5 Tips That Make a Good Domain Name“.
What is Web Hosting?
Web hosting provides you with the server space that allows your website files to be accessed by the internet. In basic terms, it’s the place where you upload your website files to. When your domain is connected to these servers, your website can be viewed online.
There are different types of web hosting, but we won’t dive into the details of this within this article. What’s important to know is that you want a reputable web hosting provider that offers appropriate storage space, performance configurations, bandwidth and security. You do get what you pay for, so do your research. If you’re working with a web developer, they can guide you toward best decision-making.
Like domains, web hosting must be purchased for your website. The price varies depending on your needs, but average costs range between $100-$600/year; and if you’re working with a web agency they may have add-on maintenance services to include with this.
How Do Domains and Hosting Talk to Each Other?
It’s one thing to buy your domain and web hosting, but they’re not useful independent of each other. They need to talk to each other. In order to do this, you need to connect the web hosting to its domain, and these specific steps vary depending on what services you purchased. If you purchased your domain and web hosting from the same provider, these instructions may look different than if you purchased your domain from company provider A and web hosting from company provider B. You don’t need to purchase your domain and hosting from the same company. Often times it is best to keep them separate and avoid any trapping contract agreements that keep you locked from changing services in the future.
Your domain service provider often provides step-by-step documentation for how to connect your domain to your hosting. In general, it usually involves typing your domain name into your web hosting settings and typing something called DNS records into your domain settings. The process of changing these settings shouldn’t take longer than 30-minutes for first-timers. When you get comfortable with this process, it gets faster to do. However, it can take anywhere between 15 minutes to 48 hours for the internet to find your new website. So do plan for this process to take place.
Why Is this Stuff So Confusing?
I get it. Website domains and hosting can sound confusing and be intimidating, especially if you don’t regularly build and launch websites. This process involves weird technical jargon and set up. I wish it was easier to understand and do in process. But when you find the service providers you’re happy with, it makes it easy to launch future websites.
So do your research, talk with service representatives, find recommendations from experts in the field, and don’t settle for a service until you’re confident and happy with it. Every website scenario is different. Be patient with this process. In the end, it’ll be worth it to see your work launched online, so stay excited!