A topic that seems to generate a fair amount of confusion among those new to building websites is that of domain registration, web hosting, and the difference between the two. One of the best ways to effectively explain the difference is by using analogies. This is especially true because in today’s society, there seem to be two groups — “techies” and everyone else. If you are a techie, you probably wouldn’t be reading this. My goal is that after reading this page, you’ll feel competent and comfortable enough to discuss these topics with a techie and feel like you’re on the same page.
Domains are Television Shows?
A domain is like the name of a television show. Every show on TV has a different (unique) name. Imagine the confusion that would result if this were not the case [Related Article: Tips for Choosing Your Domain Name]. A website is like the show itself. All the files, text, code, graphics, etc. that make up a website are like the props, sets, actors, lighting, sound, etc. that comprise a TV show. Before a show goes into production, it is just a name, or concept. You can register a domain and choose not to create a website, although you may have grand ideas or a general concept of the kind of website you’d like for your domain to have someday. A hosting provider is like a network that provides studio space (disk space on a server) for the show (website) and also broadcasts it into people’s homes (like when visitors view your site in a browser).
Web Hosting is an Art Store?
Another way to look at web hosting is that it is similar to an art store. An art store provides you paint, brushes, canvases, and other tools you need to paint a masterpiece, however the art store does not create the actual painting for you. You purchase the tools you want to use from the art store, and then use those tools to build your website. Or hire a painter to paint a picture for you.
Similarly, a web hosting company like HostGator, provides you with a variety of tools that you can use to build your website, such as a server and web space where you can upload your files, control panels that make it easy to configure your hosting account, and even provides the ability to install scripts like WordPress, or use one of our many site building solutions. However, the web host does not actually create your website. You can choose to build it yourself using the complimentary tools provided, or hire a web designer to develop your site for you.
We specialize in providing the tools you need to build your website. But just like an art store, HostGator does not actually build the site for you. This is your creative space, allowing you to build the site of your dreams, any way you choose with the tools provided (and of course, you can always provide your own).
A Word on Domain Registration
Let’s get a little more in-depth now. First we’ll take a closer look at domain registration. You can register a domain name at any domain registrar and then host it with HostGator. This is because domain registration and web hosting are two totally different things (just like a TV show’s name and its network are two entirely different things, although they do work together). To host a domain that is registered elsewhere with HostGator, all that needs to occur is the updating of what are called nameservers. Nameservers tell your browser not only which hosting company (TV network) a domain (TV show) is with, but also which server (think of a big broadcasting antenna) it is located on.
When you sign up for web hosting with HostGator, we send you our Welcome Email. This email contains, among other items, the nameservers for your hosting package. You’ll need to log into your account with your domain registrar and update the generic or predefined nameservers already there with the ones that we sent you in the Welcome Email. HostGator has produced video tutorials to assist you with updating nameservers at many of the major registrars. If your particular registrar isn’t listed, I recommend watching two or three of these videos anyway to get the general idea of how the procedure works:
Now let’s move on to hosting. Assuming you already have a registered domain, you now either 1) wish to build a website (or have one built for you by a designer) or 2) have a functioning website. You will need hosting 1) for the disk space that the website files will reside on and 2) so that the website can be transmitted to visitor’s browsers or phones.
Hosting Packages are Swimming Pools? Why Not?!
We have various types of hosting packages available. In sticking with our analogy theme, here they are explained via a swimming pool metaphor:
No matter which pool is right for you, happy swimming! Um, happy art-making? Happy television show production? Happy hosting!