It’s time to get your dream domain name and start building your very first website. But, there’s only one issue. There are so many different technical terms; it can be challenging to figure out what you need and what you don’t need before you can begin with your domain registration.

There are a lot of technical steps you’ll need to take to lay the foundation for your online presence. With each of these steps come dozens of technical terms, ready to trip you up.

Two of those you’ve probably come across are a domain name and a URL. Often, you’ll see these referring to the same thing, but they’re actually different things. 

Don’t worry. This post will clear up all the differences and similarities between URLs vs. domain names, so you can get on finding a domain name and building out your new site. 

Below you’ll learn about the differences between a URL vs. domain names, why they’re used, and their different applications, so that you can set up your domain and website the right way.

Let’s dig in!

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What Is a URL?

URL stands for Universal Resource Locator, but you almost always hear it being referred to as a URL.

When you look up at your browser address bar, you’ll see the entire URL is displayed. It includes all of the information necessary to locate the right page on a website. 

For example, the entire URL for this blog is https://www.hostgator.com/blog/url-vs-domain/ 

You’ll notice that the domain name (hostgator.com) is included in the URL. But, it’s just one piece of the entire URL. You can think of the URL as a map that your browser can follow to access the right page, resource, or image on the web server. 

The critical components of a URL include a domain extension or Top Level Domain (TLD), a domain name, and the Secure Hypertext Transfer Protocol, which is ‘https://.’ 

What Is a Domain Name?

A domain name might seem simple, but it’s not that easy of a thing, especially if you’re just getting started online. Domain names exist to make the websites more accessible to you and your visitors. 

Put simply, a domain name is the address that you’ll type in the address bar to access a website. For example, the domain name for this website is hostgator.com, while the domain name for Google is google.com.

Domain names are a critical part of your online brand and should be memorable to your visitors. 

To have a website that’s accessible by regular web users, you need a domain name and a host. When a visitor types in your domain name into their address bar, the web browser will communicate with the host that the domain points towards and will serve the visitor the associated website.

If that sounds a little complex, let’s look at this example:

Think of your domain name as your cell phone number. When someone wants to reach you, they dial your number, and you hear it ring on your physical phone. In this scenario, your phone number is the domain, and your cell phone is your website. 

You can also purchase a domain name without actually building an associated website. Some people make a living by buying and selling domain names in a process known as domain flipping. 

Understanding Domain Name Organization

Now that you have a better grasp on what a domain name is, let’s look at some of the individual pieces that make up a domain name.

The most common point of confusion is the Top Level Domain (TLD), or domain extension. This is the .com, .org, or .net that follows your domain. You might have thought up your dream domain name, but when you search to see if it’s available, you find that your TLD of choice isn’t available.

Generally, .com, .org, and .net are the most popular and widely used domain extensions. But, you also have TLDs that relate to specific local markets and countries like .co.uk, .ca, and .com.au. 

During your domain name search, you’ll also see that there are dozens of other TLDs available. Generally, you’ll want to stick with the ones that are most popular and avoid ones that are associated with less trusted websites, like .info.

But, it’s up to your discretion. Some websites even prefer to use fun and unique TLDs, because it makes sense with their branding. 

Regardless, whenever you’re purchasing a domain name, it’s a smart move to purchase any of the other popular TLDs that are available. This secures your brand online, protecting you from the fearsome scenario of your competitor building a site on ‘yoursite.net’ when your domain name is ‘yoursite.com.’

What Is the Domain Name System?

Another related term you’ve probably come across is the Domain Name System (DNS). This is how domain names and IP addresses are translated.

When you type a domain name into a browser, the DNS will translate that domain into the IP address of the web server where the website files are located. 

This is one of the main reasons that domain names exist, to make it possible to access websites with easily memorable names. Before the DNS system you’d have to remember the IP address of any given website if you wanted to access a site. 

The DNS system makes it so we can type ‘hostgator.com’ into our browsers and visit this site, instead of having to type in a complex and difficult to remember string of numbers. 

How Subdomains Relate to Domain Names

One of the final aspects of a domain name is subdomains. These can get a little confusing, especially if it’s your first time building a website.

Essentially, a subdomain is an additional part of your primary domain name. Subdomains are commonly used to help separate and organize certain parts of your website. A subdomain will come before your primary domain name, like the blog in ‘blog.mysite.com.’ You can create as many subdomains as you like for your primary domain. 

For example, you can access the support resources here at HostGator by navigating to ‘support.hostgator.com.’

Subdomains are used for a variety of reasons, but here are some of the common reasons why you might create a subdomain:

  • To sell eCommerce products. Since eCommerce stores require different levels of security and software than a standard website, you might use a subdomain to create a separate online store that’s still linked to your primary domain. 
  • To separate your blog. A lot of startups and other online businesses keep their blogs on a subdomain. This allows you to use a separate CMS to manage content, that you might not have installed on your main website. 
  • To create a site staging area. If you’re redesigning your site, you can create a subdomain that you can use to build your site on. Likewise, if you’re a developer, you can create separate subdomains as you’re building out client websites, so you can showcase your work as you build their sites. 
  • To create a resource section. A lot of sites will create separate resource and support sections that are separate from the rest of their sites. If you’re creating a lot of content that serves a different purpose than a blog, or the rest of your website copy, then this can help you better structure the content. 

URL vs. Domain: The Key Similarities

A domain name is contained within a URL. Although the URL is the whole and a domain is just a part of it, there are some similarities that the two share.

Here are the two most significant commonalities you’ll find between domains and URLs:

1. They’re Treated the Same By Your Web Browser

Although a URL and a domain name have different technical definitions, they are treated the same way by your browser.

For example, if you type in ‘https://hostgator.com’, it will send you to the same page as it would if you typed in simply ‘hostgator.com.’ However, to access the site, you’ll need the TLD as well as the domain name, so regardless of which one you type in, you’ll arrive at ‘https://www.hostgator.com/.’ 

2. They’re Part of the Same Web Address

A domain name is a singular aspect of a full URL. So, you could say they’re in the same family. 

For example, when you tell a friend your house address, you’d probably say 1234 Highland Ave. From that information alone, your friend could infer the city, state, and zip code of your address. It’s not a perfect example, but a full URL contains the domain name within it. 

The same goes for communicating the name of a website. When you’re telling someone the name of a website you’ll generally say the domain name and TLD, e.g.  ‘bestpuppiesintheworld.com.’ You wouldn’t share the entire URL, including the https and the www, even though they both lead to the same place. 

URL vs. Domain: The Key Differences

Even though you might find that the terms URL and domain name are used interchangeably online, they aren’t the same thing.

Here are the two main differences between a domain name and a URL.

1. A URL is a Complete Web Address

A URL is a complete internet address which can locate a specific domain or an individual page on a given domain. It provides the web browser with all of the information necessary to identify and display a given page, resource, or piece of media, like an image. 

A domain name, on the other hand, is a simpler form of a URL, and is used in place of a technical IP address. Its role is to make it easier to access a given website. Domain names are brandable and can also refer to a business name as well. 

2. A URL Provides More Information

A domain name is just a single aspect of a URL. Without the rest of the technical elements of a URL, a domain name isn’t incredibly valuable. For example, if you only type of the domain name into your web browser, you’ll end up doing a keyword search for that domain name. You can still access the site, but you’ll have to comb through the search results first. 

A URL is the complete pathway and provides all of the information necessary to access a given website. 

The Importance of Understanding the Differences Between URLs and Domains

Hopefully, by now, you have a better understanding of domain names and URLs, how they’re related, and the differences they have. 

Understanding how your website, URL, and domain name all work together might not seem like a big deal. But, this knowledge gives you power. It’s like knowing how to accomplish basic car-related tasks, such as changing your oil or replacing your windshield wiper blades, makes you feel like a more confident car owner (as it should). 

The more you understand how your website and domain work together, the better you’ll be able to fix minor issues and ensure your site always remains online. You become more self-sufficient with your website, and don’t have to rely on support whenever you run into a small issue with your site. 

For example, if your website isn’t showing up, then it might be an issue with your DNS records not pointing to the correct location. Or, you could have even spelled your domain wrong when adding it to your host. 

Beyond general website troubleshooting having more in-depth knowledge about your website and how it works is always a good thing. Hopefully, you’re better equipped to choose a web hosting package, register new domains, add redirects, and even start playing around with subdomains.