A lot of people who are getting started online don’t realize that web hosting and domain names are two separate things. They just want to get their site up and that’s it.
However, a website is comprised of a few different elements working together, and it’s important to understand how they work. It’s impossible to have a website live on the internet without your web hosting and your domain name working together.
For example, you could build your website on your computer and have all of your files there. But, without a host and domain name, there’s no way for anyone to see it online except for you.
If that sounds a little confusing, don’t worry. By the end of this post, you’ll have a better understanding of why you need web hosting, and how it works with your domain name to help you have a live website.
We’ll explain the difference between web hosting vs. domain names, how they work together, and finally, how you can get started with your very own domain name and hosting.
What is Web Hosting?
When you build a website you’re essentially creating a bunch of files, which are then read and displayed in a web browser. To have your site live on the web you need to host them on a server. In a nutshell, that’s how web hosting works.
This is where web hosting services comes into play. You pay a monthly fee and you rent a space on a server where you can store your website’s files.
A company that specializes in web hosting services has all of the necessary technical infrastructure to host your website’s files. For instance, they’ll have a large datacenter filled with servers, network equipment, backup power supplies, air cooling systems and a ton more.
Within this entire network of servers, you’ll have a tiny slice of that to store your website’s files.
There is a multitude of different kinds of hosting available. If you’re just getting started online then a basic shared hosting plan will probably be sufficient.
Here are some benefits of using web hosting and the common forms available:
- Shared hosting: This style of hosting is best for people just getting started online. Essentially you’re sharing server space with a bunch of other websites, so the cost is incredibly cheap.
- VPS hosting: This style of hosting uses virtualization to pull from multiple servers to create a virtual dedicated server. It’s a solid choice for users who need more than shared hosting, but don’t have the budget for a dedicated server.
- Cloud hosting: This relatively new style of hosting is incredibly reliable, flexible, and cost-effective. It utilizes cloud server clusters to ensure high-performance and solid uptime.
- Dedicated server hosting: This is exactly like it sounds. You rent an entire server that you can customize to your liking. It’serfect for high-traffic websites that need high levels of security and server control.
- WordPress hosting: This style of hosting is great for WordPress users. The server is completely setup to help you get the most from WordPress.
To get started with web hosting, you pick a plan that’s best suited for the goals of your website and upload your files to the server (more on this below). Usually, this process is implied with the help of a control panel like cPanel, which allows you to access the server through an intuitive interface.
What is a Domain Name?
You’ve no doubt used a domain name before. Since you’re reading this right now you probably either clicked on a link or typed in the domain “hostgator.com” into the address bar.
If you want people to be able to access your website, then you’re also going to need a domain name as well.
At the core, a domain name will direct people to the location where your files on stored on the web server you just purchased.
To give this some context we’ll take a quick look at what the internet really is. Essentially, it’s a network of computers who are all connected to each other. To distinguish one computer from another they’re given a unique IP address. This string of numbers might look something like this: 67.345.68.2.
But, trying to remember this seemingly random string of numbers whenever you want to access a website would be incredibly difficult. So, to make the internet actually usable, domain names were invented to save the day.
Now, to access a site all you need to do is type in a domain name, like hostgator.com.
There’s a lot more to a domain name, but all this isn’t really necessary in order to have a website live on the internet.
Just know that your domain name interfaces with your web host to display the files stored there in a web browser. As you can see, a lot goes on behind the scenes just to display your site.
How Web Hosting and Domain Names Work Together
In order to have a website that people can access you need both a domain name and web hosting. With just a domain name you have no website. With just hosting you have a website with no way to access it unless you want to type in the IP address. Both your domain and web hosting is important in order to create a successful website.
Think of it like this:
- Your web hosting is like your home. That’s where you have all of your furniture, aka your website’s files.
- Your domain name is your address. If you want people to come over and see all of your cool furniture, then they’ll use your address (domain name) to get there.
Now you can purchase a ton of domain names without actually having a website for them. For your domain name to be attached to a certain website you’ll need to point it towards your website’s server.
Getting Started With Domain Names and Hosting
When it comes to registering your domain name and purchasing hosting you’re going to have a few different options available to you. You can mix and match different providers, shop around for the best deal or feature set, or you purchase them both together and simplify the process.
Both approaches work entirely fine. It simply depends on what works best for you.
Some people prefer to keep their domains and hosting all under one roof, while others like to separate the two.
Purchasing Your Domain Name and Hosting Together
The most common approach is purchasing your domain name and hosting from the same provider. A lot of hosting providers even offer a free domain name for a year when you sign up for hosting. So, if you’re looking for the cheapest option in the short-term this could be the route to take.
Registering your domain name and purchasing hosting at the same time can save you time, and it can be easier. Instead of remembering to renew across multiple platforms all you have to do is remember a single login.
Plus, the setup process will be a lot easier. Remember how we talked about having to “point” your domain name to your server in order to link the two together? When you get your domain and hosting together a lot of times this is taken care of for you. It’s not the most technical process in the world, but it can be a little confusing for beginners.
If you run into any issues with your domain or hosting, all you have to do is reach out to a single provider. No going back and forth between multiple support teams.
However, bundling the two together isn’t perfect. For example, you may end up paying more for your domain in the long-term with pricier renewals. And it might be more difficult to manage more than one domain if it’s tied up with your hosting account.
But, if those aren’t big enough objections, then this path might be perfect for you.
Here’s how you purchase your domain and hosting together. For the sake of example we’re going to assume you’re going with HostGator.
Click “Get Started!” to select your hosting plan.
Not sure how to register a domain name? On the next screen, you’ll be able to register a new domain at the same time you sign up for hosting.
Once you’ve found an available domain, just finish the rest of the steps and you’ll be the proud owner of a new domain name and hosting package.
It’s also worth mentioning that if you purchase hosting and would like to transfer over an existing domain, most hosts will do this for you for free.
Purchasing Your Domain Name and Hosting Separately
Some people prefer to separate their domain names and hosting. This can make it easier if you ever decide to leave your hosting provider, as you’ll only have to migrate your domain names, too.
By purchasing them separately you might be able to find better long-term pricing deals, and it can be cheaper if it’s going to take you a while to build out your site. That way you’re not paying for hosting before you actually use it.
However, you might miss out on any short-term specials that many hosts offer when you bundle the two together. Plus, if you’re having issues with your website, then you’ll have to deal with customer support across two companies, instead of one.
But, if those aren’t dealbreakers for you, then this approach might be right for you.
Here’s how to do it.
For example, you might choose to purchase hosting through HostGator, while you pick up your domain name from a registrar like Domain.com.
There are dozens of different domain name registration services that you can choose from to change your web server. Once you’ve purchased your domain at a separate provider you’ll need to point the nameservers towards your server.
Once that change has gone into effect, your website will now be live.
Web Hosting vs Domains: Your Biggest Questions Answered
You still might have a few questions. Here are a few of the top FAQ related to domain names and hosting:
Can I move my website without moving my domain?
Yes, once you own a domain name you can point it to any web host that you wish. This is the beauty of purchasing your domain and hosting from separate providers as this process can be done much more swiftly.
Let’s say that you just decided to switch your hosting to HostGator. You’ve finished the migrating all of your site’s files and now all that’s left is the domain. All you have to do is point your nameservers at your existing domain registrar to your new host.
Can I switch domain name providers?
Maybe you have the perfect domain name, but you’re not sure about your domain name registrar. You can easily switch between any domain name registrar out there.
However, keep in mind that the transfer process may be different depending on where you’re transferring to. Usually, you’ll have to initiate the transfer within your current registrar, and an authorization code will be sent to your new hosting account. There are multiple confirmation steps that will help to ensure you don’t transfer your domain to the wrong owner.
Do I have to purchase web hosting and a domain name together?
No, it’s not necessary to buy your domain name and hosting together. Like we mentioned above, it does make your life easier, and you can save money up front, but it’s not a requirement.
However, if you do purchase your domain separately, remember to change the DNS settings and point your domain to your host.
Can I purchase a domain name by itself?
Yes, you don’t need to attach hosting to every domain name you purchase. Maybe you found the perfect domain name for a future project? Or, you’re buying a fun domain name as a joke, or a gift? You can purchase as many domain names as you desire. Then, if you ever do want to build a website on that domain, just point that domain to your web server.
As you can see domain names and web hosting plans are two very different things. However, they’re both necessary if you want to build a website accessible on the Internet. Whether you want to purchase your domain name and hosting together or separate is up to you.
But if you’re just getting started online and want to simplify the process, then buying them from the same provider is the easiest approach.
For more information on why web hosting is important and how it works, check out our resources on HostGator.com.
Kevin Wood writes about technology and human potential. You can find him at his virtual homes Wooden Writing and Counter Culturist.