Web Hosting vs Domain Name: Different?

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To own a website, you need three things: domain name, web hosting, and a developed website. But what’s a domain name? What’s a web hosting? Aren’t them the same? It’s important that you are crystal clear on their differences before you move on to create and host your first website.

Web Hosting Explained

What is a Web Hosting?

A web hosting is a computer where people store their websites. Think of it as a house where you store all your stuffs; but instead of storing your clothes and furniture, you store computer files (HTML, documents, images, videos, etc) in a web host.

More often than not, the term “web hosting” refers to the company that rent out their computer/servers to store your website and provide Internet connectivity so that other users can access to the files on your website.

How does Web Hosting Work?

Usually, a web hosting company do more than just storing your website. Here are some value-added services and features to expect from your hosting provider:

  • Domain registration – So you can buy and manage domain and hosting from the same provider
  • Website builder – Drag-and-drop web editing tool to create a website
  • Email hosting – To send and receive emails from [email protected]
  • Basic hardware (server setup) and software (CMS, server OS, etc) support

Web Hosting vs Data Center

The term “web hosting” usually refers to the server that host your website or the hosting company that rent that server space to you.

Data center usually refers to the facility that is used to house the servers.

A data center could be a room, a house, or a very large building equipped with redundant or backup power supplies, redundant data communications connections, environmental controls – ie. air conditioning, fire suppression, and security devices.

This is a server. The name of this model: DELL 463-6080 Server. It looks and works like the desktop at your home – just slightly bigger and more powerful.

Domain Name Explained

What is a Domain Name?

A domain is the address of your website. Before you can setup a website, you will need a domain.

To own your own domain, you will need to register your domain with a domain registrar.

Domain name is not something physical that you can touch or see. It is a string of characters that give your website an identity (yes, a name, like human and businesses). Examples of domain name: Google.com, Alexa.com, Linux.org, eLearningEuropa.info, as well as Yahoo.co.uk.

All domain names are unique. This means there can be only one alexa.com in the world. You cannot register a name once it is registered by others (governed by ICANN).

What are Top Level Domains (TLDs)?

In Domain Name System (DNS), there is a hierarchy of names. Top Level Domains (TLDs) are a set of generic names in the hierarchy – COM, NET, ORG, EDU, INFO, BIZ, CO.UK, etc.

Example #1:

Google.com, Linux.org, Yahoo.co.uk

Notice that these domains end with a different “extension”  (.com, .org, .co.uk.)? These extensions are known as TLDs.

The official list of all top-level domains is maintained by the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) at the Root Zone Database. As of April 2018, there are 1,532 TLDs in total.

Some TLDs are commonly seen –

BIZ, BR, CA, CN, CO, CO.JP, COM.SG, COM.MY, EDU, ES, FR, INFO, MOBI, TECH, RU, UK, US,

Some are less known of –

AF, AX, BAR, BUSINESS, BID, EXPERT, GURU, JOBS, MOBI, TECH, ESTATE, WIEN, WTF, WOW, XYZ

While most of these TLDs are open for public’s registration, there are strict regulations on certain domain registration. For example the registration of country code top level domains (like .co.uk for United Kingdom) are restricted for the citizens of the corresponding country; and the activities with such domains website are ruled by local regulations and cyber laws.

Certain extensions of these TLDs are used to describe the ‘characteristics’ of the website – like BIZ for businesses, EDU for education (schools, universities, colleagues, etc), ORG for public organization, and country code top level domain names are for locations.

ICANN publishes case studies on the usage of different generic TLD, check it out if this interests you.

What are Country Code Top Level Domains (ccTLDs)?

The full list of country code top-level domain (ccTLD) extensions are (in alphabet order):

.ac .ad .ae .af .ag .ai .al .am .an .ao .aq .ar .as .at .au .aw .ax .az .ba .bb .bd .be .bf .bg 
.bh .bi .bj .bm .bn .bo .br .bs .bt .bw .by .bz .ca .cc .cd .cf .cg .ch .ci .ck .cl .cm .cn .co 
.cr .cu .cv .cx .cy .cz .de .dj .dk .dm .do .dz .ec .ee .eg .er .es .et .eu .fi .fj .fk .fm .fo 
.fr .ga .gd .ge .gf .gg .gh .gi .gl .gm .gn .gp .gq .gr .gs .gt .gu .gw .gy .hk .hm .hn .hr .ht 
.hu .id .ie .il .im .in .io .iq .ir .is .it .je .jm .jo .jp .ke .kg .kh .ki .km .kn .kp .kr .kw 
.ky .kz .la .lb .lc .li .lk .lr .ls .lt .lu .lv .ly .ma .mc .md .me .mg .mh .mk .ml .mm .mn .mo 
.mp .mq .mr .ms .mt .mu .mv .mw .mx .my .mz .na .nc .ne .nf .ng .ni .nl .no .np .nr .nu .nz .om .pa .pe .pf .pg .ph .pk .pl .pn .pr .ps .pt .pw .py 
.qa .re .ro .rs .ru 
.rw .sa .sb .sc .sd .se .sg .sh .si .sk .sl .sm .sn .sr .st .sv .sy .sz .tc .td .tf .tg .th .tj 
.tk .tl .tm .tn .to .tr .tt .tv .tw .tz .ua .ug .uk .us .uy .uz .va .vc .ve .vg .vi .vn .vu .wf 
.ws .ye .za .zm .zw

Regulations on ccTLDs

For those users who are seeking to register a country-specific domain name option (like “.us” or “.co.uk”), a good portion of the registration process will be dedicated to determining whether or not the customer is a resident of that country and therefore legally permitted to purchase one of its country-specific top level domains (will talk about this later). And that should hammer home a secondary point to users.

While there are hundreds of available domain name suffixes (like “.com” or “.net), many of these domains have specific registration requirements.

For example, only organizations can register a “.org” domain name, and only American citizens can register a domain name that ends in “.us.” Failing to meet the guidelines and requirements for each type of domain during the actual registration and payment process will result in the domain name being “released” back into the pool of available domain names; the customer will have to pick a top level domain for which they actually qualify, or cancel their purchase altogether.

During the signup process, it’s also important to have information directly from a web host, as this information will be need when filling in the DNS and MX record information  during registration.

These two records determine which web hosting server’s content is displayed when a user navigates to the domain, as well as how email is addressed, sent, and received using that hosting package and the associated domain name. Inaccurate information will result in errors and page-load failures.

Domain vs Sub-domain

Take mail.yahoo.com for example – yahoo.com is the domain, mail.yahoo.com in this case, is the sub domain.

A domain must be unique (for example there can only be one single Yahoo.com) and must be registered with a domain registrar (ie. Namecheap and Hover); while for sub domains, users can freely add it on top of the existing domain as long as their web host provide the service. Some would say sub-domains are the ‘third level’ domains in the sense that they are simply “sub folders” under the domain root directory, normally used to organize your website content in different languages or different categories.

However, this is not the case to many including the search engines – it is known fact that the search engines (namely, Google) treat sub domain as a different domain independent from the primary domain.

Quick recap

Website Domain Name Subdomain TLD ccTLD
yahoo.com Yahoo com
mail.yahoo.com Yahoo mail com
finance.yahoo.com Yahoo finance com
yahoo.co.jp Yahoo co.jp

How Domain Name Registration Works

  1. Think of a good name you want for your website.
  2. A domain name needs to be unique. Prepare a few variations – just in case the name is taken by others.
  3. Make a search on one of the registrars’ website (ie. Namecheap).
  4. If your selected domain name is not taken, you can order it instantly.
  5. Pay a registration fees, range $10 – $35 depends on the TLD (usually using PayPal or credit card).
  6. You are now done with the registration process.
  7. Next you will need to point the domain name to your web hosting (by changing its DNS record).

And that’s about it.

Who’s governing domain registration process?

Things are a lot more complicated from a domain registrar’s point of view.

Domain registration process are governed by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, or ICANN.

This governing body is essentially a global regulator of best practices for registrars, web hosts, and the clients who interact with them.

According to the body’s standards, all customers registering a domain name must be prepared to furnish contact information for themselves, their organization, their business, and even their employer in some cases.

Domain Name WhoIs data

Every domain name has a publicly accessible record that includes the owner’s personal information such as owner name, contact number, mailing address, and domain registration as well as expiry date.

It’s called a WhoIs record and lists the registrant and contacts for the domain.

As required by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), the domain owners must make these contact information available on WHOIS directories. These records are available anytime to anyone who does a simple WhoIs lookup.

In other words, if someone wants to know who owns a website, all they to do is run a quick WHOIS search, type the domain name and voila, they have access to the website registration details.

Domain Privacy

Domain privacy is a service, usually offered by domain registrars, to protect their customers’ personal and business information. Domain Privacy replaces your WHOIS info with the info of a forwarding service done by a proxy server.

In result, your personal info, such as  physical address, emails, telephone number, etc is hide from the public. Domain privacy is important because your domain record (ie. the WhoIs data) may also be used in ways that aren’t legitimate or desirable. Since anyone can look up a WhoIs record, spammers, hackers, identity thieves and stalkers may access your personal information!

Unethical companies check domain expiration dates then send official looking “renewal” notices in an attempt to get the domain owners to transfer domains to their company, or send invoices that are service solicitations for search engine submissions and other questionable services.

Both email and snail mail spammers use the WhoIs databases to harvest domain owners’ email and contact domain owners with solicitations as well.

Domain Name vs Web Hosting

What are the differences?

The difference between web host and domain name.

To simplify: A domain name, is like the address of your home; web hosting on the other hand, is the space of your house where you place your furniture.

Instead of street name and area code, set of words or/and numbers are used for the website’s naming’. Computer hard disk and computer memory are used instead of instead of wood and steel for storing and processing data files. The idea is presented clearer with the diagram above.

Why the confusion?

One reason why newbies are confused is because domain registration and web hosting services are often offered by the same provider.

Conventional domain registrars that used to offer domain registration service only nowadays offer website hosting services. Most web hosting companies today have the facility to register a domain name for their users. In fact, many hosting providers are giving free (or almost-free) domain name away to win new customers.

Should you buy domain and web hosting from the same company?

Should you purchase domain names and hosting services at the same place?

Opinion #1: Never register your important domains with your web host 

Personally, I usually register my domains with Namecheap and host them with a different hosting provider. This site you are reading, for example, is hosted at InMotion Hosting.

Doing so ensures that my domain remains in my hands in case anything go awry with my hosting provider.

It is much easier to move to a new hosting company when you register your domain with a third party. Otherwise, you wind up having to wait for your hosting company to release your domain. This can get tricky since they are also losing your hosting business.

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