Often when we start working with someone, one of the first questions that comes up is “What is the difference between my domain and hosting?” or “What is email hosting? Isn’t that managed through my domain?”.
This stuff gets super confusing, even for those of us who work in the industry. However, it can be broken down into bite size chunks and easily processed.
What is a domain name?
A domain name is what internet users will use to access your website via their internet browser. For example, our domain name is topsitecanada.com.
Finding a domain name
Your domain can be purchased through a common domain name provider like GoDaddy, or even Google. The price will depend on the keywords used and the availability. If your desired name is not available, it can sometimes still be purchased from the owner for a larger fee.
Registering the domain
This gives us permission to use the chosen domain name by accessing DNS (domain name service) records for that domain name, and pointing those records to the website hosting server (more on the server later).
Visiting your website
Once the records are pointed to the server, when someone types your domain name into their browser, they will be directed to the website that lives on your hosting server.
Website Hosting (server)
What is website hosting?
Web hosting companies rent their server space and often provide technical assistance with your website. The main part of website hosting is having your website files live on a dedicated server.
What is a server?
A server is a computer that manages network resources. Your website is made up of a database and a series of files that live inside folders, and they live on the server. When people access your website, the server sends the requested website files to their device.
What are the main things to consider when choosing a hosting provider?
Security – Everyone wants a secure website. Businesses in most countries are legally obligated to do so. Your website host plays a huge role in keeping your website secure by ensuring no one can access the server where your website lives. There are certain circumstances outside the control of the hosts, which may lead to your site being compromised. A good host will help you identify where these problems exist based on the specifics of your website.
Website Speeds – Your server does play a large role in how quickly your site can be accessed so choose a website host that can provide good server speeds. And ensure those speeds cover all your target areas (some hosts only offer good speeds in certain countries). Your host is not completely in control of your website speeds. The size of the files you add to the site, for example, may slow it down.
Website Updates – A lot of hosting providers have skilled developers on their team and will usually provide some website design, maintenance, and updating services.
Website Backups – Ideally your website should be backed up on a daily basis. Good hosting providers will do this, and usually provide a way for you to make manual backups before making big changes on the website.
Staging Sites – Making changes to a live website can be a risky game. If you get something wrong, it’s there to view for everyone on the internet. Good hosting companies will provide staging environments to allow you to make changes to the website and review it all, before pushing to your live website.
Fixing Errors/Bugs – If your site is not functioning properly, or if you are getting error messages like “error 500”, your website host is normally the first person to contact.
What is email hosting?
Email hosting services are required for custom email addresses. Similar to website hosting, all of your emails need to live on a server so they can be accessed from any device using the internet. When you send emails, or someone sends you an email, that transaction needs to move through an email hosting server in order for an email to send from one device to another.
Why aren’t my emails hosted on my website server?
Most servers are “dedicated”, which means they provide one function. This is to ensure the server is optimized for it’s task. Server requests for websites are similar, yet different enough to require that website hosting and email hosting be provided by two different servers.
How does it all work together?
The domain name holds it all together!
Your website files live on your website hosting server, but a DNS record on your domain makes it possible for your website to be accessed by typing your domain name into a browser.
Your email files live on your email hosting server, but a DNS record on your domain makes it possible for emails to be sent using an @yourdomain.com email address.
- Website Domain, Website Hosting, and Email Hosting are three separate things.
- Website Domain and Hosting are both required to have a website live on the internet.
- Website Domain and Email Hosting are both required for having a “firstname.lastname@example.org” email address.
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