Domain Names and Hosting: What’s the difference?

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New Jenn’s Web Client:”Ok, I can’t wait to get my new website up! I have an account with Godaddy so you can just log in and get started!”

Me: “Actually…all you have on your Godaddy account is the domain name registration. You will need to get a hosting account set up so I can put the site files there.”

NJWC: “Right..so you can just log in and start building right?”

Me: “Once you have a hosting account.”

NJWC: “But…that’s what I have right?”

Me: (sighs…) “Let me try this again..”

One concept I find myself constantly trying to explain to clients is the difference between a domain name account and a hosting account. It’s a little tricky to get the hang of it unless you really think about how the internet actually works and after a long time trying to find the right analogy to help people visualize what I’m talking about maybe, just maybe, I may have finally found one that works.

THE BOOK AND CARD CATALOG ANALOGY

Think about the internet for a minute. What is it? It’s a vast collection of knowledge and entertainment that is constantly being added to and referenced by its browsers. Does that remind you of anything? How about a library?

Imagine that your website is a book. A real hardcover book with some nice artwork on the cover and it fits nicely in your hands. Look at the title on the cover. It’s unique right? That is like your domain name AKA url AKA uniform resource locator. You know you can’t publish a book and then call it “For Whom the Bell Tolls” because there’s already a book by Ernest Hemingway called that. Any publishing house in the world would tell you that you need to come up with a unique title that no one has ever used before.

THAT is what your domain name registration does. It’s a service (offered by a company termed as a domain name registrar) where that registrar checks to see if your domain name is unique (that nobody else has a website with the same name) and then, if it’s available, registers it with ICANN, which stands for, Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers. (more on numbers later)

So, now you have your unique website name. That’s what domain name registration does.

Once you have a name, you need a place for your site to actually live. Picture a large reference library. Aisle upon aisle of shelves, all loaded with books. Back when I was working as a librarian in high school and college, every book in a library would be assigned a catalog number before it was placed on a shelf. When someone wanted to find a particular book, they searched the card catalog and got the book’s number. Then, they had to locate the exact shelf that the book was on.

internet card catalog

Hosting companies work by renting server space to website owners. A server is like a library shelf. Each one is assigned a number and people’s websites sit on their virtual shelves, waiting to be accessed.

Now, back to that book. Turn it over and look for the little white rectangle on the bottom of the back cover. See that string of numbers after the letters ISBN? That is that book’s International Standard Book Number. This means that anywhere in the world, if someone enters that ISBN number into a search, the title of that book will come up.

ISBN number

About Domain names and IP Addresses

Here’s the thing though. A hosting server doesn’t really care about your site’s domain name. What it cares about is your site’s “ISBN”. Every website in the world has a unique string of numbers assigned to it by the hosting company called an IP address. (Internet Protocol). So, think ISBN/IP. An example of an IP address might be 103.345.76.197

So, in a nutshell, this is what is actually happening when someone wants to go to your website:

They go to their browser start typing in or looking up your domain name. The great invisible librarian that is the World Wide Web will receive that request, look through its enormous virtual card catalog in nanoseconds and say “I have that domain name (book title) you are looking for!”

Once it has the domain name, your browser looks up what number (IP address) that domain name has been assigned to, then, like the world’s fastest librarian, it directs itself over to that IP address on the hosting server (bookshelf) and plucks your website out for the reader to use.

via GIPHY

Some Do’s and Don’t about Domains and Hosting

DO choose a domain name that reflects your business accurately.

DO think about keywords that someone would likely use to find a site like yours.

DON’T let your website designer, intern, nephew etc. set up your domain name account under their name/credit card and not give you the account information. If you feel like you aren’t “techy” enough to know what you are doing, call me and I can walk you through it. Trust me, there’s nothing worse than realizing that you can’t control your company’s domain name account because you don’t have the account information in your hands.

DO choose a secure, long, complicated password for your domain name registration account login. No, mysitename123, not your dog’s name and an exclamation point. Believe me, there is a 12 year old kid in the Ukraine RIGHT NOW running a program designed to hack your account and steal your registration so he can sell your precious domain name to the highest bidder.

DON’T for the love of God, sign up with a marketing/ISP company that makes all kinds of promises to give you a “professional” looking site without all the “headaches” of setting it up yourself. These companies sprang up like mushrooms in the last decade and, like mushrooms, they don’t hold up well in the strong sunlight of Google. Never mind the boxy templates and outdated coding, many of these services take ALL control of your domain name out of your hands, making it a real headache when you do decide to have a professional designer re-do your site and host it on your own hosting account.

DO consider your domain name registration and hosting account to be important intellectual property. Keep track of all account logins. Make sure you sign up for hosting with a company that has a great track record for security and customer support. Always look up un-biased honest reviews about the company and don’t just sign up with the cheapest one. Like many things in life, you get what you pay for.

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