Beginner Guide: What is Web Hosting? What is a Domain? Difference Between a Domain Name and Web Hosting

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  • Hosting Guides
  • Updated: Mar 27, 2020

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.

Table of content


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.

For most cases, these hosting companies will handle server maintenance work, such as backup, root configuration, maintenance, disaster recoveries, and so on.

Example of hosting companies: InMotion Hosting, SiteGround, A2 Hosting.

How does Web Hosting Work?

Think of it as a house where you store all your stuffs; but instead of storing your clothes and furniture, you store digital 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.

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.

Example of a server
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.
Example of a data center
This is how a data center look like from inside, basically it's just a cold room filled with lots of big computers. I took this photo during my visit to Interserver data center August 2016.

Different Types of Web Host

There are four different types of hosting servers: Shared, Virtual Private Server (VPS), Dedicated, and Cloud Hosting.

While all types of servers will act as a storage center for your website, they differ in the amount of storage capacity, control, technical knowledge requirement, server speed, and reliability. I will show you the differences between a shared, VPS, dedicated, and cloud hosting in the following section.

Shared Hosting

What Is Shared Hosting?

In shared hosting, one’s web site is placed on the same server as many other sites, ranging from a few to hundreds or thousands. Typically, all domains may share a common pool of server resources, such as RAM and the CPU.

As cost is extremely low, most websites with moderate traffic levels running standard software are hosted on this type of server. Shared hosting is also widely accepted as the entry level hosting option as it requires minimum technical knowledge.

  • Disadvantages – No root access, limited ability to handle high traffic levels or spikes, site performance can be affected by other sites on the same server.
  • How much to spend – Not more than $10 on signup.

Where to get shared hosting services: A2 Hosting, Hostinger, InMotion Hosting

Virtual Private Server (VPS) Hosting

What Is VPS Hosting

A virtual private server hosting divides a server into virtual servers, where each websites is like hosted on their own dedicated server, but they’re actually sharing a server with a few different other users.

The users may have root access to their own virtual space and better secured hosting environment with this type of hosting. Websites that need greater control at the server level, but don’t want to invest in a dedicated server.

  • Disadvantages- Limited ability to handle high traffic levels or spikes, your site performance can still be somewhat affected by other sites on the server.
  • How much to spend – $20 – $60/mo; additional costs for those who need extra server customization or special software.

Where to get VPS hosting services: InMotion Hosting, InterserverSiteGround

Dedicated Server Hosting

What Is Dedicated Hosting?

A dedicated server offers the maximum control over the web server your website is stored on – You exclusively rent an entire server. Your website(s) is the only website stored on the server.

  • Disadvantages – With great power comes… well, greater cost. Dedicated servers are very expensive and it’s only recommended to those who need the maximum control and better server performance.
  • How much to spend – $80/mo and above; price based on server specifications and additional services.

Where to get dedicated hosting services: AltusHost, InMotion Hosting, TMD Hosting

Cloud Hosting

What Is Cloud Hosting?

Cloud hosting offers unlimited ability to handle high traffic or traffic spikes. Here’s how it works: A team of servers (called a cloud) work together to host a group of websites. This allows multiple computers to work together to handle high traffic levels or spikes for any particular website.

  • Disadvantages – Many cloud hosting setup do not offers root access (required to change server settings and install some software), higher cost.
  • How much to spend – $30 and above; cloud hosting users are usually charged on per-usage basis.

Where to get cloud hosting services: Digital Ocean, Hostgator, Cloudways


Domain Name Explained

What is a Domain Name?

This 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).

To search and register a domain name, try Name Cheap.

What are Top Level Domains (TLDs)?

What is sub domain? What is TLD? What is domain name?
Understanding sub domain, second level domain, and top level domain.

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)?

Country Code TLDs

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 DomainNameSubdomainTLDccTLD
yahoo.comYahoocom
mail.yahoo.comYahoomailcom
finance.yahoo.comYahoofinancecom
yahoo.co.jpYahooco.jp

How Domain Name Registration Works

,com domain names

Here's how domain registration works from a user's point of view.

  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.

We discussed in-depth about how to choose a good domain name, compared domain registration prices, and explained the process of buying an existing domain in this domain dummies guide.

Who's governing domain registration process?

Internet Privacy

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.

Example of a WhoIs record
Example of a WhoIs record (details hidden with domain privacy).

Domain Name vs Web Hosting

What are the differences?

Web Hosting and Domain Name Explained
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.

Tip: InMotion Hosting and GreenGeeks are giving out free domains to their first time 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 Name Cheap 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.

Opinion #2: But not everyone agrees…

But wait… that's just me (I'm a dinosaur). Many webmasters do buy their domain and host it at the same place. And it's okay – especially if you are residing at a reputable solution provider with good business track record. Here's a different opinion quoted from Twitter:

What if you have already registered your domain with the hosting company?

Well you have two options.

  1. Just live with it and do nothing.
  2. Transfer your domain name to a third party registrar.

For #2 – here's the detail instructions on how to transfer your domain name to Name Cheap. And here's how you can do it for GoDaddy. Basically all you need to do is

  1. Obtain the Auth/EPP code from your current registrar (in this case – your hosting company)
  2. Submit transfer request to the new domain registrar

Note that, as per ICANN's Transfer of Registrations Policy, domains that are less than 60 days old or were transferred within the last 60 days cannot be transferred. You'll have to wait at least 60 days before transferring.


Web Hosting And Domain Name FAQ

What is a web host?

A web host 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 do I find the most suitable hosting plan?

Server uptime, hosting upgrade options, pricing, backup features, control panels, and environmental friendliness are some key features to consider when choosing a web host. Before choosing, you will first understand your website needs – here are the questions to ask yourself if you don't know where to begin.

Which website hosting service is best?

Each web host will usually have its own pros and cons in terms of features, so you need to choose what fits your needs best. However, some usually perform better than others. We have built a monitoring system named “HostScore” – it lets you check web hosting speed and reliability, so make sure you refer to that site before paying for hosting.

Is GoDaddy a web host?

GoDaddy is a web services provider. It offers more than web hosting and also includes domain name services, web security, email hosting, web applications, and more.

Is WordPress a web host?

WordPress is a Content Management System. You can get WordPress-based web hosting at almost any web hosting service provider.

Can I host my own website?

In short – yes, it is possible. However, hosting your own website reliably requires significant investment in equipment and infrastructure. The better and more reliable you want your own hosting to be, the higher the cost.

How much does it cost to host a website?

Some of the costs involved in hosting a website include the web host itself, domain name, content creation, graphic design, web development, and marketing. However, for web hosting itself expect to pay between $3 to $10 per month for standard shared hosting. VPS hosting will cost significantly more.


Further Reading

In case you were new, we have published a number of useful guide and tutorials to help you put up your first website online.

On creating a website

On managing your website

On choosing the right web host

Disclosure: Affiliate links are used in this article. If you purchase via my links, I might make a commission. 

About Jerry Low

Founder of WebHostingSecretRevealed.net (WHSR) - a hosting review trusted and used by 100,000's users. More than 15 years experience in web hosting, affiliate marketing, and SEO. Contributor to ProBlogger.net, Business.com, SocialMediaToday.com, and more.