What is Web Hosting? Domain Name vs Web Hosting: Different?

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.

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.

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

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

Tip: You can use our web host recommendation widget to find a suitable web host. Alternatively, use our free tool on the homepage to see what web host a particular site is running on.

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.

Also read – Types of different web hosting.

What is a Domain Name?

WebHostingSecretRevealed.net 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)?

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.

How to buy a new domain name from registrar?

Getting your own domain boils down to two ways:

  1. Buying and registering an entirely new domain, or
  2. Purchasing one that's currently owned by someone else.

There are pros and cons to both ways but ultimately, it's up to you whether you prefer to pay for expensive but well-known addresses (domains that are active) or cheaper but lesser-known ones (brand new domains).

One thing you need to consider is how to name your domain.

As mentioned earlier – A really good domain name can be the deciding factor that makes or break your brand, so choose one wisely.

1. Check for domain availability

Now that you’ve decided on a really awesome domain name, it’s time to check whether the domain name you want is available or not.

Checking on whether a domain name’s availability is easy enough. You can do a simple search with one of the domain registrars; or, use a Whois search engines such to verify whether your domain name is available or has been taken.

If the domain name you want is not available, try to see if different extensions are available instead.

Hover - registering a domain name.
You can check if a domain name is available using Hover.

2. Register your domain name with a registrar

The domain name you’ve chosen is perfect and you’ve verified that it is available, now it's time to actually register the domain name itself.

Just add your desired domain to cart and proceed to payments; and the domain is now yours.

Register a domain at Hover
Register the domain if it's available.

How Much to Pay for a New Domain Name?

A lot of factors that can determine the price of a domain name. Some of those reasons could be:

  • The extension of the domain name (example: .com, .shop., .me)
  • Where the domain name is purchased from (different registrars different offer prices)
  • The length of the term or any other add-ons you might want (example: adding domain privacy, going for multi-year terms, etc.)

While it’s hard to narrow down specifically how much a domain name can cost, you can generally expect to pay anywhere between $2 to $20 per year, depending on any discounts or specials the platform is offering.

A good rule of thumb is that newer domain extensions (.global, .design., .cheap) can be slightly more expensive than the normal domain extensions (.com, .net), as they’ve only been recently put on the market.

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.

Abuse of Domain Names

Two similar domain names at a glance may be mistaken for each other unless you’re paying attention to the domain name extension. This system is often exploited by domain name squatters who hijack domain names or register similar domain names in the hops that legitimate businesses will buy those domain names from them.

Citibank.tk

One example of this is if a scammer registers a domain name such as Citibank.tk and tries to pass it off as the real Citibank website. Some visitors may be fooled by the site and enter personal details there by mistake. Even if they do not set up scam sites, domain name squatters often infringe on trademarks, often with the intent of selling them at inflated prices to owners of those trademarks.

SteveJob.com

The SteveJob.com domain case is another example. The domain used to be  owned by a South Korean who goes by the name Steve Jobs Kim and he used the domain to publish technology-related news and articles. The case was resolved in December 2019 – where The Steve Jobs Archive, LLC, a trust run by Steve Jobs's widow, Laurene Powell Jobs, won the right to own the domain name.

In some cases, similarities could be entirely innocent, such as in the case of Canadian teenager Mike Rowe, who registered the domain MikeRoweSoft for his web design business. Microsoft (the company) was not amused and sued, issuing cease and desist notices.

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

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 Name and Web Hosting from the Same Company?

Should you purchase domain names and hosting services at the same place? Well, like many things online – the answer is “it depends”.

Yes: 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 Cloudways .

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.

No: 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:

Get the actual tweets here and here.

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 Namecheap. 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 & 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.

Read More

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

Photo of author

Article by Jerry Low