What's the difference between website hosting and a domain name?

When you first decide to create a website, there’s a lot of terminology to learn. The world of domains and website hosting can be especially confusing, with terms like name servers, hosting, domain names, and so on. To help clarify these things, let’s take a look at the difference between website hosting and domain names.

What is a domain name?

A domain name is the URL you enter into your browser to find a website. Think of it like the equivalent of your address on the internet. For example, this website’s domain name is mpwrdesign.com. The part after the period — in this case, .com — is known as a top-level domain. Many choices abound, and we’ve created a separate guide to help you know which top-level domain is the best for you. Because the same domain name can exist separately on every top-level domain, you may want to reserve your domain name on multiple top-level domains.

What is web hosting?

If a domain name is your address, your website hosting is your house. It’s where all your online data is stored. Just like you can own a plot of land without a house on it, you can own a domain name without linking it to a hosting package. This reserves your domain name so no one else can take it, but you can’t post anything on your website without a hosting package.

What else do you need?

There are a few other things you’ll need along the way as well. First, you need to make sure your domain name and web hosting package are properly linked. This way, when someone visits your domain name, they’ll see the content you have stored on your hosting package. If you buy both services from the same company at the same time, it should come packaged and ready to go. If you buy them separately or from different companies, you’ll have to link them together manually. This is done with name servers. Your hosting company will provide you with the name servers for your hosting package, and you’ll enter them into your domain name’s settings. Extending the metaphor from before, name servers function like the internet’s GPS, directing your visitors’ computers to your address.

You will also need a way to post content on your website. If you use WordPress, this can be done in one of two ways. First, many hosting packages offer an automatic WordPress installation. This makes things really easy. If your hosting company does not offer automatic WordPress installs, you can do it yourself. It’s not a time-consuming process — in fact, WordPress famously refers to it as a “5-minute install” — but you’ll want to make sure to follow the installation steps carefully. You’ll need a database from your hosting package, and you’ll use an FTP account to upload WordPress to your site and change some settings in the wp-config.php file to make sure WordPress works with your database. If all that sounds too confusing, plenty of hosting companies offer automatic WordPress installation.

You may also want to get other services for your website like email. Some hosting companies offer email as a part of your hosting packages, some sell it separately, and some don’t offer it at all. If your hosting company doesn’t include email, you can use a company like Fastmail to get email addresses that use your website’s name (in other words, youremailaddress@yourwebsite.com) or you can get a G Suite account to create Gmail email addresses using your website’s name. G Suite also comes with Google Drive and several other apps for your business account.