You've decided to bite the bullet and get cracking with setting up your business website - excellent! Those social media and search engine ads for hosting and website builders make it all look so easy, right? It will be a breeze, right...? What? You have followed one of those ads and are now worried you might be paying for things you don't need? Surely, you think, "I don't need domain AND website hosting?" What is Web Hosting and Domain Hosting?
This conversation is one I've had with most clients when trying to set up a website, or I'm sure clients have had when dealing with a web designer/developer. Like most business tasks, once you get below the surface and start delving into the detail of what's required for a website, it can start to get pretty confusing, pretty quickly.
This article is the first in a series I'll be writing to help un-bamboozle potential DIY web designers so you are better equipped to choose solutions that work for your business, project or group website! Or, if you are engaging a professional (like me) to help you out, you're better informed when discussing your business and what you want your website to do for you.
What is 'hosting'?
Hosting is the process of paying a company to set aside resources to manage certain functional aspects of your website. There are two main types of hosting that you will require in order to have a website; domain and web hosting. Web and domain hosting companies charge fees for these services, which vary widely based on the type and features of the hosting packages you require.
Think of your website as a home. The domain is the address of the home, where the house (website) will be built. A domain doesn't come with a website, its merely a place where one could be built. Domains are also known as 'URLs' (Uniform Resource Locator), and are how browsers (i.e. Chrome, Edge, Firefox etc.) retrieve anything published on the internet. In the house analogy above, think of your browser as a mail carrier; they need to know your home (website) address (URL of the website) in order to deliver mail (load the website). The actual going ons behind this simple analogy to do with servers etc. are more complex, but this serves (see what I did there) our purposes for now.
Like everything in the world, the domain name system is managed by a overarching body, called the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). It's a not-for-profit that creates and implements the policies for domain names. ICANN allows companies called Domain Name Registrars to sell domain names and make changes to the registry on your behalf. This includes managing records, renewals and transfers to other registrars.
You may have noticed that domain names have a specific structure; i.e. www.wildflowerdigital.com.au.
The www tells the browser that the address is for a website (rather than other types of protocols for communication such as File Transfer Protocol). It's not technically required, and in most cases a website will work fine without it. The next component is the unique identifier you use, like a business name or group name. Domain names should finish with a domain extension, with the most popular called Top Level Domains i.e., .com, .org, .net, .tv etc. My website is a Country Code Top Level Domain; it ends in a code to specify which country the business operates out of.
The combination of each of these components creates a unique URL for each website on the internet.
Domain registrars check the current list of available domain names and allow you to buy your desired one, if available. If someone has already registered your desired domain, you have a couple of options; choose another name or buy the domain off them if available (can be expensive for in demand domains). If you are just starting out with your business, it is a good idea to check the available domains before registering your business name incase your website is already taken (or you may need to get creative with choosing a domain name). If you are concerned your domain will be used by another party, its a good idea to buy it (register) and 'park it' until you are ready to build your website.
There are many dedicated domain registration companies who offer only domain hosting, and there are many who also offer web hosting, the other part of the picture when building a website.
Web hosting is the hosting of the files required to display your website; the code, images, videos and other resources. Confusingly, some domain hosts also offer web hosting and some web hosts offer a 'free domain' in their hosting packages. You can often realise great savings by utilising these packages, but be careful with 'free for first year' clauses!
To take our house analogy further, the domain is the house (website) address and the web host is the foundations of your where your home (website) can be built. If you buy your webhosting package separate to your domain host, you will need to change the records associated with that domain to 'point' to the web host servers - otherwise browsers won't know where to look!
Web hosting package monthly costs are often tiered based on bandwidth, security features and added support. A small boutique business consultancy will require a much less costly hosting package than a large enterprise level ecommerce website which recieves alot of traffic and has many products to sell.
When you buy a basic web hosting package, it will often be bundled with a simple (and fairly limited) free website builder that can be accessed via their administration panel. Some hosts only host certain specialised website content management systems such as WordPress, which are worth consideration if you would like to simplify your hosting experience. There are also dedicated custom built website hosts and builders such as Wix.com and Shopify which bundle everything you need to host and build a website (including domain registration) within a user friendly and feature packed interface. These are paid on an ongoing monthly subscription basis and on this basis can often be significantly more expensive than building your site with something like WordPress.
I hope this article was helpful and you learned what the difference between domain and web hosting is! I am planning to write more of these types of articles, and if you would like a certain topic explained to do with web design, please let me know in the comments.
If you are struggling with setting up your website, send me an email, I'd love to help out!