The Difference Between Website, Domain Name and Web Hosting

Website, hosting and domain – these words are sometimes used interchangeably but nonetheless, they represent completely different parts of an online presence. In this article, we will look at each of them to clear some misconceptions about these somewhat technical terms.

What is a Website?

Website, sometimes also written as web site, simply put is a collection of web pages or web documents. For a collection of web pages to be called website, it must be hosted or published on a web server. In the old days, this meant a bunch of .html files (with multimedia files), which usually linked to one another or used one as the navigation part in a frame. Nowadays, we have CMSs (Content Management System), which usually consist of a few source code files like PHP, Python, Ruby, JS, etc., which, if executed or parsed via an interpreter, will produce the HTML content dynamically, most of the times from some storage system: flat file, SQL based Databases, remote APIs, etc. You can have a website on your local machine, which can have the same functionality as any other online website, it is just that only you can have access to it. This setup is often used in the development phase, when developers, designers or content writers try out and fiddle with new ideas. What they see IS indeed a website, just that it is not accessible to anybody else. So, you can have technically a website even if only you or the people in your Local Area Network (LAN) can access it, as it does not need to be public or accessible to the entire world.

Options to create a website

You have a wide range of solutions when it comes to creating a website. There are CMSs like WordPress, Joomla, Drupal, etc. these offer great flexibility in terms of functionality, and you can always extend their base functionality and looks by different themes and plugins. Another popular method for creating websites are the different SaaS platforms like WordPress.com, Blogger.com or Ghost.org, usually after a simple sign up process you are ready to go and you can create a blog based website, and they often give you a domain name and hosting as well. Web page builders are software tools with the help of which non-tech savvy users can create websites, often in a drag and drop method; no HTML or other coding skills are needed. Some examples are Square Space, Wix.com, Weebly, etc.

What is a Domain Name?

Domain or domain name is a string identifier which defines a realm of authority on the Internet. For the purposes of this article, you can think about a domain name as a pointer, in most cases a domain name will point to an Internet Protocol (IP) address. In the context of websites and hosting, this means that the string identifier www.example.com points to the IP 93.184.216.34. The Domain Name System (DNS) does the translation from string identifiers, which are easily memorized by humans, to IP addresses. The DNS has different kinds of record types: A, CNAME, MX, TXT, etc. but the most used one is the A record type, which does the basic “pointing”. If you have a website which is served by a web server on a server whose IP address is  93.184.216.34 and you own a domain name example.com, and you point its A record to the IP address, then your website will become globally accessible via the example.com domain name.

How to choose a domain name

If you are planning to buy a domain name, you have a huge variety of TLDs (Top Level Domain e.g. .com, .org, .site, and so on) to choose from. The .com TLD is pretty crowded and there are a lot of people who simply buy domain names as an investment, hoping that somebody might just need that exact domain, so they can sell it at a premium. In choosing a domain name most of the times it boils down to keyword based versus brand name. A keyword based domain name is something like freewebsitetemplates.co.uk or bestcheaphosting.uk, these domains can significantly boost your SEO rankings, especially at the beginning of the website’s life, however, they do come with a price – they are harder to remember (was it email templates free or free mail templates?) than a branded domain name like aegis.com or vizero.net. A branded domain name will have a slower start in terms of SEO results, but you can differentiate yourself, and you will have a brand name created at the end, which you might repurpose.

What is Web Hosting?

Web hosting or sometimes abbreviated to hosting refers to usually a server on which you can store files and they provide access to those files to the Internet. In the past, it used to be static HTML and Media Files which in effect where only hosted on the hosting company’s servers. Today, they do much more than hosting static files, they often execute or parse different types of source code files like PHP, Python, Perl, etc., they provide databases: MySQL, PostgreSQL and NoSQL DBs, and even let you modify the web server’s configuration directives. There is a whole ecosystem around hosting, with control panels, live support, VPS and dedicated hosting, domain name registration and management, CDN support, etc.

There are four main kind of hosting: Shared hosting, VPS hosting, Dedicated hosting and Cloud based solutions. Choosing one over the other will depend on the nature of your website (e.g. static website vs. online store), the traffic you receive on your website (high traffic vs low traffic), and other particularities of your site (e.g. whether you process payments, store sensitive data, etc.).

A shared hosting means that you and all the users hosted on the same servers share the server’s resources. This allows the hosting of a high number of websites on a single machine, thus, driving down the costs. You can find shared hosting plans starting at £1.58 per month at iPage hosting, where you will get “unlimited” traffic and storage space, access to vDeck Control Panel, email hosting with email forwarders and 24/7 support via phone and live chat. Shared hosting is ideal for static websites, small personal blogs, and low-traffic websites.

VPS hosting plans are the middle ground between shared and dedicated hosting, they offer dedicated resources in terms of storage, CPU cores and RAM, but they come at a fraction of the dedicated server’s price. They are more expensive than shared hosting, but they do guarantee resource allocation. For £11.92 per month you can get a VPS from BlueHost which has 2 CPU cores, 30GB of SAN based storage and 2GB of RAM. Another advantage compared to shared hosting is the dedicated IP address, which you usually get when you sign up for a VPS hosting. BlueHost also offers a dedicated IP and a domain name for their VPS plans. VPS hosting is a suitable choice for ecommerce sites and high-traffic websites, irrespective of their nature.

Dedicated hosting, as its name implies, is dedicated to you. You have all the server’s resources at your disposal. You can implement almost any solution on a dedicated hosting and there are some rare software solutions, which do not work well in a virtualized environment, in that case, a dedicated server can come to the rescue.  At InMotion Hosting, you can get a dedicated server with an Intel® Xeon® X3430 CPU, 8 GB of RAM with 500GB of SSD storage and 5 IPv4 addresses for £79.48. Dedicated hosting is chosen businesses that run resource intensive applications, high-traffic websites, store sensitive business data, and process financial transactions frequently.

Hopefully our article has managed to clear up the differences between website, domain name and web hosting, so you can walk away with a clear understanding of what is covered by each concept.

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