Domain Names and Web Hosting – What’s the Difference?

Clients are sometimes confused about the difference between their domain name registration service and their web host. That’s understandable, because some domain name registrars  provide web site hosting for an extra fee, and most web hosting services also provide domain name registration—for free or an extra fee. It’s an easy to mix up these two very different services, so let’s sort it out.

To publish your web site you need three things:

  1. A registered domain name
  2. Space on a web-hosting server
  3. Web site files 

Domain Name

A domain name is just a label for people to remember instead of the numerical address of the computer where your web site files are stored.  Computers communicate with other computers using numbers called IP addresses, the same way you use a phone number to dial a specific person’s phone. Instead of typing “” to reach the computer where this web site’s files are stored, you typed to reach it. The domain registrar’s directory (like a telephone book) routed your request to the correct web server, which presented the files for display on your computer. It knew where the site’s files were stored, because the  web host’s name server address was entered in the domain registration record.  Your domain name can stay registered with the same service forever, if you wish. If you change your web host provider, you simply update the registration record with the new host’s name server address and visitors will be routed to your new site location.

Web Host & Site Files

A web-hosting service rents you space on a computer (a “server”) that uses software to “serve up” site files that are requested by computers over the Internet. You upload your files to that computer by a variety of methods. Your site files include text, image, and media files, as well as programming files that make special functions work on your site. The web host (server) knows how to read these files and presents the right combination of files to your web site visitor.

It sounds complicated, but the process happens in split seconds, millions of times every day:  when a person types (or links to) a domain name, that name gets translated to a web server’s IP address. Then, the server sends the site files to the person’s computer, which their browser displays as a  web page.