Hosting, DNS, and Domains in Plain English

The technical side of how your website becomes accessible online can be very confusing. In this article, we’ll go over the three fundamental pieces that make your website work. Because many companies bundle these services together, let’s separate them out and explain the differences.

TL;DR

Your web host keeps track of your website files on a web server. Your DNS host keeps track of who your web host is and where it is on the Internet. Your domain registrar keeps track of who your DNS host is and reserves your name so only you can use it.

Now let’s dive deep.

Web Hosting

Web hosting simply refers to a service that stores your website files and “serves” them to visitors on the web. This happens on a remote computer called a web server.

Your web server has an address called an IP address. Think of this as the “phone number” for your web server.

Side note: It’s important to note that “hosting” is a word that can be applied in a few different ways. The most common meaning is “web hosting,” as defined above. However, sometimes hosting gets used in reference to domain names (see DNS Hosting, below), or even email.

DNS Hosting

Because IP addresses are hard to remember (and don’t look great on business cards), companies offer DNS hosting to translate these numbers into friendly names called domain names. Mycompany.com is much easier to remember than 74.125.21.113!

DNS (which stands for Domain Name System) hosting is a service that pairs your domain name with your web host’s IP address. Think of this as the link between the web host and domain registrar.

Diving deeper: Your DNS Host itself has an address that looks something like ns1.mydnshost.com (the “ns” stands for name server). If you have ever set up a new website, you have probably entered this address on the control panel of a domain registrar (see below). You’re specifying who your DNS host is!

Domain Registration

You probably already know that a domain name is the “.com” (or “.org”, etc.) address by which visitors find you. Domain registration simply refers to paying for the right to reserve a particular name, and this happens through a domain registrar.

The other very important function a domain registrar plays is specifying who your DNS host is.

Summary

As mentioned before, all three of these services often get packaged together in different ways. It’s important to know who you’re paying for each service, so if and when changes are needed, you know where to go!

More reading: Our favorite DNS host, DNSimple, has a fun comic that explains in great detail what happens behind the scenes when you enter a domain name into your browser. Read How DNS Works.

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