I’m finding more and more people wanting to start websites, yet getting confused about some of the details.
The first point of confusion is domains and hosting, so I’ll try to clarify those 2 points.
The first thing to understand is:
How does your browser display a web page?
In a simplified way, this is what happens:
- You type (or click on the link to) something like: www.computer-aid.com.au
- Your browser then talks to a special computer called a DNS server… and it asks: could you please tell me where I can find www.computer-aid.com.au ?
- The DNS server responds saying: you can find www.computer-aid.com.au at: 184.108.40.206 (ie the numbers are a special internet “address”
- Your browser then talks to the computer at 220.127.116.11 and asks: have you got any files that I can display?
- The computer at 18.104.22.168 say: sure! Here is the index page, and here are some pictures that go with that.
- Your browser then assembles the files and pictures into a page that we all recognise as a web page (with things to click on, information and pictures.
Now, what is a domain name, and why do you need to register a domain name?
- A domain name is a somewhat like a trademark. Its a word like “computer-aid.com.au”
- Buying a domain name gives you ownership of the name, and lets you do whatever you like with it (while you own it).
- Owning the name doesn’t mean you automatically get a website. Its effectively like having the domain name registered on the DNS server from the above example
So why do you need hosting?
- From the above example (about how your browser works), hosting is the computer at 22.214.171.124
- The hosting computer stores all the files and pictures that make up the “look” of your website.
Although this is not strictly true, you can think of your domain registrar (ie the company you paid to register your domain) as the DNS server… and you tell them where your hosting computer is.
ie: you can get your domain registrar to “point” your domain name to whichever hosting company you like.
This raises an important issue:
What if you register your domain name, and have hosting with the same company.
The answer is: its good if everything runs smoothly… but if you have any problems, then changing companies can become very “sticky”.
I usually recommend people use different companies for domain registration and hosting.
Lets say at some point, your hosting company becomes overloaded, or the quality of their support drops, or you need a more powerful server. You then line up a new hosting company, move all your website files to the new hosting company, then you point your domain to the new hosting company… This can become difficult in the “all in one” case… as the host might not want you to leave… and they can make a bad situation worse.
Your domain registrar (particularly if they don’t host your website) shouldn’t care that you changed hosting… they just change some numbers in their database.
Or: if you don’t like your domain registrar for some reason… then you can find another registrar, and transfer your domain “ownership” to the new company (while still pointing to the same hosting company).
This means you can handle future changes without your website “disappearing” for a long time.