Web Hosting vs. Domain Registration – Differences Explained

Domain name registration and web hosting and are two critical elements of running a website. It’s important to understand the difference between the two.

Web hosting and domain registration are frequently paired together. But it’s important to understand exactly what they do.

What Is A Domain vs. Hosting?

Here’s the short version.

Domain Name – Is leasing a human-readable word (e.g., amazon.com) that directs people to specific website files via a browser.

Web Hosting – An account on a computer (aka server) that can store and serve website files via the Internet.

As an analogy, a domain is an “address” on the Internet. Hosting is the “land” or space where your website files live.

There’s much more to web hosting and domain registration than their definition.

How Domain Names Work

Internet addresses are technically “IP Addresses.” IP addresses are a long series of numbers that make no sense to humans. In fact, the very first places on the internet were accessible only by IP address.

So instead of typing in 192.168.0.1.1 to access a website, the website owner can register a domain that will route to that specific IP address.

When you register a domain name, you are leasing it from the Internet Corporation for Names and Numbers or ICANN for short. ICANN provides domains via approved registrars. Your registrar will be your domain host, but not your web host, in one way of saying it.

Though a domain name does not do anything on its own. It is like a phone number without a phone attached to it.

Registration provides you the right to “point” your domain wherever you want with nameservers.

You can tell it to redirect to another website – But usually, you’ll want it to direct browsers to your website…on your hosting account.

You can read more in Domain Names, Explained.

How Web Hosting Works

Web hosting, on the other hand, is an account on a web server that “hosts” your website files.

If you do not have a domain “pointed” to your hosting account, you can access it with a string of numbers in an IP address.

While you can technically build your own server at home, most people buy a hosting plan from a web hosting service. A hosting company is a company that owns a bunch of pre-configured servers that they lease out according to different hosting plans.

They will usually include instructions on how to “point” your domain to your hosting account. They’ll also provide instructions for software to build & manage your website.

You can read more in the Website Hosting, Explained.

Related Terms

There are usually a few other terms that confuse issues. Here are some that need clarification.

DNS

DNS (also known as Domain Name System) is a system that does the actual work for translating your domain name into an IP address. The shorthand term is “nameservers.” It will also store records to send other requests, such as email addresses to the right server (known as an MX record). It can be separate from your domain registration and your hosting account. Usually, the domain registrar or your hosting company will provide you with a DNS.

Content Management System

You can technically write and upload plain HTML files to your hosting account. Most website owners want to edit and manage their websites directly.

A content management system (CMS) is software that allows you to build, edit, and manage all your website files from a single dashboard. A CMS must be installed on your hosting account.WordPress is the Internet’s most popular content management system. But there are many other website builders as well.

I wrote a WordPress setup guide.

Website Builder / eCommerce Software

You can install & run all sorts of software on your hosting account server. There are tools that allow drag and drop functionality, eCommerce functionality, or anything you can dream up.

Remember that all this software runs on a hosting account that you access via a domain name.

How To Get Started

So how do you get started with domain registration and web hosting?

Well – it depends on what you want to do. There are a lot of options that you can mix together to create different setups. It can be confusing, but nearly all options boil down to three usual paths.

  1. Buying A Domain Name And Web Hosting Seperately
  2. Buying A Domain Name And Web Hosting Together
  3. Buy Them Bundled Together

1. Buying A Domain Name And Web Hosting Separately

With this path, you register your new domain at a domain company of your choice and your hosting at a hosting provider. You’ll then “point” your domain to your hosting account.

I personally used this path. The domain for this site is at Namecheap and my web host is InMotion Hosting.

Domain Name Registration Examples

  • Namecheap – focused on simplicity & cheap long-term pricing.
  • GoDaddy – focused on promos & complementary products.
  • Google Domains – focused on integrating w/ Google products.

Web Hosting Examples

  • Bluehost – focused on broad appeal with good usability.
  • InMotion Hosting – focused on support & overall value for businesses.
  • SiteGround – focused on technical features for developers.

Advantages of Buying Domains + Hosting Separately

  • Better long-term pricing
  • Easier to leave with fewer service commitments
  • Easier to manage lots of additional domain names.
  • More access to premium domain and domain extension options.
  • Companies usually specialize in one or the other.
  • Cheaper if the hosting project won’t launch soon.

Disadvantages of Buying Domains + Hosting Separately

  • Lose out on short-term specials & discounts.
  • Not as convenient as using a single company.
  • Have to troubleshoot across different companies (e.g. your SSL certificate is issued by your domain host, but installed with your web host).
  • Extra configuration steps.

Once you buy your hosting, you can install website software on your account. I’ve written how to do this for free with WordPress software.

2. Buying A Domain Name And Web Hosting Together

With this path, you buy your domain and hosting together from a single company.

This is the most common path to creating a website. It’s convenient and makes a lot of sense. Most domain providers also sell hosting. And most hosting providers also sell domains.

In fact, many hosting providers provide a free domain for the first year and allow unlimited domains anyway.

Provider Examples (Hosting + Domain)

  • Bluehost – focus on usability & broad appeal w/ free domain for a year and less expensive hosting.
  • GoDaddy – cheap promotional domains with ok hosting.
  • Namecheap – cheap domains & hosting with feature caps.
  • InMotion Hosting – focus on support & value with higher pricing for hosting & domain renewal.

Advantages

  • Convenience and simplicity.
  • Unified support from one company.
  • Bundled specials and discounts.
  • No additional configuration.

Disadvantages

  • Harder to leave & transition to a new company or use backup services.
  • More expensive long-term with pricier domain renewals.
  • Hard to manage many domains, especially if some are inactive.
  • Loss of specialization in domain services (or hosting services).

Once you purchase hosting, you can install website software on your account and go from there. I’ve written how to do this with free WordPress software here.

With this option, you always have the option to transfer your domain over to your web hosting provider.

3. Buy Them Bundled Together

With this path, you buy your domain, hosting, website software, and website services in a single bundle from a single company.

This path is otherwise known as going with a hosted “website builder.”

This path is common among website owners. It’s convenient. It’s simple and it makes a lot of sense for many website owners.

What is important is to recognize that you are still paying for the same elements as the first two options. You are simply paying for a bundle with everything included.

Provider Examples

  • Wix – focused on broad appeal w/ drag & drop editor.
  • WordPress – focused on content-heavy sites.
  • GoDaddy Website Builder – focused on basic, simple sites.
  • Weebly – focused on small shops & projects w/ usable editor.
  • Shopify – focused on growing online stores.

Advantages

  • Convenience and simplicity.
  • Unified support for a single, proprietary product.
  • Integrated functionality so everything “just works”.
  • Professional speed, security, and maintenance.

Disadvantages

  • Loss of total control & access to server.
  • Usually more expensive over long-term.
  • Inability to customize specific features/edits.
  • Hard to troubleshoot without customer support.
  • Hard to leave the company for a different option.

Once you’ve chosen and activated your plan, you’ll have to follow the company’s steps to get started. They have usually laid out a clear path to get your website in place and live.

Next Steps

If you are considering a website project, then it’s critical to understand the difference between domain registration and web hosting.

They work together but also act like different products.

A domain is critical to any website project – whether you go with a hosting company or bundled services.

Read more about domain names, explained or website hosting, explained.

If you know the domain name you want, go get it right now from a domain registrar like:

Once you’ve acquired a domain, next you must decide on the best web hosting or the best website builder for yourself.

This site runs on InMotion Hosting – they are a great choice for sites that don’t mind paying a bit more for customer support. But feel free to take the hosting quiz to find your fit.

You might want to bookmark my website setup guide here.

Have fun!

Larry Ludwig

About Larry Ludwig

Larry Ludwig is an entrepreneur, financial expert, tech & marketing guru with over 25 years of industry experience.

In July 2018, Larry successfully sold Investor Junkie for $6 million.

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