Once you start searching for information on setting up a website, two terms you are likely to come across with some regularity is web hosting and domain hosting/registration. Though they are closely related, they do not mean the same thing.
To make the right decision regarding web hosting plan and domain hosting/registration, it’s important that you understand the basics of these two terminologies.
What is Web Hosting?
With web hosting, a web host allocates computing resources for the display, configuration, storage and maintenance of your website’s code, video, audio, images, text and associated services. There are different types of web hosting.
The most common types are shared hosting, dedicated hosting and virtual private server (VPS) hosting.
Shared hosting is the most popular type of web hosting. It is ideal for small websites and anyone subscribing to a hosting plan for the first time. This type of plan involves storing hundreds or thousands of websites on one server. The websites share the server’s resources including processing power, storage space and random access memory (RAM).
Sharing means the cost per subscription is low due to economies of scale. However, the low cost comes with reduced performance.
Dedicated hosting is the polar opposite of shared hosting plans. You get exclusive use and control of the server your website is hosted on. No sharing of physical infrastructure with third party sites. You have the power to make changes to everything from the operating system to the antivirus software.
As you would expect, dedicated hosting plans are the most expensive. They are the best option for large websites with high traffic and users who have deep technical expertise in server and web administration.
VPS hosting is the halfway point between shared hosting and dedicated hosting. It’s the preferred option for persons looking for greater control than shared hosting but not as much as dedicated hosting.
Like shared hosting, multiple websites sit on the same physical server in VPS hosting plans. The main difference is each user account is on a virtual server. There are more options for storage and customization than shared hosting. VPS hosting is ideal if you are looking to install specific packages and applications.
What is a Domain?
Web hosting gets your content on the Internet. However, the Internet is a vast space with billions of websites and trillions of web pages. A domain name is a unique address that people use to find your website. The domain names have the format yourdomainname.com; they are what users would type in their browser’s address bar.
Domain registration is the process of applying for a new domain name. The service is offered by a domain host.
Your Preferred Domain May Already Exist
Ideally, the domain name you choose will have the same name as your organization, business or objective for consistent branding. Sometimes though, the domain name you want may have already been registered by someone else. There could be several reasons for this.
The most common is that since a website is inherently global, it is possible that someone else thought of and registered the same name before you did. A less common reason is cybersquatting which is the practice of knowingly registering a domain that contains a name or brand owned by another organization without requisite authorization.
Cybersquatters will ask for large payments to release the domain to the organization. Cybersquatting primarily affects well-known brands. It is much less widespread now than it was in the 1990s and the first decade of the 2000s when many large organizations were still sitting on the fence about going online.
Your Options When Your Preferred Domain Exists
So, what should you do when you find out someone has already registered the domain name you prefer? One would be to alter the text to get a unique name that is still consistent with your brand, goal or cause. In keeping with our example, if yourdomainname.com is already taken, you may opt for ydomainname.com or ydname.com.
Another alternative would be to try using a different top level domain (TLD). .com is the most widely used TLD but if you cannot get the .com name you want, explore other TLDs. There are hundreds such as the more global ones like .net, .org and .info, the more regional ones like .eu and .asia, and the more national ones such as .us, .de, .jp, and .uk, among others.
For cybersquatting, seek legal redress.
How They Are Different
A good analogy for the web hosting and domain hosting contrast is your place of residence. Think of your house and all that it contains as web hosting and your address as the domain name. In the same way you provide your mailing/physical address to people who want to reach you, the domain name provides the spot on the world wide web where your digital presence resides.
While nearly all web hosts also offer domain registration, that is not always the case. Even when they do, you can always have your domain registration done by a separate company. That said, if you choose to use a third party for domain registration, you have to grant your web host access by transferring your domain to them.
Which is Right for Your Goals?
You can have a website without a domain name but that would make it invisible on the Internet. Similarly, you can have a domain name without a website but it would add no value since all that visitors will run into is a blank page or a parked domain page containing third party ads. So, you need both web hosting and domain registration to extract actual value from your website.
Web hosting and domain hosting/registration are distinct terms. Still, none is really useful without the other. Hopefully, the explanation of what each involves provides a practical guide on making sure you make the most of either service.