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What Is the Difference Between Registering a Domain and Hosting a Website?

To a web developer, tasks like registering domains and hosting websites are self-explanatory. However, if you’ve never set up a website before, not understanding the difference between these concepts can make it harder to get started.

There are a number of steps to setting up a fully functioning WordPress website and getting it running. Understanding those steps and what they entail can make your life as a website owner simpler. For example, you might not know that you can register a domain without having a website to go along with it yet. You can also find web hosting and create a fully working website before you ever register your domain.

In this article, we’ll go over the difference between registering a domain and hosting a website, and explain how both aspects affect your site. Let’s get started!

What Is a Domain Name?

Multiple domain name examples.
Registering a domain is simple, and just requires some basic information and a small fee.

‘Domain name’ is the term used to refer to URLs such as a2hosting.com or wordpress.orgWhen you type in a domain, your browser looks up what site it’s assigned to and then takes you there.

It’s important to understand that domain names are fluid. You can register a new one at any time and use it to replace all of your site’s URLs. Along with enabling users to access your site, domain names offer several other benefits, such as:

  • Reinforcing your branding. Chances are you’ll use a URL that includes your site’s name or a variation on it, which means it’s a vital part of your branding efforts.
  • Making your website easier to remember. In most cases, people tend to prefer shorter URLs that are easier to type, probably because they’re easier to recall.
  • Letting people know what your site’s about. You can use your domain name to let visitors know what to expect from your site.

The process of registering a domain name is quite straightforward. All you have to do, in most cases, is look up any URLs you’re interested in and check out which of them are available:

Registering a new domain name.

If the domain you want is already occupied, you can either try a different name or use a separate Top-Level Domain (TLD) (such as .com, .org, or .net). Once you’ve landed on the perfect name for your website, you’ll need to provide some personal information to claim ownership of it, and of course pay for your new domain.

Keep in mind that domain registrations aren’t permanent. You’ll need to pay for at least a year up front, and then renew your ‘ownership’ every so often. You can do this using either a dedicated domain registrar – which is a company that focuses on these services – or in many cases through your web hosting provider.

What Does It Mean to Host a Website?

Some of A2 Hosting's plans.
Hosting costs vary depending on the resources you need.

Hosting a website is an entirely different concept from registering a domain name. With hosting, you are essentially renting ‘space’ where your website will reside online. Most web hosts offer a variety of plans that vary depending on the resources you need. Generally speaking, the more popular your site becomes, the more expenses you’ll incur due to hosting fees.

It’s worth mentioning that not every web host is made equal. Here’s why it’s important to choose a good one:

  • It affects your site’s performance. Your choice of web host and plan have a direct impact on your site’s speed and uptime.
  • You get access to better features. Generally speaking, more expensive services usually translate to better features, such as automatic backups, security scans, and so on.
  • It affects how many visitors your site can handle. Shared hosting plans, for example, will often struggle if you start receiving lots of visitors in a small amount of time.

You can sign up for an account on a web host, choose a plan, and get to work on a website before registering a domain name. In most cases, your provider will give you a link you can use to access your site in the meantime, but they’re often long and unwieldy, which makes them poor alternatives to regular domains. It’s often better to have a domain ready from the get-go, so you don’t run the risk of losing the name. Plus, domain registrations are pretty cheap, and the process of linking a URL with your website is straightforward.

Should You Use the Same Company for Your Domain Registration and Hosting?

As we mentioned earlier, you can often use the same platform to both host your website and register your domain. In fact, this is often the smart thing to do because:

  • It makes your job easier. If you use different platforms for these two tasks, you’ll need to jump back and forth between them to make any changes. This is a small hassle, but one that cause frustration over time.
  • You can centralize your expenses. Both hosting a site and maintaining a domain registration costs money, and having the same platform makes it more convenient to manage both.
  • It’s often simpler to link domains and websites on the same platform. Linking a domain to a site on a different platform can be a bit tricky the first time you do it. However, if you get both services from the same provider, the process tends to be much more straightforward.

The main potential downside of using the same platform to register your domain and host your website is that you’re more vulnerable in the case of a security breech. This can be avoided by choosing a provider with a record for both quality and security, which can handle hosting and domain registration with ease.

Conclusion

There are plenty of concepts you’ll need to get acquainted with once you start working on your first website. It’s important that you understand how they all relate to each other. For example, registering a domain and hosting a website are two key steps that can be separate, but can also be performed using a single platform.

Let’s recap what those two concepts mean and how they are related:

  1. A website can exist without a domain by using a local setup, but we don’t recommend this if you want to create a public project.
  2. Registering a domain only means you’re claiming ownership of an URL, which is something you can do without a working website.
  3. Once you have a functional website, you can link it to any domain you own (or vice versa).

Do you have any questions about the differences between these two concepts? Let’s talk about them in the comments section below!

Image credit: Startup Stock Photos.

About Brad Litwin

Brad Litwin is the Marketing Manager for A2 Hosting. He has been with the company since 2007. His specialties include affiliate marketing, content writing and SEO. In his spare time he enjoys running and reading.

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