Websites are complicated beasts, but put simply, there are only two very important systems that make it work. The first is hosting, and the second is your domain name. When having a website made, your web designer is going to need both, so let’s talk about them.
Hosting is essentially storage space on a computer that is connected to the web. This special computer is usually referred to as a server, or web server. The host is where all of your website documents are stored, including HTML and CSS files, images, videos, as well as scripts and software that make your website work. When you have hosting service, you are paying for a portion of a server’s processing power and storage space.
As I said before, this server is connected to the web. It has a very special unique identifier called an “IP address”. (Fun fact: IP means ‘internet protocol’) An IP address is how that computer can be found on a network (such as the internet). Here’s the thing: IP addresses are notoriously difficult to remember. They look like this: 192.168.0.255.
Domain Names to the Rescue!
A domain name is the nice, easy to remember name (like google.com) that you type into a web browser. You can purchase a domain name through a company called a “domain name registrar”. Some of the most well-known registrars are GoDaddy and Network Solutions.
Domain names are a crucial component of the “DNS” or “Domain Name System”. When you type a domain name into your browser, you are asking your web browser to connect you to the website’s server so you can access the site. Say you want to access google.com. Here’s how it plays out:
- Your browser asks the DNS (domain name system) where the google.com server is located on the internet
- The DNS says google.com resides at a certain IP address
- Your web browser then goes to that IP address, and says “Show me google.com”
- The host then serves the files to your browser, and you can then see the Google website
Both of these systems are how websites are made visible on the web, and both are essential for your website to work properly (with few exceptions).
What does this mean for you?
As a business owner looking at getting a website set up, or having one redesigned, you will need to provide your web designer with access to both systems. In many cases, business owners choose to get their domain names and hosting service from the same company (Places like GoDaddy, 1&1, and Network Solutions), but it is also very common to get hosting and domain names at separate places. I, for example, prefer to purchase domain names at GoDaddy, but my sites are all hosted elsewhere.
As your web designer is working on your website, they’ll need to upload new files to your host, then, when the website is all done, they’ll need to ‘point’ your domain name to the website’s new location.
A Huge Tip:
Your domain name is as important to your business as your front door. It’s your identity online. As such, you should ALWAYS make sure you have ownership of it and have access to it’s administration. You don’t necessarily need to deal with it yourself, but you should absolutely have possession and control of it.
In some cases, web designers will set this all up for you, which is generally fine, as long as you have access to it anytime (like if you decide to redesign your site with a different web designer). You should always make sure that you own the domain name (as opposed to your designer), and you should always be the “Administrative Contact” in the domain’s “whois” data.
If you purchase these services on your own, always keep the registration info in a safe place. If your web designer does it all for you, make sure you get access to the host and get access to the domain name registrar. You’ll then always have access to the two systems that make your website work!