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Beginner’s Guide: What is a domain name and how do domains work?

May 1, 2018

Newcomers often ask us: What is a domain name and how do domains work? Many newcomers confuse domain names with hosting and other services. In this beginner's guide we will answer what a domain name is and how domains work.

What is a domain name?

A domain name is the address of your website that each user enters in the browser URL bar to visit your website.

In simple terms, if your website were a house, your domain name would be a residential address.

A more detailed explanation:

The Internet is a vast network of computers connected by a global network of cables. Any computer on this network can communicate with other computers.

To identify them, each computer is assigned an IP address. These are a series of numbers that identify a particular computer on the Internet. A typical IP address then looks like this, for example:

82.211.34.241

But an IP address like this is pretty hard to remember, so domain names were invented to solve this problem.

If you now want to visit a web page, you do not have to enter a long sequence of numbers. Instead, to visit a website, the easy-to-remember domain name can be entered in the address bar of the browser. For example myherothemes.com.

What happens when the domain name is entered into the browser?

The browser sends a request to a global network of servers that form the domain name system. These servers then search for nameservers assigned to domain names and forward the request to these nameservers.

For example, if the website is hosted at bluehost, the name server information would be as follows:

ns1.bluehost.com
ns2.bluehost.com

Name servers are computers set up and managed by the hosting company. The hosting company now forwards the request to the computer on which the website is stored.

This computer is called a web server. Web servers have special software installed (Apache, Nginx are two popular web server software). The web server now retrieves the requested web page and sends it back to the browser.

Even if this explanation looks like a long process, it only takes a few milliseconds.

How is the domain name different from web hosting?

If the domain name is the address of your website, then web hosting is the home of the website.

This is the actual computer on which the files of the website are stored. These servers are offered by hosting companies as a service.

To create a website, both a domain name and web hosting are required. Normally, both are purchased from the same supplier.

However, it is important to remember that these are two separate services. Which could be obtained from 2 different suppliers (companies).

Now you might ask yourself, how would it work, if the domain of provider A and the web hosting are provided by provider B?

All you need to do is edit the domain name setting and enter the name server information provided by the hosting company. Name server addresses where user requests for the domain names should land.

However, it is recommended to use both the domains and the web hosting from the same provider, as certain web hosters may incur additional costs for external domain handles.

This makes it easy to manage the domain and web hosting under the same account.

Find a suitable domain name for the website

Domain names are available in many different extensions. The most popular is .com. There are many other options like .org, .net, .tv, .info, .io and more.

However, there are also country-specific domain names that end with a country code extension, e.g. .de for Germany or .co.uk for United Kingdom.

We recommend the use of .de, mainly because it is the easiest to remember and best suited for business websites in Germany. For the United Kingdom of course then.co.uk.

For more information on this topic, see our guide to choosing the best domain name.

How do I buy a domain name?

You can buy domain names from many companies. These companies are called domain name registrars. A domain name usually costs 14.99 per year. Some popular domain name companies are:

GoDaddy
BlueHost
DreamHost

However, a domain registration does not automatically include a hosting service. A hosting rate is also required for this.

Many WordPress hosting providers also offer domain name registration. In this way, both services can be managed under one account, thus eliminating the need to change the name server settings for the domain.

Which hoster is best suited for this can be found in our large WordPress Hosting comparison.

We hope you now know what a domain name is and how domains work.

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Myron Youshaei
As a commentator, copywriter and online editor I learned the appealing preparation of web content. This hunger for knowledge has driven me to find out more and more every day.
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