We are often asked by beginners: what is a domain name and how do domains work? Many of our beginner users confuse domain names with hosting and other services. In this beginner’s guide, we will answer what is a domain name and how domains work.
What is a Domain Name?
Domain name is the address of your website that people type in the browser URL bar to visit your website.
In simple terms, if your website was a house, then your domain name will be its address.
A more detailed explanation:
Internet is giant network of computers connected to each other through a global network of cables. Each computer on this network can communicate with other computers.
To identify them, each computer is assigned an IP address. It is a series of numbers that identify a particular computer on the internet. A typical IP address looks like this:
Now an IP address like this is quite difficult to remember.
Domain names were invented to solve this problem.
Now if you want to visit a website, you don’t need to enter a long string of numbers. Instead, you can visit it by typing an easy to remember domain name in your browser’s address bar. For example, wpbeginner.com.
What happens when you enter a domain name in your browser?
Your browser sends a request to a global network of servers that form the Domain Name System. These servers then look up for the name servers associated with a domain and forward the request to those name servers.
For example, if your website is hosted on Bluehost, then its name server information will be like this:
These name servers are computers managed by your hosting company. Your hosting company now forwards your request to the computer where your website is stored.
This computer is called a web server. It has a special software installed (Apache, Nginx are two popular web server software). The web server now fetches the requested website and sends it to back to the browser.
How is Domain Name Different from Web Hosting?
If domain name is the address of your website, then web hosting is the home where your website lives.
This is the actual computer where your website’s files are stored. These servers are offered as a service by hosting companies.
To create your website, you need both domain name and web hosting.
However, it’s important to remember that they are two separate services, and you can buy them from two different companies.
Now you may be wondering, how would it work if you bought them from two separate companies?
You just need to edit your domain name settings and enter the Name Server information provided by your hosting company. Name Server information defines where to send user requests for your domain name.
We recommend getting both your domain name and hosting from the same company. This allows you to easily manage your domain and hosting under the same account.
How to Choose a Domain Name for Your Website?
Domain names are available in many different extensions. The most popular one is .com. There are many other options like .org, .net, .tv, .info, .io, and more.
There are also country specific domain names which end with country code extension like .uk for United Kingdom, .de for Germany, .in for India.
We recommend using .com, mainly because it is the easiest to remember and works best for business websites.
For more on this topic, please take a look at our guide on how to choose the best domain name.
How to Buy a Domain Name?
You can buy domain names from many companies. These companies are called domain name registrars. A domain name typically costs 14.99 per year. Some popular domain name companies are:
However, a domain name registration does not automatically give you hosting service. For that you will need a website hosting account as well.
Many WordPress hosting companies offer domain name registration services as well. This allows you to manage both services under one account, and you also don’t need to worry about changing name server settings for your domain.
We recommend using Bluehost. They are offering WPBeginner users a free domain name and 60% discount on hosting. Basically you can get started for $2.75/month.
We hope this article helped you learn what is a domain name and how do domains work. You may also want to see our list of best free domain name generators to find cool ideas for your next domain name.