24th May 2011
Are you often confused when designers and developers mention servers, hosting and domain names? If the answer is 'yes', then this article is for you! I will break down the basics of what goes on to get a website on your screen at home.
A hosting server is the computer and hard drive space where your website files are stored, continuously connected to the internet and freely available for internet users to view in their web browsers.
The domain name is the address which tells the web browser which hosting server to connect to in order to load your website. Technically, you don't need a domain name to load your website, but without one, it would be very difficult for people to be able to remember the address of your website and it may change frequently.
A lot of people think that a domain is the hosting server and vice versa. This isn't true at all! So we'll start by explaining what part the domain name plays and why.
Every computer has an IP address, which is a series of numbers and dots used to identify itself on a network. A hosting server is basically just another computer with website files stored on it. If that server/computer has an IP address of 188.8.131.52.1, then that is the address you would use to connect to that computer. This is why we use domain names. An IP address isn't very easy to remember and it is pretty ugly too. So we assign a domain name to it instead such as ‘easy-to-remember.co.uk’ (a bit like your phone numbers in your mobile phone where instead of displaying a list of numbers, you display your friend's name).
In short, there are multiple databases around the world that hold a list of registered domain names along with the IP addresses they are linked to. When you type the domain name into your browser's address bar, it searches the database for a match, then loads that IP address and connects directly to that server.
It does get a lot more complicated than that, but that should give a basic understanding of what role the domain name plays and why.
The hosting server is the computer that our domain name is now pointing to. Yes, that's right...it's just a computer (or several computers, with a lot of security and backup hardware/software), with server software installed on it. On this computer there will be a folder with all of your website files inside. The domain will be pointing not just at the IP address of the computer, but also to that folder so that when you type the domain, you connect directly to that folder. Inside that folder you will have your 'index' file which is your home page and this file is automatically loaded and displayed in your browser.
When you type another domain name (or click on a link to a different website) you may be connecting to a completely different computer/server elsewhere in the world. Shared hosting (the most common and affordable hosting) has several websites stored on each server, so will have several domain names pointing at it, but each one will point at it's respective folder.
Yes you can, but it is not as simple as it seems. You can set up your computer with server software and host your website, but you have to remember that if you turn your computer off, or if there is a power cut, or if your broadband connection is reset, your site will go offline and nobody will be able to see it. Also, if you don't pay for a static IP address from your ISP, it is very likely that your IP will change quite frequently which will mean you would have to continually update your domain name to match. Also you are opening up a direct connection to your computer for the whole world to access and if it isn't done securely, it can (will) be hacked. The obvious advantages of hosting your website with a proper hosting company is the regular backups, UPS, tight security, professionally managed/monitored 24/7 etc...
So, yes you can host your own site, but if it's for your business or anything of even the slightest importance I wouldn't recommend it!
Deanblog is a collection of articles written by Dean Morgan from Deanzod Limited. The aim of the site is to provide helpful information for everyone from web designers & developers right through to website owners. I will try and keep a good balance of information such as php/mySQL tutorials, html/css tutorials along with marketing ideas and advice for website owners.