Having knowledge of how domain names, email and Web-hosting (Websites) ‘fit’ together is often misunderstood. This lack of understanding is compounded as neither terminology nor processes are consistent among sellers/registrars/service providers.
People often buy their domain name from a different registrar to their hosting. They then may purchase email provision from a third seller. Understanding how a domain name ‘points’ to a host and how email and DNS hosting are related to it all is essential to making life more simple for people wanting to manage their own Websites, email and domain names.
Below is a simplistic explanation for beginners to the mysterious world of what you need to get your Website up and running with your own domain name. The definitions are simple in order to provide some guidance for beginners.
To start with here is a diagram that shows the four components described in this post:
A Domain Name is the combinations of letters, numbers and symbols that uniquely identifies your Website and email on the web. You purchase the right to use a domain name for a set period of time after which you may extend that time for a further fee. A Domain Name does not specify where your Website is or where to deliver your email; this is the role of the DNS (see DNS Hosting below)
An email host is the place where your email is stored for you. For example, if you use Gmail then they are your email host, and if you work for a large corporate then it is likely that they act as their own email host. If you want to use your domain name for your email (e.g. [email protected]) then you’ll usually have to pay for email hosting although there are some free email hosts such as the free option by Google Apps.
This is the server that is connected to the Internet and hosts your Website. There are various hosting options such as shared hosting, dedicated hosting, cloud hosting etc. Shared hosting can be very inexpensive and is often a good choice for WordPress Websites. When you host your Site you’ll enter which domain name you want associate with the hosting (i.e. when people enter your domain name you want them to arrive at your Website on your hosting). Your host will enter in their nameservers on which of their servers, and where, your Website resides. As described below, it is necessary to amend your NS record of your DNS hosting with the nameserver information of your web host.
DNS Hosting Service
The Domain Name System (DNS) translates domain names to locations of Websites and/or email hosts. Information held within the DNS is editable via records (described below) of which the most common are MX, CNAME, A and NS (these are well documented on the Web so I won’t reproduce the information here). The means of amending records is via DNS hosting which holds has editable information that instructs requests to access a domain name to the web host as well as information on where to direct email addressed to each domain name: A person sets where they have their email hosting and web hosting by setting specific ‘records’ in their DNS hosting account.
Many domain name registrars provide free DNS hosting with any domain name purchases (some charge a fee to use their DNS hosting). There are some good free DNS hosts such as DNS Exit if your domain registrar charges for DNS hosting.
As described above, DNS is configured via various records. For demonstration purposes here is how the MX record works:
MX Record (Mail Exchanger record): This identifies the email host that you use. For example, if I were to use Google Apps for email hosting then the ‘goes to’ address will likely be ASPMX.L.GOOGLE.COM as the priority 1 mail server. All mail sent to my domain name therefore will be directed to ASPMX.L.GOOGLE.COM which I have configured to place all email addressed to me in my mailbox.
The relationship between Domain Names, DNS Hosting, Email and Web Hosting
There is no reason that any of DNS hosting, Email hosting, Web hosting or Domain Name registration need to be provided by the same supplier. They are four separate functions. For simplicity it is however advised to use as few suppliers as possible. Anyone that has experience with working with multiple vendors knows how much time may be saved by using a single supplier for all four of these functions.
I certainly hope that you have found this Post helpful in your understanding of what can be a very confusing set of terms and technologies!