Web hosting, domain names, nameservers and DNS records – what does it all mean?
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Web hosting, domain names, nameservers, DNS records: they’re probably terms you’ve heard before. But what are they and why are they important? In this article, I’ll explain what you need to know.
Let’s start with web hosting.
Your website is a collection of files and (most likely) a database. In order for your website to be accessible to a web browser, it must be stored on a web server.
When we refer to web hosting (or cloud hosting), this is what we are referring to: the company or service that provides the web server on which your website is served from.
There are lots of options when it comes to web hosting and the exact requirements will depend on your needs. Costs vary from a few dollars per month to thousands per month (or more) depending on how many visitors your website gets.
For the vast majority of our clients, we recommend Kinsta. It’s a premium hosting environment optimised for WordPress sites.
It’s vitally important that you know where your website is hosted and who to contact in the event of an emergency.
The next crucial component is your domain name. This is what you type into the address bar of a web browser. The domain name for this website is 16by9.net.
A domain name is registered through a registrar. Some web host providers are registrars and allow you to register domain names, while others such as Kinsta are web hosts only and do not offer the ability to buy or manage domain names.
You should have a record of where your domain was registered and the relevant login details used to manage it.
You can use a tool like ICANN data lookup to check where a domain name was registered if you are unsure.
Nameservers and DNS
So, we have our web hosting and a domain name. But how are they linked? When you type in the domain name, how does the browser know which server to load from?
You guessed it: that’s where Nameservers and DNS come in.
Kinsta have a good analogy:
- Nameservers are the physical phone book itself
- DNS records are the individual entries in the phone book
Let’s start by looking at DNS records. Some use cases for DNS records include linking a domain to an email account or verifying your domain name with Google Search Console. It is also responsible for linking your domain name with your web server.
Each web server has a unique IP address. For example, the IP address of the server that this website is hosted on is 22.214.171.124. Of course, trying to remember IP addresses for websites would be a nightmare and so we use domain names instead.
So when you enter 16by9.net into the address bar, the browser uses a DNS lookup to find the correct server (126.96.36.199) and then proceeds to make a request from that server.
Now this is where things get a little bit complicated. Sometimes DNS records are managed in the same place that you registered the domain name. But this doesn’t have to be the case. This is where Nameservers come in.
Nameservers are used to tell the domain name where your DNS records are stored. You edit your domain’s nameserver at your domain name registrar.
In other words, it possible that you web hosting, domain name and DNS are all managed by different companies.
You should have a record of where your DNS records can be managed.
It now all fits together:
Each of these components are critical to your website. To reiterate, you should have a written record of where your website is hosted, who the domain registrar is and where the DNS is managed.
So, let’s look at this website as an example:
- My website is hosted on a Digital Ocean server
- My domain is registered through Krystal Hosting
- My DNS is managed through Fastmail
It might be that your IT company or your old agency/developer has control of these. If so, it’s still important to know where each is stored and how to gain access should you need it.
Get in touch if you have questions. We’d be happy to help.