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RainDrops Blog: Web Design & Dev Insights

Domains & Hosting: What are they?

So what is a host and a server? What is a domain name? These are two main elements needed in order to have your website show up on one's browser.

Domains & Hosting: What are they?

I’ve noticed that many clients don’t understand what a domain name is and what is a host, werver and so on. So what are they and why do you need them? I'll explain the basics. :)

A website is just a bunch of text-based files that contain code (HTML, CSS, JavaScript, etc.) which are basically instructions that need to be read, understood and followed. In order to do that, you need a “server”. So what is a server, you ask? Basically, it's just another computer. Only, this computer isn't located in your home or office but rather in “The Cloud” (which is a user-friendly way to call the Internet). These computers are located in some company’s building and serve your website’s files to any computer that requests them (i.e. your computer or device). This company is called a “host” - they host the servers that contain your website files that contain the code.

There are two different general-purpose programming languages that servers run: PHP and ASP, and they run on their own respective operating systems which are called Linux (for PHP) and Windows (for ASP, although today you can also have software that runs PHP). There are advantages and disadvantages for both, but I won't get into them.

There are, of course, many more features and choices to make when choosing the right hosting company, but this should be explained to you by your developer and he or she will recommend the right plan that you need to choose. They include storage space, bandwidth, the number of websites/domains you can host in that account and much more. All of the hosts also offer many extra features in your plan like free apps to install, easy integration of certain functionality, 24 hour support, and so on. The costs for hosts vary but for most sites, it shouldn’t cost more than $10-$12 per month (and even that can be considered expensive).

One more aspect that I think is important to know is that there are shared hosting plans, VPS and dedicated servers. The main difference between them, as the name suggests, is that you either share the server with more customers or you have your own dedicated one. This is crucial if you’re going to have a very big website, with a very high level of traffic, security requirements and the need for power and speed. In a shared server, everything is shared: Processing (CPU) power, memory, disk space, etc. So one website may affect another because they are sharing resources. For instance, one website may be using more memory which will lower the amount of available memory for others. With a dedicated server, it’s all yours. I assume you understand. And of course, there is always something in between and that is a VPS server. The CPU and memory are shared but portions of each are dedicated to each account.

For most people's needs, a shared hosting plan is enough. There is no need to spend significantly more money per month ($50 - $200 and more) unless your business heavily relies on strong, fast and secure servers and that you will have a team monitoring and up-keeping them.

So, now you have somewhere to place the website files. But how does one visit the website? That’s where the domain name (ie “address”) comes in and this is the second part of the equation. The server, like any computer, has an IP address in order to identify and locate the computer. So once you buy a domain name, which typically cost about $12 per year, you “attach” the server's IP address to that domain name. Now the address is “pointing” to the server and so when someone types in an address into the browser, that address sends the browser to the correct server to run the website files and the website is displayed on the screen!

It’s that simple :)

So when budgeting a website, you need to take into account that cost of the domain name and hosting. For most customers, this would be about $100 - $150 per year. There are different plans and discounts that affect the cost so this estimate is really just an estimate.

Now you need Studio Umbrella Inc. to create your website!

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