Domain Name and Hosting: Know The Difference

Learn the difference between your domain and website hosting

Last week, our lead developer, Ryan, put together The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Security. In it he provided some tips to keeping your digital life…yours. I wanted to follow up on his post by digging deeper into the section where he talks about the importance of keeping tabs on your website domain and hosting information.

Two of the first questions we ask a new web development client are:

  • “Do you know where your domain is registered and when it comes up for renewal?”
  • “Do you have access to your website hosting?”

Why do we ask? We ask because we can’t launch your new website without access to your domain or your current web host information. Unfortunately, many of the business owners we meet, don’t know the difference between the two or how or where to access the information. We discover that their domain registration and hosting login information has been lost in the annals of their company history.

So, what’s the difference and why do you need to have access to both? There are thousands of resources out there for this information. But, I like to explain in the most identifiable way possible. Your domain name is like the label on a file. Your website is the file itself and everything that makes your website work – content, graphics, photos, code – are all the papers inside that file. The server that holds your website is like the file cabinet. The website hosting company is like the room where the file cabinet resides.

What is the Domain Name Registrar?

The registrar is the company in charge of reserving domain names like or When you reserve a domain name, you get to make a label with your new name and stick it to that file in your file cabinet. You become the registrant. But, that registration expires.

Often, people register a domain name for one to three years, but you can register them for up to 10. So, it makes sense that this information can get buried and lost over time. So, when you register your domain name, be sure to keep your account credentials somewhere handy by using a service like LastPass or Dashlane. It’s important that you know with whom (the company/registrar) you reserved your domain name and when it expires.

Why is this important?

As the expiration date approaches, you’ll start getting letters from other registrars notifying you that your domain is about to expire and it’s time to renew. They’re kind of sneaky too. If you read them carefully, you’ll find that what they’re really saying is, “Hey your domain is expiring! Why don’t you register it with us now?” If you’re not paying attention, you’ll end up transferring your domain registration to another company. This becomes problematic when you receive similar letters from your actual registrar. If you’ve set up a password manager system, then you can quickly check your records and discard letters from competing registrars.

Taking things a step further… What happens if you let your domain expire?

Your website goes down and your domain becomes available to register by someone else. Often there’s a grace period where you can reregister your domain. Don’t risk it. How much money would you lose if your website suddenly went down?

What is Website Hosting?

When you choose a website host, you’re essentially renting space for your website. As I mentioned earlier, you’re paying for your space in that filing cabinet which is placed in a room. Sometimes the cabinet holds 100 files, sometimes it holds thousands making it crammed and hard to sort through. Those of you who still use paper and filing cabinets know what I’m talking about!

Some hosting companies will allow thousands of websites to be hosted on the same server. These budget hosts are perfect for smaller sites that don’t rely on a lot of complex functions or back-end programming. Other hosting companies will limit the number of websites they allow on their server. These premium hosting companies are a better option for the larger, complex websites.

Why is it important to know your web hosting credentials?

You wouldn’t rent an apartment, move in your belongings and then not know how to get in or who manages the building. Need I say more? Hopefully, you’re actively managing your website – adding content, updating photos, creating new pages – because your business is growing and evolving. As your company grows so should your website. Your digital needs may change. So, it’s important to know when and how you might go about either upgrading or switching your hosting company.

Companies like Terrostar or a traditional IT company can help you track down your hosting and domain registration credentials if you lose them. But, that takes time; it’s something we would charge you for. Plus, if you’re ready to make a hosting move because you’re developing a new website or expanding your site functionality, then your project could be delayed until the credentials are acquired.

Access Gives You Control

Even if you don’t understand what to do after you login to your Domain Registrar or how to transfer your website to a new hosting company, just having access to these services gives you control over them. If you’re in charge of your company’s website, find your credentials for both. Test them and be sure they work. If they don’t, track them down and keep them safe. You’ll be glad you did!

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