I’ve been asked this question twice in about two weeks. As someone who’se grown up online, I always assumed that everyone knew the difference between a web host, and the place you buy your domain name from (the domain name registrar).
Simply defined (paraphrased from Wikipedia), a web hosting service the service that allows you to make your website accessible via the World Wide Web. Web hosts are companies that provide space on a server owned or leased for use by clients, as well as providing Internet connectivity, typically in a data center.
A domain name registrar is where you buy your domain name from. Often, domain name registrars also provide hosting, and visa versa. This can be confusing, because many people think they’ve bought hosting, when they’ve only bought their domain name. Many webhosts also offer free domain names with purchase of hosting with them, so confusion is totally understandable!
I just came up with this analogy for what hosting is versus what a domain name is: A domain name is the name of your house, and hosting is the lot that you build your house on. You can build your house/website anywhere (on any host), but will be constrained by lot size (hosting space allotted) and roads (bandwidth and traffic allowances). You can also move your house to a different lot/host, although the larger and more complex it is, the harder that can be.
I hope that makes sense!
After you buy hosting, you will have to go into the administrator/client area of your domain name registrar, and “point it to the hosting name servers” by entering in your webhost’s address, such as NS01.hostname.com. This takes about 24-48 hours to show up online, and after that you will be able to access it from the world wide web, and transfer your new website to make it “live”.
Webhosting is often charged at a monthly rate, while a domain name is registered and paid for in yearly increments.
Webhosts typically allot you a certain amount of bandwidth and space. Space is how much “megabytes” your site takes up; bandwidth is essentially the amount of traffic that your site can get. For example, “… think of highways and cars. Bandwidth is the number of lanes on the highway and traffic is the number of cars on the highway. If you are the only car on a highway, you can travel very quickly. If you are stuck in the middle of rush hour, you may travel very slowly since all of the lanes are being used up….”
This article on FindMyHosting.com further explains: “A web page may be very small or large depending upon the amount of text and the number and quality of images integrated within the web page. For example, the home page for CNN.com is about 200KB (200 Kilobytes = 200,000 bytes = 1,600,000 bits). This is typically large for a web page. In comparison, Yahoo’s home page is about 70KB….”
So what does this mean to you? Many webhosts offer “unlimited hosting” plans, which is a myth (read this article for an extended explanation). However, if your business is new, or if your site is small and doesn’t get much traffic or use much in the way of space, going with a budget hosting plan, and upgrading as your business grows, is probably the best and simplest plan of action. For most basic business sites, I recommend starting with the HostGator hatchling plan.
I hope that this makes things easier to understand!