Semi-technical intro to web hosting and domain registration (Internet presence basics Part 1)

Getting your personal/corporate website on the Internet involves a number of distinct but related components. People often get them mixed up because they would usually source all components from the same person (or company).

Over the years, I’ve had to explain the components during domain or hosting transfer so I’m putting this online in case someone finds it useful.

1. You need to have a website.

A website is actually a group of files (pictures, movies, audio, forms, etc) that are connected together by a home (or landing) page. It can be designed from scratch from html (or similar) files or you can use pre-made web applications (usually content management systems) like WordPress, Joomla, Mambo, Magento, etc. Whatever method you choose, your website (like any literary work) will only be visible to you until you publish it. That leads us to the next couple of components.


2. You need to have a web host

For everyone on the Internet to be able to reach the website you have designed, it needs to be placed on the Internet. By Internet, I mean the global network of interconnected devices that have routable IP addresses. Placing your web files on the Internet like this is called “Web Hosting”.

One way to do this is to buy a good computer, install a web server application, ask your ISP for a routable IP address, and connect the computer to a round-the-clock power source. If your website is going to attract a lot of visitors, you need to buy lots of Internet bandwidth from your ISP so that the web pages always load fast for your visitors. A much simpler way to host your files is to rent a space (hosting account) from a company that already has computers in a connected data centre and leaving them to manage the hassles of power, connectivity and server maintenance. All you have to do is (upload) copy your website to the hosting account.


3. You need to have a domain name

Once you have your files hosted somewhere on the Internet, visitors should (theoretically) be able to reach them by typing the IP address in their web browsers. It’s easier however to use names e.g. www.tinitop.com.ng or www.dewoleajao.com. To acquire yours, you need to “register a domain name” with a domain registrar. You select an available domain name, pay the registrar for a period (minimum of 1 year), and specify the Name Server addresses of the Web Host you engaged in (2) above. The name servers are computers that keep track of the IP addresses assigned to accounts hosted by that company. Without valid nameservers, the world will not know how to reach the servers that actually host your website.

The “www.” in a website address is just an address record that the world has come to relate with the website part of a domain; the actual domain name is dewoleajao.com

Hope you get it now? The domain registrar is the one that gets you the name and points the world to your web host; and your web host is the one that makes your files available to the world. You pay for the website once (unless you choose to change the design) while you pay for the domain name and hosting space annually.

In trying to keep this post non-technical, I have left out some complex scenarios but I hope you find this useful!

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