February 24, 2021 3 min read

Help! What’s a Domain, Registrar, and DNS?

The internet is simultaneously ubiquitous and mysterious to most people. Unless you are a web professional with a deep understanding of how machines communicate with one another, you probably don’t really know how the internet works. This can prove frustrating for anyone, trying to understand what exactly goes into the launch of a new website. Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered. This simple overview of websites, domains, domain registration, hosting, and the magical domain name system should help anybody understand the internet a little better.

We all know what websites are because we visit them all the time. But if I were to ask you to define what a website is, it’s not that easy. For the purpose of this tutorial, we’ll define a website as a collection of pages that contain related content. For example, the website for the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra contains several pages of information all about the orchestra.

A URL (or Universal Resource Locator) is the address used to find a specific web page. Domains are the names of websites. The domain for the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra website is thespco.org. Other examples of domains that you’re probably familiar with include google.com, facebook.com, and wikipedia.org. While we normally associate domains with websites, you can technically have a website without a domain, and you can definitely own domains without having a website.

Anybody can buy a domain by going to a domain registrar, finding a domain that hasn’t already been claimed, and buying it, typically for around $10 to $15 per year. Registrars are simply businesses that sell domains. Some registrars that we like include Google Domains, Hover, and Namecheap.

If you build a website, you’ll need a place to house it. This is known as a host. A web host is the computer or web server where you store all your website content. Host computers are connected to the internet, and are identified by a series of unique characters known as internet protocol (IP) addresses such as 176.32.103.205 or 2001:db8:0:1234:0:567:8:1. Most humans can’t remember these numbers, so we have a system that remembers them for you.

The domain name system (DNS) is like a giant address book. Do you know your friend Sarah’s cell phone number? Probably not! But you can go to your address book, search for “Sarah,” and easily give her a ring. The DNS system is the address book for the internet. You can remember the domain name “amazon.com” and the DNS system looks up that name and connects you to the host (computer) identified as 176.32.103.205.

If a website were a human being, the domain would be that person’s name. A registrar is akin to a birth certificate system where you get to officially pick a name for the person. The host is home where the person lives, and the IP address is the mailing address of the house. The domain name system is the phone book that lists the name of the person and their corresponding address.

Got it? We’re always game for questions, don’t hesitate to contact us with yours.

Paul Carroll Designer & Developer