Terminology untangled: domain names, DNS and hosting.

When you go to set up a website, it can be rather confusing trying to decipher the jargon. People throw around terms like domain names, URL, hosting, DNS, and it can be difficult at best to work out what is what. I think that’s part of the reason people often start with free sites like blogspot and wordpress.com and stay there – because they don’t know what it’s all about, and can be scared to ask.

Fear not. If you’re a teen, my daughter is working her way through it and blogging it for you at Tech for Teens. If your teen years are behind you, I’ll be explaining it here too. Between us we should get you sorted.

A blog held at blogger might be at something like http://myblog.blogspot.co.uk Each bit of that has a meaning. The http refers to the protocol used to transfer data – it’s hypertext transfer protocol. It tells a browser what type of data it’s moving about. myblog is a subdomain, blogspot.co.uk is a domain name – in this case belonging to the .co.uk which should be UK companies.

If you go to buy a domain name you’ll use a registrar, someone like Low Cost Names. (Other registrars are available.) We (human beings) use domain names because they are easy for us to remember – computers actually work in numbers called IP addresses. They are in four blocks of up to three numbers, so something like The bit of software that links the two together is a nameserver – it tells the enquiring computer which IP address to find a domain name at. Somewhere at your registrar you should be able to edit DNS (the domain name system information) – you’ll either put in nameserver values given to you by your hosting company (and the hosting company will have set up the right links), or use the nameservers at the registrar and fill in the IP values – but you’ll need to know what values to put in what records, which is beyond this article I’m afraid.

A hosting company maintains servers (computers) and you rent space on them for your website to sit on, as well as traffic to and from them measured in bandwidth. Your website is made up of files that you put there using ftp or file transfer protocol, maybe with a program like filezilla. Or you might find that the company has a system in the control panel that allows you to push a button and install something like wordpress without having to worry about transferring files, which will make your life easier.

That’s a really quick run down of some of the basic terminology that you need to know about. If it’s raised more questions than it’s answered, feel free to leave a comment and I’ll try to explain it further.


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