Many of our customers get confused by the terminology used to describe their web site. This is partially because customers have a holistic view: an online presence is a single thing that's either working or broken. Meanwhile, technical people see all the individual components and need to identify which part is causing concern.
This article will try to explain these terms:
For most, having an online presence means two things: e-mail and a web site. Both of these require a domain name. Our domain is "abivia.net". A lot of our support documents use the fictional "yourdomain.com" as an example. Your domain is unique to you or your business.
Your domain name is the most critical element. It is what defines you online. It ties together different services, normally your web site and e-mail. There are other more specialized services that you might want to make available. Each of these services is managed by a different type of software. Your web site is run by web server software, your mail is run by mail server software, and so on.
Because multiple services use the same domain name, and because domain names have to be unique throughout the Internet, the allocation and management of domain names is handled by domain registrars. Abivia is a domain registrar, and there are many others. Each offers a different combination of price, features, and benefits. You can visit our customer portal (https://my.abivia.net), find an available domain name, and register it. This is often more challenging than it sounds, because finding a good available domain isn't easy.
Since your domain is so critical to your business, we advise you to maintain the registration yourself and to keep the registration account information secure (see Is Your Domain Really Yours for more on this topic). Some of our customers don't want to deal with any of this, and even though we recommend against it, we will maintain your domain registration for you on request. At the very least you should always be sure that your domain is in your name and that you have a current copy of the login information for the domain registrar.
The link between your domain name and services like mail is the Domain Name Server (DNS). In the simple case, your hosting provider will also supply a DNS, but you have the option of using a third party DNS management tool. Since we're trying to keep this article as simple as possible, we're not going to go into the details of independent DNS providers here.
Once you have the domain name under control, you need a hosting provider (hopefully Abivia!). A hosting provider will usually offer a web server, a mail server, secure FTP, and a DNS. In order to connect your domain to your hosting provider, you change the DNS entries at the registrar to match those provided by your hosting company (for example ns1.abivia.net).
Whenever someone uses a domain name, the global DNS system checks that the domain is registered, and then translates the domain into a physical network address (an IP Address). The request is then routed to that address, and the appropriate server interprets the request and responds. Several complex systems all work together to make it simple for the person who wants to connect to you.
We hope this article has helped you understand the basic differences between domain registration and hosting providers, or at least provided some idea of why your Internet providers seem to use so many names for what "should be" simple. If we've failed, you still have the option of getting us to handle the details for you. We make Web Sites that Work.