What’s the Difference Between Domain Names and Web Hosting?

11th October 2018

WordPress Website Maintenance Service UK Managed WordPress Hosting

We often get asked questions about domain names and hosting. Many beginners confuse the two or are not entirely sure how they are linked or work together. In this guide, we are going to explain the difference and how they work together.

Don’t want to read right now? Skip to our infographic below that explains this in a less wordy way

What is a Domain Name?

A domain name is a website address, for example, our domain name is thrivewp.com. You buy a domain name from a registrar (a service that sells domains and will register it for you). You will often pay for your domain on a yearly or several year bases. As long as you continue to pay for it then the domain is yours only. If you stop paying for your domain then it goes back into circulation for others to buy and use.

Your domain is used to access your website, your website (website files, images, code, and design) is stored on a host.

If you have a domain alone then you will not be able to display a website, similarly, if you have hosting alone then you will not be able to display a website.

What is Web Hosting?

Website hosting is essentially a storage place for all the files and code that make up your website. Without hosting you can not have a website. Hosting comes in many shapes and sizes, from super cheap very basic (often slow) hosting too much more professional hosting solutions. We have used many hosts over the years and can wholeheartedly recommend Bluehost. If you are looking for a good host go check them out.

How do Domains and Web Hosting Work Together?

Let’s say you have your web hosting sorted and your site files in place, you also have a domain registered. Your site may still not show just yet, you see these are two separate services that need each other and they need to link together to display a website.  Every hosting environment has its own unique address known as an IP until you tell your domain to point to that, it will not show your website files and translate that to showing your website in an internet browser.

You may often hear this process referred to as editing the DNS or nameservers at the domain. This basically means telling the domain where the website files are and to point to them. You can read more about this and watch our video here where we demonstrate linking domains and hosting. 

What about moving or changing host?

Put simply moving host is basically storing your site files in a different place. All you should need to do is update the domain to tell it to point to the new location and load the files.

This is often where people get confused. When you first set up your website you may well have got the domain and hosting together meaning you may not have had to do all this pointing domain to xyz host.

For whatever reason, you have chosen to move hosts and now it all seems noodle soup of technical jargon! Don’t fret is very simple when you break it down.

Let’s give a couple of examples.

1.) You may want to keep your website, its design, how it looks and functions exactly the same and just move hosting providers. In basic terms what needs to happen is you copy all your site files and folders to the new host and then tell your domain to point itself to the new hosting environment. This will then mean that when people visit your domain they will be seeing the same site in the visual sense BUT it’s loaded from the new host rather than the old one (basically your old host and files are no longer used).

2.) The other common questions are getting a new host and new website, design or just tweaking your current design.  The process is basically the same but with one difference, the files on your new host would be different in the sense that they now have code for the new or tweaked design. You may achieve this by first copying your files over and then tweaking the design or you may get new hosting a get a totally new website.

The basics are the same though, once you have the new site files in place on the new host you simply tell your domain to point to the new host and serve up the new website design.

Domain propagation

What is this propagation thing I hear people talk about? Well, this in basic terms means the period of time it takes for your domain to point to the new host once you have told it to do so. This isn’t an instant change. Once you tell your domain to point to the new host it can take anywhere from a couple of hours to 48 hours and in rare cases even up to 72 hours to take effect across the internet.

The reason for this is that every internet service provider has it’s own cache system and the change can take a while to take effect across all providers and countries. It’s nothing to worry about though. Once you make the change all you do is wait, while the change is taking effect your old site will continue showing. Once the change has happened you will start seeing your new site served from your new host.

Difference between domains and hosting

You see both domain and hosting are needed to have a website show on the internet. We hope this clarifies the confusing topic of domain and hosting, please do check out our infographic below which might help make this clear for you.

Gavin Pedley

Gavin Pedley

Gavin is the guy behind the award-winning ThriveWP. He has over 18 years of experience creating, developing, hosting and managing WordPress websites.

Gavin regularly shares his expertise via the ThriveWP blog and Youtube channel, where he creates informative and helpful WordPress tutorial videos.

Connect with Gavin on FacebookLinkedin or Twitter.

Share this article

Subscribe to receive articles right in your inbox

Get Your Free Guide On Keeping Your WordPress Website Safe

Subscribe to learn how to keep your WordPress website safe, starting with this free guide. Unsubscribe with one click at any time.

We hate SPAM and promise to keep your email address safe. Here’s our privacy policy.


Three amazing products that will enhance your website performance, ranking and maximise your income! Our eBook offer includes three eBooks in one bundle.

We hate SPAM and promise to keep your email address safe. Here’s our privacy policy.