It normally happens once a month, maybe once a quarter but I get an email from one of my client’s asking me something along the lines of:
“Our domain name is up for renewal, I just want to double check we can cancel this now because we’re paying you for hosting now, right?”
Cue me bashing out an email as quickly as possible to make sure whatever they do, they do not cancel that domain name! Which got me thinking - not everyone knows the difference (and that’s fine, it’s not something massively important which they teach you in school - like how to do your tax return*) so I thought I’d write up a quick guide for anyone interested.
Well, not exactly how the internet works - you probably don’t care that much, but how a quite specific part of the internet works.
Have you ever wondered what happens when you type a domain name into your web browser and how it knows to take you to the right place? When I type google.com into the address bar there must be something pretty complex happening behind the scenes for it to take me right to that website, right?
Well sort of complex, but here’s a stripped down version of what happens:
I type google.com into the web browser on my laptop or phone and hit enter, that sends a request through the internet to another computer (called the resolver), which in turn makes a request to another computer which knows where to look for all of the information which relates to all of the .com websites in the world
This third computer responds back to the resolver with the information on how to contact another computer which holds all of the information about all of the .com websites in the world. The resolver then sends a request out to that.
That computer which holds all of the information about .com websites responds to the resolver and tells it where it should go to find out about the domain that we asked about specifically.
The resolver will then reach out to the computer which knows all about the domain we requested and request the specific location of all the files which make up the website we asked for, and which computer they are all stored on.
This then sends a message back to the resolver, which sends a message back to our computer. Our laptop or phone will then send a final request to where the files that make up the website are stored, load it into the computer and display it on the screen.
Confused? I understand - I had to retype that about four times because I was getting lost as I wrote it out.
Basically the points you need to know are steps 1 and steps 5 from the whole process, the domain name is what you type into the address bar and the fact that your website is a collection of files stored on another computer.
So your domain name is the thing you type into the address bar, I think we’ve covered that now. Domain names will always be bought from a well established company - simply because of the cost involved in selling them. Anyone who sells domain names needs to be ICANN approved - and to be approved by ICANN you need to do *a lot* of work to meet their requirements. There’s a whole heap of forms that need to be filled out, plus a registration fee in the tens of thousands (it’s not made public how much) and a requirement to have $70,000 of cash in the bank, for emergencies.
While I would love to have that sort of liquid cash available to be able to sell domain names, unfortunately I (and most other web developers I would imagine) do not.
Hosting is much simpler. Hosting is the colloquial phrase for storing a bunch of files that make up a website on a computer - also called a server. The barrier to entry for hosting websites is nil - you just need to have an account with a company that owns servers or have your own sat in the corner of the office (not that many people will manage their own servers now when you can use one from somewhere like AWS, Digital Ocean or Linode for almost the price of the electric to keep one running in your office.
There we have it, a quick guide on how the internet works and why you’ll probably never buy a domain name directly through your web developer. That’s not to say web developers don’t re-sell domain names like they re-sell hosting, but I personally wouldn’t recommend it unless in very specific circumstances. Whoever buys the domain name is the legal owner of it (and also renewing it) - and I think we can all see the benefits of remaining the legal owner of the name which holds your presence on the internet.
If you want to know more about how thee internet works, chat about websites or tell me I’ve got any of this wrong - drop me an email to [email protected] and I’d be happy to have a chat!
* I am well aware no one teaches you how to do a tax return in school.