Website DNS, Domain Registration, & Hosting Basics

Websites have multiple layers:

Domain Registration

  • When you register a domain, you pay someone ~$20/year for a .com domain. Registration means you are leasing the domain for a year or more. A domain is the “yoursite.com” or “yoururl.net” or “yourorganization.org” that people type into their browser.
  • We use services like Namecheap, Dreamhost, and GoDaddy for domain registration.  There are thousands of other domain registrars out there.

DNS

  • In order for domains to have an email or website, they need DNS records.  DNS records include things like “A”, “cname”, “mx”, “txt”, etc. Websites need “A” and/or “cName” records. If your website host and your domain registrar are the same, then you probably don’t need to edit dns for the website.
  • We prefer to use Cloudflare for dns, but there are thousands of dns service providers out there.
  • Changing dns records can break websites and email.  Proceed with caution, but know that you can always change it back.
  • The safest way to launch a site is to simply change the “@” and “www” A and/or cname records. 
  • If you ever change the nameservers at the domain registrar, you must copy all the dns records from the current dns provider to the new provider before changing the nameservers on the domain.
  • “A Records” must be ip addresses like “12.345.67.890”.  
  • “cName Records” must be urls like “yoursite.com”.

Website Hosting

  • Every website has a website host. You pay your hosting company to house all the files, text, images, etc. that your website uses.
  • At its most-basic, hosting is a folder on a server.  WordPress, additionally, requires a mysql database, provided by your web host unless you have special needs.
  • There are thousands of website hosting companies and hundreds of hosting niches. For example, a WordPress site needs different hosting technology than a phone app. Most WordPress hosts these days offer “managed” WordPress hosting, which is what you want unless you understand the differences between “managed” and “unmanaged”.
  • Pricing varies greatly based on brand and need.
    • I once had a basic WooCommerce website with thousands of customers and very few products – we paid $5,000/mo for hosting on this site. When we switched this same site to Shopify for hosting, we paid only $2,000/mo.
    • I managed a different WooCommerce site that had 80,000+ products and very few customers – that one cost only $30/mo to host.
    • Usually the size of your website doesn’t affect hosting costs. Sites with lots of visitors, lots of logged in users, and/or lots of e-commerce sales will usually pay lots more for website hosting.
  • Sometimes your website host will also provide email services (see below).

Email Hosting

  • If you check email, you have an email host. Common email hosts are Gmail, Microsoft, Yahoo Mail, etc. There are thousands of other email hosts.
  • Email is tricky business, and I recommend going with a reputable company for this. I usually recommend Google Business or Microsoft 365. We use Google at The Mighty Mo!
  • Oftentimes, your web host also sells email hosting (or even throws it in for free!). This can be a great deal if it fits your needs. But best-practice is to separate your email hosting from your web hosting for the most flexibility and better support down the line.

Have further questions about Domain Registration, DNS Management, Website Hosting, or Email Hosting? Ask away, and I’ll do my best to get you an answer to your question.

Toby Cryns

Toby Cryns is a freelance CTO, expert WordPress developer, and teacher.

He offers free advice to improve your freelance biz.

He also publishes small droppings every now and them to https://twitter.com/tobycryns and https://twitter.com/themightymo.com

Follow Toby's contributions on Github and WP.org.