Quite often I asked what his the difference between a domain name, web hosting and this DNS thing IT always talk about. When I am asked this questions I then immediately think, ahhh, how am I going to explain this… and why haven’t I written a simple post on understanding websites?
So here it is,
Basically, there are 4 main aspects for a website to exist on the internet. These aspects are;
- Domain Name registration
- DNS (Domain name server/system)
- Hosting Server
- The Website
The Domain Name
This who you are on the internet, how people can directly find you. Essentially this is somewhat like your business registration. It is renewed every 1 to 2 years and it isn’t purchased outright. Similar to registering a business name, it is of no use if you don’t have a business or specifically a “Place of business” to work from. In terms of the internet, your Place of business is like your Web Hosting, but how do you get there? Traditionally you would Drive to a place of business, using a map for directions. On the internet, this “map” is the DNS, and for a Domain name the first record is the “Name Server” record as this tells the domain name where the DNS map is located.
Technical: A complete domain name is made up of 3 parts. Subdomain, Domain name, top level domain (TLD). Each part is separated by a “dot” between each part. The subdomain isn’t always used but the most common subdomain is “www”. You might also have seen “mail” or “remote” as subdomains. The domain name is the part you register. This is the “Business Name” on the internet. In our case, it is “ONGC”. The TLD is the last part of the complete domain name like “.com.au” or “.edu.au“
Example: subdomain.domainname.TLD = www.ongc.com.au
So your domain name has made it from the registrar to the DNS server via the Name Server records, now what. There is a list of records (see below) which are used like a GPS will direct you in the car to get from your home to the “place of business” you are trying to get to. These records will direct your request to the website you a looking for, or your send your email to right email server, or direct you remotely access your companies remote desktop server. In the case of a website the DNS will direct you to the location of the Web Hosting server
Technical: In this context, DNS converts the language if the internet, IP addresses, into real words that are easier for us simple humans to remember. The main DNS records used are:
- A records: points a domain name to an IP address
- CNAME records: points a domain name to a domain name
- MX records: points a domain name to the email server
- TXT records: Allows unformatted text to be used to provide additional information about a service
There are a range of other records used however that is starting to get too technical for this article, let me know if you want to know more.
Think of the hosting server in the same way as the “business location”, this is the physical location where all your data for your website, and other “Cloud” services, are stored. In this article, I will stick to this being the location where all your website’s data is stored. The data for your website is “normally” managed by some sort of control panel, so when your IT department or web developer ask for you “Hosting credentials” this is the access they are after. From here you can manage the DNS records, all of your files and database, and often POP email accounts. In most cases, data is transfer to the hosting servers via FTP (File Transfer Protocol). You will also be often asked for these credentials too.
Technical: Often your hosting server is the same location as your DNS records, however, this doesn’t have to be the case. This where using A records will allow you to direct web traffic to the correct locations.
POP emails: (Post office Protocol) POP emails weren’t designed to be accessed from multiple devices. The easiest way to think about how POP works is similar to the way you send a letter and it goes via a Post office (this would be your mail server) and then to the address. Over the year there have been a number of Hacks (Leaving mail on the server for extended periods of time) to allow access from multiple devices. If you are running a business I would recommend looking for a business grade email solution, like Office 365, to ensure the security of your emails.
Yay, we finally made it here, after typing the domain names into our web browser, or by the many other ways we can get to a website, the request has passed through the Name Servers to the DNS and then to correct file on the Hosting server, and now you can see the Web page on the website. Most websites are now designed around a Content Management System (CMS), which allows you to manage the content of your website via a graphical user interface (GUI) access directly on the internet. Using a CMS based website has removed the need for end users to know the code. When your web developer gives you “access to the website” so you can update the pages or write your blog, they are giving you access to the admin section of your CMS.
Technical: Commonly used CMS for websites are;
Not all CMS’s need to be install on your hosting server, you can use a 3rd party CMS hosting site, like Wix or Shopify, and update DNS records so it appears when your domain name is entered,
I hope this has helped you better understand websites and the “web” that is the internet. Please feel free to contact me if you have any question and I will be only too happy to help
Ben Smith works as the Digital Manager at ONGC. Please feel free to Contact him with any questions.