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Understanding the Pieces that Complete the Website Puzzle

You may be surprised to know that making a website available to others online isn't simply a matter of "putting it up," but is instead a chain of interlocking pieces that contribute to the function of a whole. Between hosting, domain names, DNS settings, nameservers, and more, each of these pieces combine to create the larger puzzle that makes your website accessible to others on the internet. 

Hosting a Website  

All websites are hosted on machines using web server software, which is a specific type of software that takes in requests from other machines (referred to as "clients") using an internet protocol (such as HTTPS or HTTP) and "serves" the requested data back to the client. A single server can host an infinite number of individual websites, limited only by capacity of its storage drives and the speed of the machine itself. Servers contain all of the files and data that make up a website's design and behaviors, and most day-to-day changes to a website are handled specifically on the server.  

Connecting to a Website

What is a Domain?

Every device connected to the internet has an Internet Protocol Address, or an IP Address. These addresses have a few different applications; an internal IP address, for instance, can help you identify a specific machine on a local network. An external IP address is used to identify you to the wider internet – in many cases, and external IP address may be the same for every machine in the same building, on the same network. IP Addresses wouldn't be a great way to connect directly to websites, though. Firstly, remembering long strings of numbers would make for a very inconvenient way to connect to a website. Secondly, it's possible to host multiple websites on the same machine, which would have the same IP address. Enter: the domain name. This name is a plaintext, easy-to-remember address that you would use to connect to a website, such as http://www.technicalrs.com. The "technicalrs.com" part is the domain name.  

Can One Website Have Multiple Domain Names?

Absolutely! There is virtually no limit to how many domain names your website can have, although it's generally best practice to have a single domain name that is clear and easy to remember, unless there is additional need to identify your website a different way, such as advertising different services your business provides.

What is a DNS?

DNS refers to the Domain Name System, which acts like an index of all website domains available on the internet. The DNS is the information that helps a computer to connect to the right place when you type a URL into a web browser by cross-referencing that URL with the correct IP address.  

Your website itself isn't the only thing that relies on DNS, either. Your business email address, if it is connected to your website's domain, relies on DNS records to handle email sending, whether it be through your own webserver or through a service such as Google Workspace or Office 365.  

What is a Nameserver?  

A nameserver is a server which holds your DNS information. In many cases, this server will be the same as your domain name registrar, but sometimes specific services offer additional benefits in exchange for becoming the authoritative nameserver for your DNS. For instance, your nameserver may be changed to Office 365 for Microsoft's systems to set up and maintain your email DNS information automatically.

What is a Registrar? 

A domain name registrar is the company that handles the purchase and distribution of domain names. They communicate newly purchased domain names to regulatory bodies and associate a domain with the correct server IP address through the domain's DNS settings.  

Is there any overlap?  

Yes! And that's a big part of why some of these things can be so confusing. For instance, it's possible to purchase your domain through GoDaddy, but have another service such as CloudFlare or Microsoft Exchange serve as your nameserver. You can purchase hosting from GoDaddy, but you can also buy a domain name from them and point it to your own webserver without buying separate hosting from GoDaddy.

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