Differences Between a Domain & Website

By Kevin Quia  |  Mar 21, 2022

You might get confused with a lot of technical terms when you're first getting started on the internet and definitely when you are trying to launch your first website. You also might struggle to find any decent information that will teach you the basics. Most of the articles you will find are written by tech experts who have already forgotten how they got started and tend to gloss over that part.

Most beginners confuse websites and domains. You don't need to completely understand every technical detail of how a website works to have a successful one, but knowing the difference between a website and a domain is important. This guide is here to tell you what those differences are in simple terms.

What is a Website?

Before you learn about what a domain is, it is essential for you to to know what is a website, what are web pages, and how web pages are hosted.

A web page is a text file that is sent to your browser so it can be rendered. When you type an address into your browser or click on a link, your browser requests the file located at that specific address. This could be an actual text file hosted on a server, or it could be one that is generated dynamically by code that runs on the server. The server then sends the file to your browser, which parses it and draws the results in a browser tab.

The results you see in the browser are usually not just from this single file. The web page itself is HTML, but the web page can include CSS and JavaScript files that will change how it is rendered. Cascading Style Sheets or CSS files tell the browser what styles to use with the HTML elements, like how large an image should be or what color the text should be. JavaScript files consist of code your browser executes for dynamic effects. HTML itself is static.

A website is a collection of web pages on the internet that is located at a specific domain name and hosted by a web host. To make the website live, web developers upload the web pages to a server that the web host provides. Examples of web hosts include Amazon Web Services, GoDaddy, and BlueHost.

In order for a website to work correctly, the web pages, your web host, and your domain must work together. Now let's look at how a domain fits in this equation.

What is a Domain?

To see a web page in the browser, you type a URL (uniform resource locater) into the address bar. A URL is not a domain but contains a domain name. Here are the parts of a URL using this address as an example: https://example.com/example.html.

  • https://: The protocol which tells the browser how to handle the web page.
  • example.com: The domain name.
  • example.html: A specific resource or web page on the website.

In this example URL, the domain is example.com. Domains were created so that internet users could more easily remember web addresses. It is a human-readable label for an IP address, which looks something like this: IP addresses are like street addresses for servers located on the internet.

When you type a URL in a browser, it sends a request to a DNS server, which will be one of many servers in a worldwide system that maps domain names to IP addresses. You can think of it as the contact list on your cell phone. You may know a friend's name, but in order to contact them, you need to use their phone number, so you have to look it up.

The DNS server then searches the name servers that are connected to various web hosts until it finds where the domain is hosted. Once it does, it forwards the original request from the web browser to the IP address connected to the domain. The web host then takes over from there. Software running on the server will find the web page you are requesting is located and send it back to your browser.

All domain names have to be registered with a domain registrar, which costs a fee that varies depending on the registrar. Domain names have to be renewed each year or else they expire and someone else can then register the domain. These registrations are overseen by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). ICANN also operates the DNS system that maps domains to IP addresses.

There are three common levels of domains: top-level domains (TLD), second-level domains (SLD), and third-level domains. A top-level domain is the .com part of example.com. ICANN controls the supply of these, and there are currently more than 1,000, including .com, .net, .info, .org, and more. A second-level domain is the example part of example.com. When you register a domain name, you register one combination of a top-level domain and a second-level domain, like example.com or mysite.net. A third-level domain is also known as a subdomain. This is the blog part of blogs.example.com. Once you have a registered domain name, you have control over the subdomains and can create as many as you want. You can also create even more domain levels like in bobsmith.blogs.example.com.

What's the Difference?

Now that you know what both a domain and a website are let's break down the steps to creating your own website to see how they are different.

  1. You come up with an idea for a website. For example, it could be a website that sells snacks for pets.
  2. You come up with a domain name you want the website to be known by and register it. It could take a few tries, because someone else may have already registered a domain you want. You might try greatpetsnacks.com, mydogtreats.net, and many others before you find one.
  3. You visit a web host and purchase a server to host your website.
  4. You use the name server of your web host to map your domain to the IP address of the server hosting your website.

A domain and a website are very different things that are closely connected and work together along with your web host and DNS to make your website available on the internet.