Domains, Servers & IP Addresses Explained
A simple explanation of domain names, servers and IP Addresses for beginners.
Ahh domains; a frequent source of confusion for both tech newbies and more seasoned web-experimenters. Today I wanted to talk through this topic in the simplest terms possible, because God knows I hate overcomplicated tech jargon, and I feel like there's simply too much of it on the internet.
First of all, a little background info that may help in explaining these things (you can ignore this if you really don't care!):
What is a server?
People often think that a 'server' is a physical computer, but it's actually a piece of software that runs on a dedicated computer. That's not too important though; all you need to know is that this piece of software provides a service to other programs or devices, known as 'clients'.
So in terms of websites, a Web Server will provide a Web Client (eg, your browser) with the pages and files that make up your website when requested.
What is an IP Address?
An IP Address is a unique string of numbers given to every computer and server to identify them. It allows devices to communicate with each other over the internet.
Think of it literally as home address; you need someone's address before you can send them a letter through the post. Likewise, a device needs your IP address before it can communicate with your computer or server.
What is a domain name?
A domain name (eg. examplewebsite.com or byrosanna.co.uk) is pretty much just a 'nickname' for your IP address. When you search for a domain name in a Web Client (ie, your browser) it uses the domain name to find your IP address, and then requests to see your website from your Web Server.
It's just much easier for us to remember domain names than it is to remember long strings of numbers!
If you're interested, a domain name is made up of 3 sections which are separated by dots; the Top Level (eg. .com, .co.uk or .info), the Mid or Second Level (eg. byrosanna. or bbc. or yourbusinessname.) and the Subdomains (eg. www., or shop. in 'shop.yourbusinessname.com').
What is a URL?
A URL (Uniform Resource Locator) is NOT the same as a domain name. If you're on the home page of a website, often the URL looks the same as the domain name; so the domain name might be www.byrosanna.co.uk and the URL would also be www.byrosanna.co.uk.
But the URL will change when you visit other pages, such as www.byrosanna.co.uk/blog or /branding. It is pointing your Web Client to other pages and files on your website. Meanwhile your domain name stays the same (www.byrosanna.co.uk).
How do I get a domain name?
You can purchase domain names from domain providers/registrars (companies who sell domain name registration). There are literally hundreds of companies all selling any domain name you can think of.
Naturally, many are already taken (ie, they've been bought and registered by someone else). When you buy a domain name you can get an extensive choice of which Top Level domain you want to go with your name, such as .com, .co.uk, .info, .london, .net, .pro etc.
Some are cheaper or more expensive than others depending on popularity; you can get domain names for as cheap as £2 per year, all the way up to tens of thousands of pounds per year.
Tips for choosing one?
In such a saturated online world it's so hard to find a unique domain name that isn't already taken. This is why many businesses choose their domain name first and use that to define their business name!
- Keep your domain name as short as possible (very difficult nowadays!)
- Make sure it's easy to remember
- I've heard it's good for SEO to have a keyword in your domain name if possible (I may be out of date on this fact!). For example, my Cornwall lifestyle blog's domain name is thecornishlife.co.uk, so has one of my keywords in it.
- Try to avoid putting words that end and start with the same letters next to each other, not the end of the world but it can be confusing, especially with vowels (eg. SEO Officials becomes seoofficals)
- Definitely avoid putting words that end with a double letter and start with the same letters! (eg. Lifeless Souls becomes lifelesssouls... yikes)
- Always double check your chosen domain name or get someone else to look at it in case it looks like it says something it shouldn't...(eg. IT Scrap becomes itscrap.com... hehe.)
Who are the best domain providers?
There are literally hundreds! But some of the top providers include:
Many of these companies also offer website hosting, but I'll be talking in more detail about that next week!
Note: If you are using Squarespace, you can register a domain name with them when you create an account to keep things simple!