Congratulations, you have purchased a domain. But there is a difference between purchasing a domain name and purchasing a domain name with hosting attached to it.
Just purchasing a domain name is simple. The domain you purchase can be used for private or commercial use and nobody else can claim that domain name until it is allowed to expire or you decide to sell it. But, now that you have that domain, what can you do with it? Well, without a hosting plan, about the only thing you can do is hold-on to it in the hopes of selling it for a profit. But your probably want to put up a web site so customers, friends, or family can visit your site and admire your content.
Lets start with a simple definition. A website is a collection of files hosted on a web server, accessed via the host name specified for that web server. For example, the website you are on now is a collection of files that you have accessed via your web browser by going to the web server address at www.uxking.com. The web server that I am using is located at www.uxking.com. This is where I have placed the files you are viewing right now. Without a place to host files to add your content, the domain name you purchased is not going to see any visitors, get any hits, or provide any information to your audience.
Granted, most folks purchase a hosting plan at the same time they purchase the domain name. But did you know that you don’t have to purchase any hosting with your domain? Did you know that you could simply use a properly configured DNS record to point that domain to an existing site? Take www.michaelhayslip.com for example. I purchased this domain, but didn’t really want to setup a new web server when I already had one that my wife purchased a while ago (910west.com). I purchased the domain and configured DNS to point www.michaelhayslip.com to www.910west.com. Try going there now. You’ll notice that the address in your browser will change to www.910west.com, even though you type www.michaelhayslip.com. But I’m not the only one. See what happens if you type www.gogole.com (google misspelled). Did you notice that the address was changed to www.google.com? DNS is doing this for us.
Every domain we purchase, whether with a hosting plan or not, has an associated DNS server that tells the world the IP address for the domain we are requesting (see the posts under the “dns” tag for a more in depth explanation of what DNS is and does and how you can find the DNS server for your site). Because most of us purchase a hosting plan with our domains, we never really have to think about DNS. Our hosting provider automatically points the DNS records to the right web server for our site.
But lets imagine this scenario? Say we have the simplest of web sites; we can almost certainly guarantee that the simplest and least expensive hosting plan will be sufficient. But say we start out as a simple site, and later on decide that we need some pretty sophisticated web programming to do shopping carts, database connectivity, etc… We may not have the proper hosting to support our new needs. What can we do? We can tell our hosting provider to point our DNS records to a different web host, one that can support our needs (maybe even one that is run by a different company). Most of the time out hosting plan providers have numerous hosting plans and can easily move your files and change the DNS records without you having to do much of anything but make the request. If not, then you’ll have to find a new hosting provider and do a bit of coordination between the two companies to ensure your site remains available.
Questions – need more clarification? Have any of you purchased domain names without hosting plans? What have your experiences been like?