The difference between a website and a domain name

It might seem obvious to more experienced geeky readers, but for the rest of us, it’s actually not. Randomly ask around what “www” on website urls means and a lot of people will trip on the answer. And if you added a bunch of numbers like http://139.162.236.201, more people are completely lost.

So what’s the difference between a website and a domain name? Well, it’s a bit like the relationship between your physical address and your apartment.

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Most people have a place they stay which is either an apartment or a house. This apartment has a address even though the concept of an address for the Ugandan situation is a bit obscure. The house with a black gate and a green rooftop along Ntinda road is so murky for an address your friend will at least get lost twice. But it’s none the less an address or directions to an address to your home.

Your apartment meanwhile is obviously a definite physical location somewhere on the planet. It’s your space with all your stuff in it and I bet you have security to keep the bad guys out.

So a domain name is the digital address to your website on the internet. Your website is your digital apartment or store that people visit. dignited.com for instance is the internet address to this website or article that you are currently reading.

Therefore domain name and a website are usually used interchangeably by non-technical folks. But there’s a plot twist with our address/apartment analogy with website/domain name.

While you can’t have a physical address without a corresponding apartment, in the digital world, you can have a domain name without a website! Oh yeah, sounds bizarre and it is but very common. Have you ever visited a “website” only to be redirected to some obscure Ad page or your browser not showing anything at all?

Related post: A guide to getting your own website

Turns out, you can have a domain name without a corresponding website. In fact before you build a website, you start by acquiring a domain name. This domain name is then “mapped” to corresponding website hosted on a physical server somewhere in the cloud. This mapping is done by the Domain Name System or DNS which you should have at least come across. If nothing is mapped to a domain name, anyone typing in that domain name in their browser ends up in some digital black hole. Your website however **might** still be reached via an ip address such as 139.162.236.201 of the server storing it’s files. Obviously almost no one does it.

Meanwhile if you already have a website, you can sign up to Site Monki to monitor your website uptime and also keep tabs on your domain name expiry for free. That way, your website won’t go offline without your knowledge and your visitors certainly won’t bounce.