Web Lingo and What it Means

So, you want a website.

You need two things: 1) a domain name, and 2) a Web host (also called a web server).

For #1 you go to a Domain Name Registrar, like GoDaddy. You can lease your name from a registrar, but you never really own it.

For a Web host you select from one of hundreds of companies, like Bluehost, that determine where your website will reside. These hosts rent you a directory on their hard drive where your Web files will be stored. (By the way, email is also "hosted," often by your Web host. And again, it's just a directory on a hard drive with all your email in it.)

Important: domain names and websites are completely different things. You can have a domain name without a website, but not a website without a domain name, or at least one that can be found. The domain name is simply used to find where your email and website are hosted.

Here's how it works

Let's say Susan wants to visit your website, so she types your domain name into the address bar of her browser and hits "Return." Her browser sends a message out on the Internet looking for your domain name. That request officially goes to a DNS (Domain Name System) "resolver" that checks a bunch of sources called "name servers" for the address of your website. When your name is finally found, the name server sends her browser the corresponding IP address (a number like of your Web host. Her browser then sends a request to that address for access to your website's files. The Web host can route the request to the proper directory where the browser can access the files that make up your site and display them for Susan.

Click here to enlarge the diagram below (pdf).


The Internet

You may already know this, but standard telephone lines transmit more than just voice, like fax signals and data for example. Likewise, the Internet also carries different types of information: email, streaming movies, music, banking transactions, defense secrets, etc. Specifically, The World Wide Web uses the Internet for transmitting websites to browsers, and user input back.

The Internet has been around since the mid-1960’s and is comprised of a series of several decentralized global networks all connected together. Email, in various forms has been around almost since the beginning of the Internet, but it wasn't widely used until the late 1980’s, and only by the more tech-savvy crowd.

The World Wide Web

The World Wide Web was introduced, by its inventor, Sir Timothy Berners-Lee in 1991, and has gone on to revolutionize how we communicate, educate, opinionate, research, shop, and even create community. It is technology that connects websites to users, allowing them to search, browse, read, and interact (shop, comment, share, etc). When by itself, "Web" is capitalized, like Internet.

Web Server or Host

This is simply where all the files for your website reside. The Web server has special software that directs and gives browsers access to a site's file. When you update your website, you are up dating the files, and possibly a database containing your content, on the Web server. "Web host" and "Web server" are used interchangeably, even though that's not completely accurate (long story).


This is a group of related files that are all "connected." Minimally these files include: HTML pages with your content (HTML is the language your browsers uses to know how to display your content), files that determine styles (fonts, colors, etc), pictures, logos, and other graphics. There are two basic kinds of websites: 1) static—old style HTML pages that must be edited directly by a knowledgeable coder, or 2) dynamic—the HTML pages are populated with content from a database as the page is loaded, and can be edited using a Word-like content manager (CMS) by any nearly anyone (changes are instantly applied).

Web Browser

A software program that first manages the process of finding the website you enter in its address window, and then converts the found website files and images into a viewable format for the visitor. It also handles communication, often encrypted, between the user and the web server, such as in a form or online store.

Mail Server or Host

This is where all your email is routed, processed, and stored, and has special software that handles all these tasks. Web technology and email technology are completely different from one another, with the exception that both use the Internet as the means of distribution.

Domain Name Registrar (DNR)

Your DNR is the company that:

1. leases your name (you have exclusive rights to that name as long as you make the payments)
2. maintains the location of your domain's "authoritative name server"
3. and most likely the IP address of your Web host

Name Servers

Domain name servers are sprinkled around the Internet and have different roles depending on their type. Suffice it to say, they assist DNS Resolvers in finding a match between the domain name you are looking for and the IP address where the website can be found. They are like phone books (remember those) that look up the number opposite the name. The last place it looks is the "authoritative name server," which usually provides the final match. It's the authoritative one that is updated by your domain name registrar when point your name to a Web host.

DNS Resolvers

Special hardware that queries name servers around the Internet to find the IP address of the website you are looking for so your browser can retrieve the files and display the website

Domain Name System (DNS)*

The domain name system is the entire network of software and hardware that keeps track of where your domain name and website is, and how to find it.

*Do not confuse Domain Name Systems and Domain Name Servers. The former it the entire apparatus, the latter acts as the Internet “phonebooks” or “card catalogs” and navigate people to websites via their browser. Domain Name Servers are updated automatically whenever your Domain Name System is changed, for example, if you change the location of your website.

FTP Server (file transfer protocol)

Where shared hosting companies allow you to you to upload/download files to your site. especially important for the management of static websites. FTP sites require a login.

The Cloud

Though it sounds a little ephemeral, the "cloud," or more accurately, "clouds," are networks of computers, applications and storage that spread your files around, and run applications for you without the software being on your computer. So instead of your website files (HTML, photos, and documents) being stored on just one device, it is stored on several for the purposes of redundancy. Is it safe? That ship has sailed, the cloud is here to stay.