Ask a SuperGeek: Understanding domain names and web hosting

DNS, IP Address, A Record, CNAME, MX Record.


It’s no wonder that the web can be a confusing place for many people. There are so many weird terminologies and counter-intuitive processes in place, that it’s enough to want to pack it all in and get out in the sunshine.

That’s one reason I started WP SuperGeek – to try to demystify WordPress and the web so that you spend less time being confused and more time getting work done.

With that in mind, I’d like to go over how domain names and web hosting actually work.

Because if you know how something works, then you’re at least a little more clued-in if (when?) it breaks. Right? OK, let’s get started.

What is a domain name?

The “readable” name that someone can type into a web browser to get to your site. This site’s domain name is

What is DNS?

That stands for Domain Name Server, and is the place (generally a hosting company) where your domain name lives.

What is web hosting?

The place (generally a hosting company) where your website lives. This may be, but doesn’t have to be, the same as your DNS company. Find out why I use and recommend SiteGround.

What is an IP address?

Every computer has a numerical address that looks something like, to allow them to communicate with each other via the Internet. In the case of websites, these IP addresses are translated into domain names to make them more memorable.

What are nameservers?

These are the servers that translate IP addresses into domain names. Think of them kind of like a phone book: they allow your computer to look up the correct websites. If you host your domain name on a different hosting service to your website, you’ll need to “point” the domain name to the website using the web host’s nameservers. These are different for every host, and will be provided to you when you sign up for their service. They will look something like:,

What are A, CNAME, and MX records?

Sometimes, you will need to use a different method than nameservers to point your domain name at your web hosting. A records point a domain to one or more stable IP addresses, whereas CNAME records map a domain name to another domain name. The most common reason for using this method is if you want to host your website with one host, but your email with another. In that case, you will also need to set MX records, which point to the email hosting service.

Phew! We covered a lot of ground. Give yourself a pat on the back if you made it this far. And now, get out into the sunshine. 😃


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