Learn the difference between a Domain Name, DNS Settings, Website Hosting, and Email Hosting

This article is written for a business owner that would like to learn the difference between a Domain Name, DNS settings, Website Hosting, and Email Hosting. There are technical terms used, but I believe they are necessary to grasp the concept.

Reading Time
10-15 mins


  • A Domain Name is your URL, or business name on the internet. For example, http://www.yourbusinessname.com
  • DNS stands for Domain Name System or Domain Name Service, and contains different ‘records’. Each record has a specific task. The records point to the IP address(s) of the server where the actual files are located for your Website and Email.
  • Website Hosting relates to the server where the files for your website physically exist. In your DNS settings the ‘A’ record points to the server where your website traffic is sent.
  • Email Hosting relates to the server where the files related to your email physically exist. In your DNS settings the ‘MX’ records point to the actual server of where you email messages are stored.

Screenshot #1
You will see that we registered our business Domain Name with Dreamhost. While Dreamhost does provide DNS settings we are not using their DNS service. You’ll see the DNS points to dns1.stabletransit.com and dns2.stabletransit.com.

This means that we have to look to where the DNS is pointing to find the ‘live’ records for the Website Hosting (A Record) and Email Hosting (MX) records.


Screenshot #2
Once logged into our Rackspace Hosting Account you will see the records. Since the DNS settings are at Rackspace the A record and MX records here are ‘live’.

For Website Hosting we look at the A record and it points to the IP Address of a Rackspace server.


Screenshot #3
For our Email Hosting we look at the MX records. Since we use Google Apps for our business email we entered the information provided by Google.

Screenshot #3

Use the WHOIS tool to determine if the DNS records are with your domain or if they point to another DNS provider.

Personal Suggestions
I suggest that you register your domain name with an established domain registrar (GoDaddy, Dreamhost, Bluehost) that has a DNS service. That way you have the flexibility to keep the DNS with the domain or set up the DNS at the hosting destination.

Note: There are different types of Domain Services. Some companies only provide Domain Name Registration. While others provide Domain Name Registration and DNS. If you registered your domain with a company that is only a Domain Name Registrar you’ll also need to sign up for a DNS service or set up the DNS at the hosting destination.

What We Do
The websites that we build are built with WordPress. If the client decides to host their site with us I can easily login to their Domain Service Account (i.e., GoDaddy.com) and if their DNS is also with the domain (i.e., GoDaddy.com) I can just change the A record to point to Rackspace Cloud Sites or WPEngine (my preferred hosting companies) to launch their new site. By having your DNS at your domain name it will truly be much easier for your developer to go live with a new website.

Also, since the Email Hosting is normally already set up and working properly we can leave the MX records alone and don’t have to change any email settings.

A Strong Suggestion
Always have your Domain Name (www.yourbusinessname.com) in an account that you own! Never let a developer, friend, etc., register the domain name for your business. If that person moves on, or you cannot otherwise reach them, then it can be very difficult to get YOUR domain back under your control.

I realize that there are many different configurations than the example outlined above and it will probably be best for your developer to look at your specific situation to determine what to do based on your needs. But I believe that being informed about the main concepts will help keep your interests at heart.

Drop a comment with any questions, or feel free to share if you think it will help someone out.

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