Can I buy a Domain and host it somewhere else?

One incredibly important detail that is often misunderstood is the difference between buying a domain and web hosting.

Two items that help add to the confusion are package deals from webhosts, or an initial bundled purchase that includes both domain name registration and webhosting.

Each serve their own purpose in delivering a website requested by a client.The reality is, the domain name is a convince factor.  It is a verbal associate of a website, which can be an identity, product or service, which then maps back to an IP address that is a server or servers to deliver the content.

The web servers are then the web hosting aspect, and contain the files of the website, process the request, communicate with the database or other backend servers and services, and finally deliver the content to the requestor.

Understanding the difference is the key to properly maintaining, servicing, & handling any issues or requests with their appropriate issues:

  • If the domain name is not correctly configured, the wrong webserver can be requested to deliver content, or no servers are reached at all.
  • If the domain name is correctly configured but there are issues with the website or service, then the web hosting company will need to be contacted to troubleshoot any issues.

This is increasingly important if the domain name is registered with a registrar separate from the web hosting service, as they are very likely to not work together to solve the issue.

For example, if eNom is your domain registrar and GoDaddy is your web hosting, eNom is not going to be able to offer support on issues such as email delivery, or server speeds.

Why do you need to buy a domain?

Purchasing a domain is the initial step to hosting a website online for others to find.  The main reason for this is just as one is not likely to remember every contacts phone number, you look up their number by their name.

That is the same case with web hosting.  You are not likely to remember the IP address of your favorite websites like Google, Yahoo, or Bing, but you surely will remember them by name.

When one enters the domain name into their web browser, a request is made to turn that name into an IP address.  The client browser can then start requesting communication from the web server.

With the technical “why” in mind, let us now take a look at registering the domain name.  When you register your domain name, you will do so with a reputable domain registrar.   You are requesting them to make an acquisition on your behalf to one of the 13 root servers.

After the initial purchase, one must annually renew ownership of the domain.  Just as the Internet has grown in popularity, so has competition for domain name registration has grown.  Competition in domain registration has dramatically lowered the cost associated.

Additionally, with today’s larger Internet infrastructure, the entire process has gotten a lot faster.

With the domain name purchased, the registrar now needs to point it somewhere.  Just like your phone number is used to route telephone requests from the caller to a person, so is the domain request.

The nameservers are the mechanism to do just this.   The nameservers hold the DNS information in what is called a zone file.  The zone file is the mapping for IP addresses associated with the domain name.  For example, mail records are not the same as web requests, & therefore, do not have the values.

DNS is a little beyond the scope of this article, but it is also important to understand as there can be a single server or multiple servers for any or all of the services that your domain name will offer.

With the nameservers now set in the domain configuration, requests can reach the web server where your web site is hosted, and the server will answer those requests with the desired website.

Hosting a website is a requirement for clients to be able to reach content at the domain name.  Some don’t realize, however, that a website can be moved between webhosts, and simply update the nameservers with the domain registrar.

For example, if you host a website with GoDaddy, and also registered your domain name with Godaddy, after moving the website content to another host, like HostGator, one can then change the nameservers to point to the HostGator webhosting.

Then once updated, one can cancel their hosting package with GoDaddy but still use their domain name registration service.

Where to buy domains?
So where would you buy a domain?  If the domain is not currently registered, there are many choices.  Some of the most popular domain registrars in the country are GoDaddy, eNom, Namecheap, HostGator, Bluehost,

It is important to look beyond just the initial cost of a domain.  Often a domain registrar will run a special for purchase of TLD or top level domain, like dot info or dot me, and then the first year of renewal the standard prices are much higher than anticipated.

It is my opinion that one should review the standard prices of TLDs in addition to the initial registration cost.  A domain name registrar may offer additional packages for tiers of domain names.

An example of this would be if you are going to be doing many domain name transfers, eNom has a transfer tier.  It is $99 a year to be a member of this tier but also offers the transfer of domain names at a much lower cost than standard memberships.

If you are going to be flipping a lot of domains, that is buying them & reselling them, your domain registrar may offer a tier that is better suited for that type of activity, offering discounts on buying & selling of domain names.

Most web hosting services will offer domain registration, and it is also common to buy everything needed in a single package.

Where to buy hosting?

Just as there are options for domain registrars, there are options for webhosting.  Some of the same players too!  Companies like GoDaddy, BlueHost, HostGator, are very popular & known for their webhosting services.

Often these domain registrars also offer a bidding service that is similar to eBay, for customer looking to sell existing domain names.

There are plenty of web hosting options to look for, like size of storage, included databases, ftp/shell access, cpanel access, dns, mail, & no package is a one size fits all.

Customer support is a good resource if you are unsure of your needs, because they can remove the technical misunderstands & offer suggestions based on your described needs for your hosting.

As a site grows in popularity, for example, one may require database replication for failover, load balancing between web servers, increased file storage or data bandwidth, additional email accounts, or any number of other technical requirements.

How to host a domain you bought somewhere else?

What if you bought a domain and wanted to host your site?  For example, sites that sell domains such as Flippa or eBay, one can find a domain that has been previously registered by someone else and is up for sale.

This works almost the same as buying the domain yourself.   The difference being that at your domain registrar, you will initiate a domain transfer.  The seller of the domain will then be given a transfer code, & the buyers domain registrar will request the transfer code.

When the registrar of the original owner of the domain name initiates a transfer, and the transfer code is accepted from the domain registrar of the buyer, the transfer occurs.

Finally with the transfer completed, if the buyer of the domain name wishes to host with their existing web hosting servers, they can then update the nameservers as previously discussed.

It is also important to note that with a domain name transfer there is time needed for the previously existing values to expire.  Meaning that as requests are made, those values are cached for a faster web experience upon the next request.  This prevents a new lookup with each request for a domain name.

Years ago the process of domain name transfer would take anywhere from 24 to 48 hours to clear the cache. With a domain name transfer today, however, most domain name registrars within the United States generally take between an hour or two.


On a final note, it is always advisable to separate your domain registrar from your web hosting provider.After all, if you buy them separate you even save money and get specialized services from each provider.

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