What’s the Difference Between a Domain Registrar, DNS Host and Website Host?

EAG, March 21, 2022

The domain registrar, DNS host and website host came home to roost for Chris and Pat. They never imagined these vendors’ roles in their initial website would create a bit of mess when the time came to revamp their website. Oh, but they did…

Back then, they spent months trying to think of a name for their business. Had a great one, but the domain name was taken. Back to the starting line. Then bam, the perfect name dawned on them. They checked a domain registrar, and it was available for a measly $12. They snatched it up, along with a few closely spelled variables, to which they could point traffic. Pat’s nephew dabbled in website design, and his price fit their small startup budget. Chris and Pat were proud of the website, and frankly, it worked for their purpose at the time. No need to know “how the sausage is made.”

A few years later, Chris and Pat’s company is thriving. They’ve put off redesigning their website to the point it is probably affecting sales and definitely isn’t optimized for the search engines. Their growth warrants hiring an outsourced marketing agency. (The nephew graduated and moved to the coast to pursue music anyway.) New website content, better functionality, integrated CRM, all the bells and whistles—they’re as excited to launch their new website as they were their first one.


Content, graphics, everything is ready to go. The marketing agency’s web developer just needs their domain registrar, DNS host and old website’s host credentials (usernames and passwords). Well, cock-a-doodle-do. Chris and Pat have no idea. To the nephew, that was a million years ago, and he didn’t keep that information. Now, their website launch is delayed and it might affect their email.

For cases like Chris and Pat’s, there are some tools available for discovering who hosts what. However, they aren’t always 100% accurate, and it can turn into a time-consuming process.

It’s important to keep track of which companies are used for the domain registrar, DNS host and website host. Here’s a simple overview of why and what a domain registrar, a DNS Host, and a website host does.

What is a domain registrar?

A domain registrar is the company from which you purchase your domain name, your URL or www. Through a domain registrar, you’re essentially purchasing your website’s telephone number. The domain registrar talks to the people that run the internet (ICANN) and says, “If someone types in yoursmallbusinessname.com or sends an email to yoursmallbusinessname.com, go to this DNS host to get the delivery information. The domain registrar could also be your DNS and/or website hosting, or it might not.

What is a DNS host?

A DNS host can be part of your domain registrar service, but not always. The DNS host keeps a couple important files. The most important one directs where to find your website and where to send your emails.

What is a website host?

Website hosts host all the files and databases that make up your website. Think of it as basically a hard drive that’s on 24/7, serving up the files for your site whenever anyone visits it. When you hear “hosting a website,” this is the vendor being referred to.

Should the domain registrar, DNS host and website host be together or separate?

In an ideal world, both your domain registrar and DNS host are the same vendor, such as GoDaddy. Your website host is a separate vendor.

The less ideal reality is that the domain name, DNS host and website hosting are purchased from three separate vendors. One problem we run into is when a client buys a domain from one vendor, then buys website hosting from another, and then transfers DNS hosting to the website hosting company. Why is this a problem? If we want to move the website hosting, then we have to move the DNS hosting to the domain registrar, a complicated process that could cause email outages. The same happens when someone buys a domain from a separate vendor, but hosts the DNS and website with the same vendor.

Clear as mud?

We can walk you through it, or just handle it and save all the information so you have it whenever you need it. Let’s talk.


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