Most people use the Internet on a daily basis. Yet very few people understand the principles of how it works. This commonly leads to confusion when a person decides they want a website. Registrar? Nameserver? IP address? What are these things? While it can be very daunting trying to imagine how it all goes together, the truth is, fundamentally, the Internet is actually a pretty straight forward process.
Let’s first touch on some commonly used terms.
Registrar – This is the company that manages your domain name. When you buy a domain name, it is purchased through a registrar. This company keeps your domain saved in your name for a period of time. They also manage the Nameservers that are associated with your domain.
Nameserver – This is one of the most commonly confused terms. A Nameserver is the server that manages the DNS zone file associated with your website. This is also where subdomains for your domain are created.
DNS Zone – This is a set of IP addresses associated with your domain. In the DNS zone there are various “records”. One of these records assigns an IP address to your domain. Other records define where your mail server is or where subdomains are located. If you would like to see a DNS zone, you can use the Internet to do what is called a “DNS Lookup”.
IP Address – This is a set of numbers separated by a period. Typically it looks like 123.456.78.90. This is the address of the webhost for your website. Think of it like the street address for your house.
Webhost – This is commonly in reference to the company that manages the server where your website is physically saved. The host can also represent many other parts of the process as well, such as Registrar and Mail Server, for example. There are also many different terms for the webhost (e.g. ‘host’, ‘website host’, etc). They all mean the same thing.
Mail Server – This is the computer that sends and receives email for your email account.
From Point A to Point B
To understand how the Internet works, you must understand the process. Without getting too technical, it is actually a very simple process. Again, I am not going to get super technical here; I am just going to explain the basic concepts of what is going on when you browse the Internet.
In order for a website to be displayed, the domain has to get translated into a set of numbers called an IP Address. This IP Address tells your browser where to find the website you are looking for.
Let’s say you want to visit www.fastersolutions.com. You type this into your browser and hit enter. Your request makes its way to the registrar of that domain. The registrar says, “That domain’s nameserver is ns0.fastersolutions.com.” Your request is then directed to that nameserver. The nameserver pulls up the DNS zone for that domain. This DNS zone contains many records for the domain. It finds the records associated for the website and determines the IP address for the domain, which in this case is 18.104.22.168. You are then directed to that IP address, which is assigned to a server. This server is the webhost for that domain. The webhost then takes your request for www.fastersolutions.com and returns the homepage to your browser.
If you want to try and visualize it, you can think of your browser at the start of the line. Your request moves over to the registrar. The registrar then sends your request to the nameserver. This is where things split into different directions, because the nameserver looks at the DNS zone. The DNS zone basically points to all the different locations of the different parts of your domain. Your website is just one of them. You could also have email or subdomains, for example. But you want the website. So the nameserver checks the DNS zone and finds the IP address for the website and sends you there. The IP address brings you to a webhost. The webhost then sends back to you the content of the website.
Sometimes many of these components are managed by a single company. Other times, each component can be a separate company in a separate location. Technically speaking, there could be separate company for the registrar, nameserver, webhost, mail server, and subdomains. That’s five different companies! For simplicity, it is best to try and have all these things managed by a single company.
In The End…
If you don’t yet quite grasp the concept of the Internet, don’t worry. It’s taken me years to fully wrap my head around it. The good news is that we’re here to help you through the confusing parts.