Website Terms Explained Plainly
Hosting, CMS, domain names, emails, and more.
This is a quick overview of many commonly confused parts of your web presence, to help you better understand how to use your website, email addresses, and domain name. These are very brief explanations of the components of your website, with a limited use and explanation of the terminology.
Your website is nothing more than some computer files, also called “information resources.” When someone visits your site, they are just accessing your website files, like opening My Documents on your home computer’s desktop.
A web browser, such as Chrome or Firefox, retrieves, displays, and navigates these files, which are found by their URL (Uniform Resource Locator), like an address on a house. The browser reads the files and displays the website you see, but browsers may read some files differently, which is why websites may look different from one browser to another.
Hyperlinks, often simply called links, act as portals that link to another file and allow the site user to jump from one file, where the link is located, to that URL, at which the link points.
Your website, being a collection of files, is located on servers, which are dedicated computers for serving the site user the site files. The server stores these files, as well as others, such as email. Web hosting is the storage & management of these files on servers.
The files that display what the site user sees as the website can be organized so that they are more easily managed, with a CMS (content management system), such as WordPress. With a CMS, you can edit, publish, and organize these website files in an easier, mostly drag-and-drop interface, rather than solely editing the code and organizing the files manually.
This doesn’t mean a website with a CMS doesn’t need coding, but many functions are automated or simplified. Just like a program on your home computer, a CMS is a program on the server, among the other website files on the server. When you log into WordPress, you are logging into the program.
All computers have an IP (internet protocol) address on the internet, including servers. When a website user goes to your website, their browser goes to the IP address of your website’s server to find the files, which are located in the folder for your website. The address is a series of numbers, separated by three decimals, just like a house has a numeric address on a street, or like a telephone number.
When a site user enters a domain name into their browser, the browser connects to a DNS (domain name system) server, which is like calling a phone operator. This “DNS resolution” translates the domain name to the IP address, which means it looks up where the domain name points and connects you to that IP address.
A domain registrar assigns domain names and registers them in a central database called the WhoIs database. When you buy a domain name, you are having it registered for a period of time.
Just as a domain name points to servers at an IP address for websites, it does the same for email addresses. The MX (mail exchanger) points email traffic to a server with MX records, routing emails to the server. The web hosting to which your domain name points is able to create and edit any number of email addresses with that domain name, routing emails sent to those addresses to any number of destinations, like a post office.
The access and management of those emails is handled with an email client, such as Gmail, Roundcube, or Outlook; which is like what a CMS is to a website. When I set up your email addresses for your domain name, firstname.lastname@example.org, mail sent to those emails can be routed to go to one or more email addresses, which I usually recommend your Gmail. Likewise, from your Gmail, you can send with your domain name email address, so the recipient sees that, instead of your Gmail address, even though you sent it from within your Gmail inbox.