Previously on the CogitActive saga:
All it takes to create a self-hosted website are a domain name, a hosting provider and a platform.
I have already addressed the essential features you have to decide on when choosing a web host – for your website built with the WordPress platform. I have also covered the basics of domain name, as well as some recommendations for choosing a good one. You may think that the next step is straightforward – finding a hosting provider – however; there are other factors to consider before looking for a hosting provider.
Putting all your eggs in one basket
I previously stated (A self-hosted website) that to register your desired domain name you will have to use the services of an accredited company that manages the reservation of domain names, namely a registrar. In fact, many hosting providers allow you to register your domain name as well; sometimes they even offer it free (as part of their hosting package). Likewise, some of the domain registrars provide hosting services. Whereas
registering domains and hosting websites are two distinct functions1, there is no requirement that you keep them separate; this is a personal choice. However, as with everything, keeping domain name registration and web hosting together has both its pros and cons.
This is the most common path to creating a website, likely because there are clear benefits of keeping both services in the same place. First, you have to keep up only with one set of login information; not messing up with different accounts and passwords. You may also benefit from seamless user interface for managing both services – no back and forth between accounts. As you deal with only one company, renewal (both domain and hosting together) and troubleshooting (the same company has access to both services) are greatly simplified.
It’s convenient and simple.
In the same line, you know that everything is configured correctly. The company is going to take care of connecting the domain name and hosting for you. This is without a doubt the strongest argument in favor of this option: you avoid the hassle of directing your domain name to your web server. Last, but not least, because you don’t have to wait for this to take effect, your site can go up quicker.
Killing two birds with one stone may sound appealing, but keeping both services under one roof has some tradeoffs. For instance, hosting providers may have less top-level domains to choose from compared to what can offer a dedicated domain name registrar. Further, registrars provide services that can set them apart, such as quality domain management (critical if you have multiple domain names). They can also offer add-on functions that make your life easier: auto-renewal, auto-lock, and free e-mail accounts.
The best hosting providers are usually not the best registrars and vice versa.
As already mentioned, many hosting providers offer free domain registration. Nevertheless, this should not influence your choice. First, given the relatively low price of domain name registration, you will not save much. Second, these deals are often limited to the first year and you may end up with a more expensive bundle (pricier domain renewals) than registering your domain name independently.
Better safe than sorry.
I have also read many catastrophic scenarios that could happen when keeping domain registration and hosting together. They may not be relevant, especially with trustworthy companies, but the possibility is there. I don’t want to cry wolf with alarmist statements, yet, it is wise to err on the side of caution.
You should always read the terms of services when purchasing web hosting.
You might not have full control of your domain name; the hosting provider could be registered as the registrant (owner2) of the domain name and only provides you with administrative access. You will not be able to transfer it to a different provider, or at least, this will not be as easy as when you register your domain with a third party.
Disreputable companies might even keep your domain name hostage if you cancel your hosting plan, making it difficult to switch providers. This sounds a little paranoid, but there is several account of this issue. Hence, for some,
you should never trust the host with your domain. I think the key idea here is disreputable; you should not opt for this kind of company to begin with, whichever the option you choose (separate or together).
Use different login information for both accounts.
There are also security risks. If you lose access to your hosting account – for whatever reason – you also lose control over your domain name. For instance, suppose your website is hacked. Hackers will gain control of both your site and your domain name – they don’t have to hack multiple accounts. They can transfer your domain name elsewhere (away from your account); proving that it was yours can be a difficult and costly endeavor.
The chicken-and-egg question
Registering a domain name with a registrar separate from the hosting provider is the recommended way to go – from forums to articles to books, all sources agree3. It is more secure and gives you greater flexibility (and can save you time and money in the end). As you would expect4, I did forgo convenience and decided to keep my domain name and my web hosting separate. Great, but what to do next? Which one comes first?
This should be a no brainer, but after reading so many how-to-create-a-website articles, I was starting to get confused. Why? First, because most guides for beginners preach the one single company option (domain name and web hosting together). In that scenario, you start with the hosting provider, select the hosting plan of your choice, and then pick a domain name. Worst (as in misleading), some sources were stating that – in the other scenario (domain name and web hosting separate) – it is important to have information from you web host as they will be needed during the domain name registration. Last, some step-by-step tutorials were bringing more confusion than clarity: as pointed out earlier, whereas most were listing both domain name and hosting together (as a single step), some were listing hosting first, followed by domain name (second), or vice versa.
Now, as explained in a previous post (How to podcast?), sources of information have various degrees of reliability, credibility and relevance, and it is important to stay critical – not always easy when you are not tech-savvy! So, what to believe? Given their authoritative nature, I show partiality toward books and found my answer in them5:
You can’t buy hosting . . . until you have . . . purchased the domain name.
Thus, to make it clear, the first step is purchasing the domain name (through a registrar) and
the next step is obtaining a hosting account6.
He that would have eggs must endure the cackling of hens
Now, opting for separate providers means that you have to decide on two different companies: a (good) registrar and a (good) hosting provider. This task in itself is already intimidating, but things can get more daunting. In addition to the main services, each company will offer add-on functions and you will have to go through a dizzying array of options. Of course, it is important to know beforehand what you will benefit from and what you don’t need; you don’t want to pay extra for things you don’t need.
Likewise, some features are available from both the registrar and the hosting provider. Besides avoiding duplicate (and paying twice for the same thing), it is worthwhile to figure out from which company it is better to get each item. This is meaningful, because these extra features may ponder your choice of your registrar and hosting provider.
For example, both registrars and hosting providers can include an e-mail account (i.e.
space on a server where e-mail is stored and then retrieved by e-mail programs1) as part of their package. So, should you set up your e-mail with the former or the latter?
Even though for most people the e-mail that comes with web hosting is adequate, if you want the best e-mail management solutions, storage capacity, among other things, it is better to have a separate e-mail server. First, hosting providers specialized in web hosting, not e-mail. They may fall short on reliability and security, and generally, use poorly designed interfaces. Second, hosting your e-mail on your website host will take up space and your mailbox size will depend on your hosting plan. Third,
having your website and e-mail go down together might be too risky1. Suppose people try to e-mail you about your website being down, those e-mails will never reach you. Fourth, as explained earlier with the domain name, you don’t want to be locked with a hosting provider;
migrating [e-mail] can be from tricky to awful7. To sum up, there are quite few reasons to keep your e-mail separate from your web hosting.
Still, where should you host your e-mail account? With your registrar? In fact, many offer dedicated e-mail hosting and some excel at that. Moreover, it is apparently
good practice to keep [e-mail] and domain names under the same provider. Nevertheless, your e-mail does not have to be handled by either the registrar or the hosting provider; it is a third separate service. As such, you can choose any third party email service you like.
Another example is Secure Socket Layer (SSL) certificates. You may recall from a previous post (A web host) that one of WordPress requirements is HTTPS support. What’s that got to do with the price of eggs? To have HTTPS, you need to have an SSL certificate installed on the server. Technically, SSL certificates
must be purchased from a recognized Certificate Authority (CA)5. Well, many reputable domain registrars and hosting providers offer SSL certificates as well, some even free for a year (always be cautious with special deals, though). Some recommends purchasing it from recognized trusted CA only, yet, there is
no real advantage to buying certificates directly from a CA5. On the contrary, installing a SSL certificate is tricky and getting it from your web host may prove valuable (easier). On the other hand, it seems that registrars have better deals (cheaper). In the first place, you should
carefully research what level of certificate you need1. Then you can decide on whom you want to do business with.
I hope you will not be eggy (pun intended) because of the proverbs or idioms that populate this post, or because I didn’t give a comprehensive list of the features that registrars or hosting providers can offer. As sure as eggs is eggs, there is more information to come with my choosing of the right registrar and hosting provider.
1 George Plumley (2011) Website Design & Development: 100 Questions to Ask before Building a Website. Indianapolis, Indiana: Wiley Publishing. ^
2 Control and not ownership! Indeed,
you cannot own a domain name1. Rather, you are purchasing the right to use it for a certain period. ^
3 There were some exception, though: articles written by companies providing both services. They refer to this advice – keeping both separate – as a
myth or a
thing of the past. Is it true? It might be, but you may consider reading my comments about biased information in How to podcast. ^
4 Let me reiterate that I choose the path of most resistance (see The CogitActive Saga), but this comes at a price. You can’t make an omelet without breaking eggs. ^
5 Peter Pollock (2013) Web Hosting For Dummies. Hoboken, New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons. ^
6 Lisa Sabin-Wilson (2017) WordPress All-in-One For Dummies – Third Edition. Hoboken, New Jersey: John Wiley & Sons. ^
7 Kat Love (2015) Why it’s a Good Idea to Keep Email and Web Hosting Separate. ^