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What's the difference between a domain name, web space and email?
Posted by James Robshaw on 05 June 2006 11:41 AM

It's important to remember that domain name registration, web space and email are separate services. They are all associated with your domain, but technically and commercially they are separate.

The concepts are a bit abstract, so let's make them concrete. If we think of the internet as being like a high street where you want to set up shop, domain names are like signs, web space is like premises and email addresses are like mailboxes.

When you create your online presence you first buy a domain name, which is like buying a sign. On the street, some signs are over shops and some point to another location. In the same way, your domain name can point to your own space, or it can point elsewhere. Some domain names just point to other domains. Businesses sometimes use extra domains to make sure they pick up visitors who have guessed their domain name wrongly. The extra domains are just 'signs', they have no 'premises' under them.

The next step is to get web space, which is like renting premises. Until you do this, you have nowhere to set up shop, just a 'sign'. Once you have 'premises', you can put the 'sign' over the door by making your domain name point to your web space.

Finally, you can also have email. This is like fixing a 'mailbox' under the 'sign' - people can now send letters to you. You can have as many mailboxes as you want - one for each person in your company.

Note that you don't have to have web space to have email. You could just have a domain and email addresses. You would then have a 'sign' and a 'mailbox', but no 'premises'. Sole traders who want a distinctive email address, but don't need their own site, often do this.

You can get a domain name and web space without having email if you really want, although the vast majority of businesses have emails associated with their domains. You cannot have an email account without buying a domain, unless you are happy with having your 'mailbox' under someone else's 'sign' (by using a generic webmail address, for example).

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