1. Streamline Support
  2. Other Tools & Services

Website hosting vs domain hosting, explained

How Streamline works with custom domains to deliver your website to the public

One of the more confusing aspects of building a website is grasping how your website host (Streamline) works with a domain host (such as GoDaddy, Network Services, NameCheap, etc). A lot of folks are confused about the need for maintaining these two services or what the purpose of each service really is!

if you're using the Streamline-provided domain (yourdistrict.specialdistrict.org) then we will manage all of this for you and this won't be very relevant to you.

If you're using a custom domain (e.g. yourdistrictname.com) read on!

What is website hosting?

Website hosting is the service of storing the "stuff" which makes up your site (the code, the images, the files, etc) on a server that is available on the Internet. Most website hosts provide tools to help users like you build the website and customize it; ours is unique in providing additional, special district-specific tools as well.

What is a domain, and why do I need one?

A domain (or URL) is the way people on the internet find the server where your website "stuff" is stored. If you navigate to "www.getstreamline.com" you typed our domain into your browser, which your domain host will use to help you find the great content on our website.

As part of your Streamline subscription, you are provided a free domain, yourdistrictname.specialdistrict.org, so if you don't want to pay for using a custom domain (i.e. yourdistrictname.org), then you don't have to.

What is a domain host?

For reasons we articulate below, the process of using a domain to actually find a website is not particularly simple when it comes to Internet. Domain hosts provide the service of doing this efficiently, correctly, and quickly, so that your visitors will quickly and securely end up on the right page when they enter in your domain.

Website hosting: building and maintaining your "home" online

To use a simple analogy, you can think of your website a bit like a house. A house has been engineered to be built strong and secure, and the inhabitants are likely to fill the house with a lot of cool stuff, like furniture and valuables. This is fundamentally what Streamline does: we help you build and maintain your website (which could be called a "digital house") and help you fill it with great content!

In real life, inviting your friends over to your house is about as easy as sending them your address. This is because it is easy for your friends to translate your address (e.g. 123 Main Street) into a process that will actually lead to them showing up at your door. Unlike real life, inviting your friends over to your digital house is a lot more complicated, but the complexity is managed away by your domain host.

Domain hosting: making it easy to direct traffic to your home 

It's worth mentioning that unlike your home town, the Internet is a massively, incomprehensively large network, not of homes and businesses, but of literally billions of websites and servers. It features too much information for simple addresses like 123 Main Street to keep things in order, especially at the speed that the internet now operates. The machines ferrying all of this information across the Internet are actually using numerical addresses, rather than word-based addresses like humans use -- a bit like if you used GPS coordinates to navigate around town vs. using addresses.

For example, if someone types in the address www.getstreamline.com into their web browser, their browser has no idea where to actually go to find the data. Somewhere on the planet, there is a server with a numerical address (maybe something strange like 193.414.474.1) with exactly the website content they're looking for - but there are billions of such servers. Which is the correct one?

This means that every time you go to a website, the machines behind the scenes have to go on an international manhunt for the IP address that has your actual website content -- seriously! The machines will need to ask sometimes dozens of different servers if they know what IP address correctly maps to the address www.getstreamline.com, all in the blink of an eye.

The vast majority of the time, things go well, and eventually, a server will say "Hey, I found it! The IP address you want it 938.481.41.1!" Bingo! The domain hosting service can now send that information back to the user's browser, who can go and use the real address of your site to retrieve the content.

For those struggling, here is a diagram that goes through a very simplified 5 step process that, believe it or not, fires off every single time you go to a website:


So, this is what domain hosting does: it allows you to send a simple invitation to your friends with an address that lets them find your house in a snap. Your website host - Streamline - makes sure the house is ready to shine when your guests arrive.

So what now?

Now that you better understand the difference between website and domain hosting, you have some informed options when it comes to choosing your domain as a Streamline user:

  • Utilize the yourdistrictname.specialdistrict.org domain that is provided as part of your Streamline subscription at no additional cost. 
  • Want a custom domain, but don't want to manage the setup at all? Enroll in our Concierge Domain Services which include one custom domain per district at no additional cost. Each additional domain managed by Streamline will be an additional cost. (Want to learn more? Send us an email
  • Districts can also apply for a free .gov domain through the .gov registrar. 
  • Purchase and host a custom domain through a reputable third-party domain service such as GoDaddy, Network Solutions, or NameCheap.  We recommend having several people as administrators on these accounts in case of district staff turnover or other unforeseen events. If you chose this route please reach out to Streamline once your purchase is complete so that we can provide you with the DNS records you will need to add to tie your new custom domain to your Streamline website.