You can buy hosting (which gives you an IP address and a place for your site to physically exist), a domain name and domain name services management (DNS management) at the same place. Companies like Hostgator and GoDaddy offer everything in a one stop shop. Many people go for this solution.
However I advocate that you avoid doing this and that you buy each of hosting, domain name and DNS Management from different providers. A divide and conquer approach will help you to maintain independence and control. That may not seem important to you when you are first starting out, but independence and control it will become important to you at some stage.
Your host is a physical computer somewhere in the cloud. We call it a server or a web server as its purpose is to serve the web pages on your site to anyone asking for them. As the server exists on the world wide web it has to have a unique physical address or no-one would ever find it.
The unique physical address is called an IP Address. These addresses are really good for computers to work with, but harder for people to remember. An IP Address (if it is in IP4 format) is usually something like 123.234.189.001
The domain name you select is a more human way to remember a website. It's better to say to someone, please visit my website at sleepydogbeds.com than to say please visit my website at 123.234.189.001. They have a better chance of remembering the domain name than the IP address.
Sometimes of course you will host more than one domain name on the a server. This means that more than one domain name will resolve to the same IP address. In this case how does the server not get confused and still serve the right pages from the right domains when required?
Well the answer this is that rarely servers can get this wrong. I had a situation recently where I was hosting several domains, Site A, B and C on the same server and therefore on the same IP address. In a particularly weird situation I started to see pages from site A when I browsed to site B!
This was the result of a server configuration issue which was my fault. But most of the time - apart from the weird situation I managed to get myself into, the web server's configuration - the way it is set up - will allow you to host many different sites on the same IP address. It will be up to the web server to figure out which of your sites is which, and serve up the right pages.
This physical address or IP address - is expressed as four sets of numbers like this 123.312.22.81, each separated by a period. Each number is between 0 and 255. These are known as IP4 addresses. IP stands for Internet Protocol. Each server is a node on the internet and each server has its own address.
For years we have been used to IP address being just 4 numbers. But you may have noticed recently that many IP addresses are now looking very different. That's because the original 4 number format has been exhausted. We've run out of them - we now have more need for IP addresses than it is possible to express using just four numbers between 0 and 255.
The maximum number you can uniquely identify with this system is 4,294,967,296 - but the real maximum (that we have reached) is somewhat less due to some practical considerations. However it is still somewhere just under four billion.
The main problem is that the addresses were pre-allocated to countries in Europe and to the United States (no surprise there, eh?), in large swathes. But now newer and powerful economies like China and India need huge numbers of IP addresses but unfortunately, they've all already been allocated.
Also, the emerging Internet Of Things - the idea that many different types of device from ordinary household items like fridges to industrial manufacturing units - will each require their own IP address - also increases the need for more IP addresses.
For this reason we need a larger IP Address space and so IP 6 format was created. You may start to see IP addresses that look more like this : 2001:0db8:85a3:0000:0000:8a2e:0370:7334, this is the new IP 6 format address and is capable of expressing many more IP addresses than the old IP 4 format.
The IP 6 address space can address a huge number of IP addresses. This many! 340,282,366,920,938,463,463,374,607,431,768,211,456 - which should be enough for all countries, all devices, and all things.