Basics - Hosting and Domain concepts

Domains, Name Servers, Hosting and more


  • A domain is the mnemonic name of your website. It provides an easy-to-remember address that is used in place of the IP Address where your website is hosted. Using the example from Basic Terms, your domain would be Domain names are leased for a specific time interval, generally between 1 and 5 years. After this time, you must renew your domain or it will go back on the market.

The domain name includes a TLD or “top-level-domain”. The most common TLD in the United States in the commercial space is .com, but many other TLDs are available, including country specific TLDs ( for the United Kingdom, for example).

  • A domain registrar keeps your domain. Popular domain registrars include GoDaddy, NameCheap, and Network Solutions.

    If a domain is not owned by someone else, you may simply buy it from a registrar for a small fixed fee. Then you just have to renew it every so often, and it’s yours for the life of your business.

    If a domain is owned by a third party but not in use, they may be willing to sell it to you (generally through an escrow agent like Sedo or Afternic), but it will be significantly more expensive. Your best choice in a case like this may be to go with a different TLD (, a different spelling of your name, perhaps adding hyphens or adding/removing a plural (,, or a different name entirely (

  • Registrar Transfer is the process of moving your domain name from one registrar to another.

    Contact information is used to confirm any requested changes to domain registration info, including change of registrar, and renewals.

    If you’re thinking of transferring your domain to a new Registrar, you need to:

    • unlock the domain to allow Domain Transfer
    • authorize the transfer by confirming the email sent to your domain’s Administrative Contact
    • pay the one-year-renewal fee (which buys you one more year after your current expiry date) to complete the transfer, based on the fee set by the registrar you’re transferring to.

  • DNS is a system of computers that maintain a directory of domain name to IP Address mappings.

Name Servers

A name server converts a name to an IP Address. Your nameservers (there are generally two) are values you specify in your domain registration with your registrar, and they point (generally) to your hosting company. As an example, the nameservers for A2 Hosting’s shared accounts are called and

If you decide to change hosting companies, you will have to update your name server settings at your domain registrar. This change will take some time to ripple through the system - the guidance is 24 to 48 hours, but it often takes less. Just be prepared for some downtime.

Hosting Companies

Your hosting company (or hoster or website host) is the company that provides server space for you to run your website. You will pay monthly or annually for this service.

Hosting accounts are offered in two flavors:

  • Shared Hosting - You share server space with other accounts.

  • Virtual Private Server (VPS) Hosting - You have your own isolated server space.

VPS is more expensive but more secure and provides greater flexibility.

Hosting accounts also offer different OS versions. The Zen Cart project recommends Linux with Apache (or Linux with Nginx), but not Windows with IIS.

Most users will want a hosting account that offers a Control Panel, such as cPanel. The control panel gives you easy access to the underlying operating system functionality.

The Zen Cart project recommends a number of hosting providers on their Recommended Services page.

If you haven’t yet selected a hoster, please read picking a hoster.


The word webserver (or web server) can mean different things based on context. Sometimes when people use this word, they mean the computer associated with your hosting account that runs your website. And sometimes, they mean the piece of software that runs on the computer associated with your hosting account, which serves up web pages.

Here, we are using the second meaning. For programs like Zen Cart, running on commercial hosters, there are three main options for webserver software:

  • Apache (runs on Linux)
  • Nginx (runs on Linux)
  • IIS (runs on Windows)

The Zen Cart team recommends Apache or Nginx, not IIS.


You will need to use an FTP Tool to transfer files between your computer and your server.
An example of transferring a file is provided in Installing a File.


Cron is a utility on Linux hosting accounts that allows you to automatically schedule jobs to run at specific intervals. An example of a job you might want to run is the exchange rate updater.

Facilities for setting up cron jobs vary; contact your hoster for details.

SSL Certificates

An SSL certificate allows your content to be securely accessed using encryption.

When an SSL Certificate is purchased, it is issued to a particular domain name. Certificates are purchased in 1-year blocks. The certificate is installed on your Hosting Server and linked to your site so that your customers can shop with encryption protection when needed. Some hosting companies offer free SSL certificates with certain plans. Check the Recommended Services page to see which of our recommended hosts provides free SSL certificates.

SSL Certificates are an add-on to a hosting account, and are not directly tied to a hosting plan’s expiry dates, etc. However, since hosting plans are usually purchased first, and SSL certificates are issued a few days later, it is quite common for a hosting plan to expire a couple days before an SSL certificate expires.

Certificates cannot be directly transferred to another host due to the public/private key generation systems. This is primarily to protect you against theft of identity or the certificate. To move an existing certificate to another server requires that the Issuer (whoever you bought the certificate from originally) re-issue the certificate tied to the new private/public key of your new hosting server, sometimes for a nominal re-issuance fee. Thus, it’s simplest to issue certificates around the same time as switching hosting from one place to another.

Certificates can be issued for www., non-www., or wildcard. Some hosters recommend not using wildcard.

It is important to know which way your certificate is issued. Settings in the configure.php files that address https:// need to match the form of your SSL to prevent possible log in problems. If your SSL is for www., then the settings should show If non-www., the settings should show

For more information on SSL, see these articles:

Still have questions? Use the Search box in the upper right, or try the full list of FAQs. If you can't find it there, head over to the Zen Cart support forum and ask there in the appropriate subforum. In your post, please include your Zen Cart and PHP versions, and a link to your site.

Is there an error or omission on this page? Please post to General Questions on the support forum. Or, if you'd like to open a pull request, just review the guidelines and get started. You can even PR right here.
Last modified May 12, 2023 by Scott C Wilson (d3a5abd).