You have many friends. Some of them, you know very well and meet very often while others are met occationally. But how do you remember all the people and relationships you have? By remembering their names!! Very similarly, you visit many websites every day, sites like Facebook or Google. Y0u use their names; Facebook.com and Google.com to establish a relationship with these sites. You are able to access them by using their names from wherever you are in the World. Today, where we all live online by second nature, we take these names for granted and dont take the time to understand what domain names really mean or how they work so well. Domain Name System, the system that makes it possible to find a website by typing in a name is one of the most underated innovations that defined the formation of the Internet. Let’s have a detailed look at domain names.
What is the Internet?
The Internet is a global computer network providing a variety of information and communication facilities, consisting of interconnected networks using standardized communication protocols. Simply, it is a global network of computers communicating with each other. This allows us to connect to any computer or system in the World and access data (or a website) stored on any computer anywhere.
But how do computers identify each other? IP addresses!! Similar to a phone number that we all use to communicate with anyone, computers on the Internet are identified with a unique number. IP addresses, much like phone numbers make is possible for computers to communicate with each other. However, just like the phone numbers, they are practically impossible to remember (well, unless you are Bob Patrella :). So, we started using phone directories. The Domain Name System works very similar to a global phone directory.
What is a Domain Name?
A domain name is what people type in to access your website, and it points the web browser to the server that stores those resources. Without a domain name, people would need to remember the specific IP address of your server. (Try accessing Booklu.com by using their domain name, https://booklu.com and via their IP address, http://22.214.171.124).
A domain name takes the form of two main elements. For example, the domain name Facebook.com consists of the website’s name (Facebook) and the domain name extension (.com). When a company (or a person) purchases a domain name, they’re able to specify which server that the domain name points to.
Domain name registrations are overseen by an organization called ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers). ICANN specifies which domain name extensions are available and keeps a centralized database of where the domain names point to.
Every website that you visit effectively consists of two main elements: a domain name and a web server. A web server is a physical machine that hosts the files and the databases of your website and sends them out to people across the internet when they visit your site from their computer or phone.
How Domain Names Work?
Domain names work by acting as a shortcut to the server that hosts your website.
Without a domain name, anyone who wanted to visit your website would have to enter the full IP address. But the problem is that an IP address is difficult for people to memorize or to include on advertising materials.
In our case, Hozty.com is the domain name and it points to IP address 126.96.36.199. The IP address points to a server, but it doesn’t resolve the website if visitors try to use it. That’s because for an IP address to resolve a website, the remote server needs to be using port 80 with a default page (i.e. index.html) stored in its web-apps directory.
As you can see, messing around with server defaults and IP addresses can be both confusing and time-consuming. That’s why the vast majority of website owners opt to use a service like Hozty which offers bundled domain names with annual web hosting packages.
Domains can also use redirects, which essentially allow you to specify that if people visit your domain, they’re automatically forwarded to another. This can be useful for campaigns for forwarding people to dedicated landing pages. They are also commonly used for avoiding confusion around spellings. For example, if you visit www.fb.com, you’ll be forwarded to www.facebook.com.
Types of Domains
Not all domain names follow the same formula, and while .com domains make up for 43.5% of all global websites, that still leaves plenty of room for other domain name types like .org and .net. Here is the distribution of the Top Level Domains (TLDs) by number of registrations globally.
Overall, the most common types of domain names include:
TLD: Top Level Domains
A top level domain is exactly what it sounds like: a type of domain name which is at the top level of the internet’s domain name system. There are over a thousand TLDs available but the most common include .com, .org, .net and .edu.
The official list of TLDs is maintained by an organization called the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) and can be viewed here. IANA notes that the list of TLDs also includes ccTLDs and gTLDs, which we’ll talk about next.
ccTLD: Country Code Top Level Domains
ccTLDs use just two letters and are based upon international country codes, such as .us for the United States, .lk for Sri Lanka and .jp for Japan. They’re often used by companies which are building dedicated sites for specific regions and can be a good way of signaling to users that they’ve arrived at the right place.
gTLD: Generic Top Level Domain
A gTLD is essentially a TLD that doesn’t rely on a country code. Many gTLDs are intended for a specific use-case, such as .edu which is aimed at educational institutions. That said, you don’t have to meet any specific criteria to register a gTLD, which is why .com isn’t only used for commercial purposes.
Other examples of gTLDs include .mil (military), .gov (government), .org (for non-profits and organizations) and .net, which was originally designed for internet service providers (ISPs) but which is now used much more widely.
Other Domain Name Types
While the above-mentioned domain categories are the most frequent, there are other variations that you can run into.
Second Level Domains
You’ve probably seen these domain names before. We’re talking about a domain that sits directly below a top-level domain name. We’re not going to get too technical here because it’s easier to show with examples, particularly when it comes to country codes.
For example, British companies occasionally use .co.uk instead of .com, and it’s a perfect example of a second level domain. Another second level domain is .gov.uk, which is often used by governmental institutions, and .ac.uk, which is used by academic institutions and universities.
Subdomains are useful because they don’t require webmasters to purchase an additional domain name to create divisions within their site. Instead, they’re able to create a subdomain which effectively points to a specific directory on the server. This can be super useful for campaign sites and other types of web content that should be kept separate from the main site.
For example, Facebook uses developers.facebook.com to provide specific information for web and app developers who want to use the Facebook API. Another great example is support.google.com
How are Domain Names Converted to IP Addresses?
When someone uses the domain name example.com to access a website. The following things take place in the background.
- The browser sends a request to the root nameserver requesting the IP address of example.com?”
- The root nameserver responds with information about the .com nameserver.
- The browser now sends the same request to .com nameserver.
- The .com nameserver responds with information about the example.com nameserver.
- Again, the browser send the same request to the example.com nameserver
- The example.com nameserver tells the browser the IP address of example.com.
- And again, the browser sends a request to the IP Address specified.
- The content at example.com is delivered to the browser.
How Do I Register a Domain Name?
Different name providers use different systems and so while this answer covers what the process typically looks like, it may differ slightly depending on the provider.
You’ll usually start by running a domain name search. Most domain name providers will allow you to type in your desired domain name and to see whether it’s available. Here on Hozty, we also provide plenty of suggestions for other potential domain names, which can be useful when the domain that you searched for was already taken.
To recap, we looked at Domain Names as to What they are, Why they are useful, How they work, and How to register one. Let us know what you think or any domain name related questions in the comments below.