What is a domain name?

What is a domain name?

The name of your website is a domain name

Every website has a unique domain name that is used to navigate to the site. The domain name system, or DNS, is like an address book for the internet. However, the true identifier of a website is the internet protocol address, or IP address for short, of the server where your website is hosted.

Your domain name is an IP address

IP addresses are a series of numbers separated by dots and are not the easiest to remember. Also, they may change over time. So instead, a domain name is used. Kind of like a nickname for the IP address, because they are easier to remember and stay constant. The DNS will automatically convert the domain name to the IP address when we type it into the browser address bar. Domain names are actually broken down into three components.

Top level domain explained

Let’s take a closer look, starting with the top-level domain. The top-level domain, or TLD, provides information about the general purpose of the website. The most generic TLDs, .com, .net and .org were once used for specific purposes. .com used to be reserved for commercial sites, but it has now become the most commonly used domain, even for non-commercial sites. .net was for organizations involved in networking technologies.

These days it is often seen as the second choice option used when the .com isn’t available. .org was previously for any organization that didn’t fit into the other two categories. But now .org has become associated with organizations that serve the public interest and humanitarian causes such as foundations or non-profits. These are common associations, but these days there are no restrictions for these three TLDs. There are other generic TLDs that are restricted to specific organizations. For example, .edu is restricted to accredited US post secondary institutions. And .gov is designated for US government sites.

There are actually thousands of TLDs. We can see a full list here on Domainr.com. This site is not a domain registrar, but it does allow you to search for domain names including all the different TLDs. Secondary-level domain names refer to the label right before the top-level domain name. This part of the domain name must be unique. Each country also has an assigned two-letter domain name country code. Each country also has its own registrar authority, so the rules for using a specific country code may vary. Some are used as top-level domain, some as second-level domains. There may be additional restrictions such as where the business is located.

Example of country based TLD

The UK country code, .uk or .co.uk, is an example of a top-level domain. It is also exclusive to UK businesses, citizens, groups, and non-profit organizations. For Romania the code is .ro and is used with predetermined second-level domains. .com.ro and .net.ro is exclusively for businesses registered in Romania. And .org.ro is available exclusively for non-commercial organizations in Romania. Some country code domains don’t have any restrictions, and have become associated with other meanings.

For example, the .me domain represents the country of Montenegro, but is now mostly associated with personal websites. If you decide to register a domain with a specific country code, your domain registrar will provide information about any restrictions. A subdomain is part of the larger domain. It is often used to create a subsection of a website, like a blog or store section. Though responsive designs have become a standard, sometimes a separate site is still needed for mobile devices. You can name your subdomain anything, but it’s a standard convention to use m or mobile for mobile sites. www is also technically a subdomain, but it’s a little different. It used to be that the www had to be included in the domain name, but that isn’t the case any more.

But since it’s still commonly used, most web hosts will automatically point the domain with and without the www to the same address. Technically, we can never really own a domain name. Instead we purchase the right to use it for one or more years from a domain registrar, which is an organization that manages the reservation of domain names. If you let the registration expire, your domain name goes back into the pool and someone else can register it. Most registrars will send you expiry reminders or allow you to auto-renew to avoid losing your domain name.

.com domains typically cost around £10 to £15 a year. Other TLDs range greatly in price. Anywhere from a few dollars to several thousand. We’ll go into more detail about how to purchase and set up domains in the upcoming lessons.

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