The world of the Internet is fascinating.
There are more than 1.88 billion websites today.
If you are new to the online world, you might be wondering what is a domain name for a website.
Often, beginners confuse a domain name with a website.
But that ends today.
In this post, I will walk you through important aspects of the domain name, and also throw light on how domains work.
By the end of this informative post, you will have a better understanding of domains, hosting, and related terms.
When you type a website in your browser, say abc.com, you are essentially typing the domain name.
A good analogy here would be to think of a domain name as the web address.
Let’s dive into this to help you understand this concept better.
Think of the Internet as a massive network of servers (computers that store and serve websites) interconnected through a global network of cables, wifi, and signals.
Since these servers are all connected, they can easily communicate with each other.
But how do we identify a computer in that massive network?
This is where the concept of IP address comes into play.
IP stands for Internet Protocol.
An IP address is a series of numbers that defines (or gives identity) a server on the Internet.
In other words, it identifies the host (computer/server) and provides the location of the host in the network.
In general, an IP address could look something like this: 192.0.2.1.
However, it might not be practical for us to remember IP addresses.
Think about this for a minute.
Domain names serve the purpose of helping us remember our favorite websites, so we can easily type them into our browsers.
So, instead of say, typing 184.108.40.206, you would type www.isotropic.co.
I am sure by now you would have a surface understanding of domain names.
But it is also important to understand how domain names work to get the full picture.
Let’s understand this by taking our website www.isotropic.co as an example.
When you enter this domain name in your web browser, two things happen.
One, it sends a request to the global network of servers.
These servers, together, constitute the Domain Name System (DNS).
Next, these servers try to search (identify) the name servers associated with the domain (isotropic. co) and forward the request to those name servers.
Let’s assume that our website is hosted on hostgator.com.
In this case, the server information would resemble something like this:
The “ns” here stands for name servers.
The web hosting company is responsible for managing these name servers.
It (the web host) will forward your request to the computer where your website is stored.
Please note that the computer that stores your website is called a web server.
And the last leg of this journey ends with the web server sending all this information back to your web browser.
Isn’t it amazing that all these complicated tasks happen in a fraction of a second?
What is the difference between a website and web hosting?
There are dozens of complicated definitions for a website.
Let’s stick with a simple one.
A website is a collection of web pages and related content such as images, videos, and more.
Each website has to be associated with a common domain name and parked (hosted) on one web server.
As stated earlier, a domain name gives direction to your website.
And the web hosting houses your website.
Think of the web host as the garage that parks your website.
In the earlier example, if isotropic.co (domain name) had name servers on Hostgator, then Hostgator would be called its web host.
A website host is a computer that stores all the files of the website.
Another name for such a computer is “server.”
Most web hosting companies offer this functionality as a service.
Please note that you need both a domain name and a web host to create a website.
While both these are separate services, some companies allow you to get both of these from the same place.
What if you purchase a domain name and web hosting from two different places?
In that case, you would have to tweak your domain name settings and feed the Name Server information from your web host into the domain name provider.
A simple way to understand the functionality of a name server is to think of it as a translator, which translates the domain name into an IP address.
Hence, a name server connected information that you and I can easily understand.
While there is no rule set in stone to get a domain and hosting from the same business, getting them from the same entity does save time (and money).
Symbolics.com was the first domain that was ever registered.
Let us talk a little about the different types of domain names.
Several extensions are available for a domain name.
An extension looks like this- .com, .org, .co, .info, .io, and so on.
The most common extension is, of course, .com.
For the most part, try sticking with a .com extension as it is the most popular extension.
It is like second nature for most people to type “.com” after a domain name, thus making it easy for most to type your website.
The most common types of domain categorizations include top-level domain, country code top-level domain, generic top-level domain (gTLD), second-level domain, third-level domain, and premium domain.
As the name suggested, these are the most preferred domain names.
A domain name ending in .com, for example, is a top-level domain.
However, .com is not the only top-level domain.
Extensions such as .net, .blog, and .io are also top level domains.
With the growth of the Internet, more unique domains had to be added to this list.
The ICANN (more on this later) started adding newer options to TLDs to help people register their sites.
Earlier, domain names had to use Latin-based characters.
Now, that is not the case.
Some domain names can have Arabic or Chinese characters.
While most TLDs are open to the public, some are restricted.
For example, the .gov domain name is only available to the government.
These are top-level domains restricted to use in specific countries.
For example, the ccTLD for Belarus is .by and that for England is .uk.
If you are finding it difficult to find a .com domain name, these ccTLDs could be worth considering.
Please note that these domain names work best if your target audience is local (to the country).
However, if you are counting on a global audience, you are better off with a top-level domain such as .com.
You will also see that some reputed businesses register multiple domain names.
For example, Google owns 18,095 other domains (besides google.com).
Recall domain names ending in .com, .edu, .info, .org, and .net.
Besides these, generic top level domains (gTLDs) include .blog, .io, .shop, .space, .tech and several more.
Until now, we have talked about the TLD part of your website’s domain name.
Let’s take the web address www.abc.com, for example.
In this URL, the “.com” part is the TLD.
But the “abc” part is called as second-level domain or SLD in this web address.
When choosing a domain name, pay extra attention to the SLD, as this is what most people would remember.
The SLD part creates brand association and recognition.
I’d suggest starting with the SLD for your web page or website, and then trying to find the right TLD.
Next, we have the third-level domain.
Since the short form of this could be TLD, it could confuse you when thinking of the top-level domain, which also has the same acronym.
So, we will use the expanded term- third-level domain.
In the example above for the web page www.abc.com, the “www” part is known as the third-level domain.
Isn’t that by default for all websites?
Yes, and No.
For instance, bigger companies requiring more web pages often have www1 or www2 before the SLD in their domain names.
Last, we have the premium domain.
This is a domain that is owned by someone else.
That does not mean you can not buy it.
Several domain name sites allow you to purchase premium domains through a bidding process.
This is also known as domain reselling.
In most cases, premium domains cost more than other domain types.
For example, the web page www.insurance.com costs $35.6 million!
Cars.com was the most expensive domain ever sold at $872 million dollars. That's crazy!
Did you know that until 1995, domain name registration was free?
At this point, you might be wondering who handles the domain name system.
ICANN is the entity responsible for managing this system.
ICANN stands for Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers.
This non-profit organization creates and implements policies for domain names globally.
Only with the permission of ICANN, a domain registrar can sell domain names.
A domain registrar can manage domain records, renewals, and transfers to other registrars, besides selling domain names.
Please remember that the domain owner is responsible for renewing their domains with their domain registrars.
Unless you have put an auto-renewal on your domain name, it might not renew.
However, most domain name companies (domain registrars) send emails a few days/weeks in advance to ensure you renew your domain name on time.
I am sure, by now, you have a good understanding of the different types of valid domain names, and how they work.
But that does not answer how to choose a domain name for your website.
Let’s discuss domain registration here.
The domain name world is quite competitive.
If you are going for a generic word and a TLD, chances are very slim to find it available with most domain name registrars.
This is why it can be challenging to find the right domain name for a new website.
I would recommend sticking with a .com TLD.
Being the most popular domain name, it is relatable.
Make sure the second-level domain (SLD) is easy to type.
Do not go for long names.
No one would remember www.buythebestshoesformen.com.
Instead, a shorter name such as www.shoesformen.com will be easy to remember and type.
I have seen websites using numbers or hyphens in their domain names.
This is bad practice.
Try to avoid these when choosing a domain name.
You can find several domain name generators to come up with unique domain name ideas for your business. Next, you can choose one of the reputed domain name registrars to register the domain name.
You can purchase a domain name either from a domain name registrar or from a website host.
For example, NameCheap offers both domain name and hosting services.
Unless you buy from a web host, chances are you will have to buy the hosting elsewhere.
As previously mentioned, without hosting, you cannot have a website up and running.
Web hosting companies such as BlueHost, HostGator, and DreamHost make it easy for beginners to buy both domain names and hosting services.
What are subdomains?
These are called subdomains.
Once you own a domain, you are free to create subdomains for that domain name.
Think of a subdomain as a child site to the parent site (domain).
I hope, by now, you would have a clear understanding of the different aspects of a domain name.
Choosing the right domain name can help you establish your brand identity with ease.
Make sure you do enough research before buying a domain name.