What Is a Domain Name?

Learn everything you need to know about domain names, from what they are to how and where to register them.

Published Categorized as Domains & Hosting

The websites that you, I, and everyone else on the Internet visits in their web browsers are stored on computers, called web servers, which specialize in serving web pages.

Web servers operate on a request/response basis. Your browser makes a request to download a web page, and the server serves that web page in response. So how does your browser know which server to go to and which web page to request?

The answer lies in something called the URL address, which the domain name, as we’re about to discuss in a moment, is part of.

Every web page on the Internet has a URL address. To access that web page, you type its URL address into your browser’s address bar whenever you want to visit it.

The URL has several components, including:

  • The protocol
  • The subdomain
  • The domain name
  • The directory
  • The page

Now that you know all this, we can get to the question you want answered here… what is a domain name?

A domain name is the unique name assigned to a website on the Internet. When you type it into your browser’s address bar, your browser looks for the IP address of the web server that hosts the website and opens that website’s home page.

Every domain name has a name and an extension. The name is the string that comes before the dot, like “makersaid,” and the extension is the string after the dot, like “.com.”

A domain name can only have one extension. When registering a domain name, its future owner can choose from many extensions, such as .com, .net, .org, and others. (Right now, there are almost 300 domain name extensions.)

Domain Name vs. IP Address

The domain name is the unique and memorable name that Internet users like you and me type into the web browser to visit a website. However, the actual address of the website is the IP address of the server.

When you type a domain name in your browser’s address bar and press the Enter key on your keyboard, your browser performs a series of queries in a process called DNS lookup to determine the IP address to which that domain name points.

So the domain name is the address that humans remember, but the IP address is the one that computers on the Internet use to ping each other. For example, when I wrote this article, the domain name google.com pointed to the IP address

Here’s an easy way to make sense of this:

Just like your house has a mailing address that corresponds to a geographic coordinates, your website has a domain name that points to an IP address.

Humans use mailing addresses and domain names because they consist of words that are easy for us to remember; computers use geographic coordinates and IP addresses because they’re based on numbers, which is what they understand best.

What Types of Domain Names Are There?

Generally, there are two types of domain names: global top-level domains, called gTLDs, and country-code top-level domains, called ccTLDs.

gTLDs are domain names such as .com, .net, and .org that are not tied to a specific country and are managed by a global regulatory body called ICANN.

ccTLDs, on the other hand, are domain names tied to countries, each administered by the regulatory authority of the country that grants them. Domain names with the .us, .co.uk, and .au extensions are all examples of country-code top-level domains.

Most websites on the Internet have gTLD domain names, and the most popular domain extension by far is the .com extension.

Can Anyone Register a Domain Name?

You may be wondering if anyone on the Internet can register any domain name. To make a long story short, the answer to this question depends on the type of domain name (gTLD or ccTLD) and the desired extension.

Anyone can register a domain name of the gTLD type as long as it is offered by the registrar from which they want to purchase it and they are willing to pay the price (and ICANN fees) for its registration.

The situation with ccTLDs is a little different. Some countries, like the United States, allow anyone to register domain names with their ccTLD extension. Others require additional information, and some offer ccTLDs through an application process.

Where Can You Register a Domain Name?

You can register a domain name at any ICANN-accredited domain registrar on the Internet. Some of the best-known domain name registrars are, in alphabetical order:

To register a domain name, it must be available for registration—that is, it mustn’t have already been registered, and therefore held, by someone else.

Every domain name registrar has a search bar that lets you search for available domain names. There also a number of tools that let you do this, and they even suggest domain names and extensions as alternatives. The one I use is called Instant Domain Search.

Don’t miss: Do This Before Registering a Domain Name

How Do You Buy a Domain Name?

The first step to buying a domain name is to choose a domain name registrar that you trust and whose prices you agree with. Competition on the Internet is high, and there’s a large number of registrars to choose from.

The second step is to check if the domain name that you want is available for registration. If it’s already been registered by somebody else, they are considered the rightful owner. In such a case, if you still want the domain name, you will have to look up their contacts and buy it from them.

Once you’ve selected a domain name registrar and found a domain name that’s available for registration, you need to enter your contact details and pay the domain name registration price, along with the ICANN fees, for at least 1 year.

For you: Can You Register a Domain Name Anonymously?

You can register a domain name for several years by making an advance payment for those years. The maximum period for which you can prepay a domain name is 10 years. After that you can renew it for another 10 years and so on.

So you can hold a domain name for as long as you like—one year, five years, a decade, two decades—but you can only renew it in 10-year increments.

What Was the First Domain Name on the Internet?

Have you ever wondered what the first domain name on the Internet was? If so, then read on, because we have some Internet trivia for you!

The Internet’s first domain name was symbolics.com, and it was registered on March 15, 1985, by a Massachusetts-based computer equipment manufacturing company called Symbolics, Inc.

Today the domain name is held by digital asset investor Aron Meystedt. If you visit the website, you can download a free e-book on the history of the Internet and access an online museum on the same subject.

By Dim Nikov

Editor of Maker's Aid. Part programmer, part marketer. Making things on the web and helping others do the same since the 2000s. Yes, I had Friendster and Myspace.

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