What is a Domain?
What do you connect to when you want to visit your favorite websites? You connect to an IP addresses, not the domain. The domain is nothing more than the middleman.
So what is a domain, and how come it’s not the same as an IP address?
Summary: Every website has an address, called an IP address. A domain name is that IP address presented in a human-friendly format. For instance, this website “softwarelab.org” is connected to “220.127.116.11”. So when you type a domain name into your browser, you are automatically taken to the IP address associated with it. It’s similar to entering your home’s physical address in the Uber app instead of typing your house’s geographical coordinates.
How Domain Names Work
Every time you want to access a website by entering a domain name in the browser, your browser sends a DNS, or domain name system request. The global server network proceeds to search for servers that are associated with the domain name you provided.
Once it finds them, it forwards the request. Your browser will then receive information from the web server that hosts the domain.
Understanding the Domain Name System
Why is a DNS request necessary? The domain name system is responsible for converting a domain into its correlating IP address using a DNS server. The system has millions of servers around the world and acts as a database for recognized and registered domain names.
But domain names have multiple identifying components. This is where the DNS is even more important. It has its own system hierarchy of domain components or elements and can use it to quickly identify the correct IP address, even with limited identifiers available.
DNS records are managed by a non-profit organization called the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, or ICANN for short.
Domain Name Components
A domain name only has three components. This can be confusing for some people because they often use the terms domain and web address interchangeably.
A domain name contains the following items.
· A subdomain
· A second-level domain
· A top-level domain
Take, for example, GoDaddy.com, one of the top domain registries in the industry. This domain name can be broken down into the following components.
1. “GoDaddy” is the second-level domain
2. “.com” is the top-level domain
Should the link redirect to the company’s blog and look something like blog.GoDaddy.com, the blog component would be the subdomain.
What Is a Second-Level Domain?
The second-level domain is the primary component of all domain names and contains a unique website identifier or the website’s name. It always comes before .com, .org, .gov, and other similar extensions.
What Is a Top Level Domain?
A top-level domain, otherwise referred to as a TLD, is the extension that follows the unique identifier. This is used to indicate different registrations on the internet.
For example, .gov extensions identify websites as belonging to government entities. A .md extension is usually reserved for clinics, hospitals, and healthcare institutions.
The most popular extension, .com, is used by most companies because it identifies them as commercial entities. Variations of .com extensions like .ca or co.uk are used for similar registrations, but also indicate other countries of origin, like Canada and the United Kingdom.
What Is a Subdomain?
A subdomain is an optional component that can be added to a domain name to make specific distinctions.
Common subdomains appear as “blog.” or “store.” These indicate that you’re visiting a separate instance of the main website that can have specific functions. There are no exceptional reasons to create subdomains.
It’s somewhat similar in scope to the optional path component of a complete URL address, but the subdomain always appears before the second-level domain.
Subdomains are also referred to as third-level domains.
Differences Between Domain Names and URLs
URL stands for Universal Resource Locator. In some ways, it’s similar to a domain name, but using the two terms interchangeably is a mistake.
That’s mainly because domain names are components of URLs. A URL is a complete website address. This means that it contains a protocol component, a domain component, subdirectories, and a path, which is an optional element.
For example, if you want to visit GoDaddy.com and get yourself a domain name, that’s the domain you want to access. However, the full URL would look like this: https://www.GoDaddy.com. Here’s how you can identify the URL components.
· The https:// element indicates the protocol, which in this case is secure
· The GoDaddy.com component is the domain name with its own subcomponents
· A path would appear after the .com to indicate which HTML page of the website you’re viewing
Simply put, domain names differ from URLs in that they’re only the name component of a URL or complete web address.
There are three main types of domains you should know about before buying your own.
Generic Top-Level Domains
Generic top-level domains contain a type of extension that doesn’t require a particular set of criteria. A generic top-level domain, or gTLD, is associated with specific agencies and organizations.
Some domains classified as gTLDs will be reserved and restricted to general applicants. As previously mentioned, these are domains like .gov that only governmental agencies and partners use, .edu reserved for academic institutions, and others.
It’s worth mentioning that the .org domains, while cheaper, can mislead users. People going to a .org website expect it to be an organization, not a service provider, personal blog, or online store.
Country Code Domains
Country code domains are abbreviated ccTLDs and are usually very intuitive and easy to spot in a domain name. The “cc” or country code refers to the two letters used to indicate specific geolocations and countries.
Here are some country code domain examples.
· “.uk” for the United Kingdom
· “.ca” for Canada
· “.au” for Australia
· “.de” for Germany
· “.cn” for China
· “.nl” for the Netherlands
· “.br” for Brazil
The list can go on, as almost all countries have ccTLDs.
Although .com extensions may get the most hits, ccTLDs are quite important. What’s more, each country can set its own criteria for obtaining a ccTLD.
But because international regulations have allowed countries to control their ccTLDs, some of them elect to sell them. A great example of this is the .tv domain. Websites ending in .tv extensions are among the most visited because they’re created for entertainment purposes, like twitch.tv, and others.
But years ago, the .tv ccTLD belonged to the sovereign state of Tuvalu. The country saw little need to maintain its ccTLD and decided to sell it to a private company for millions of dollars.
Fortunately, that money was also well spent on IT infrastructure and admission into the UN.
While this can happen in smaller countries, well-developed nations are unlikely to see any benefit in selling their ccTLDs to private buyers. Besides, the .tv ccTLD had a lucky abbreviation. Not all other two-letter identifiers would have the same impact on commercial operations.
Internationalized Country Code Domains
An internationalized country code domain, or IDNccTLD, is the main unique identifier of a URL or second-level domain of a domain name. But what makes it different from the other types?
This type of domain can be displayed using Chinese characters, Cyrillic letters, and other non-Latin symbols and characters. It allows much more personalization for domain names and makes them even more country or region-specific than adding a simple ccTLD.
Why Use a Domain Name?
Using a domain name isn’t exactly mandatory. However, buying one is the only way to gain ownership of a website address. As long as you own the domain, the website and all of its contents are yours to manage as you see fit, or flip for a nice profit.
But there are other reasons to consider getting a domain name.
You won’t see a company like Coca-Cola use an official website address that’s just a string of numbers. You also won’t see it use a name, moniker, or any other type of identifier that isn’t associated with the brand.
Domain names are often registered to match, resemble, or establish brand identity. No matter where a web user travels from the homepage, be it a blog, support page, checkout, or other areas, a domain name helps with consistency.
Being Memorable to Users
How difficult is it to remember a phone number? At least some phone numbers spell out words. IP addresses, however, are even harder to remember and type into a browser.
If you’re running an online business, you want your website address to be memorable to users and easy to find. It will keep them coming back for more and will help increase your traffic. Hence, you need to come up with a memorable domain.
Slowly Building Authority
Posting the right type of informational content can help you become an authority and the go-to expert in your niche. That doesn’t mean search engines agree with your audience. Gaining authority and increasing your rank among search engine results requires serious uptime. As more time passes, your registered domain gains more authority.
Of course, the quicker you get a domain, the faster you can start uploading content, interacting with users, selling products, creating a strong internal link and backlink system, etc. Newer domains are more challenging to push up the ranking ladder.
One of the biggest concerns in cybersecurity is the sheer volume of unsecured and untrustworthy websites. They’re often used in phishing scams to spread malicious code, ruin people’s reputations, and other nefarious schemes.
If you have a popular company or a reputable brand, others may try to capitalize on your name and create fake websites. Then, they’ll trick your audience into buying their products, subscribing to newsletters, sharing personal information, etc.
Getting a domain name is one of the quickest ways to establish some online credibility, especially when it aligns with your company’s name. Not only can it help prevent others from infringing on your intellectual property, but it can make web users feel more secure and comfortable when browsing your website.
That should make them more likely to create accounts, buy products and services, and interact with you or the community.
Protecting Your Domain
Even when you register a domain name, there’s nothing really stopping others from creating fake websites with similar domains to yours.
However, there is something you can do to take down those websites, get compensated by someone using a similar domain name for financial gain, and even take ownership of other domains.
Doing that requires two simple steps. The first step is to register your company’s trademark. The second step is to use that trademark when creating the domain name and registering the domain to your company.
If you have a more complex enterprise structure with multiple subsidiaries, you may wish to contact a trademark registration attorney to determine the best course of action. But for the bare minimum of protection, you must ensure the domain is registered to a company or subsidiary licensed to use your company’s or brand’s trademark.
Buying a Domain Name
Companies that sell and manage domain names are known as registrars. Depending on what type of domain you want and the budget available, you have two registrar choices.
You can either work with a corporate domain registrar or a retail or commercial domain name registrar to get your domain name registration.
Corporate Domain Name Registrar
A corporate registrar usually manages domain names for the world’s largest corporations and businesses. MarkMonitor is a perfect example of a trustworthy registrar with ties to top brands.
Retail Domain Name Registrar
But smaller companies and individual internet users are more accustomed to registrars like GoDaddy, Google, and Network Solutions. Of the three, GoDaddy is arguably the biggest name in the industry, having registered over 70 million domains.
For comparison, Google, easily the most essential search engine today and one of the biggest tech companies, only has a little over 7.9 million registered domains as of 2022.
Granted, your choice will have various implications on domain security, management, name options, visibility, and price. But sticking with the industry’s biggest names is a good choice.
Once you pick your registrar, you must start looking for domains that fit your brand identity, company, project, services, etc. Remember that your goal is to make it memorable and solidify your brand identity.
Domain Name Requirements and Pricing
Make sure your desired domain name meets your requirements. Interestingly enough, your domain can be as short as a single character, and must not exceed 63 characters.
Regarding prices, domain names can range between tens of dollars and millions of dollars, especially for certain words, phrases, and existing and already popular domains.
Can You Get a Free Domain?
You can get a free domain name from web hosting service providers and free domain registrars. However, these domains rarely give you sufficient personalization options, quality extensions, good management, or help build authority. This means you might not find a valid domain name that suits your brand.
Besides, a free domain name from a web hosting provider isn’t actually free, because you only get it after paying for the hosting service.
Are You Ready to Register Your Domain?
The unique identifier for your website, its domain name, is arguably the most important online identifier for your personal brand or company, aside from a well-known logo.
To stand out among competitors and differentiate your website from fake ones, you must register a domain name that’s relevant to your brand.
The process is straightforward and the costs aren’t that high either, unless you plan on buying an already-established domain. Personalize it to fit your brand and make it memorable for your audience, register it to your company, and don’t forget to renew it on time, or you can lose it.
Frequently Asked Questions
How many domain types are there?
There are three main types of domains with tens, hundreds, and thousands of registrations. These include second-level domains, top-level domains, and subdomains or third-level domains.
What’s the difference between a website and a domain?
A website contains multiple linked web pages or a single web page with site files that are contained on a web host. A domain, or domain name, is the website’s name and serves as an easy identifier that helps users connect to the website’s IP address.
Do you buy or rent a domain name?
Domain names are typically bought. If you get it, you own it, and can do whatever you want with it. However, the ownership can expire after a set period of time, which is why domain names must also be renewed. The last domain owner has renewal priority.
Author: Tibor Moes
Founder & Chief Editor at SoftwareLab
Tibor is a Dutch engineer and entrepreneur. He has tested security software since 2014.
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