Domaining for Beginners, Part 1: What is a Domain Name?

Image via The Customize Windows

Image via The Customize Windows

Welcome to Domaining for Beginners, where we’ll focus on the basics of domains and look at everything from how to choose a good domain name to how new top-level domains are affecting the industry. 

45% of NamesCon attendees in 2016 and 2017 were first-timers, so we’ve created this “Domains 101” content series to help newcomers make sense of our exciting industry. 

Part 1 of Domaining for Beginners will look at what a domain name is, and how a domain name works.

Chances are you’ve heard the term domain name before, but have you ever wondered what it actually means? Domain Name System, or DNS, is a naming system that provides addresses to web servers and pages. It’s also commonly known as the “Phonebook of the Internet.” 

Domain names are used to find and identify computers on the Internet in place of Internet Protocol (IP) addresses, which are strings of numbers. The benefit of domain names is that they are much easier to remember, and can be used to represent one more IP addresses. After all, it just doesn’t seem that efficient to memorize a bunch of numbers, and it would make surfing the web much harder. 

A DNS is required for every web server so that it can translate each domain name into its’ matching IP address. They work within a hierarchy that includes a top-level domain and a second level domain. The second level domain is the name of the website – everything to the left of the dot in the domain name. This defines the site’s identity. It could technically be anything you want, but it has to be unique. An effective and desirable domain (considered “premium” within the industry) comes with a whole range of qualifications that help determine how much each domain is worth—but more on that later.

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Images via namecheap

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To the right of the dot is the top-level domain (TLD), or in our case, “.com.” Every domain name will have a suffix that will indicates what TLD it belongs to, including but not limited to: gov, org, edu, net, ca, etc.  Since 1985—which is when .com was first used—a number of new TLDs have been created, and as of 2017, there are over 880 domain extensions, including .blog, .net, .web, .global, and many others. These new TLDs give businesses an opportunity to select a TLD that better fits their brand. We’ll give new TLDs a closer look in a future installment of Domaining for Beginners. 

When you type in a domain name into your web browser, the DNS system automatically translates it into the IP address. When the IP address is found, your computer connects with the web host of the requested page, and the page that you are looking for is then displayed on your computer.  Think of the DNS system as your car’s GPS. This would make your domain name the address of your destination, and the IP address your destination’s longitude and latitude. Your GPS doesn’t require you to type in your destination’s coordinates and automatically “translating” your destination, generating the route you need to take. Clearly, it’s much easier to type in the address as opposed to the coordinates—just like how it’s much easier to enter a domain name than remembering a string of numbers. 

URLs are sometimes assumed to be the same thing as domain names, but this isn’t the case. The URL is a longer Internet address that provides much more information than a domain name, including things like the folder name, dates, and specific page addresses. An example of this would be the URL you see above in your browser window right now. The domain name to this page is still “namescon.com,” but the URL that you see in your URL bar also includes the title of this article and the exact location in which it exists on the website. 

Now that you know what domain names are, stay tuned for the next installment of Domaining for Beginners, which will look at what it takes to create an effective domain name for your brand.