What is a domain name?

What is a domain name?

So you’ve seen all the ridiculous GoDaddy ads and you’ve been asking yourself, what is a domain name?

You probably know that it’s what you type into a browser’s address bar in order to get to a website. But how about a li’l more information to elevate your geek status?

IP Addresses

The domain name you type into your browser is actually not the location of the website you’re hunting down, but rather a human-friendly representation of an Internet Protocol (IP) resource. The thing is that computers don’t need friendly names like about.com to make remembering easier. Domain names are basically the equivalent of those 800 numbers that the convert to words, like 1-800-HOT-LOVE, instead of 1-800-468-5683

Alright, so after a domain name is created it is added to the Domain Names System (DNS) where it is connected to the appropriate IP address. Websites actually reside at addresses that look like this:

Go ahead and click it – it will take you to Wikipedia’s website.

Obviously, this would be ridiculously hard to remember, so thank nerd-kind that we have the DNS to make our lives a little bit easier.

Domain Name Components

A domain name is actually composed of a few different parts, so let’s break it down.

The .com (or .net, .org, .biz, .co, etc) is called the Top-Level Domain, or TLD. Specifically, these are all referred to as generic Top-Level Domain, or gTLD.

There are also country code Top-Level Domains, or ccTLDs. These include things like .jp for japan and .es for Spain (España).

While these TLDs were originally intended to be used for websites originating in a specific country, sometimes they are used to create what are referred to as domain hacks. Basically, this is when you create a domain name that is a phrase or term. A couple of examples are go.to (Tonga), or YouTube’s shortlink Youtu.be (Belgium).

The second-level domain is the part of a domain name to the left of the TLD. So, for this website, the second-level domain is “marketingbeast.”

Subdomains are what might precede the second-level domain, including “www”. A very common subdomain is “blog”, for instance, http://blog.example.com.

You may have heard the term URL before. It means Uniform Resource Locator and refers to an entire name string, such as http://blog.example.com/great-article.html.

Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN)

ICANN is a nonprofit organization that is responsible for managing the DNS and the releasing of TLDs to the public through domain registrars. They also manage the internet’s WHOIS lookup, which allows anyone to look up the owner of any registered domain. There are services, however, that allow you to make this information private, like WHOIS Guard. My favorite domain registrar, Namecheap, provides a year of this service for free!

Domain Name Registrars

When you’re ready to purchase a domain name, you will get one through a domain name registrar such as GoDaddy, or my preferred choice Namecheap. Once you’ve purchased your domain name, then you’ll just have to update the DNS through your registrar to point it at your web host, whereby it will be routed to your hosted website.

Questions? Ask them in the comments below!

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