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Domains or domain names are a crucial first step in creating a website. Your domain name is how search engines like DuckDuckGo or Google discover your content, products, services, or business. But you still might be wondering what is a domain name and how it’s used. Fortunately, we’re here to explain everything there is to know about domains so that you will have a clear understanding of them and how you can secure one of your own.
What Is a Domain Name?
Domain names are essentially your website’s address online. A domain name is part of a web address that individuals type into their browsers to visit a website. It is a string of text that links to a string of numbers called the Internet Protocol (IP) address. A domain can have a maximum length of 63 characters.
An IP address, which consists of four decimal numbers ranging from 0 to 255 and separated by periods, is assigned to every computer that connects to a web server. IP addresses are great for computers but not so much for humans. After all, it’s not fun or practical if you had to remember various IP addresses just to visit a website. This is why domains were created as a human-friendly way to access a website’s IP address.
The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) is responsible for managing all domain registrations. It also allocates and assigns IP addresses, runs accreditation systems for domain registrars, and keeps a centralized database of all domain names and their IPs.
What Does a Domain Look Like?
A domain typically consists of one or more words and the extension (i.e. .com). An example of a domain is codeberry.net.
The domain is only one part of a website address. It also consists of other parts, including the URL (Universal Resource Locator). A URL usually consists of a protocol, domain name, and path but it can also contain a subdirectory and more. Let’s break this down using the URL https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Internet as an example:
- Protocol – (https://)
- Subdomain – (en.)
- Domain name – (wikipedia)
- Extension or Top-Level-Domain (TLD) – (.org)
- Subdirectory – (/wiki)
- Path – (/Internet)
What Are Domains Used For?
Aside from being your website’s online address, people use domains for several reasons.
To Create an Online Presence
The primary reason people use domains is to create an online presence that they can control. Some people use domain names as a personal space for a blog, online resume, or portfolio for artistic endeavors like photography, digital art, or music. Others use domains to create an online business like a Software as a Service (SaaS) or ecommerce store. Businesses or individuals tend to use a domain to create informational websites about their services or physical products.
To Gain Ownership
Technically, no one really owns a domain name. You’re essentially renting a domain name for as little as one year and upwards of several years, renewing it as it comes close to the expiration date.
Nevertheless, when you purchase a domain name with a specific TLD, no one else can own that particular web address while you own it. You have the ability to create whatever website you want for your domain.
You can also own a domain to use for your own personal email if you want to opt out of free email services. Say that you decide to purchase example.com. You can now set up firstname.lastname@example.org and use it as your primary or only email account.
To Establish Your Brand’s Identity
One of the primary reasons people own domains is to establish and claim their brand’s identity online. This is particularly true when you have a domain name that matches or resembles your company or business name. The domain that you choose reinforces your brand’s identity along with its logo and other design assets.
To Establish Credibility
A domain name that aligns with your company name establishes credibility, which makes your website appear more professional and legitimate. Along with branding, your domain builds trust with your website’s visitors. This helps them feel comfortable purchasing a service or digital product or taking actions like downloading a free e-book or signing up for an email newsletter.
While you can use online web builders and services like WordPress.com that provide you with a free subdomain, you should aim to own a custom domain name. A domain like example.com is going to appear more credible than example.wordpress.com.
To Build Authority
Having a domain name can also help you predict how likely your website will appear in the Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs) compared to your competitors. While creating high-quality content and establishing brand relevancy is important, there are also other things to consider.
One of the key factors is the age of your domain; the older the domain, the more authority it has online. This is because it has built up internal links and backlinks over time, which is important for Search Engine Optimization (SEO).
How Domains Work
As previously stated, every computer has an IP address that connects to the internet or network. In order for a computer to connect to a specific website, the domain has to convert from a string of letters back to a string of numbers. The domain name system (DNS) is responsible for translating every domain name into a computer-readable IP address.
Whenever you type the URL (which includes the domain) into your web browser, a request is sent to DNS servers. Next, these DNS servers, which are managed by a web hosting provider, search for the servers connected to that specific domain name and forward your request to them. After finding the IP address, they will send the request to the web server (also referred to as the domain server) that stores or hosts the domain’s website files. Finally, the web server uses the IP to locate all of the files associated with it and send the data back to the browser for you to view. This entire send and retrieval process to display the domain’s content typically takes a few seconds.
Domains and hosting aren’t the same; however, you do need both in order to display a website online.
Hosting is a service provided by a web hosting provider. Because domains and hosting are codependent, most web hosts offer the ability to purchase both a domain and hosting through the same company. However, you can purchase your domain separately from domain registrars like Domain.com, Name.com, Namecheap, and Network Solutions. Next, you’ll want to add it to a web hosting provider such as Bluehost, Dreamhost, A2 Hosting, or Scalahosting.
The Different Types of Domains
There are three types of domains: top-level, second-level, and third-level. All these domain types serve different purposes.
A top-level domain, or domain extension, is the last part of a domain name that comes after the dot (.), such as .com, .org, .net, .io, or .co.uk. There are several types of TLDs:
- Generic Top-Level Domains (gTLDs)
- Sponsored Top-Level Domains (sTLDs)
- Country Code Top-Level Domains (ccTLDs)
- Infrastructure Top-Level Domains
- Test Top-Level Domains (tTLDs)
- Unofficial Top-Level Domains
The primary purpose of TLDs is to provide a category or classification of websites.
The second-level domain is the unique name for your website. It’s part of your domain that comes before a domain extension or TLD. For example, “codeberry” is the second-level domain in codeberry.net.
When purchasing a domain, make sure that you secure a second-level domain that represents your business or brand. You want a domain name that is recognizable to your website’s visitors or customers.
Third-level domains are more commonly known as subdomains. This is the part of the domain that appears on the left side of the second-level domain. In the following example, “resources” is the subdomain in resources.github.com.
Subdomains are useful when managing areas of your website that require their own hierarchy, such as a support portal, online store, or blog. Additionally, some services like GitHub Pages (i.e. example.github.io) and Weebly (i.e. example.weebly.com) offer free subdomains for registered users.
Choosing and Setting Up a Domain
When it comes to choosing a domain, this is not always the easy process it once was. Based on VeriSign’s first quarter report for 2023, there were 354.0 million domain name registrations completed in that period alone. As a result, competition for domains is high, and finding a domain that you want and is available for purchase can be difficult. This is why you have to be creative when it comes to choosing a domain that fits your brand or business.
The process of purchasing a domain is straightforward. Search for the domain name in a domain registrar, check its availability and price, and then buy it, if it’s in your price range. After you receive your purchase confirmation, you’re now ready to connect your new domain to a web hosting provider.
It’s worth noting that you can purchase domains through either a domain registrar or a web hosting service. Generally, we recommend using separate services – one only for domain registration and the other to host your domain.
Domains are an important part of what makes the internet work so easily for everyone. It’s how we connect with businesses, services, and other people through applications like Facebook, Reddit, or YouTube.
The amazing thing about domains is that anyone can own one. So whether you want to start a blog, eCommerce shop, or the next great tech business, you now have information on what is a domain name and how it’s used online for various purposes.