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How Domain Names Work


Most people understand that a domain name is simply the basic web address of a web site, but few people actually understand how domain names work. If you're struggling to understand the basics of how domain names function on a technical level, then the information contained herein may prove to be quite useful.

A domain name is actually a lingual representation of an IP address, which is a series of numbers separated by dots. Every web site is given an IP address, however it is much more difficult to remember this segmented sequence of numbers instead of remembering a simple phrase. This is the basic concept of domain names, but the process through which an IP address is translated into a domain names is a bit more complicated. 

Domain Name Levels

Domain names are divided into three different levels that represent different parts of a domain name. The first level (also known as the top-level) of the domain is the extension of the domain. For example,  in the domain name “www.exampledomain.com,” the .com  portion of the domain is the top-level domain (TLD).

There are also country code top-level domains that are referred to as ccTLDs.

In all, there are over 200 top-level domains (TLDs) or domain name extensions to choose from, most of which are country code TLDs.  Generic TLDs contain three or four letters, like .com, .net, .org, or .info, while country code top-level domains usually contain two letters following a .co, such as .co.uk (United Kingdom) or .co.in (India).

A complete list of country code TLDs can be found on the official IANA web site.

Domain Name Formatting

Domain names have to be at least two characters long and cannot exceed 63 characters total (minus the TLD). Domain names can include any combinations of numbers, letters and hyphens, but cannot contain any other symbols or spaces. The first and last characters of a domain name cannot be a hyphen.

Connecting Domain Names to IP Addresses

When you type in a domain name in the address bar of your browser, you're actually connecting to a specific IP address. The domain name is directly associated with this IP address upon registration, and the connection of domain names to IP addresses is managed and regulated by ICANN ( Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers).

The best analogy for domain names and IP addresses would be vanity phone numbers – you can call some numbers by inputting a word or phrase into the keypad of the phone, but in reality, you're actually accessing a phone number through your telephone line. Technically, you can enter the IP address of a web site into your browser and it will appear as usual, but this is rarely done because it is much less convenient.

Domain Name Registration

In order to associate a domain name with a web site or an IP address, you must first register the domain (by purchasing it).  Registering a domain name is simple and requires no special skills or prerequisites.
ICANN continuously maintains a list of accredited domain registrars from which you can purchase domain names.

Domains are registered for a specified time period, after which the domain expires and is open for new registration by another individual or business. When a domain registration is about to expire, the registrant of the domain is notified via email or phone call within two weeks of the expiration date.

It is important to note that intellectual property rights do apply to domain names, so you are not legally allowed to register a domain name that contains a term or phrase that is trademarked or copyrighted.

Pointing a Domain Name

After registering a domain name, it is necessary to point the domain name to a web site. This can usually be done within the control panel of the domain registrar's web site. Simply change the name servers of your domain, and it will be pointed towards whichever nameserver you'd like.

Usually, you will need to obtain the names of these nameservers from your web hosting company.  Most web hosts will include information on how to point your domain in the proper fashion.

It is important to note that it can take anywhere from a couple of minutes to several days for a domain to become active on the internet after the official completion of registration and nameserver adjustments.

Other Articles:
An Introduction to Buying and Selling Domain Names
The Basics of Domain Name Registration
Understanding The Value of Domain Names
What is the Domain Name System?
What is a DNS Server?
What Are DNS Records?
Common TLDs and Their Uses
What is a DNS Lookup?
Types of DNS Servers
The Difference Between DNS and Name Servers
The Benefits of Country Code TLDs
How to Create a Name Server
How to Choose the Right TLD for Your Domain
When to Use Domain Forwarding