What is a Domain Name?
A domain name is a unique name that identifies a website on the internet. For example, "facebook.com" is the domain name for Facebook's website.
When you type a website address into your browser, the domain name is the main text before the ".com", ".org", ".net", etc at the end. This main text is what uniquely identifies that website on the internet.
Domain names make it easier for people to remember and access websites, rather than having to remember more complicated IP addresses like "192.168.1.1".
How Domain Names Work
Behind the scenes, domain names work through the Domain Name System (DNS). This is like an address book that matches domain names to their corresponding IP addresses.
When you type a domain name into your browser, it contacts a DNS server to look up the IP address associated with that domain name. The DNS server returns the IP address, allowing your browser to load the correct website.
The DNS system is hierarchical and distributed. It starts with root nameservers at the top level which point to the Top Level Domains (TLDs) like .com, .org, .net. The TLD nameservers then point to the nameservers of individual domain names.
This distributed structure allows DNS lookups to happen very quickly. Local DNS servers cache results to speed up the process even further.
Top Level Domains
The ending of a domain name – the .com, .org etc – is known as the top level domain or TLD. There are two main types of top level domains:
Generic TLDs (gTLDs) – These are generic domains like .com, .org, .net that can be registered by anyone.
Country Code TLDs (ccTLDs) – These are two letter domains associated with specific countries, like .ca for Canada or .jp for Japan.
Some of the most common gTLDs include:
-.com – The most popular gTLD, used by commercial websites globally.
-.net – Originally intended for network infrastructure websites, now open to general registration.
-.org – Originally for non-profit organizations, now open to anyone.
-.info – For informational websites and services.
New gTLDs are occasionally introduced, such as .biz for businesses or .io for tech startups. There are now over 1500 gTLDs and counting.
Second Level Domains
The text before the TLD is known as the second level domain. This uniquely identifies the owner of that domain name.
For example, in "facebook.com", "facebook" is the second level domain. This identifies Facebook's website specifically.
Second level domains can be composed of letters, numbers, and hyphens. Length limits usually range from 3 to 63 characters.
With some TLDs like .com, anyone can register any unused second level domain on a first come, first served basis. Others may have restrictions – for example, you need to be in Canada to register a .ca domain.
Choosing a Good Domain Name
The ideal domain name is short, memorable, easy to spell, and conveys what you do.
Here are some tips for choosing a good one:
Include your brand name or keywords relevant to your business. This makes your name easy to remember.
Get the .com version if possible – .com is the most recognized TLD.
Make sure it's easy to spell to avoid typos sending visitors to the wrong sites.
Consider using hyphens to break up long names or phrases into memorable words.
Avoid numbers and hard to spell words that could cause confusion.
Check that the name doesn't have an unintended bad meaning in other languages.
Also ensure the domain is available – check major registrars to see if your desired name has already been registered. Services like GoDaddy allow you to search for domain availability.
How to Register a Domain Name
To register a domain name, you'll need to use a domain name registrar. Some popular options include:
The process typically involves:
Searching for availability to see if your desired domain is still available.
Registering for an account with the domain registrar.
Buying the domain name – this usually costs around $10-15 per year.
Choosing your domain privacy and auto-renewal preferences.
Entering registrant contact details like name, address etc.
Agreeing to the registrar's terms of service.
Making payment to complete registration.
Once registered, you'll manage the domain and renew it through your registrar account.
Pointing Your Domain to a Website
After registering a domain, you need to point it to the IP address of your website server to connect the domain to your actual website.
This is done by configuring the domain's DNS records – the A record specifically. This associates the domain with the correct IP address.
Get hosting for your website and setup a server, which will provide you with an IP address.
Login to your domain registrar account and find where to manage DNS records.
Create an A record that points your domain to your server's IP address.
Save the DNS changes. It takes about 48 hours for the changes to propagate.
Your domain will now display your website when visitors enter your custom domain name in their browser.
Subdomains are domains that are part of a parent domain. For example, docs.google.com and mail.google.com are subdomains of the parent domain google.com.
Subdomains can be useful for:
Organizing large websites into sections, like support.company.com for customer support.
Running different services on the same parent domain, like blog.company.com.
Isolating risky content from your main domain, like usercontent.company.com.
Subdomains are configured similarly to the main domain using DNS records. You can have unlimited subdomains on most TLDs.
What is Domain Hosting?
Domain hosting refers to renting space to store the files for your website, along with the required server infrastructure.
When you register a domain, it only reserves the domain name – it does not provide the hosting space and servers required to host an actual website.
There are two main types of hosting:
Shared hosting – Your website shares server resources with other sites. More affordable but less performance.
Dedicated hosting – The server is dedicated just to your website. More expensive but delivers faster performance.
Common hosting features include disk storage, bandwidth, email accounts, security, and technical support. Prices range from $3-20+ per month usually based on the resources provided.
Managing DNS Records
DNS records associate domain names with IP addresses and other information that directs traffic and delivers content.
Common DNS records types include:
A Record – Points a domain/subdomain to an IP address.
CNAME – Points a domain/subdomain to another domain name.
MX Record – Routes email to mail servers.
TXT Record – Provides text notes and verification for configurations.
When moving hosts or making changes, the DNS records need to be updated accordingly. This is done through the DNS management portal of your domain registrar or DNS provider.
Proper DNS configuration is crucial for directing visitors, sending email, preventing downtime, and improving security.
Renewing a Domain Name
Domain registrations expire after a set period, usually 1-10 years, after which they must be renewed to retain ownership.
Most registrars notify you when expiration approaches and facilitate easy renewals:
Auto-renew may be enabled by default, automatically charging your card on file yearly.
You can manually renew domains through your registrar account for another 1-10 years.
Renewal costs are usually around $10-20 per year depending on TLD, registrar promotions, etc.
If a domain expires and isn't renewed, it may be deleted and made available for anyone else to register. Renewing on time prevents losing your domain.
Some registrars offer services to backorder or recover expired domains within a grace period, but this can be an expensive gamble.
Transferring Domains to a New Registrar
You can transfer your domain name to a new registrar while retaining ownership. Reasons may include:
Moving domains registered across multiple registrars into one account.
Taking advantage of lower pricing or better services from competitors.
Gaining more control if domains were registered on your behalf.
The steps to transfer involve:
Unlocking the domain at the old registrar.
Requesting the transfer authorization code.
Providing this code to the new registrar to initiate transfer request.
The new registrar sends transfer approval to the registry.
The old registrar receives notice and must approve the transfer within 5 days.
Transfers may be rejected if registration or contact info is inaccurate. There is usually a 60 day lock period after transferring before you can transfer again.
Domain Whois Records
Whois is a public database that lists the registered users of domain names and blocks of IP addresses. It shows information like:
Domain creation and expiration dates
Registrar, registrant, and technical contacts
Name servers hosting DNS records
This helps identify who owns and manages a domain. It aids law enforcement and protects users from fraud or abuse.
By default domain Whois listings show registrant info publicly. Many registrars now offer paid Whois privacy services to keep your info confidential.
You can perform a Whois search at whois.com or whois.net to lookup domains and see their Whois data.
Important Things to Know
Here are some final key things for managing domains effectively:
Renew early to avoid losing domains – accidental expiration causes many issues.
Update name server and Whois info if you switch hosts or registrars.
Enable auto-renew if you want domains renewed automatically each year.
Use registrar lock to prevent unauthorized transfers out.
Create a business account and register domains under your business name if possible.
Consolidate domains at one quality registrar for easier centralized management.
Select longer registration periods like 5-10 years to push back renewal deadlines.
Understanding domains is key to presenting a professional online presence and smoothly directing visitors to your website.
In summary, domain names provide memorable identifiers for websites on the internet. They work through DNS servers that map names to website IP addresses.
Choosing short, catchy domains with popular TLDs helps drive engagement. Registering through domain registrars enables you to reserve your custom name. Proper configuration then displays your website when visitors enter your domain.
Renewals and transfers allow you to retain ownership over the long-term. Careful management of DNS records, Whois info, and auto-renew helps avoid issues like downtime or expiration.
Following this beginner's guide provides knowledge for getting the domains you want and managing them effectively for your website.