Imagine that everybody in the world used their Social Security number or their telephone number instead of their name… If names didn’t exist, you’d be forced to invent them, or you’d never be able to identify your closest friends, let alone casual acquaintances you’d met only a couple of times!
Domain names were invented to fill a similar need on the Internet. Most computers connected to the Internet are identified by a unique number called an IP address (for instance, 126.96.36.199). IP addresses are neither intuitive (they don’t correspond to a geographical location) nor easy to remember (you can prove that by glancing away from this page and then trying to quote the example IP address above!)
If you type the IP address into the URL bar of your browser you will be taken to the web site it relates to. As well as being hard to remember, however, IP addresses are also FIXED (i.e. if you change web hosting companies you’ll need to get a new IP address for your site).
Domain names offer a more intuitive way to name and find a website. Each domain name replaces a string of meaningless numbers (an IP address) with a simple word or expression. That’s the theory – in practice, domain names can be pretty obscure too.
The Structure of a Domain Name
Let’s look in more detail at a domain name, using our web site’s domain name as an example. This site’s domain name is sibername.com – you can check this easily by looking at in the URL or location bar of your browser.
.com is the top domain under which my domain name is registered. There are heaps of different top domains out there, from commercial (.com) through to non-profit (.org) and even country-specific top domains such as France (.fr) and Italy (.it). Every domain name is registered under a top domain of some kind. The top domain is often known as the domain extension. These terms are one and the same.
Don’t be caught out: .com is pronounced “dot-com”. Other international domains, such as .net or .org are pronounced “dot-net” and “dot-org” respectively. Country-specific domain names, on the other hand, tend to get spelled out. .jp is pronounced “dot-jay-pee” for instance.
sibername is the sub-domain of my domain name. This is the part of the domain name that I was able to choose – I made it up when I registered a domain name.
The top domain and sub-domain together make up what people call a domain name. If you asked me what my site’s domain was, I would reply “sibername.com”
One of the best things about domain names is that they are unique. I can relax in the knowledge that there is nobody else out there who owns the domain name “sibername.com”. This is because all domain names are recorded in a central database, and each record in the database must be unique. This is also what makes some domain names quite valuable
Always remember that when we talk about “owning” a domain name, we are really talking about the exclusive right to use that name. It is not possible to own a domain name outright, and you will have to pay a periodic renewal fee to keep this “right to use” your domain name. Also, since you don’t own the name itself, under certain circumstances a court can take your right to use a domain name away from you.
Like it or hate it, this is the way the whole domain name system has been set up, and run for over 10 years. So you are going to have to accept this rather strange way of working with domain names.
Here are a few examples of domain names that you may already be familiar with. They belong to well-known companies or organizations.