What is a Domain Name?
A domain name refers to the address of your website. A domain name is not something physical that you can touch or see. It is a string of characters that give your website an identity (yes, a name, like humans and businesses).
Examples of domain names: Google.com, Alexa.com, Linux.org, Yahoo.co.uk, and WebHostingSecretRevealed.net. All domain names are unique. This means there can be only one alexa.com in the world. You cannot register a name once it is registered by others (governed by ICANN).
Understanding Domain Name Structure
The structure of a domain name comprises several parts. The three common parts are subdomain, second-level domain, and top-level domain.
At the highest level, we have the top-level domain (TLD). Top Level Domains (TLDs) are a set of generic names in the hierarchy – COM, NET, ORG, EDU, INFO, BIZ, CO.UK, and so on. The official list of all top-level domains is maintained by the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) at the Root Zone Database. As of April 2023, there are 1,547 TLDs in our domain name system (see official stats at ICANN).
Examples of TLDs
Some commonly seen TLDs are as below:
COM, NET, ORG, EDU, INFO, BIZ, CO.UK, BIZ, BR, CA, CN, CO, CO.JP, COM.SG, COM.MY, EDU, ES, FR, INFO, MOBI, TECH, RU, UK, US,
Some less-known TLDs include:
AF, AX, BAR, BUSINESS, BID, EXPERT, GURU, JOBS, MOBI, TECH, ESTATE, WIEN, WTF, WOW, XYZ
While most of these TLDs are open for public registration, there are strict regulations on certain domain registration.
Also, certain extensions of these TLDs are used to describe the ‘characteristics’ of the website – like BIZ for businesses, EDU for education (schools, universities, colleagues, etc), ORG for public organizations, and country code top-level domain names for locations.
Country Code Top Level Domains (ccTLDs)
A country code top-level domain (ccTLD) is a two-letter Internet top-level domain specifically assigned to a country or a dependent territory. These are based on the ISO 3166-1 alpha-2 country codes. For example, “.us” is the ccTLD for the United States. The “.uk” is for the United Kingdom, “.fr” for France, “.jp” for Japan, and so on.
Below is the full list of country code top-level domains (ccTLDs) ordered in alphabet order.
.ac .ad .ae .af .ag .ai .al .am .an .ao .aq .ar .as .at .au .aw .ax .az .ba .bb .bd .be .bf .bg .bh .bi .bj .bm .bn .bo .br .bs .bt .bw .by .bz .ca .cc .cd .cf .cg .ch .ci .ck .cl .cm .cn .co .cr .cu .cv .cx .cy .cz .de .dj .dk .dm .do .dz .ec .ee .eg .er .es .et .eu .fi .fj .fk .fm .fo .fr .ga .gd .ge .gf .gg .gh .gi .gl .gm .gn .gp .gq .gr .gs .gt .gu .gw .gy .hk .hm .hn .hr .ht .hu .id .ie .il .im .in .io .iq .ir .is .it .je .jm .jo .jp .ke .kg .kh .ki .km .kn .kp .kr .kw .ky .kz .la .lb .lc .li .lk .lr .ls .lt .lu .lv .ly .ma .mc .md .me .mg .mh .mk .ml .mm .mn .mo .mp .mq .mr .ms .mt .mu .mv .mw .mx .my .mz .na .nc .ne .nf .ng .ni .nl .no .np .nr .nu .nz .om .pa .pe .pf .pg .ph .pk .pl .pn .pr .ps .pt .pw .py .qa .re .ro .rs .ru .rw .sa .sb .sc .sd .se .sg .sh .si .sk .sl .sm .sn .sr .st .sv .sy .sz .tc .td .tf .tg .th .tj .tk .tl .tm .tn .to .tr .tt .tv .tw .tz .ua .ug .uk .us .uy .uz .va .vc .ve .vg .vi .vn .vu .wf .ws .ye .za .zm .zw
Regulations on ccTLDs
For those users who are seeking to register a country-specific domain name option, a good portion of the registration process will be dedicated to determining whether or not the customer is a resident of that country and therefore legally permitted to purchase one of its country-specific top-level domains (will talk about this later).
For example, the registration of country code top-level domains (like .co.uk for the United Kingdom) is restricted for the citizens of the corresponding country; and the activities with such domains' websites are ruled by local regulations and cyber laws.
Second Level Domain
Next in the hierarchy comes the second-level domain (SLD). This portion typically sits directly to the left of the TLD and is the most recognizable part of the domain name, often serving as the name of the website.
For instance, in the domain name ‘google.com', ‘google' is the SLD. This name is usually chosen by the person or organization that registers the domain and can often be a trademark or brand name.
Lastly, subdomains are optional elements that appear to the left of the SLD. They help organize and navigate different sections of a website. For example, ‘blog.google.com' uses ‘blog' as a subdomain to direct visitors to Google's blog section.
You can freely add a subdomain to your registered domain as long as your web host provides the service.
How to Buy A Domain Name?
Getting your own domain boils down to two ways:
- Buying and registering an entirely new domain, or
- Purchasing one that's currently owned by someone else.
There are pros and cons to both ways but ultimately, it's up to you whether you prefer to pay for expensive but well-known addresses (domains that are active) or cheaper but lesser-known ones (brand-new domains).
We will look at both ways to buy a domain name below.
Registering a New Domain
1. Check for domain availability
Once you’ve decided on your domain name, it’s time to check whether that particular name you is available. Perform a simple search with one of the domain registrars (for instance Namecheap); or, use a Whois search engine to verify whether your domain name is available or has been taken.
If the domain name you want is not available, try to see if different extensions are available instead.
2. Register your domain name with a registrar
The domain name you’ve chosen is perfect and you’ve verified that it is available, now it's time to actually register the domain name itself. Just add your desired domain to the cart and proceed to payments, and the domain is now yours.
Buying an Existing Domain
If your desired domain name is taken, you can reach out and purchase it from the existing owner; and transfer the ownership of the domain through an escrow service.
What is a Domain Name Escrow?
A Domain Name Escrow basically an independent third-party agent that assists in the selling-buying process of domain names on the internet. These sites provide a safe way for buyers to purchase domain names from sellers who want to let go of their domain name.
For those who are planning to buy their first domain, we discuss everything you need to know about buying a domain in another guide – from how much to pay for a new domain to choosing the right domain registrar and old domain name valuation. Please read further in that guide.
Should You Get Your Domain Name and Web Hosting from the Same Provider?
Should you purchase domain names and hosting services at the same place? Well, like many things online – the answer is “It depends”.
Doing so ensures that my domain remains in my hands in case anything goes awry with my hosting provider. It is much easier to move to a new hosting company when you register your domain with a third party. Otherwise, you wind up having to wait for your hosting company to release your domain. This can get tricky since they are also losing your hosting business.
However, many webmasters do buy their domain and host it at the same place. Here's a different opinion quoted from Twitter:
Who's Governing the Domain Registration Process?
Things are a lot more complicated from a domain registrar's point of view.
Domain registration processes are governed by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, or ICANN.
This governing body is essentially a global regulator of best practices for registrars, web hosts, and the clients who interact with them.
According to the body’s standards, all customers registering a domain name must be prepared to furnish contact information for themselves, their organization, their business, and even their employer in some cases.
Abuse of Domain Names
Two similar domain names at a glance may be mistaken for each other unless you’re paying attention to the domain name extension. This system is often exploited by domain name squatters who hijack domain names or register similar domain names in the hops that legitimate businesses will buy those domain names from them.
One example of this is if a scammer registers a domain name such as Citibank.tk and tries to pass it off as the real Citibank website. Some visitors may be fooled by the site and enter personal details there by mistake. Even if they do not set up scam sites, domain name squatters often infringe on trademarks, often with the intent of selling them at inflated prices to owners of those trademarks.
The SteveJob.com domain case is another example. The domain used to be owned by a South Korean who goes by the name Steve Jobs Kim and he used the domain to publish technology-related news and articles. The case was resolved in December 2019 – where The Steve Jobs Archive, LLC, a trust run by Steve Jobs's widow, Laurene Powell Jobs, won the right to own the domain name.
In some cases, similarities could be entirely innocent, such as in the case of Canadian teenager Mike Rowe, who registered the domain MikeRoweSoft for his web design business. Microsoft (the company) was not amused and sued, issuing cease and desist notices.
Domain Name WhoIs data
Every domain name has a publicly accessible record that includes the owner’s personal information such as owner name, contact number, mailing address, and domain registration as well as expiry date.
It’s called a WhoIs record and lists the registrant and contacts for the domain.
As required by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), the domain owners must make these contact information available on WHOIS directories. These records are available anytime to anyone who does a simple WhoIs lookup.
In other words, if someone wants to know who owns a website, all they to do is run a quick WHOIS search, type the domain name and voila, they have access to the website registration details.
Domain privacy is a service, usually offered by domain registrars, to protect their customers' personal and business information. Domain Privacy replaces your WHOIS info with the info of a forwarding service done by a proxy server.
In result, your personal info, such as physical address, emails, telephone number, etc is hide from the public. Domain privacy is important because your domain record (ie. the WhoIs data) may also be used in ways that aren’t legitimate or desirable. Since anyone can look up a WhoIs record, spammers, hackers, identity thieves and stalkers may access your personal information!
Unethical companies check domain expiration dates then send official looking “renewal” notices in an attempt to get the domain owners to transfer domains to their company, or send invoices that are service solicitations for search engine submissions and other questionable services.
Both email and snail mail spammers use the WhoIs databases to harvest domain owners' email and contact domain owners with solicitations as well.
What is the Domain Name System?
The Domain Name System, or DNS for short, is a system that converts domain names into IP addresses. It works magic behind the scenes, helping web servers deliver the right content every time. Yet, few understand the intricacies of how this fantastic system works.
The Internet works by connecting devices through an address that uses numbers instead of letters. Each device has a unique IP address. All of this information sites on DNS servers. The important thing here is that DNS servers eliminate the need for humans to memorize IP addresses.
All you need to know is the domain name of a website, and the DNS does the rest.
What Are DNS Servers?
DNS servers are computers that store a database of domain names and their IP addresses. They are responsible for resolving domain names to IP addresses and maintaining and updating the database of domain names and IP addresses.
These servers are simply computers put to work at a specific job. They are only intended to support the DNS system and don’t need to do anything else. There are two kinds of DNS servers; Authoritative DNS Servers and Recursive DNS Servers.
Authoritative DNS Servers
Authoritative DNS servers are the ones that have the authority to answer queries. When a user types in a domain name and clicks “enter,” their computer sends a query to one of these authoritative DNS servers. These authoritative DNS servers then respond with all the information about that domain or subdomain.
Authoritative nameservers are authoritative for a specific domain or subdomain, so if you want to look up information about google.com, your computer will send its request to an authoritative server for Google's namespace (in this case, Google's primary nameserver).
Suppose there isn't an answer on any of Google's nameservers. In that case, it will send its request off-site by following referrals until it finds an answer somewhere else (which might take several hops), which will often be another company's server hosting services for another website such as Facebook or Blogger).
Recursive DNS Servers
Recursive DNS servers are the backbone of the Internet. Even if you're unaware, your computer uses recursive DNS servers daily to access websites and other resources on the Internet.
After you type a URL in your web browser, that URL goes to the recursive DNS server. The recursive DNS server then examines its cache memory to see whether the IP address for the URL is already stored.
If the IP address information already exists, the recursive DNS server will send the IP address to the browser. You can then see the website for which they typed in the URL.
Recursive DNS servers also provide additional security for Internet users by blocking malicious websites from accessing your computer or mobile device. If you attempt to visit an unsafe website, such as one that contains malware or viruses, the recursive DNS server blocks the request.
How a DNS Lookup Works
When you type a URL in your web browser, the following steps take place:
The user's computer sends a query for the IP address associated with that URL.
The resolver queries its root nameserver for an IP address associated with the TLD (Top-Level Domain) name requested by the client. For example, suppose you try to connect to www.google.com. In that case, the resolver will ask its root server for “com” and receive back a TLD record giving it all possible addresses that could contain records pointing to Google servers on the Internet or intranets connected to it (e.g., 204.232/16).
The resolver then sends requests for each address until it finds one that responds correctly with an A record containing information about how many more hops there are before reaching some machine running Google's web service software (e.g., 74/8).
Once we find the destination server, we just need one more thing from them before sending our request: their public key certificate identifying itself as the right destination.
Types of DNS Queries
There are three types of DNS queries – recursive, iterative, and non-recursive. Recursive queries are the most common type of query. Applications like web browsers or email clients mainly use these queries. However, each query serves a distinct function.
1. Recursive Query
In a recursive query, a DNS client requires that a DNS server (typically a DNS recursive resolver) responds to the client with either the requested resource record or an error message if the resolver can't find the record.
2. Iterative Query
In this situation, the DNS client will allow a DNS server to return its best answer. If the queried DNS server does not have a match for the query name, it will produce a referral to a DNS server authoritative for a lower level of the domain namespace.
The DNS client will then make a query to the referral address. This process continues with additional DNS servers down the query chain until an error or timeout occurs.
3. Non-recursive Query
Typically this will occur when a DNS resolver client queries a DNS server for a record that it has access to either because it's authoritative for the record or because it exists inside of its cache.
What is DNS Caching?
DNS caching occurs when a DNS server stores the results of its query in a local cache. It then sends those cached records to requesting clients instead of sending them back to the authoritative DNS servers.
This process can help speed up Internet browsing because it reduces the number of queries that need to be made by your computer or mobile device. However, in some situations, DNS caching can result in errors you can only resolve by waiting or clearing the cache.
The other alternative is to disable the cache, but it is not a recommended step since it will slow down your web browsing.
In conclusion, understanding domain names and DNS is crucial to stay relevant in this era of digital. Your domain name is the foundation of your or your business's internet identity – make sure that you choose a memorable and relevant domain name for your website.