What Is a Domain Name? Domains and Domain Names Explained

If you want to have a website online, you need a web domain. Though this may sound intimidating, it’s actually quite simple; a web domain is essentially space online where your website will operate. In this article, we’ll explain what a web domain and domain name are, how they work, and the types of domains you can get or find online.

What is a domain name?

A domain, or web domain, is a network of computers that share an address space online. The domain name, then, is the title that identifies a website.

All websites are identified through an IP address by browsers and search engines. But strings of numbers are difficult for users to keep straight. Therefore, each site also uses a domain name.

Think of it like this: everyone is assigned a Social Security number once they’re born. The government uses these numbers to identify each person, but for day-to-day interactions, those numbers would be far too cumbersome to use and difficult to remember. Therefore, we’re given birth names that we use to identify each other in daily life.

Website domains essentially operate the same way. While browsers use the IP address to find a site, we use a site’s domain name instead.

How do domains work?

Web domain on laptop

Domains work via the domain name system, or DNS. The domain name system is essentially like a phone book, or directory, for the entire Internet. It links domain names to IP addresses so that when users type in a name or web address, the browser can find the corresponding IP. Once the browser gets the IP address, it’s able to connect to the hosting web server and display the contents of the right website for users to access.

Types of web domains

There are several different types of domains or domain names. Each can provide more information about a site. The four most common types of domains are top-level domains, country-code top-level domains, generic top-level domains, and second-level domains.

Top-level (TLDs)

A top-level domain, or TLD, is the highest-ranking and most important part of a domain.

It’s the identifier at the end of a name that indicates what kind of website it is – like .com, .org, .net, or even country-specific indicators like.us or .uk.

The .com TLD comprises 54% of all top-level domains, making them the most sought-after TLD.

Country-code top-level (ccTLDs)

Country-code top-level domains, or ccTLDs, are a subset of top-level domains that are connected to a specific country. The ccTLD appears at the end of an address as an extension that identifies the country associated with the site.

For example, .us indicates websites connected to the United States and .uk associates sites with the United Kingdom.

Local government or Internet authorities regulate ccTLDs, which means that country-code top-level domain restrictions vary by country. Some countries may have different rules for who is allowed to buy or register certain web domain names. ccTLDs are also popular domains, as they can help website owners target specific geographic audiences and indicate the country and culture associated with a site.

Generic top-level (gTLDs)

Generic top-level domains, or gTLDs, refer to all top-level domains not tied to a specific country or place.

Extensions like .com, .net, and .org are all part of this category.

The ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) oversees the management and allocation of these web domain names online.

Many domain owners choose gTLDs because of their wide recognition as legitimate and compatible domains.

Second-level (SLDs)

Second-level domains (SLDs) refer to a different portion of a domain name. The SLD is the part of the domain name that precedes the top-level domain; for example, with “whatismyip.com,” the SLD is “whatismyip.” It provides more details about the company or entity operating the domain name or indicates what the site might contain.

What’s the difference between a web domain and a domain name?

The difference between the terms “domain” and “domain name” can be confusing, given that they are arguably the same thing.

Think of it as comparing a street to a street name. One is the street itself and one refers to the street. However, the terms are used interchangeably. Domains and domain names are similar; a web domain is a network of computers that operate under one address, and a domain name is that single address.

Many users refer to domain name as domains. When purchasing a domain, for example, you’re purchasing the name, but you’re also purchasing the space with which you can operate your site. Essentially, a domain is a virtual space, and a domain name refers to that space.

Frequently asked questions

How do I buy domain names?

To buy a domain name, you must find a reliable domain registrar accredited with ICANN. This means the web domains are legitimate and available. Once you have located a registrar, you can determine what you’d like your name to be. Choose one that’s memorable and relevant to your website’s purpose.

If you’re creating a local business or unique website, you may be able to essentially create a name and purchase it through a website builder like WordPress or Mailchimp.

These sites often provide access to various network resources with user accounts as well. However, you can also purchase quality names from sites like nametime.com or afternic.com, the latter of which also allows you to sell domains.

Once you get a domain, you need to complete the domain name registration and verify ownership through a domain name registry. Then, you will have the registered domain and title to do with as you see fit.

How much does a web domain name cost?

Prices for domain names vary. If you purchase a name through a domain registrar, you pay yearly to renew it and keep the site or webpage with a web hosting plan. If you purchase from someone else, you may be able to pay a flat rate and then pay to register elsewhere.

You can also use a free domain, which comes from sites like Wix. They allow you to use the subdomain of your choosing, but their site name comes first - like wixsite.com/samplesite.

Weigh the cost of a name with the importance of your site’s branding. Though it may seem expensive at first, a relevant Internet domain can make or break your business online. Your domain name is crucial in driving traffic to your site.