domains explained all you need to know

Domains Explained: All You Need To Know

All You Need To Know About Domains

A fundamental prerequisite while building a website is a domain. Your website won’t go live until you register a domain name for it. But what really is a domain?

 

Contents

  1. What is a domain?
  2. Domain name basics
  3. How does DNS translation work?
  4. Types of domain names
  5. Domain registry, registrars, and registrants
  6. ICANN and WHOIS Lookup
  7. How to buy and register a domain name
  8. FAQs

What is a domain?

A domain name is nothing but your website’s address on the internet. Just like you need the physical address of a shop to find it in a large marketplace, you need the domain of a website to find it on the internet.

Every website you have ever visited has a domain name. www.google.com is Google’s domain name, www.hostafrica.co.za is ours. As you may have guessed, a domain name is unique, and can’t be shared.

Domain name basics

The internet is a very large network of interconnected computers. These computers, like the one you are using to read this blog, and the one hosting our website, communicate with each other using unique IP addresses.

A typical IP address looks like this: 65.240.22.2. Now, for computers, remembering this long numeric code isn’t a problem. But for humans, it will be virtually impossible to remember IP addresses of all their favourite websites.

This is why a smart guy, named Paul Mockapetris, came up with the idea of domains. This was revolutionary because it allowed people to access websites using their names, which was much more convenient.

Note that using domains doesn’t mean that we have removed IP addresses from the equation. They are still there, just hidden from the end-user. What happens is that we create a mapping between the name of the website and its IP address.

When a user enters a domain name in their address bar, behind the scenes, it gets translated into the website’s IP address. This process is known as DNS translation or lookup. The translated IP is then used to access the website. But how does this translation occur? And who stores the mapping?

How does DNS translation work?

dns translation infographic

To visualize the process of DNS translation, consider the above image.

  1. The user enters the address www.hostafrica.co.za in their browser.
  2. The request is sent to the closest DNS server. A DNS server is like the phonebook for the entire internet. Upon receiving domain name information from the browser, the DNS server converts it into its corresponding IP address and returns it to the browser.
  3. The browser uses the IP address to send an HTTP request to the actual server hosting www.hostafrica.co.za.
  4. The server sends an HTTP response to the browser, which is used to display the website to the user.

Sometimes a DNS server doesn’t have the mapping information for a particular domain name. In that case, it sends a request to another DNS server, close to it. The process continues until a DNS server with the relevant record is found.

Once that happens, the response trickles back to the original DNS server, which sends the response to the client browser. All the queried DNS servers also update their databases with the new record, to avoid having to relay the request again.

Types of domain names

The part of a domain, after the period (.) is known as its extension.

anatomy of a web address

With that said, here’s a broad list of the different types of domains:

Top level domains (TLDs)

Top level domains are generic domain name extensions that follow your website’s name. e.g. in www.google.com “.com” is the top-level domain.

There are many other TLDs, like .org, .net, .io, and .co etc.
Some TLDs are restricted. E.g. only government websites can use the “.gov” TLD.

Country code top level domains (ccTLD)

AS the name indicates, country code top level domains (ccTLDs) are TLDs reserved for use in certain countries. E.g. “.za” is the ccTLD for South Africa, “.uk” is restricted for use in the UK only.

If you are targeting a global audience, then a country code TLD may be limiting, and you should consider a generic TLD instead. This is because Google uses the ccTLD as a relevancy signal for that country’s audience, which means your website may rank better in that specific country.

If your target audience is local to your country code TLD, then this is a great advantage for your business. You can also choose different TLDs for your geographically distributed audience.

Second level domains (SLD)

The descriptive part of the domain name, the “Google” in “www.google.com” is known as a second level domain (SLD). Just like country code TLDs, there are country code SLDs. An example of a ccSLD is the “.co.za” in “www.hostafrica.co.za”. “.co.za” is a common ccSLD used by companies in South Africa.

Third level domains (TLD)

Third level domains (TLDs) are a part of the domain name, preceding the second level domain. In “www.hostafrica.co.za”, the “www” makes the third level domain.

Third level domains aren’t necessary for creating a working domain name. e.g. “hostafrica.co.za” will work just as well. Moreover, if you are using a sub-domain, that will also be a third level domain, e.g. in “mail.google.com”, “mail” is a TLD.

Domain registry, registrars and registrants

A domain name needs to be purchased and registered before it can become your website’s identity. A domain name registry is an organization responsible for managing top-level domains. They develop extensions, set appropriate rules for domain usage, and collaborate with registrars to sell domains.

A registrar is an entity, accredited by the ICANN, (the main internet regulatory body) to sell domain names to registrants. Some registrars can only sell certain domains, like TLDs, or ccTLDs.

A registrant is a person who purchases a domain from a registrar and gets it registered with a registry. If ever a registrant wants to change their domain’s settings in the registry’s database, they request their registrar to do so.

ICANN and WHOIS lookup

ICANN oversees all the domain registration activities performed by the registries and registrars. As a registrant, when you purchase and register a domain, you become its sole owner, for the specified registration period.

Post-registration, domain owner details, along with other information, is publicly available via WHOIS lookup. WHOIS is a querying protocol used to retrieve information on registered internet resources, such as domain names, IP addresses, and name servers.

A WHOIS domain lookup will allow you to determine whether a domain is available, when it was registered, when it will expire, where it was registered, the registrar it was registered with, DNS information (the name servers it points to), domain status, and more.

A WHOIS my ip search will help you find your current IP address and can even retrieve a host of other information. Curious?

Use our WHOIS IP lookup using any IP address or domain name to find more information:

screenshot hostafrica whois lookup tool
HOSTAFRICA WHOIS lookup tool

Lastly, domain registration can be renewed indefinitely. The maximum allowed registration period of a domain is 10 years. Most registrars give you the flexibility to deregister a domain at any time, however some may charge you a fee for doing so.

How to buy and register a domain name?

Wondering how to buy and register a domain name for your website? Here’s how:

5 step domain name process infographic
  1. Decide your domain name: Your domain name will be your brand’s identity. It is what customers will tell their friends, when praising your products. You want it to be something catchy, easy to remember, and expressive.
  2. Check for availability: The next step is to check whether your dream domain name is available. You may have just thought of the best possible domain name for your business, but if it’s already taken by someone else, try a variation of it instead.
  3. Choose a registrar: Once you have found the perfect domain name, that’s also available for registration, you need to find a registrar. Registration and renewal prices may vary from registrar to registrar.
  4. Make the purchase: Once you have chosen the right registrar, make the payment to transfer ownership of the domain to your name.
  5. Wait for DNS propagation to complete: Once registration completes, the domain’s information is propagated to DNS servers around the world. The process can take up to 24 hours to complete, making your new domain, ready for use.

FAQs:

What are the 4 types of domains?

The four types of domains are as follows:

  1. Top-level domains: Top-level domains (TLDs) refer to the last part of your domain name. e.g. in www.google.com , “.com” is a top level domain.
  2. Country code top level domain: Abbreviated as ccTLDs, the country code top level domains are restricted for use in certain countries. E.g. “.uk” can only be used in the UK, whereas “.za” is the ccTLD for South Africa.
  3. Second level domain: Second level domains, or SLDs, are an integral part of your domain name. The one that gives your brand its identity. E.g. in “www.google.com”, “Google” is the second level domain. There are also country code SLDs, which can only be used in certain countries. E.g. in “www.hostafrica.co.za”, “.co.za” is a country code SLD.
  4. Third level domains: These are a part of the domain, which precedes the second level domain. The “www” in “www.hostafrica.co.za” is a third level domain.

What are the top 5 domains?

The top 5 domains are:

  1. .com: Hands down the most popular TLD available. It’s also everyone’s first choice. Most of the time, if someone doesn’t choose a .com domain, it’s because it’s already taken.
  2. .net: .net was originally reserved for ISPs and networks, but has now become a generic, openly accessible domain. The general opinion regarding .net domains is that they are associated with web applications and services.
  3. .org: .org was originally reserved for non-profit organizations, but is now available to everyone. People typically perceive .org websites as trustworthy and legitimate.
  4. .co: .co was originally reserved for the country of Colombia, but is now available to the general public. If you are building a website for your business, then a .co domain is a viable choice.
  5. .us: Unlike the top 4, .us domains are reserved for people and companies in the United States. It was originally used only by the US government.

What do I need to know before buying a domain name?

A domain name will be your business’ identity, so you need to choose wisely. Here are a few considerations to keep in mind:

  • Competitive analysis: What kind of domain names have your competitors chosen? And how well-received are they? If there is a keyword that most of your counterparts use, then it’d make sense to include it in yours as well.
  • Easy to remember and type: Needless to say, the domain name must be both, easy to remember, and type. Don’t use a complicated word, which people are likely to get wrong.
  • The shorter, the better: Short and expressive domain names are the way to go. Nobody wants to visit “BigBobsHardwareStore.com”.
  • There is a world beyond “.com”: Restricting yourself to a “.com” domain can sometimes make it impossible to find a worthy, unregistered name.
  • Avoid hyphens and numbers: Hyphens are great for readability but are also hard to remember and convey. The same is true for numbers. Do you mean “Music112” or “MusicOneOneTwo”?

Does it matter where you buy your domain name?

Yes, it absolutely does. Choosing the right registrar is very important while buying and registering your domain name. Here’s what you need to consider:

  1. There shouldn’t be hidden costs: Some registrars pull customers in by giving astonishingly low registration rates but then include many hidden charges in their subscriptions.
  2. Privacy protection: Domain and registration details are public records, which can be misused by attackers. This is why you should look for registrars that offer privacy protection for your data.
  3. Once again, transparency: Some providers will try to hide their renewal rates, in the tiniest of fonts possible. The reason is usually that their renewal charges are much higher than their registration prices. Find a registrar that shows maximum transparency in their dealings.
  4. Client support: A host can make or break your business. If ever you need to deregister a domain, want changes, or want to buy website and email hosting with your domain, hosting with a reliable, expert provider is vital. Look for a registrar with a reputation for outstanding support.
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