What is a Domain Name? - A Beginners Guide to How Domain Names Work

Updated: Nov 19

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What is a Domain Name?


Domain names are (ideally) easy to remember words that are used to find and go to websites. In simple terms, a domain name is like an address for your website.

You can think of the internet as a series of intersecting streets that go all around the world. On this world map, your website is your house. In order for anyone to find their way to your house, they’ll need an address. That address is your domain name – the thing people type in their web browser’s URL bar to find you on the streets of the internet.



How Do Domain Names Work?


To get a little more technical (not too much we promise), the computers on the internet, from that laptop your reader is using to the servers that host your website has an IP address, which is a series of 4-12 numbers separated by dots (.) that let’s computers identify and find each other.

For example, here’s the IP address for Create a Pro Website:

192.185.226.162

And if you’re looking for a few seconds of amusement, you can find your computer’s IP address by going to Google here.

While these numbers are great for machines, it’d be hard to remember 12 digits for every website you want to go to. That’s where domain names come in.

With a domain name, you can visit a website by typing in an easy to remember word or phrase, like zikrainfotech.com



What happens when you enter a domain name into your browser?


When you enter a domain name into your browser to find a website, your computer sends a “lookup request” to a global network of servers called the Domain Name System (DNS).

The DNS is a massive database of millions of registered domain names, each associated with a particular website’s nameserver and IP address.

When the DNS gets your lookup request, it finds the nameserver associated with the domain name you’re using; this is usually managed by your hosting company.

For example, if you use Hostingr to host your website (like we do), your nameservers will look like this:


ns8375.hostgator.com


ns8376.hostgator.com


When the nameservers get your lookup request, they look up the IP address for the website you’re looking for then forward you/your computer to it.

It seems complicated, sure, but thanks to the hard work of a lot of really smart people, all of this takes place in less than a millisecond after you hit enter.

Go technology!




Parts and Types of Domain Names


Domain names are read from right to left, just like normal text (if you speak English).

To the right, you’ll find a general description of the domain name, this is the “Top Level Domain.” And to the left, you’ll find a specific description of the domain name, the “Second Level Domain.


Think of it like a person’s name – their family name to the right/at the end, their personal name to the left/first.


TLD: Top Level Domains


There are over a thousand TLDs available, but the most common you’ll see are .com, .org, .net, .edu, and more recently .io and .co.


The official list of TLDs is maintained by the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) – which includes gTLDs and ccTLDs.


gTLD: Generic Top Level Domains

gTLDs are the one’s you’re used to seeing – .com, .co, .net, .org, etc.

They can be used by anyone, anywhere in the world (technically so can ccTLDs but it doesn’t make much sense to use a country-specific TLD if you’re not in that country).

In most cases, there aren’t any restrictions on using gTLDs for any kind of site, but generally there’s some intent behind each; .com is meant for “commercial” sites, .org for non-profits, .edu for educational institutions.


A couple gTLDs are restricted – don’t try to create a .mil (“military”) or .gov (“government”) site yourself – if you can even find a way you’ll probably have a couple of men in black knocking on your door ASAP.


And some gTLDs will cost more than others; for example, depending on your domain registrar, a .com domain will cost you anywhere from $8-15 bucks a year, while a .co is usually $20-25.


ccTLD: Country Code Top Level Domains

ccTLDs use two letters based on international country codes to identify sites in specific countries, like .uk for the United Kingdom and .jp for Japan.

They’re generally used for companies looking to do business in those specific countries to let people know where they are, since everyone can use gTLDs like .com and .org anywhere in the world.


Other types of domain names


Second Level Domain


A second level domain (SLD or 2LD) is the part to the left of the dot that usually refers to the specific business or organization who owns the website you’re going to.

In our case, our SLD is “createaprowebsite.”


Subdomains


Subdomains let you have some separation between different parts of your site without having to buy a whole new domain name; eg in “example.createaprowebsite.com” “example” is a subdomain of our website (not real, you won’t find anything there lol).

For the most part, you won’t need to mess with these.


Sometimes it makes a bit of logical sense to have that separation, eg “developers.facebook.com” will take you to their knowledge base for people who develop apps using Facebook’s API.


But Google treats subdomains as entirely separate websites – meaning you have to work to get your main domain ranking AND your subdomain ranking if you want both to show up in search engines.


So it’s usually better to just use pages and internal linking to keep different parts of your site separate.


Free domains

You can get free domain names from website builders like WordPress.com, Squarespace, Wix, etc.


They’re similar to subdomains since they use a special prefix (“example.”) in front of a standard second level/TLD that the builder uses for all their sites (eg “wixsite.com” in Wix’s case).


These can be handy if you want to do some of your website setup before paying for a premium website builder plan, but it’s definitely not a pro look.



Domain Name Examples

  • zikrainfotech.com

  • ansarullahanas.com

  • wikipedia.org

  • google.com

  • youtube.com

  • facebook.com

  • reddit.com

  • instagram.com

Domain Name vs URL


When talking about domain names you might also hear about “URLs”


What is a URL?


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

A domain name is usually part of a larger internet address called a URL.

The URL goes into much more detail than a domain name – adding information about the specific location on a website and how you interact with it.


What is a URL?


A Uniform Resource Locator (URL) is the full address of a website or other online resource (things like photos or downloadable PDFs).

Using the URL of this post as an example, the three basic parts of a URL are the protocol identifier, the domain name, and the path: https://zikrainfotech.com/about/


Protocol Identifiers


To continue our house/roads metaphor, the protocol identifier describes the way you’ll get to the house/website – a car or bus for a house, “http” or “ftp” for a website.

The most common protocol identifier you’ll see is “http://” or “https://” (which is a secured version of http). Those are how web browsers usually reach the various parts of a website.

As you get deeper into your pro website experience, you’ll also learn about other protocols like “ftp://” – which is used for securely uploading and downloading files for your website.

And you probably use SMTP every day – that’s how emails are sent!


Paths


The path is the specific folder or page on the website you’re going to.

If your domain name is your house’s address, the path is the specific room in the house you want to go to.


URL Examples (Domain Name Bold)


Domain vs Website


A website is a collection of web pages grouped together under one name: the domain name.


So a website is like your house and (again) the domain name is its address. Domain names get associated with a website through a registration process; you’ll need to register a domain name before anyone can use it to get to your site.

Anyone can register a website with a company called a domain name registrar.

Our recommended hosting company, HostGator, is also a domain name registrar because you can purchase your domain name through them at the same time that you purchase a hosting package.


While you can buy and register a domain name without a website, you can’t have a website without a domain name.


As you dig into your website building journey, you might find yourself doing this; we’ve thought of tons of great domain names over the years and bought them just to have in case we want to use them in the future.



Domain vs Hosting


If your domain is the address, and your website is your house, then web hosting is the plot of land on which your house is built.


Websites are hosted on computers called web servers, which run special software (Apache and Nginx are two popular examples) that lets them find the website’s data and send it to your web browser when you try to visit the site.


These web servers and all the power chords, ethernet cables, and other stuff that makes them run are usually owned and managed by a web hosting company that takes care of the technical stuff for you.


You can buy web hosting and register domain names separately (from different companies), but most hosting companies offer domain registration to make things easier for you.

If you buy your domain name from one company and your hosting from another, you’ll have to take some extra steps to set up your nameservers to get things working correctly; this isn’t too difficult but it’s another thing to do which is why we recommend getting your hosting and registering your domain name at the same time from the same place!



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