What is a Domain?
A domain is a network of computers and devices that are controlled by one set authority and have specific guidelines. More specifically, a domain is controlled by one particular company that has its own internet presence and IP address. The domain is labeled by its domain name, such as Webopedia or webopedia.com.
History of Domains
Before the introduction of the Domain Name System (DNS) in 1983, users would access different addresses on computer networks through a host’s numerical address. Every computer on the network could then access files from the host by using said numerical addresses.
However, this process did not scale well and made public access difficult. Therefore, the Domain Name System was introduced on ARPANET, a project that was essentially the foundation for the internet.
How Do Domains Work?
Domain Name System servers translate a domain name request from an internet user into an IP address the computer can read. The DNS server then connects the user to the website for the IP address it finds within server records.
Registering Your Domain
When building a website, choosing and registering a domain name is usually the first step. The process of registering a domain name is described below.
- Find a Domain Name Registrar: Domain name registrars, such as GoDaddy, Bluehost, and Domain.com, sell and manage domain names.
- Search for a Domain Name: Here, you can use your domain name registrar to search for an available domain name. Make sure to incorporate important keywords when appropriate.
- Choose a Domain Name Suffix: After you’ve chosen a domain name, the next step is to choose a suffix. The most popular is .com, but other common ones in the U.S. include .net and .org.
- Purchase a Domain Name: Once you’ve chosen your domain name and suffix, you need to purchase it through the domain registrar. What usually happens is you pay for the domain for a year and then consistently pay to renew it.
- Include Domain ID protection: When registering a domain name, you must include information like name, phone number, physical address, and email address, which will become public once your domain name has been registered. To protect yourself, you can purchase domain privacy, which will shield your information from spammers or identity thieves.
Not sure where to register your domain? Enterprises have many different, affordable options when it comes to domain name registrars. For example, customers can purchase a domain name from Google Domains for as little as $7/year.
Different Types of Domains
Besides levels, there are also different types of top-level domains (TLDs). The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) is responsible for maintaining a list of all active TLDs. This includes generic top-level domains (gTLD), new top-level (nTLDs) domains, and country code Top-Level Domain (ccTLD) names.
gTLD (Generic Top-level Domains)
A gTLD represents the most common top-level domains. Examples include .com, .org, and .net. gTLDs often correlate with the types of companies and organizations that bought them, like .com is often associated with for-profits, and .org is often associated with non-profits. However, technically anyone can purchase any type of gTLD.
nTLD (New Top-level Domains)
In 2011, ICANN introduced nTLDs. An nTLD is a domain name geared toward brands, organizations, and services. These are more customizable and let your domain name be more relevant to your website. Some examples include .voyage, .ninja, and .app.
Originally, there were a total of 22 gTLDs. However, through looser policies, ICANN allowed for the creation of over 1,200 nTLDs and allows for the creation of over 1,000 nTLDs per year.
ccTLD (Country Code Top-level Domains)
A ccTLD refers to a two-letter domain extension, like .uk (United Kingdom) or .fr (France). These are usually assigned to geographic locations like countries or territories. There are currently more than 250 ccTLDs listed by ICANN. Webopedia has a complete list of ccTLDs grouped by letter:
- A – E ccTLDs (71)
- F – L ccTLDs (66)
- M – R ccTLDs (56)
- S – Z ccTLDs (59)
Different Levels of Domains
Domain levels refer to the different parts of a domain name. Technically there is no limit to the number of domain levels that can exist. However, the most well-known include the sub, second-level, and top-level domains.
Top-level domains (TLDs) are the highest-ranking domains on the internet. TLDs are labeled by the extension of their domain names, such as .com, .org, or .net. Second-level domains are the names directly to the left of .com, .net, and the other top-level domains. For example, for webopedia.com, “.com” is top-level, and “webopedia” is second-level. Subdomains are what is to the left of the second-level domain. For example, this can be the “www” in front of “webopedia,” or if you host a blog on the subdomain, and the domain name is blog.webopedia.com, the “blog” would be the subdomain.
Application Domains and Alternative Definitions
application domain applies to a specific software application and separates it clearly from other applications. A domain-specific language (DSL) is a programming language designed only for one particular domain. For example, SQL (structured query language) is a domain-specific language for database management. It applies only to certain databases.
A domain in general computer terminology is also the range of values that belong to a specific attribute—for example, the range that applies to certain data types. Within a Google Sheet, the list of possible values that the user has designated for a specific column is that column’s domain.
Learn about top Domain Name Registrars here.
The contents of this definition were updated by Shelby Hiter.