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An Introduction to Domain Names

Simply put, a domain name is a "front" - they are word sequences users enter in their browser’s location bar to visit your site, but are not a Web site's true address. Domain names are attached to DNS (Domain Naming System) servers, which are used to translate numeric addresses (known as IP, or Internet Protocol, addresses) into words. Each site you visit on the net has a numeric IP address behind its name, which represents the site's true address on the Internet.

Domain names are typically categorized by their extension, which is their identifying code. The three most popular types of Top Level Domains (TLDs), which are domains that are not associated with a country, are:

.COM: Short for .commercial. Domain names with the .com extension are by far the most popular, and can be purchased by any individual or business. .

.NET: Short for .network, this domain extension was originally designed to be used by technical Web sites. However, domains using this extension can be registered by anyone.

.ORG: Short for .orga­niza­ti­on. Originally designated for non-profit firms and any other or­ga­niza­ti­ons that did not fit under the .com or .net extension, any individual or business may now register a .org domain name.

Country level domains

Domain names can also be assigned using country extensions. Each country has its own domain extension; Canada, for example, is .ca, while Japan has been assigned .jp. Most countries have specific rules surrounding exactly who can register domains using their extension and for what purpose; it’s therefore important to look before you leap.

Alternative domain names

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), the organization responsible for the ad­mi­nis­tra­ti­on of TLDs worldwide, recently approved several new extensions that are not specific to any country. These are:

  • .areo
  • .biz
  • .coop
  • .info
  • .museum
  • .name
  • .pro

Each has been designed for a specific use, and is accompanied by certain res­tric­ti­ons. You can find more information about these TLDs here: http://­www.­icann.­org/­tlds/

Other domain extensions

In searching for your domain name, you may encounter Web sites offering extensions like .xxx, .free and .mp3. These are not true extensions endorsed by ICANN; rather, they rely on software solutions to guarantee their ac­ces­sibi­lity to users. Because ICANN has not approved any of these extensions, however, users that do not have the correct software cannot access sites using these names; therefore, they should be used for supplemental purposes only.

Although .com, .net and .org are typically the most visible and talked-about extensions, they are not the only ones available for use. From a functional perspective, country-level domains work just as well as any TLDs, and alternative extensions work just as well. Therefore, don’t necessarily settle for a mediocre TLD when you can get a better one using a different extension.