Domain Names Explained

Domain Names Explained


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What Is A Domain Name? Your Questions About Domain Names Answered Here ...




What Is A Domain Name?

Purpose Of Domain Names

History Of Domain Names

What Is The Domain Name Space?

Domain Names Syntax

What Are Host-Names?

What Are Top Level Domain Names?

Second Level & Lower Level Domains Explained

What Are Internationalized Domain Names?

Domain Name Registration History

Domain Name Registration Administration

Technical Domain Name Requirements & Process

Domain Names As Business Models

Reselling Domain Names

Domain Name Confusion

Domain Name Uses In Web Site Hosting

Domain Name Regulation & Abuse

Truth & The Domain Names Act

Domain Name Seizures

Domain Name Suspensions

Fictitious Domain Names







What Is A Domain Name?

A domain name is an identification string of alpha-numeric characters that defines a area of administrative autonomy, authority or control inside the Internet's World Wide Web.

Domains are utilized in a variety of networking contexts as well as for application-specific naming and addressing purposes. Generally, your own domain name identifies a network domain or it represents an Internet Protocol (IP) resource, e.g. a personal computer being used to access the Internet, access a web server hosting an website or the website itself or some other service conveyed online. By 2017 about 330'600'000 domain names had been registered.

Domain names are created and registered according to the rules and operations of the Domain Name System (DNS). Any name registered within the DNS is a domain name. Domain names are organized in subordinate levels (sub-domains) of the DNS root domain that is nameless. The first level group of domains are known as top-level domains (TLDs), including the generic top-level domains (gTLDs), such as .com, .info, .internet, .edu, and .org, and the country-code top level domains (ccTLDs), e.g. .fr for France, .ca for Canada, .de for Germany.

Below these top level domains in the DNS hierarchy can be found the second level and third level domain names, which are typically open for reservation by users who want to connect local area networks to the web, create other publicly accessible Internet resources or run internet websites.

The registration of all of these domain names is generally administered by domain name registrars, who sell their professional services to the online public.

A fully qualified domain name (FQDN) is a domain name that's completely specified with all labels in the DNS hierarchy, without any parts left out. Labels within the Domain Name System are not case-sensitive and can consequently be written in any preferred capitalization method. However, most often used domain names are usually written in lower case.


Purpose Of Domain Names

Domain names identify Internet resources such as computers, networks and services and have a text based label that's simpler and easier to memorise compared to numerical addresses used in Internet protocols. A domain name can represent entire collections of resources or individual instances. Individual Internet host computers use domain names as host identifiers, also known as host names. The word "host name" is also employed for the leaf labels within the domain name system, generally without further subordinate domain name space. Host names appear as a component in Uniform Resource Locators (URLs) for Internet resources, for example individual pages of internet websites. E.g. https://www.cheaptoregister.net/register-domains.php.

Domain names are also used as simple identification labels for ownership or control of an online resource. Examples are realm identifiers utilized in the Session Initiation Protocol (SIP), the Domain Keys used to verify DNS domains in email systems as well as in other Uniform Resource Identifiers (URIs).

An essential purpose of domain names is for providing easily recognizable and memorizable names for numerically addressed Internet resources. This abstraction enables any resource to be moved to a different location within the address topology of the network, globally or locally in an intranet. This type of move usually requires altering the Internet Protocol (IP) address of the resource and the corresponding translation of the IP address to and from its domain name.

Domain names are utilized to establish a unique identity. Organizations can select their own domain name to match their name, so helping online users find them more easily.

A generic domain is a name used to define an general category, as opposed to a specific or personal instance. E.g. the name of an industry rather than the name of a company. Examples of generic names are music.com, books.com and travel.info. Companies have their brands based on generic names and those generic domains can be valuable.

Domain names are frequently referred to simply as "domains" and domain name registrants are often called "domain owners". However, it should be noted that domain name registration doesn't actually bring legal possession -- it is only an exclusive renewable usage licence. Note also that using domains in commerce may be subject to trademark law.


History Of Domain Names

The practice of utilizing a simple memorable abstraction of a host's numerical address on a computer network goes back to the days of the ARPANET era, prior to the creation of today's Internet. In the early network, each computer on the network retrieved the hosts file (host.txt) from a computer at SRI (now SRI International), which mapped computer host names to numerical addresses. The rapid development of the network made it impossible to keep a centrally organized hostname registry and in 1983 the Domain Name System was introduced on the ARPANET and was published by the Internet Engineering Task Force as RFC-882 and RFC-883.


What Is The Domain Name Space?

Today, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) manages the top level development and architecture of the Internet domain name space. It authorizes domain name registrars through which domain names can be registered, renewed, transferred and re-assigned. The domain name space comprises a tree of domain names. Each node within the tree holds information associated with the domain name. The tree is sub-divided into zones beginning with the DNS root zone.


Domain Names Syntax

A domain name has one or more parts, technically known as "labels", which are conventionally concatenated and delimited by dots, e.g. example.com. The right most label conveys the top level domain, e.g. the domain name www.example.com belongs to the top-level domain: com.

The hierarchy of domain names descends from the right to the left label in the name. Each label to the left is a sub-division or a sub-domain of the domain to its right. E.g. the label example specifies a node example.com as a sub domain of the com domain, and www is a label to create www.example.com, a subdomain of example.com.

Each label can contain between 1 to 63 octets. The empty label is reserved for the root node and when fully qualified, is expressed as the empty label terminated by a dot. The full domain name must not be more than 253 ASCII characters in its representation. So, when using a single character per label, the limit is 127 levels: 127 characters plus 126 dots having a total length of 253. But in practice some domain registries may have shorter limits.


What Are Host-Names?

A hostname is a domain name with at least one associated IP address. E.g. the domain names www.example.com and example.com are also hostnames, whereas the com domain is not. However, other top-level domains, particularly country code top-level domains, may have an IP address, and if they do, they are also hostnames.

Hostnames impose restrictions on the characters permitted in the corresponding domain name. A valid hostname is also a valid domain name, but a valid domain name may not be necessarily valid as a hostname.


What Are Top Level Domain Names?

The top level domains (TLDs), e.g. .com, .net, .org are the highest level domains of the Internet. Top level domains make up the DNS root zone of the hierarchical Domain Name System. Every domain name ends with a top level domain label.

At the time the Domain Name System was devised in the 1980's, the domain name space was split into two main groups. The Country Code top-level domains (ccTLD) were mainly based on the 2 character territory codes of ISO-3166 country abbreviations. Additionally, 7 generic top-level domains (gTLD) were implemented to represent certain categories: .gov, .edu, .com, .mil, .org, .internet, and .int.

As the Internet continued to grow, it became desirable to add more generic top level domains. From October 2009, 21 generic top-level domains and 250 two-letter country-code top-level domains existed. Additionally, the ARPA domain serves technical purposes within the infrastructure of the Domain Name System.

At the 32nd International Public ICANN Meeting in Paris in 2008, ICANN initiated a new TLD naming policy to make a "significant step forward on the introduction of new generic top-level domains." This program envisioned the availability of many new or already suggested domains, as well as a new application and implementation process. Observers thought that the new rules could result in hundreds of new top level domains to become registered. The program commenced in 2012 and received 1930 applications. By 2016, a milestone of 1000 live gTLD's had been attained.

The Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) maintains an annotated listing of top level domains within the DNS root zone database. For special purposes, for example network testing, documentation, along with other applications, IANA also reserves some special use domain names. Their list contains domain names such as .example, .local, .localhost, and .test. Some of the top level domains that contains trade marks are registered for corporate use. Examples include BMW, Google and Canon.


Second Level & Lower Level Domains Explained

Beneath the top-level domains in the domain name hierarchy are the second level domain (SLD) names. These are the labels directly to the left of .com, .net, and other top-level domains. E.g. In this example domain, example.co.uk, co is the second-level domain.

Next are third level domains, that are written immediately to the left of the second-level domain. There can even be 4th and 5th level domains and so on. An example of a domain name with four levels is sos.state.oh.us. Each label is separated with a dot. 'sos' is thus a sub-domain of 'state.oh.us' and 'state' is a sub-domain of 'oh.us', and so on.

In general, subdomains are domains subordinated to their parent domain. An example of very deep subdomain levels ordering are IPv6 reverse resolution DNS zones. E.g. 1.0.0.0.0.0.0.0.0.0.0.0.0.0.0.0.0.0.0.0.0.0.0.0.0.0.0.0.0.0.0.0.ip6.arpa, being the reverse DNS resolution domain name for the IP address of a loopback interface, or the localhost name.

Second level domain names -- or lower-level, with respect to the established parent hierarchy -- are frequently created in the name of a company (e.g. bbc.co.uk), service or product (e.g. hotmail.com). Beneath these levels, the following domain name component has been utilized to designate a specific host server. Consequently, ftp.example.com may be an FTP server, www.example.com would be an Internet server and mail.example.com can be an email server, each intended to perform only the implied function.

Today's technology enables multiple physical servers with either different or perhaps even identical addresses to serve just one single host name or domain name, or multiple domain names to be served by a single computer. The latter is extremely popular in Website hosting service centers where providers host the web sites of numerous organizations on only a small number of servers.

The hierarchical DNS "labels" or components of domain names are separated in a fully qualified name by a full stop (dot).


What Are Internationalized Domain Names?

The character set permitted within the Domain Name System is dependant on ASCII and doesn't permit the representation of names and words of numerous languages within their native scripts or alphabets. ICANN approved the Internationalized website name (IDNA) system, which maps Unicode strings utilized in application user interfaces into the valid DNS character set by an encoding known as Punycode. E.g. kobenhavn.eu is mapped to xn--kbenhavn-54a.eu. Many registries now utilize IDNA.


Domain Name Registration History

The 1st commercial Internet domain name in the TLD com, symbolics.com, was registered on 15th March 1985 by Symbolics Corporation, a personal computer systems company located in Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA. By 1992, less than 15'000 .com domains had been registered.

In the 1st quarter of 2015, 294 million domains had been registered. A sizable fraction are within the .com TLD, which by 21st December 2014, had 115'600'000 domains, including 11'900'000 internet business and e-commerce sites, 4'300'000 entertainment sites, 3'100'000 finance related sites and 1'800'000 sports sites. By summer 2012 the .com TLD had more registrations than all ccTLDs combined.


Domain Name Registration Administration

The right to use domain names is provided by domain name registrars, accredited by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Figures (ICANN), the organisation in charge of overseeing the Internet's name and number systems.

Additionally to ICANN, each top level domain (TLD) is maintained and serviced technically by an administrative organization operating a registry. Each registry takes responsibility for maintaining the database of names registered inside the TLD it administers. The registry receives registration information from each registrar approved to assign names within the corresponding TLD and publishes the data utilizing a special service known as the WHOIS protocol.

Registries and registrars generally charge a yearly fee for the service of allocating a domain name to a user and providing default name servers. This transaction is frequently referred to as "purchase" of the domain name and the registrant may be called the "owner" although no such legal ownership exists - only an exclusive licence to use the said domain name. Approved domain name users are more correctly referred to as "registrants" or "domain holders".

ICANN publishes the entire listing of TLD registries and domain name registrars. Registrant information connected with domains is maintained within an online database accessible using the WHOIS protocol. For the majority of the 250 country code top-level domains (ccTLDs), the domain registries keep up with the WHOIS (Registrant, name servers, expiration dates, etc.) information.

Some domain name registries, often referred to as Network Information Centers (NIC), also work as registrars for end users. The main generic top-level domain registries, e.g. .com, .net, .org, .info domains and others, make use of a registry-registrar model composed of countless domain name registrars (see lists at ICANN or VeriSign).

In this management method, the registry manages only the domain name database and the relationship with the various registrars. The registrants (domain name users) are the registrar's customers and in some cases via additional layers of resellers.

Some other alternative DNS root suppliers also try to compete or add to ICANN's domain name administration role but they mostly have been unsuccessful getting wide recognition so domains names offered by those roots can't be used globally on internet-connected computers without additional configurations.


Technical Domain Name Requirements & Process

When registering a domain name and maintaining authority over the newly created name space, registrars use several key elements of information. Thus a domain name consists of one or more "labels", each of which uses ASCII letters, digits and hyphens (a-z, A-Z, 0-9, -), but not starting or ending with a hyphen. Furthermore, "labels" are not case sensitive, e.g. example.com and EXAMPLE.COM would be treated as identical domain names. And the 2 "labels" (example and com are separated by a period or full stop.


Domain Names As Business Models

Domain names are frequently compared to real estate because domain names are the foundations for web sites and domain names regarded as high quality are similar to sought-after real estate because of their online brand-building potential, advertising potential, search engine optimization (SEO) and other criteria.

Some companies have offered low-cost, below-cost or even free domain registration in a number of ways with a view to recouping the provider's costs. These methods usually require that the domain names be hosted on their web site within a portal or framework which includes advertising intermingled with the domain holder's content, allowing the provider to recoup his/her costs.

Many desirable domains have already been assigned and consequently users need to find alternative acceptable names, using Web-based search utilities, WHOIS databases and operating-system tools. Many domain name registrars now offer domain name suggestion tools which search databases and suggest available alternative domain names similar to keywords provider by the consumer.


Reselling Domain Names

The resale of registered domains is called the Domain Aftermarket. Various factors may influence the market price of a domain name and many high priced domain sales are done privately.


Domain Name Confusion

Inter-capitalization is frequently used to highlight the domain name's meaning because DNS names are not themselves case sensitive. So some names might be wrongly interpreted if not clearly capitalized. E.g. The organization "Who Represents", a database of artists & agents, selected domain name: whorepresents.com, which might be wrongly understood as: WhorePresents.com. In such cases the proper meaning may also be clarified by using one or more hyphens when registering the domain. E.g. who-represents.com.


Domain Name Uses In Web Site Hosting

The domain name forms part of the URL (uniform resource locator) which is used to access web sites. E.g. Your domain name may point to several IP addresses in order to provide server redundancy for the offered services - a feature used for managing web traffic of large, popular web sites.

On the other hand, hosting services run servers which are typically assigned just one or perhaps a couple of IP addresses while serving websites for a large number of domains - a method known as "Virtual Web Hosting". Such IP overloading requires that each request identifies the domain name. E.g. using the HTTP request header field Host: or the Server Name Indication.


Domain Name Regulation & Abuse

Critics frequently claim abuse of administrative control over domain names. Particularly significant was the VeriSign Site Finder system which re-directed all unregistered .com and .net domain names to VeriSign web page. E.g. at a public meeting with VeriSign for the purpose of airing technical concerns about SiteFinder, many people, in the IETF (Internet Engineering Task Force) along with other technical groups, declared how they were surprised at VeriSign's altering the essential behavior of the major element of Internet infrastructure, without obtaining the usual concensus.

SiteFinder, initially, assumed that every Internet query was for a web site and it monetized queries for incorrect domains by redirecting the user to VeriSign's search site.

Furthermore, other applications, e.g. many email implementations, take a lack of response as an indication the domain name doesn't exist and consequently, that the message may be treated as undeliverable.

The initial VeriSign implementation broke this assumption for mail, since it would always resolve any wrong domain name name to SiteFinder. While VeriSign later altered SiteFinder's conduct for email, there is still residual resentment about VeriSign's action being more in their own financial interest compared to the interests of the Internet infrastructure component for which VeriSign was the standard.

Despite wideranging criticism, VeriSign only removed it reluctantly following a threat from ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) to revoke its contract to manage the root name servers. ICANN published the extensive correspondence exchanged, as well as committee reports and ICANN decisions.

There's also significant discontent concerning the USA government's significant political influence over ICANN. It was a substantial issue during the attempt to introduce the .xxx top-level domain and ignited growing interest in alternative DNS roots that would be outside the control of any single country.

Furthermore, there are an increasing number of accusations of domain name "front running", in which domain registrars, seeing WHOIS queries, instantly register the domain name themselves. The registrar, Network Solutions, has been accused of this practice.


Truth & The Domain Names Act

Within the USA the "Truth In Domain Names" Act of 2003, combined with the "Protect Act" of the same year, forbids using a misleading domain name intended to attract online users to visit Internet porn sites.

The Truth In Domain Names Act follows the general Anti-Cybersquatting Consumer Protection Act of 1999, targeted at stopping typosquatting and the deceptive use of names and trade-marks in domain names.


Domain Name Seizures

Early in this century, the USA's Department of Justice (DOJ) pursued seizure of domain names basing themselves on the theory that domain names constitute property for criminal activity and consequently are subject to forfeiture. E.g. when seizing a gambling web site, the DOJ based themselves on 18 U.S.C. § 981 and 18 U.S.C. § 1955(d). And in 2013 the US federal government seized "Liberty Reserve", citing 18 U.S.C. § 982(a)(1).

In 2010 the U.S.A. Congress passed the "Combating Online Infringement & Counterfeits Act". Michael Petricone, vice president of the Conumer Electronics Association, was concerned that seizure was a blunt instrument which could hurt legitimate enterprises. Following a joint operation in February 2011, the Department of Justice and the Department of Homeland Security claimed having seized 10 website domains allegedly involved in advertising and distributing child pornography, but in error, also seized the domain name of an important DNS provider, resulting in some 84'000 websites being temporarily replaced by online seizure notices.

Within the United Kingdom, the Police Intellectual Property Crime Unit has attempted to seize domain names from registrars without court orders.


Domain Name Suspensions

The Police Intellectual Property Crime Unit (PIPCU) along with other UK based police force organisations make domain suspension requests to registrar Nominet which are processed based on breach of terms & conditions. About 16'000 domain names are suspended each year of which approximately 80% of requests come from PIPCU.


Fictitious Domain Names

A fictitious domain name is used in a work of fiction (book, movie, etc.) or popular culture referring to a domain name that doesn't actually exist -- often with an invalid or unofficial top-level domain. This is a usage analogous to the dummy 555 telephone number prefix used in films and other media. The canonical make believe domain name is "example.com", which has been specifically reserved by the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) in RFC2606 for such use, together with the .example top level domain.

Domain names utilized in works of fiction have sometimes been registered in the Domain Name System (DNS), either by their creators or by cyber-squatters hoping to make money from it. This phenomenon motivated NBC to buy the domain name hornymanatee.com after talk-show host Conan O'Brien mentioned the name while ad-libbing on his show. O'Brien subsequently produced a web-site based on the concept and used it as a running gag on the program.






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