Categories: How it Works

Domain Names: Everything you need to know

A domain name is something that is used by every person browsing the internet, whether you know what it is or how to use it, it still exists.

What are domain names and how do they work?
What are domain names and how do they work?

Before we look at what a domain name is, how it works and why it exists – let’s take a step back and look at the time when domain names did not exist… And yes, such a time did exist. 

Back in the day, before the existence of domain names, communicating via networks were done in a similar manner to that of a telephone or cell phone connection. To communicate or connect to another computer via a network, you had to poses the number of the computer. This number was (and still is) referred to as an IP Address. IP Addresses are still used today, but because not everyone is good in remembering something what seems to be a random sequence of numbers, domain name system (DNS) was created. 

So, what exactly happens when you enter a domain name?

When browsing the internet and visiting website you rarely consider how you got there, or what got you there in the first place. Most people merely remember a website address (e.g. facebook.com), but what happens when you enter a facebook.com (a domain name) into a browser?

The domain name request you entered is sent to a DNS Servers. The DNS Server resolves the domain name and finds the record that correctly matches the domain name entered. Once this record is found the DNS Server can read the file and determine which IP Address the domain name is linked to. This system allows the DNS server to “point” the user (or browser) to the correct computer (or server) based on the computer (or servers) IP Address.

Before domain names existed, users would be required to remember the IP Addresses of the computers they wished to connect to in order to see what is on the computer. Today, we have billions of website online, making it impossible for any one single person to remember all the IP Addresses. Thus, the domain name system (DNS) was introduced to allow people to easily connect to computers (or servers) by simply entering a simple name… A domain name.

Can I use an IP Address to connect to a website?

 

Well in short, yes and no. The internet has definitely come a long way, and through years of innovative thinking computer geniuses have developed new ways for domain names to be linked to IP Addresses, and for IP Addresses to be linked to servers (which in essence stores your website). 

Today, one server could hold multiple websites, which means that multiple domain names need to be pointed to the same server (or IP Address). When this is done, the websites are hosted (or stored) on a shared server with a shared IP Address. So by entering the IP Address you may not necessary access one website.

However, with that said, some larger corporations such as Google, Amazon or Facebook use dedicated servers with dedicated IP Addresses. This means that their IP Addresses are not being shared by multiple domain names. In such cases it would be possible to reach a website by entering an IP address, in fact let’s try it out.

TRY THIS YOURSELF!

Try to access Google, Facebook or Amazon by entering their IP Addresses into your browser instead of their domain names.

So, next time you are having trouble accessing Facebook, try using their direct IP Address instead.

What is the difference between a domain name and URL?

A domain name is a unique identifier of your site, which means it is used to identify on which server the website is stored (or hosted). A URL (uniform resource locator) is the full address of the website with all the parameters.

For instance: facebook.com is the domain name for Facebook, while facebook.com/iWitsDevelopment/ is the address (URL) to find iWits on Facebook.

A domain name allows you to connect to the website, while the URL allows you to request a specific page or section from the website. Since we already know that domain names are linked to IP Addresses, we can replace the domain name in the URL with the IP address and still get the same results.

For instance, we’ve determined that the IP Address for facebook.com is 173.252.120.68, thus instead of entering facebook.com/iWitsDevelopment/ to access the iWits Facebook page we could enter in 173.252.120.68/iWitsDevelopment/ and get the same results. 

What are domain extensions and do they really matter?

A domain name extension (such as .com or .com.na) is a method in which domain names are categorised. Right in the beginning, different organisations had different extensions - .gov for government sites, .com for commercial sites or even country specific like .com.na for commercial Namibian sites. These domain name extensions helped user quickly identify the type of organisation the site is for.

After the dot-com bubble burst, many different domain extensions started popping up. Domain names such as .me, .shop, or even .ninja started becoming popular. In July 2015 the Registry reported that there are more than 1,000 top-level domain names (TLDs) available.

Previously, having a .com domain extension was the most preferred and generally accepted choice, but thanks to all the new domain extensions it boils down to personal preference.

Some may still argue that Google (and other search engines) will penalize your site if it has a creative domain extension, which is far from the truth. So go nuts, and start using domain extensions that you like.

Can anyone buy a domain name?

Yes, anyone can buy a domain name. Domain names are purchased via Domain Registrars, which are registered companies who resell domain names. One of the most popular domain registrars internationally would be Godaddy.

To purchase a domain name, simply go to a domain registrars website (like Godaddy), create an account, enter the domain name you are looking for, pay for it and point it to the server in question. The best thing about a domain name is that you don’t have to point it to a website or server; you can point it to your blogger site, YouTube channel or even Facebook page.

What do I do when some owns a domain name I want?

Firstly, it is important to remember that a domain name is a unique way to identify where a website is stored, thus two different websites cannot use the same domain name.

For instance, the domain name iwits.me belongs to iWits, however if the domain name iwits.info is available this domain name can be purchased by anyone and pointed to their own website.

This means that there could be 1,000 different iwits websites out there all with a different domain extension. Thus, when you can’t find the domain name in the first preferred domain extension you can also check if the same domain name is available using a different domain extension. In some cases, especially with large corporations involved, this is not the case. When such an event is reached, users have the ability to purchase the domain name from another user; however this could become pricy. Generally when this happens the person who owns the domain name, may determine the price at which it will be sold to the user that wants it.

To give you an example of how expensive this could be, in 2004 the domain name beer.com was sold for US$ 7 million. Here is a list of 20 of the most expensive domain names ever sold. Back in the 90s a lot of people bought up domain names and resold it to large corporations for massive amounts. 

I bought a domain name, so does it belong to me forever?

Well, first of all it’s important to remember that you never truly buy a domain name; you are actually renting the domain name. It is absolutely possible to rent the domain name for long period at a time (e.g. 5 years or even 10 years), you never truly buy the domain name which means it never really belongs to you.

It is EXTREMELY important to remember to ALWAYS renew your domain name on time, you don’t want to end up like poor SONY did.

That covers a large part of domain names, we hope this article answered all of the questions you may have about domain names, but please feel free to use the comment section below to ask us any additional questions you may have about domain names. 

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