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Domain Name Explained for Beginners: What is a Domain Name and How Do Domains Work?

what is a domain name explained for beginners

Many a times, we often get asked what is a domain name and how does a website domain work? The reason for this question is because you’ve probably heard that you need a domain to make a website. And in most cases, domain names often get confused with a website or website hosting.

As a beginner, when you decide to create a website, start a blog or bring your business online, you’ll often come across web terms such as: domain name, website URL, domain registrar and a host of other domain properties like .com, .net, .org and more.

In this guide, we will explain what a domain name is, how it works and other things involved with a domain name that you need to know – in the easiest to understand means possible.

What is a Domain name?

A domain name generally is a websites address. Same way you have a physical address people can use to locate you; your website domain name is what people type into their browsers to access your website.

  • Examples of domain names are:
  • Google.com
  • facebook.com
  • ittvis.com
domain name concept illustration

In a much simpler term.

Anything that comes after the “@” in an email address or ends after the “www” in a website address is a domain name. Which in turn is the name/address of the website.

If your website was a house or office, then your domain name will be its address.

Practical Example

When you type “123 Main Street” in google maps, hundreds of spots across the United States shows up.

Now type that same address into your web browser as “123MainStreet.com” and see what comes up. You are instantly taken to the free plug agency logic website.

Now, 123 Main Street and 123MainStreet.com are both considered addresses. However, the web-based version is a far more unique and powerful address than the one that physically identifies a home or business in Anytown, USA.

How domain names work

To set up and create your website, you need both a domain name and web hosting for your website to fully be accessible online.

Anything that ends in a .com, .org, .edu, or any other .xyz suffix can technically be considered a web address, but a more apt description would be a web identifier. Most commonly this is what we call a domain name.

As a web identifier

Domain name IP address concept

But what exactly does the domain name identify?

The actual online address for a website is an Internet Protocol or IP address, which is a group of numbers that provides the identity for a given site.

The Internet works as a series of interconnected networks and the devices plugged into that network need a way to identify and interact with each other. They do this best when they communicate via numbers.

Hence the IP address, which appears as something like 66.249.64.1 (among endless variations). This allows a computer to connect to the server hosting a particular website and relay whatever information is necessary for you to browse that site.

Humans, however, do not communicate like computers.

Practical explanation

To further simplify how domains work, Let’s take a closer look at one of the biggest internet players today.

If someone asks you the capital of Liechtenstein, there’s a good chance you’ll respond by saying “Google it.”

A far more accurate way to respond is recommending they, “64.68.90.1 it.” Or suggest they try a 216.239.59.128 search. (Both are actual Google IP addresses).

But seriously, who talks like that?

It’s much easier to communicate the word-based domain name than it is the numerical IP address.

And thus, we have a system of domain names that identify the actual, behind-the-scenes Internet addresses.

Components that make a website domain name complete and accessible

Now that you know that a domain name is the public face of an IP address let’s examine the specifics of all components that makes a website domain name complete and accessible.

What makes a domain name work?

The URL

Domain URL and subdomain illustration

URL is an acronym for “Uniform Resource Locator”, it can be considered the full Internet address identifier for a particular website or webpage. There are multiple parts to the URL, one of which is the domain name.

Let’s revisit Liechtenstein for a minute and break down the following URL:

“https://www.google.com/maps/place/Liechtenstein/”

The URL breaks down as follows:

  • https:// is the protocol or the manner in which a network transfers data.
  • www is a subdomain. It can either be removed or included, depending on the webmaster’s choice.
  • google.com is the actual domain name. Whare “Google” is the actual brand name and “.com” is the top-level domain.
  • /map/place/Liechtenstein/ is the path to the specific information you are searching for.

As you can see, locating a website on the Internet requires more than just the domain name. Without it though, you’d be forced to memorize endless strings of numbers, which would be impossible.

Within the domain name there are two parts: the top-level domain and the mid-level domain. These are laid out from right to left.

Top Level Domain

The top-level or parent domain is the familiar three-letter suffix with a leading period or dot (.). For the vast majority of servers based in the United States, the most common suffixes are:

  • .com – for general commercial use, and can be used openly by anyone
  • .net – once limited to network-based providers, this suffix can be used publicly by anyone
  • .org – organizations commonly identified as non-profit, but can be used openly by anyone
  • .gov – government-based websites
  • .edu – educational based sites, like colleges and universities
  • .mil – used by the United States military

Additionally, when surfing international websites, the top-level domain suffix corresponds directly to the home country and uses a two-letter code. A few notables include:

  • .au – Australia
  • .ca – Canada
  • .de – Germany (for the German translation to Deutschland)
  • .fr – France
  • .li – Liechtenstein
  • .mx – Mexico
  • .uk – United Kingdom

Mid-Level Domain

The mid-level or child domain is the portion of the name that comes before the .com parent suffix. For Google.com, the parent is .com, and the child is Google.

You’ve probably already figured it out, but the mid-level domain is arguably the single most crucial part of any web address. It’s how people identify your personal or professional website.

This is where the uniqueness of a web address comes into play. The mid-level domain can be whatever combination of letters and numbers you want it to be. Each name must be distinct and cannot match another website’s domain.

How do you get a unique domain name for your website?

If you want to start a blog or set up your website and need your own brand unique domain that no one else has, you simply register it.

For a domain to be active, you must register it through a domain name registrar service. Or use the services of an approved domain name registration company.

Domain name registration: How to register a domain name

These are the basic steps involved in registering a domain name:

  1. Choose a domain name registration service.
  2. Visit the domain name registrar website.
  3. Type in the domain name you want to register in the domain name search box.
  4. Click “Enter” to check if your preferred domain is available.
  5. If your domain is available, click ” Continue” to proceed.
  6. Enter your domain contact information.
  7. Checkout to pay and complete your domain name registration.

Popular accredited domain name registrars

A reputable registrar service is one that has been accredited by the non-profit group ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers).

Some of the most popular and reputable domain name registrars include:

GoDaddy

GoDaddy is one of the oldest and possibly most well-known domain registrar and website hosting group.

Bluehost

Often associated with WordPress, this registrar is excellent for beginners and novices.

HostGator

Widely used alternative to the above options; aside from domain registration, they host over nine million websites.

Network Solutions

Associated with web.com, this is a good domain registration and host option for the more tech-savvy crowd.

Namecheap

If you’re looking for a simple, inexpensive registrar service, then the name here says it all.

There are numerous other options available so make sure you do your research before deciding on the one that best fits your domain registration needs.

Frequently asked questions about domain names

Conclusion

More than just a simple address or identifier, a domain name is the public face of every Internet website.

Understanding how domain names work and the purpose they serve is of crucial essence when creating or building a website.

The right domain for your website, business or brand is one that is catchy and memorable. A domain that will serve as an excellent marketing tool for many years and allows diversity is a great way to build a reputable brand.