A Beginner's Guide to Domain Names

By Kevin Quia  |  Mar 21, 2022

A domain name is a crucial element of a website and, by extension, the whole internet. Domain names give internet users a handy way to remember the address of a website. Without them, we would have to remember a string of numbers to get to our favorite site. Imagine having to go to to Google something.

A domain name gives a business a great way to make a first impression. Choosing the right one is critical because it is an integral part of branding your business. Because of this, it pays to learn the basics of domain names and how they work.

What is a Domain Name?

A domain name is part of the URL that people type into a web browser to visit a page on a website.

Here is how the URL elements break down in a URL like this: http://example.com/example.html.

  • http://: This is the protocol that tells the browser how to handle the web resource. Secure connections that are encrypted use https:// and those that are not use http://.
  • example.com: This is the domain name.
  • example.html: This is a resource or web page hosted at the server to which this domain name maps. When you use a URL like http://example.com that has no resource, you are actually requesting http://example.com/index.html, which is the default index page.

Top-Level Domains (TLDs)

The top-level domain is the part of a domain after the dot. Here are some of the most common top-level domains:

  • .com
  • .net
  • .org
  • .gov
  • .edu

At one time, these were the only top-level domains available. Now you can choose from more than 1,000.

Second-Level Domains

When you register a domain name like example.com, you are registering a combination of a top-level domain, .com, and a second-level domain, example. A second-level domain is also known as an SLD.


Subdomains are also known as third-level domains. For example, in a URL like www.example.com, it is the www part. Originally, the www subdomain was meant to signify a site that is part of the web, and other subdomains were used for purposes like email. Today, this is no longer the case. The person who registers a domain name has control of all the subdomains and can create as many as they want when they new websites—for example, hosting a new blog at blog.example.com.

History of Domains

The first domain name registered was symbolics.com on March 15, 1985, by Symbolics Inc., which is no longer in business. By 1988, there were only 300 domains registered. Domains were free to register before 1995 until Network Solutions became the first domain name registrar. There was a limited number of top-level domains initially, but this changed in 2014 when more than 500 new top-level domains were added. Now there are more than 1,000.

How Do Domains Work?

The internet is a vast network of computers. In order for these computers to communicate with each other and make the internet possible, they need a system to locate each other. To do this, they use an IP address. Each computer on the internet is assigned one of these IP addresses. When one computer knows another computer’s IP address, it can communicate with it in the same way you can send a letter to someone if you know their street address.

While an IP address like works for computers to communicate with each other, it is very hard for humans to remember. So domain names were created as a human-readable alias for IP addresses. The system that makes the translation from domain name to IP address possible is called DNS, which stands for Domain Name System.

When you enter a domain name in a browser address bar or click on a link, your browser sends a request to one or more of the many DNS servers located around the world. These servers connect to the nameservers that are managed by web hosting providers to search for the domain you are requesting. Once the domain is found, the DNS server forwards your request to the IP address connected to the domain, and will cache this data so it doesn’t have to search for it next time. Next, the server hosting the website sends the web page you requested back to your browser.

Where Do Domain Names Come From?

Up until 1998, DNS was controlled completely by the United States government. In that year, DNS was partially privatized, and ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) was formed to manage DNS and domain name registrations. ICANN acts independently of the government as a non-profit corporation and develops all the policies regarding domain names.

ICANN controls the creation of new top-level domains, the operation of root-level name servers, and the assignment of IP addresses to regional internet registries. But ICANN doesn’t control access to the internet and does not actually register domain names. But it does delegate the responsibility of maintaining a specific TLD to a company or organization. For example, it gave Verisign control over the .com and .net registries.

Registry operators like Verisign aren’t responsible for registrations either. Instead, a company gets accredited through either ICANN itself or one of the registry operators to register domains and then can sell domain names for a fee. When you buy a domain name from a domain name registrar, the registrar uses part of the fee you payed to pay a registry operator like Verisign.

How to Buy Domain Names

There a few ways to buy a domain name. A common way to get one is through a domain name registrar. When you “buy” a domain name, you are actually only registering it for a year. The price of registration can vary depending on the top-level domain you are using and the registrar you use. In order to keep the domain for more than a year, you must renew it, or someone else can buy it out from under you.

Getting a domain name from a registrar can be a tedious process and a lot of the time, you won’t find the domain you want because someone else may already have it registered. Often, it is more convenient for businesses to find relevant domains from a domain brokerage which sell high-quality, in-demand domain names that are already in use. So, for a domain name that will fit your business without all the hassle, give us a try.