What Is a Domain Name?
Domain names are a special name that you can apply to your website or MySpace page. Once you apply it to your website, users can reach your website by typing this domain name into the browser's address bar.
Examples of domain names are
google.com. You can reach the "great workout" website by typing its domain name (great-workout.com) into the address bar.
Most websites have a www subdomain applied to their domain name so that you can reach the website by typing "www" followed by the domain name (eg, www.great-workout.com). This is done on the DNS server after you've registered the domain name, and has nothing to do with the domain name itself (i.e. you can add www to any domain name). You can also add other subdomains as you wish.
You can reach any page on a website by typing the domain name followed by the path to the page. For example, www.great-workout.com/nutrition/index.cfm
Only one person/company can own a domain name at any time. Therefore, if you want
mycompany.com but someone else has it, you will need to either find another name, or offer to buy it from them. You could also wait for it to expire and hope they don't re-register it... but you could be waiting a long time!
Types of Domain Names
There are various types of domain names. The most common ones are the generic domains (which include
.com domains) and the country code domains (which use a two letter country code, such as
.uk for United Kingdom).
You can tell which type a domain name is by its extension. To find out more about the various types of domain names see this list of domain extensions and definitions.
The last segment of a domain name (eg
.com) is referred to as the top-level domain.
There are many more top-level domains than just those with a .com suffix. There are many other suffixes that can be used, such as .net, .org, .biz, .info to name a few. Most of these have a general purpose, for example, .org was created for organizations, .info was created for information sites etc.
If the .com version of your chosen name is unavailable, another top-level domain could be available. These are seen as different domain names. For example,
mycompany.org are two different domain names - one company could register the
.com and another could register the
.org version. The same applies for company specific domain names. Some countries have further criteria that you need to satisfy before they will allow you to register a domain name with that country's suffix/domain extension.
To find out more about top-level domains see this article on top-level domains.
Choosing a Domain Name
You should choose a domain name that truly reflects what your website is all about. You should try and keep your domain name concise. If it consists of multiple words consider separating each word with a hypen. This will largely depend on how the domain name looks with and without a hypen. It will also depend on the availability of your preferred domain name.
If you find that your preferred domain name has already been registered under all applicable suffixes, you might need to get creative and think of another domain name. At this point, you may also need to consider the name of your website. If this isn't an option, you could try buying a domain name off the current owner.
Registering a Domain Name
You don't actually buy a domain name, you register it. To do this, you need to register it with a domain name registrar. You can choose how long you'd like to register it for. Options typically include anywhere from 1 year to 10 years.
In a sense, you can buy a domain name. You can do this if someone else already has already registered the domain name. What you're really doing though is buying the right to register it. You still need to keep the domain name registered with a registrar, otherwise someone else will be able to register it once it expires.
Many web hosting providers include domain registration in their hosting packages. In this case, you don't need to register it through a separate domain name registrar.
You can register your domain name through ZappyHost.
You can also see this step by step guide for registering your domain name.
Hosting a Domain Name
Once you've registered a domain name, your domain name registrar will probably point it to a webpage that they've configured. This page may have ads on it - that way they can make money from your domain name!
If you need it to point to your website, you will need to update the authoritative DNS servers to be those of your website hosting provider. Your web hosting provider can provide you with these details. Once you've received them, you should be able to log in to a control panel via your domain name registrar's website. This control panel should have an option for you to update the authoritative DNS servers of your domain name.
If you have a MySpace page, you may want your domain name to point to it. If so, see the "Domain Forwarding and MySpace Pages" section below.
Behind the Scenes
You may be wondering how on earth the domain name ends up pointing to your website.
When your hosting provider configures your website, they assign it an IP address. An IP address looks something like this: 188.8.131.52. Your IP address is unique - no other IP address on the Internet is the same as the one given to your website. Now, what this means is that anyone could access your website by typing in the IP address. Technically, you don't even need a domain name. Only problem with this is that IP addresses are hard to remember. It's much easier to remember a nice catchy domain name.
Anyway, after your hosting provider assigns an IP address to your website, you have the option of having a domain name resolve to that IP address. When you enter in the details of an authoritative DNS server, you are specifying which server should be used to resolve that domain name. The authoritative DNS server links your domain name with an IP address. You could have as many domain names as you like pointing to the same IP address. Therefore, you could have
mycompanys-product.com all pointing to the same website.
You can make your domain name "forward" to another web page if you so wish. This is where your domain name redirects to another web page instead of being mapped to a website.
You an also set up masking, which allows the domain name to remain in the address bar (instead of the forwarded name).
Domain Name Usage
Although most people register domain names to use with their website, there are other reasons people register domain names.
Here are some of the most common uses for domain names.