The internet is a strange and wondrous place, but it is constantly changing. It’s hard to keep up. We are here to help by explaining “what does that mean?”
Imagine every time you had to give your address to someone, you were forced to give the exact coordinates of the front door of your house. Thankfully, most of us have vanity addresses or instead of giving our 901 Bagby Street as the address for Houston City Hall, we’d have to remember 40.741895,-73.989308. Delivering the mail would take on a whole new level of complexity.
What is it?
As mentioned, a domain name is a vanity name that gives people a simple address to a more complicated location. Domain names normally “point” at an IP address, which is a number that looks like 111.22.333.44 or similar. The IP address is like the coordinates for a house only it’s for a computer likely in a giant rack of servers somewhere in the world. In short, it is how people find that computer.
Rather than having to memorize numbers, some genius came up with the idea for a simple naming convention called domain names. And we all rejoiced.
Ok, but what is a URL?
Good question. A Uniform Resource Locator (URL) is simply a web address. That could be a domain name or it could be an IP Address. Either way, it is what you type into your browser to get to a website.
You buy them, right?
Technically, you lease domain names. All of them are “owned” by a non-profit organization that controls domain names around the world. You pay annually for the right to use a particular name. Once you have registered it through a registrar (GoDaddy, Register.com, Network Solutions are a few of the more well known examples of registrars), you can continue to lease it as long as you renew it on time.
But, I can’t get the name I want!
Just as business names are doled out on a first-come-first-serve basis, the same goes for domains. Worse yet, people can buy them and do nothing with them referred to as cybersquatting. There is often no legal recourse, so you sometimes have to get creative or agree to purchase a domain for a sum set by the person who owns it. We have some tips on purchasing a domain name for your business here.
What’s the deal with the .com?
The end of a domain is called the extension. This could be .com, .net, .org or any of a host of other options. There are a few that are restricted for obvious reasons like .gov and .edu, but most are available for use and there are LOTS of them. The .com variety, which was originally short for “commercial,” continues to be the most widely used despite the proliferation of various extensions.
But what about the www?
It is important to note that domain names do not come with a WWW. Shocking, right? Before explaining where that came from, let us try to detail what this means.
Every domain name can be split into various “records.” It’s like having multiple addresses for yourself: a physical address, a PO Box, a work address. Different mail is routed to different places based on your needs. A domain name controls not only the address of your website but also your email or some other purpose. Each of these records can be pointed at a totally different server. So, your website can be hosted one place while your mail is hosted somewhere else.
For simplicity, most web addresses are A NAME records and mail addresses use MX Records. There are also CNAME and other variations, but for the purposes of this, the one you’ll want to focus on is the A NAME. That’s because you can create subdomains using these records.
The simplest version of the A NAME record is what is often called the WWW record because of the www.yourdomainname.com. It was created because, decades ago before everyone used the internet, geeks wanted to differentiate between a private server and a public version. The public version was given the WWW designation which stood for World Wide Web. Now, most of the time, the WWW record and the domain name are interchangeable.
However, you could put almost anything in front of your domain name. One example would be if you wanted credit card transactions to be processed on a separate, secure server. You might create secure.yourdomainname.com which points to a different computer and even physical location than your main website. Subdomains can come in extremely handy for creating new websites using the same basic domain name.
And the http:// part?
That is getting pretty nerdy there, my friend. You can read up more on it here.
Why this is important.
In many cases, your domain name is as important as your business name. It might even BE your business name. It is your identity as an organization and, as such, should be treated accordingly.
There are plenty of resources out there for acquiring and maintaining your domain name. Be sure to familiarize yourself with what they are and how they work. But you aren’t alone. We help our clients with domain names nearly every day. If you are struggling with issues related to domain names, contact us today and we’ll help you figure it out.