What is a domain?

Knowing what a domain is can go a long way in setting your online presence up for success — particularly if you are a business looking to use a website to increase sales. Your domain name is the backbone of your digital presence. It’s one of the most important things for your visitors to know and remember, and it’s a critical component of your omnichannel marketing strategy.

What is a domain name and why is it important?

A domain name is the physical name of a website.


Every web address has a domain name, and it’s completely unique to that site.

 

Domain names can only be accessed and used by the domain name owner — known as the domain name registrant (we’ll discuss this more below).

A domain name is the combination of letters, number and symbols someone types in their browser to access a specific web address directly.



What are the parts of a domain name?

A domain name is comprised of two different levels. A domain name will have the top-level domain (TLD) and a second-level domain (SLD). Let’s look at each more closely using the Domainssave.com example.

What does top-level domain (TLD) mean?

The last section of a domain name is known as the Top-Level Domain (TLD). In our example (www.DomainsSave.com), the TLD would be the .com segment.

Top-Level Domains are sometimes called domain suffixes or extensions and are meant to communicate the purpose or location of a website.

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) controls registries that make TLDs available. There are several types of TLDs that ICANN recognizes, including:

Generic top-level domain (gTLD)

Generic top-level domains (gTLDs) are the most common type of TLD used, and examples of gTLDs include .com.net.org and .edu. They are meant to signify the objective of a website — like commercial use (.com) or educational purposes (.edu).

Country-code top-level domain (ccTLD)

Domain names can choose to use a ccTLD to indicate the country within which that website is registered. For example, .us is the ccTLD for the United States, and .ie is the ccTLD for Ireland.

A ccTLD is meant to signify the country of a domain name, but some ccTLDs like Libya’s .ly and Tuvalu’s .tv are chosen because of their branding value 

Sponsored top-level domain (sTLD)

Sponsored top-level domains (sTLDs) are actually a subcategory within gTLDs. A domain name using an sTLD is controlled by an agency. For example, .jobs is an sTLD reserved for human resource managers and is controlled by Employ Media LLC.

Unsponsored top-level domain (uTLD)

Unsponsored top-level Domains (uTLDs) are another subcategory within gTLDs. These are any non-restricted gTLDs like .com or .info that are available via most domain registrars.

When domain names first became available in the 1980s, there were seven total gTLDs and only three uTLDs that could be registered without restrictions (.com.net and .org). The lack of options for TLDs led many people to choose “.com” as the TLD for their domain name — which has cemented .com as the preferred choice for many registrants and users.

Because .com has been around for so long, it’s not always possible to get a short and memorable domain name ending with this ever-popular extension. 


What does second-level domain (SLD) mean?

The second-level domain (SLD), sometimes referred to as 2LD, is the section preceding the TLD. In our example (www.DomaisSave.com), it would be the DomainsSave segment.

The SLD is often the most valuable portion of the domain name because it makes up the main identity for users.

While the TLD is important, most of the value of a domain name is found before the TLD. For instance, with Google.com, there is more value in Google than in the .com section. The role of the SLD portion of the domain name is usually to reinforce the brand or website identity.

The maximum length of an SLD is 63 characters, but generally, you want to pick an SLD that is short, branded and memorable.

Domain vs. URL — What’s the difference?

A domain name is a specific string of text that can direct someone to a website. This definition also loosely describes a Uniform Resource Locator (URL). In fact, people often use URL and domain interchangeably — even though there are specific differences.

What is the URL?

A Uniform Resource Locator (URL) is a string of characters in a web browser that tells the server to display a specific resource to an end user. While a URL and domain name have similarities, the URL is much more descriptive. In fact, a URL actually encompasses the domain name.

For example,https://www.domainssave.com/en/domain/sifahane.com is a URL that includes the domain name DomainsSave.com within it. In fact, let’s look at the other elements of that URL.

The protocol

URLs include schemes or protocols that communicate how to access that specific resource. In the example above, https:// is the protocol. Most web addresses will use either HTTP (Hypertext Transfer Protocol) or HTTPS (HTTP with SSL).

The domain name

Following the protocol and subdomain is the domain name, which we discussed previously. In our example, that would be the DomainSave.com section. Domain names include the top-level domain (TLD) and second-level domain (SLD).

The path

The path section of the URL defines the exact resource for the web server to display. In the example, the path would be /en/domain/hostpage.net and includes the critical elements of the URL following the TLD. It’s important to note that the path will begin with a forward slash and is case sensitive.

The directory or subfolder

A URL might include a directory or subdirectory within the path section of the web address. This section of the URL is essentially a folder within the main website that houses the specific resource. In our example, /alldomain/  or is the directory. Some URLs have directories and subfolders within those directories.

The file name

The last major section of a URL is the file name or file extension. This tells the web server the exact file to display to the end user. Common file names include .pdf.png and .html — although, most websites remove the HTML extension automatically from URLs.

In our example, the file name is what-is-whois-information/ which is a specific webpage found in the /en/blog/ directory on Domainssave.com.

The difference between a URL and domain

A website’s URL will always include the site’s domain name. However, as you can see, there are several other sections of the URL that are required to access any resource or page of a website.

The main difference between the domain name and a URL is the complexity.

 

The domain name directs users to one specific page on the website, and it won’t include the protocol or subdomain — if one exists.

While there is only one domain name for a website, there can be an endless number of URLs.

Every page, image and other media on your website has a unique URL. As the name suggests, Universal Resource Locators are used to pinpoint and render your website’s unique assets.

Domain vs. website — What’s the difference?

Many people inadvertently confuse domain and website — but, the two terms are quite different within the context of the internet. While a domain name and website are closely related, they are not the same; and it’s important to know the distinction.


What is a website?

A website lives on a domain, and it’s the collection of files and coding language in the backend that produces a front-end experience for internet users.

In other words, your website is what a user sees when they visit your domain name or specific URLs on your domain.

The difference between a website and domain

The domain is the series of characters someone puts into their web browser to access your website, which is the visual result once they visit the domain. The website provides the user experience once someone visits your domain.

Conceptually, you can think of a domain like your home address and the website as the physical home. The address is how someone finds your home, but the style, size and layout of your home might vary drastically from one house to the next.

What is the domain name system (DNS)?

The Domain Name System (DNS) is a technical process by which domain names (example.com) are translated into their corresponding Internet Protocol (IP) addresses (XXX.XXX.XX.XXX).

As we mentioned previously, every website has a complex string of numbers and letters known as an IP address that computers use to render a web address to an end user.

While humans use words, letters and numbers to navigate to a specific website, the internet uses IP addresses to identify the web page’s location.

The domain name system (DNS) is a database of domain names and their IP addresses.

 

When you type in the domain name or URL that you want to visit, the DNS works behind the scenes to find the site’s correct IP address, and then it connects you to the website.

How does the domain name system (DNS) work?

Think of DNS like the phone book on your smartphone. When you say call “name” or start typing the name of your contact into your phone, something amazing happens — your phone calls the person you wanted. This isn’t magic; it’s a complex process that receives and translates inputs into the desired output for an end user.

DNS operates the same way, but with web addresses.

Just like every person has a unique phone number, every website has a unique domain name and subsequent IP address.

The translation from domain name to IP address is known as DNS resolutionThe DNS resolution process includes several steps that happen almost instantaneously to resolve the DNS query.

Step 1: A user types a domain name or URL into their browser. The user’s internet browser issues a query request (DNS query) to the network to render the appropriate web page.

Step 2: A request is sent to the DNS recursor (recursive resolver) that was assigned to your computer from your Internet Service Provider (ISP). If the DNS recursor has the IP address cached, it will return the A record (host record).

Step 3: If the user’s recursive resolver doesn’t have the IP address cached, it will send a query for the IP address to the DNS root nameservers.

Step 4: The root nameservers examine the top-level domain (TLD) of the query and refer your DNS recursor to the appropriate nameservers based on the TLD.

Step 5: Every TLD has a unique set of nameservers, and every domain name has DNS information stored on these nameservers via a zone file. When a query request reaches TLD nameservers, it reviews the second-level domain from the query request and defers the request to the authoritative DNS servers which hold the zone file.

Step 6: Your DNS recursor will then send a query request directly to the referred DNS nameservers. Because every domain has designated nameservers, these authoritative databases store important domain information in the zone file — including IP addresses.

Step 7: Your DNS recursor retrieves the A record, or the DNS record used to map the IP address, and stores this information on its local cache for future reference.

Step 8: Your DNS recursor returns the A record and renders the web address associated with the IP address to your browser.

Why is the domain name system (DNS) important?

Machines and humans communicate differently. While we might prefer letters and words, computers use numbers to communicate back and forth. Fortunately, the internet was designed to accommodate these different preferences through DNS resolution.

DNS is important because it creates a more efficient internet.

If we were asked to remember the IP addresses to any website we wanted to visit, it would be overwhelming and cumbersome. However, thanks to DNS, users only need to remember the domain name.


DNS resolution occurs in milliseconds — so the user never recognizes that the process is occurring.

How do you know which nameserver to use?

The hosting company you use for your domain name will determine the nameserver names or IP addresses for your domain’s zone file.

You will need to update the domain name’s DNS settings via your domain registrar who will then communicate those changes to the domain registry.

After you make changes to your DNS server settings, it can take up to 48 hours to update worldwide domain name servers. This window is known as propagation.

Premium Domain Name Definition

A premium domain name is a domain that is already owned by a person or registry. Its cost can be significantly more than a typical domain purchase — anywhere from hundreds to hundreds of thousands of dollars — due to its perceived higher value. The higher price will apply to the initial acquisition of the domain, but it will renew at the regular renewal price for whichever domain extension it uses.

A domain becomes premium when someone believes that a particular domain name is more valuable than the average domain. 

To become premium, the owner will use a marketplace service like Afternic to set a price and list the domain. Potential buyers can then either go directly to the marketplace to browse available premium domains or will see these in results when searching a domain provider like Hover.

Not all premium domains are set by individuals. Some registries (the owners of domain extensions like .club or .info) will set a higher initial price of domains that they believe are premium. It’s not always clear which premiums are set independently or by registries, and the process of buying one won’t be noticeably different for you.