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What's in a Domain Name?

Posted 20-02-18

Domain names. We have all heard of them, but what are they exactly and where do they come from?

A domain name is a human friendly interpretation of an IP (Internet Protocol) address or string of numbers such as They function similar to phone numbers enabling computers connected to the internet to locate other website resources. In the same way a telephone directory ensures numbers connect successfully, domain names are organised by the Domain Name System (DNS). This system is responsible for matching-up domain names with relevant IP strings.

You may have heard the terms 'domain name' and URL (Uniform Resource Locator) used interchangeably when referring to a web address. They are similar but the URL refers to the website address as a whole, for example https://www.givemegraphics.net/get-in-touch.html where as the 'domain name' references just the 'givemegraphics.net'.

A URL consists of 4 parts: <protocol>://<node>/<label>.<suffix>

The protocol we are most familiar with is https:// (Hypertext Transfer Protocol). HTTP is the underlying framework by which the World Wide Web transfers files. But there are others for example, HTTP Secure (https://) refers to the secure transit of encrypted data on the Internet. FTP (File Transfer Protocol) is used to connect to servers to upload and download files. This is mainly used behind the scenes for the purpose of web design. However the early Internet relied on this kind of exchange before website browsers emerged.

The node refers to the now ubiquitous term 'www' (World Wide Web). There is no real alternative to the 'World Wide Web' as we use it today. You might come across WWW2, WWW3 etc but these are just server configurations splitting-up a larger series of resources. You may have noticed that certain sites work just as well without the 'www'. This is because the network administrator has configured a wild card entry for the domain's DNS record. So basically anything typed before the first '.' other than www or nothing at all; still defaults to the intended domain IP.

The label is the 'meat-in-the-middle' referring to the combination of words used for the domain itself. Different domain name extensions have different rules but generally the label must consist of at least 3 characters and be no more than 63 characters in total. The label may only include: letters, numbers and hyphens (-). The domain name cannot begin or end with a hyphen but can contain one or more hyphens.

Although the label is restricted to 63 characters, the entre URL (Uniform Resource Locator) can be up to 253 characters in length.

The first ever domain name registered was symbolics.com (15 March 1985) by a computer manufacturer. This was followed by the likes of xerox.com and intel.com both registered in 1986. Today there are over 350 million domain names in circulation.

Historically there have been some huge domain name acquisitions. The most expensive domain name known to be sold was 'Insurance.com' for approx. £25 million (2010). Other notable acquisitions include Hotels.com costing over £7 million (2001) and Vodka.com changing hands for around £2 million (2006).

Finally we come to the suffix. These comprise 'top-level domains' (TLDs) and 'sub-level domains' (SLDs). There were originally 7 TLDs introduced as follows:

Accompanied by 255 Country code TLDs including the following:

On June 20, 2011, ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) reviewed legislation meaning companies and organizations could apply for arbitrary top-level domain names. The new regulations have led to an influx of new and original TLDs on the market including the following:

ICANN began accepting applications for new TLDs on January 12, 2012. But don't get too excited the price to apply for a new TLD starts at around £132,000! But this has not stopped some of the worlds' leading brands, such as the following:

Second level domains (SLDs) refer to the entry immediately to the left of the top level domain. So in the case of 'co.uk' the 'co' is the second-level domain meaning 'commercial' followed by the country code. Another example of this would be '.ac.uk' with the 'ac' referring to 'academic institution'.

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