Are you visiting the Hosting Tribunal to find out the best web hosting provider for your future site?
But did you decide on a domain name already?
Do you have a concept about your site?
Do you realize how intertwined the two are?
Actually…. Do you know what is a domain name, in the first place?
If you answer “no” to either of the above questions, you are definitely not ready to have your website yet.
Read on to understand – truly and completely – what are domain names, the phases of their existence, and their huge importance in running a successful website.
You will thank me later.
Table of Contents
What Is a Domain Name?
It is very easy to define a domain name: a string of characters that represent one or multiple IP addresses.
The question is, what do you understand from this domain name definition?
Giving an understandable explanation takes a bit more effort and careful wording. The swamp of technical terminology is alluring but not always beneficial.
Let’s try again.
Domain name is what you type in the address bar of your browser when you want to access a specific web page.
These are two domain names.
Mind, these are registered domain names, but they are not the sites Hosting Tribunal or Google. By definition, a domain name is the address onto which a website resides.
I know it sounds confusing, but the mucky part is easy to grasp with an analogy from the real world. This analogy is as old as the first domain name Symbolics.com, which was registered over three decades ago.
Now that I think of it, it may be older, as Paul Mockapetris probably conceptualized it even before he designed the domain name system.
Anyway, moving on.
What’s the difference between a domain and a website?
Domain name is like the physical address of a street, say, 5 Lincoln Street.
What resides on this address is (a web page in the digital world) a building. This building could be an old Victorian house with an intricate design for several decades before being demolished and turned into a fancy co-work space where lumbersexual hipsters drink copious amounts of coffee and while trying to find meaning to their existence.
The point is that it doesn’t matter what kind of building resides on 5 Lincoln Street; the address itself doesn’t change.
Are you still with me?
It is the same with domain names. They are the location, the digital property onto which something meaningful or obscene is created: a website.
That’s why saying that our site is HostingTribunal.com is technically incorrect. This is our domain name. Our site is comprised of the articles, graphics, case studies, technical pages, comment section, and contact form.
Neat division, if you ask me, and a very real one.
A domain name can totally exist without a website on it, and a website can sort of exist without a domain name.
Now that you have gained some free domain knowledge, check out the infographic to see the importance of a catchy URL and how the domain name system came to be.
Is the Domain Name the Same as the IP Address of a Website?
You might be wondering whether IP addresses and domain names are the same thing.
No, they aren’t.
That’s the whole point of having domain names. They were invented to replace IP addresses for day-to-day human activities.
See, IP addresses are essential for the global network to function. Without them, chaos would reign supreme, and no meaningful communication between multiple independent networks would be possible.
IP addresses are the way machines know each other and who they communicate with.
If we, humans, could remember four sets of one-to-three digits separated by dots, then we wouldn’t need domain names at all. Only that we can’t
Luckily, Paul Mockapetris came up with the ingenious solution known as the domain name system or DNS in short.
Even without a domain name system definition, you can figure out that it makes the domain names function. It does a bunch of other crucial things, but one of its core services is to translate domain names to specific IP addresses.
You might have heard the analogy between the DNS and a phone book if you are old enough to know what the latter means. Domain names are equivalent to human names, while the IP addresses are the phone numbers assigned to each domain.
Of course, being what it is, the DNS can change the records easily, mapping one domain to a new IP address without much effort.
For our current needs, this basic DNS definition should suffice. We have a dedicated resource here on the Hosting Tribunal that explains how it works in depth, what is a domain name server, how a domain name is mapped to a certain IP address, and so forth.
Domain Name Anatomy
Domain names are read from right to left. That’s why the last thing you type, be that dot-com, dot-net, dot-us or dot-whatever, is called top-level domain or TLD, for brevity.
What you type before this dot is the actual domain. In our case, HostingTribunal.com consists of the domain (HostingTribunal) and the TLD dot-com.
By definition, domain names and the entire DNS function in a strict, logical hierarchy. The order of begins with the top-level domains, then actual domains, then anything else.
Because the actual domain may be preceded by the WWW prefix or something else to create a fully qualified domain (FQDN). It could be www.HostingTribunal.com or Mail.HostingTribunal.com.
Whatever the case may be, the part to the left separated with a dot from the main domain is called sub-domain, as it is hierarchically inferior to the main domain. It belongs to it, forming its own (smaller) domain within the actual domain name.
Do you want me to tell you about HTTP and HTTPS that you see in the address bar of your browser?
Relax, I won’t go full-nerd there.
HTTP(S) is not a part of the domain name. Instead, it is the protocol, the language in which computer networks communicate. HTTP(S) stands for hypertext transfer protocol (secure).
Pretty much nothing to do with domain names.
Domain Registration and Lifecycle
The first step to secure the web address you wish starts with a domain name search. Practically all companies that register domains have a domain search field. You can use it to check what is free and what is available.
However, one quite confusing thing for first-timers is the fact that you cannot buy a domain name for good. Instead, domains are registered by public or private entities for some time. They can be renewed before the end of their registration period or left to expire if no longer needed.
The logic behind this arrangement is to allow newcomers to the global network to get the domains they want. Theoretically, it should work because once the registration time expires, the same domain name becomes available for anyone to purchase and register anew.
Only that it is not quite that simple.
Domain Name Registration
Normally, the shortest time for domain registration is one year, while the maximum period is 10. There are exceptions, and certain domain registrars offer premium services that ensure a domain is registered for a longer period, but none can be taken for less than 12 months.
In other words, once a domain is registered, it cannot be unregistered or changed. You have to be very careful when typing in the domain name you wish to have; check the spelling two and even three times to make sure it is exactly what you want.
Registering a domain is one of the most immutable pieces of digital data in existence and for a good reason.
Now, certain domain registrars could try to revoke the domain registration within the first five days of its creation, but it is best to not resort to last-ditch efforts to fix an erroneously spelled name.
Once you have the domain under your control, it would be able to host a website and serve emails for as long as you keep on renewing it. The domain registrar, i.e., the company through which you have purchased the domain, is legally obliged to send you email reminders when the domain expiration approaches so that you can decide on time whether to renew or not.
For as long as you renew it, the domain will be serving you.
In case you don’t renew, though, things become interesting.
On the expiry date, most TLDs enter a grace period that lasts about a month. During the grace period they cease to function. Any websites associated with them become inaccessible, and so do all mailboxes.
All the same, during the grace period the owner – or domain registrant, as is the right name – can renew the domain for the regular renewal fee. If renewed, the domain should return to normal function within 24 hours.
Typically, the grace period lasts 30 days. Some domain guides state “up to 45 days”, but that’s not in the ICANN rules. While occasionally the grace period might be extended for technical reasons, relying on that is simply foolish.
30 days at most.
Some domains, most notably dot-EU, do not have a grace period at all.
Redemption Period and Deletion
Once the grace period is over (if existent in the first place), the domain enters the ominously named redemption period. During this time the domain is in the hands of the registrar and is no longer owned by the initial registrant.
The redemption period typically stretches another 30 days. The owner could request the domain to be restored, buuuuuuuuuut (it is a big one, indeed) there are two caveats:
- The redemption fee is significantly higher than the renewal fee; often, it exceeds $100.
- The registrar (actually, the registry but let’s not go there) is legally allowed to keep the domain; even if a restoration request has been filed and a redemption fee paid, the registrar could keep the domain.
In other words, don’t let your domain enter redemption. Ever.
Once the redemption period is over, the domain name enters deletion. It lasts five days or so. Once over, the domain is officially erased from all records and becomes non-existent.
What that means in practice is that the domain can be registered anew by anyone with internet connection and a credit card.
Domain Hacks – How to Get a Domain Name Back
If your domain name enters redemption and you don’t want to pay the hefty restoration fee, you could wait for the domain to be deleted. Then you could purchase it for the regular registration fee, typically slightly over $10.
The risk here is that the moment the domain appears free, someone else might snatch it. A competitor who wishes you out of the game, a complete stranger who likes the name, a domain name trader who registers domains and resells them for profit, and so forth.
It is a risky move, but it could save you some expenses, potentially.
So, in a nutshell, in case you haven’t seen our neat infographic, the life of a domain name passes through these stages:
- Available for registration – Practically, the domain doesn’t exist yet
- Registration – A person or business purchases it for a set period of time
- Active period – The domain functions for as long as the registration is valid
- Grace period – Kicks in on the last day of the active period, lasts 30 days
- Redemption period – Starts once the grace period is over, lasts 30 days
- Deletion period – Lasts five days and follows the redemption period; the domain is irretrievable
- Available for registration – The cycle is completed
Again, certain TLDs don’t have a grace period, while others don’t have a redemption period. Some don’t have either. Such domains are listed for deletion upon expiry.
Always check with the domain specialists of your registrar for any funky rules before you purchase a domain name.
Domain Name Registration Process
During the registration process, you must fill in something known as WHOIS information. Essentially, this data identifies who rightfully owns a domain name.
There are four WHOIS sections. They are known as registrant, billing, technical, and administrative contacts and are identical. Each asks for a name, physical address, telephone, and an email address.
While all fields should be filled in accurately, the email address is the most important by a long shot. More precisely, the email address you put in the administrative section matters the most, together with the one in the registrant field.
The administrative email is important for proving who owns the domain name, in case of an ownership dispute. It is also the one through which domain name transfers happen.
Practically, up until 2013, the administrative email address was the only significant one.
Since then, ICANN requires that upon registration domain registrars send confirmation emails to the registrant email address.
In other words, if you input the wrong email address when registering a domain, you will never receive the confirmation email and your new web address will be deactivated.
Make sure to check the spam folder of your registrant email address not to miss the confirmation link.
Free Domain Name Registration
Many hosting providers attract new customers with initial lower hosting fees, but they also throw in the mix a domain name.
It is a nice thing to get a free domain registration, but keep in mind that this offer typically covers a single year. After that, you will have to pay for the domain renewal.
All the same, a free service never hurts.
Domain names can be transferred between registrars and between owners. The latter happens much more easily, but it is the former that is normally termed “domain transfer”.
Change of Domain Ownership
For ownership to change, technically, all you need to do is to edit the WHOIS information. Input the name of the new owner and his or her valid email address in the registrant and administrative sections, and that’s it.
Admittedly, that’s a rather narrow definition of domain name ownership transfer. To relinquish control to the new owner completely, she or he must be given access to the control panel of the domain registrar as well.
In case you have many domain names and wish to give away only one of them, a domain transfer might be in order.
Transfer Domains Between Registrars
Domains are transferred for different reasons. Users grow dissatisfied with the registrar company or find a better deal; the hosting service migrates to a new hosting provider, and the domain name follows; a new owner comes in town, and so forth.
Now, a domain can be transferred but only if it is older than 60 days (i.e. two months have passed since its initial registration) and if the receiving registrar can accept it. Not all registrars are authorized to handle all TLDs.
In case the domain name is eligible for transfer, you have to do three things.
Well, four, actually.
First and foremost, make sure you have access to the administrative email associated with the domain. You will need it.
Then go to the current registrar and unlock the domain. By default, domain names are locked to prevent unwanted transfers.
Once the domain is unlocked, ask the registrar to give you the authorization or EPP code. It is a combination of digits and letters unique to your domain that serves to confirm the transfer request.
Without it, no domain can be moved.
Lastly, go to the company you wish to move the domain to and ask them to initiate the transfer. They will send a transfer request to the current company and will need the EPP code to start it.
Once the transfer begins, you must check the administrative email every now and again because you will receive a confirmation request. Typically, it is an email with a link that you need to click to confirm that this is a legit transfer request that you, the rightful owner, wish to happen.
Should you fail to confirm the transfer, it will stop, and the domain name will stay with the current registrar.
Are Domain Transfers Free?
Normally, the gaining registrar would charge you a registration fee for the transfer. This fee will be applied toward renewing the domain for one more year.
I guess, in a sense, this makes the transfer free.
Some hosting providers offer free domain names to new customers, but this offer rarely extends for inbound transfers. Still, it is always worth checking with the sales team to make sure you can’t benefit.
Beware of registrars that charge for providing the authorization code. These are cheap tactics to dissuade people from transferring their domains away.
You can dispute this as you are the rightful registrant and the EPP code belongs to you and are entitled to get it free of charge upon request.
What Is the Best Place to Buy Domain Names?
There are many registrars nowadays. Most website hosting providers can register domain names too.
There is an argument to be had about keeping your domain name where your web hosting services are, but there is one against it, too.
If you have one or two domains and like a particular host, you can easily keep everything in one place, for easier management.
On the other hand, if you have many websites, it is best to have a dedicated domain name registrar.
If you are looking for a deal, buy a domain at Namecheap or GoDaddy. These are two of the largest registrars. And while I have reserves about GoDaddy’s hosting service, their domain registration deals are quite OK.
So, What Is a Domain Name, eh?
If you’ve read the awesome infographic and the entire article up to this point, you already know more about domain names than 95% of the people.
If you have done neither and just came to the bottom to see what wisdom it may contain, I must say that I am a bit disappointed, but… I got you covered, fam.
To have a smoothly running operation online, make sure to register the domain name you wish to use with an email address you actively use. List said email under the registrant and administrative contacts, and you will never lose the domain of yours.
That’s by far the best advice I can give you when it comes to domain management and ownership.
Register with a valid, frequently used an email address, and add the registrar’s email address in your address book or else incoming notifications might end up in the spam folder.
That’s about it.
Q: Are domain names free?
A: Generally, no, they aren’t. However, many web hosting providers allow a free domain registration to their new customers. Funnily enough, domain names used to be free until 1995, but this is no longer the case. Currently, popular TLDs like dot-com, dot-net, dot-org cost about $10 per year.
Q: What is the highest price ever paid for a domain name?
A: LasVegas.com was acquired for $90 million. No joke. Back in 2005, the marketing value of this domain name commanded a price that is yet to be surpassed. The closest rivals in this category are incredibly expensive as well but are very far behind: CarInsurance.con was acquired for $49.7 million, while Insurance.com cost $35.6 million. Both changed hands in 2010.
Q: What is a computer domain?
A: First of all, a computer domain is not a domain name for website hosting. It is a type of computer network comprised of Windows devices. Windows domain usually contains various user accounts and physical devices that have various levels of access to the network and are controlled by a central (set of) controller(s). Let’s leave it at that.
Q: What is a fully qualified domain name?
A: A fully qualified domain name (FQDN) is the complete domain name of a host or a computer. The same way a regular domain is composed of the TLD (.com) and the actual name (HostingTribunal), an FQDN adds a hostname to the mix. It could be WWW for the global network or something else, like “mail” or “ftp.” FTP.HostingTribunal.com is an FQDN, as it specifies completely what is to be accessed.
Q: What is a domain name system?
A: DNS is the thing that makes the world go round. No joke. Without a functioning domain name system, the global network would come to a halt. It is a hierarchical system that is decentralized, delegating functional authority to various authoritative name servers. Most importantly, the DNS maintains a vast database that maps all existing domain names to their respective IP addresses.
Q: What is a domain name and how does it work?
A: A domain name is the address of a website. Every domain is associated with a specific IP address or addresses to display the proper web page. To learn more, scroll up and start from the top!