The term domain name has multiple meanings, all related to the Domain Name System (main article).
- a name that is entered into a computer (e.g. as part of a website or other URL, or an email address) and then looked up in the global [Domain Name System] which informs the computer of the IP address(es) with that name.
- the product that registrars provide to their customers.
- a name looked up in the DNS for other purposes.
They are sometimes colloquially (and incorrectly) referred to by marketers as "web addresses".
They provide rememberable names to stand in for numeric addresss and allow for any service to move to a different location in the topology of the Internet (or another internet), which would then have a different IP address.
Each string of letters, digits and hyphens between the dots is called a label in the parlance of the domain name system (DNS). Valid labels are subject to certain rules, which have relaxed over the course of time. Originally labels must start with a letter, and end with a letter or digit; any intervening characters may be letters, digits, or hyphens. Labels must be between 1 and 63 characters long (inclusive). Letters are ASCII A–Z and a–z; domain names are compared case-insensitively. Later it became permissible for labels to commence with a digit (but not for domain names to be entirely numeric), and for labels to contain internal underscores, but support for such domain names is uneven. These are the rules imposed by the way names are looked up ("resolved") by DNS. Some top level domains (see below) impose more rules, such as a longer minimum length, on some labels. Fully qualified names (FQDNs) are sometimes written with a final dot.
Translating numeric addresses to alphabetical ones, domain names allow Internet users to localize and visit websites. Additionally since more than one IP address can be assigned to a domain name, and more than one domain name assigned to an IP address, one server can have multiple roles, and one role can be spread among multiple servers. One IP address can even be assigned to several servers, such as with anycast and hijacked IP space.
The following examples illustrates the difference between a URL (Uniform Resource Locator) and a domain name:
- URL: http://www.example.com/
- Server name: www.example.com
- Domain name: example.com
- Subdomain: www
- Domain: example
- Top level domain: com
As a general rule, the IP address and the server name are interchangeable. For most internet services, the server will not have any way to know which was used. The big exception to this is for web addresses. The explosion of interest in the web means that there are far more websites than servers. To accommodate this the hypertext transfer protocol (HTTP) specifies that the client tells the server which name is being used. This way one server, with one IP address, can provide different sites for different domain names.
For example, the server at 184.108.40.206 handles all of the following sites:
Every domain name ends in a top-level domain (TLD) name, which is always either one of a small list of generic names (three or more characters), or a two characters territory code based on ISO-3166 (there are few exceptions and new codes are integrated case by case).
Examples of (gTLD) extensions are:
Examples of country code top-level domain (ccTLD) extensions are:
- .eu (not an ISO-3166 code, and not a country, but used anyway for the European Union) (Although not finally approved, it's already live on some root servers!)
- .uk (not an ISO-3166 code, but used anyway)
- .su (not an existing country at the moment - Soviet Union, but used anyway)
ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) has overall responsibility for managing the DNS. It controls the root domain, delegating control over each top-level domain to a domain name registry. For ccTLDs, the domain registry is typically controlled by the government of that country. ICANN has a consultation role in these domain registries but is in no position to regulate the terms and conditions of how a domain name is allocated or who allocates it in each of these country level domain registries. On the other hand, generic top-level domains (gTLDs) are governed directly under ICANN which means all terms and conditions are defined by ICANN with the cooperation of the gTLD registries.
Domain names which are theoretically leased can be considered in the same way as real estate, due to a significant impact on online brand building, advertising, search engine optimization, etc.
Generic domain names — problems arising out of unregulated name selection
Within a particular top-level domain, parties are generally free to select an unallocated domain name as their own on a first come, first served basis. For generic or commonly used names, this may sometimes lead to the use of a domain name which is inaccurate or misleading. This problem can be seen with regard to the ownership or control of domain names for a generic product or service.
By way of illustration, there has been tremendous growth in the number and size of literary festivals around the world in recent years. In this context, currently a generic domain name such as literary.org is available to the first literary festival organisation which is able to obtain registration, even if the festival in question is very young or obscure. Some critics would argue that there is greater amenity in reserving such domain names for the use of, for example, a regional or umbrella grouping of festivals. Related issues may also arise in relation to non-commercial domain names.
Unconventional domain names
Due to the rarity of one-word dot-com domain names, many unconventional domain names, domain hacks, have been gaining popularity. They make use of the top-level domain as an integral part of the website's title. Two of the most visited domain hack websites are del.icio.us and blo.gs, which spell out 'delicious' and 'blogs', respectively.
Commercial resale of domain names
An economic effect of the widespread usage of domain names has been the resale market for generic domain names that has sprung up in the last decade. Certain domains, especially those related to business, gambling, pornography, and other commercially lucrative fields have become very much in demand to corporations and entrepreneurs due to their intrinsic value in attracting clients. In fact, the most expensive internet domain name to date, according to Guinness World Records, is business.com which was resold in 1999 for $7.5 million (although TheRecordBreakingDomain.com is currently trying to break that). Another high value domain name, sex.com, was stolen from its rightful owner by means of a forged transfer instruction via fax. During the height of the dot-com era, the domain was earning millions of dollars per month in advertising revenue from the large influx of visitors that arrived daily. Two long-running US lawsuits resulted, one against the thief and one against the domain registrar VeriSign. In one of the cases, the judge found in favor of the plaintiff, leading to an unprecendented ruling that classified domain names as property, granting them the same legal protections.
One of the reasons for the value of domain names is that even without advertising or marketing, they attract clients seeking services and products who simply type in the generic name. Furthermore, generic domain names such as Rent.com or Books.com are extremely easy for potential customers to remember, increasing the probability that they become repeat customers or regular clients.
Although the current domain market is nowhere as strong as it was during the dot-com heyday, it remains strong and is currently experiencing solid growth again. Annually tens of millions of dollars change hands due to the resale of domains. Large numbers of registered domain names lapse and are deleted each year. On average 25,000 domain names drop (are deleted) every day.
Care should always be exercised when registering a domain name: DNS is case-insensitive and the modern trend of words run together with intercapping can be misinterpreted when converted to lowercase. Who Represents, a database of artists and agents, chose http://www.whorepresents.com; Experts Exchange, the programmers' site, famously had http://www.expertsexchange.com; Pen Island unwisely chose http://www.penisland.net; a therapists' network thought http://www.therapistfinder.com looked good and of course the Italian power company PowerGen Italia became http://www.powergenitalia.com.
Fortunately the dash is allowable in DNS, a fact possibly unknown to those organsiations listed above.
- Domain Name Journal - Covering the Domain Name Industry with Profiles and News
- Domain Name Wire - Latest news about Domain Name Industry, domain sales, and legal issues
- STD 13/RFC 1034, Domain Names—Concepts and Facilities, an Internet Protocol Standard.
- ICANN - Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers
- UDRP, Uniform Domain-Name Dispute-Resolution Policy.
- Internic.net, public information regarding Internet domain name registration services.
- List of Country Specific Domains
- CircleID, Community discussions on TLDs and Internet infrastructure.
- Domain Hacks - unconventional domain name search utility
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