What Is a Domain Name?

Making your own website? A domain name helps people find it—and find you.

In this article, we’ll answer all your questions, so you can finally kick off that project.

Read on to learn:

  • What is a domain name?
  • How the domain system works
  • URL vs. domain name
  • How to get a domain name for your site?

What Is a Domain Name?

Even if you don’t know the definition, you probably know how to use a domain name.

This is simply the way people find your website. It’s what you type into your browser to go to a specific page.

“Yahoo.com” is an example of a domain name and so are “bbc.co.uk,” “Facebook.com,” “amazon.com,” etc. Let’s see what each part means:

The Anatomy of Domain Names

What are domains?

They are easy-to-remember word strings pointing to your site.

Websites also have an IP address—a string of numbers that takes people to a certain page. You could type an IP into your browser and see the exact same page you would if you type the name. However, word addresses are a simpler way for people to find you—here’s how that works:

A domain name is what comes after the “www.” and it has two parts:

  • The text between the dots, a.k.a. the second-level domain (SLD)
  • The part after the dot, or the top-level domain (TLD)

Let’s take “www.Yahoo.com” as our domain name example.

First, what is the domain name?

It’s the part after “www.”—“Yahoo.com.”

What is the SLD? You can find it between the dots—“Yahoo.” That’s usually the name of the website.

What is the TLD? It’s what comes after the dot—in this case, “.com.”

Top-Level Domains (TLDs)

So, the SLD is the actual name of the website. What about the TLD?

Top-level domains come after the dot and give general information about the type of website the user is visiting. You can divide TLDs into:

  • General top-level domains, which aren’t associated with a country—e.g., “.com,” “.net,” or “.org.”
  • Country-code top-level domains, which are different for each country—“.us” is for the United States, “.co.UK” is for the United Kingdom, “.au” is for Australia, etc.

Within general TLDs, there are also sponsored top-level domains, which have a specific community behind them. For example:

  • “.edu” is for US higher education institutions
  • “.gov” is for US federal, state, and local government websites
  • “.travel” is for companies in the travel industry

Novel names like “.beauty,” “.cafe,” or “.guitars” are also sponsored top-level domains, though the rules for getting one can vary. While you can’t buy a “.gov” TLD, you can purchase a domain name that ends in “.beauty” without a hitch.

Subdomains

What is a domain on the internet? It’s a name that helps people navigate to your website. But what if your website has several completely different functions?

For example:

“Yahoo.com” is the main domain. But people use it for different purposes—as an email provider, to read the news, as a search engine.

To separate these sections, the site uses subdomains:

  • “Mail.Yahoo.com” refers to your inbox
  • “News.Yahoo.com” is where you go for the news
  • Search.Yahoo.com” is the search engine section

The list goes on and on—subdomains organize different “functionalities” of a website and help people access them more easily. Technically, these are parts of the same site, but there is a catch:

Search engines see subdomains as separate entities because they want to know what domain will be helpful to the person behind the query.

If you’re looking for your email inbox, the news portion of Yahoo isn’t relevant to you. So, instead of sending you to the main domain, Google sends you to “mail.Yahoo.com.”

How Do Domain Names Work?

Now that you know what’s in a domain name, let’s talk about what happens behind the scenes and the difference between domain and website:

At its most basic level, your website is a set of different files that live on a server. Some carry the content, like text and pictures, others tell browsers how to display the information, but it’s all files.

To access your website, a user sends a request to see the files, your server receives it and sends back the information. Sending the request is like sending a letter—you need an address.

Computers use numbers, but these are hard to remember, so domain names step in.

Domain Name vs. IP address

IP addresses are strings of numbers that computers use to communicate. They’re meaningful to the machines involved in the process but meaningless to humans. Domain names exist to breach that gap.

These are links to specific IP addresses. You could just as easily type the IP and the browser will understand it—but since they are hard to memorize, most people don’t use them.

The Domain Name System (DNS) matches these easy-to-remember word strings with the actual numeric addresses (IPs). It’s like a phonebook for the internet—to learn more about it, check out our guide on DNS.

How to Purchase a Domain Name?

Domain names are an essential part of every website—you pretty much can’t start without one.

To buy a domain, you can go to a dedicated registrar like Namecheap or GoDaddy and pay for one.

You can also register a domain name through your hosting provider—a lot of them offer one for free with your annual subscription.

Some website builders give you a free domain, but it’s usually branded—e.g., “.wix.com” or “wordpress.com.” Needless to say, this doesn’t look very professional and it can even damage your search engine performance.

That’s why it’s always better to get your own—Namecheap, our favorite source of cheap domains, has .com’s for under $10!

Wrap Up

So, what is a domain name?

It’s an easy-to-remember address that you type into your browser. While computers communicate through IPs, strings of numbers are meaningless to humans. That’s why domain names exist—to make finding your favorite websites easier.

What is my domain name?

It’s whatever you see after the “www.”

Most website owners buy their own name, whether it’s a “.com” or a country-code one. You can also set up subdomains for different sections of your site. For instance, “store.mywebsite.com” for the eCommerce portion, “blog.mywebsite.com” for your blog, etc.

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