A domain name is the human readable address of a website. The text that you enter into the address bar of a web browser such as Google Chrome to tell it which site you want to visit.
Like everything with technology, there is a lot more going on under the hood with domain names than might first appear.
In this post we will explore how domain names work, why they are important, and how companies register, use and keep the domain names they rely on so heavily.
The Internet Protocol (IP) Address
To understand exactly what a domain is and how it works we need to talk about IP addresses.
Every computer, tablet, smartphone, server, data centre, drone or toaster that is connected to the internet has an IP address.
This IP address is used to uniquely identify your connection to the internet and is essentially just a number, albeit a very large number.
Try this: type 184.108.40.206 into your web browser - it will take you to Google’s homepage, the code 220.127.116.11 is one of many IP addresses owned by Google and is the location of their website google.com. You can do this with any website. 18.104.22.168 goes to Facebook.
The internet would not be the wonderful, accessible and fun place it is today if you had to type in 12 random numbers every time you wanted to visit a website. So enter the role of the name server
Domain Name System (DNS)
When you type a url into your browser or click on a link, your device takes the section of the url between https:// and the first forward slash. This is the domain name.
The next step for your browser is to send that name to a DNS resolving service. This service looks it up in a big database of domain names and, if found, returns the IP address associated with the domain name.
Your device now has an IP address it can use to connect to the website.
There are a lot of domain names
As of 2021 there were 359.8 million registered domain names. But not all domain names have been registered. You may have come across an error like this before
This error is telling you that the domain name thiswebsitedoesnotexist.info does not exist. That is, the domain name server could not find an IP address for this domain name in any database, so there is no website you can visit. If you want to, you could register thiswebsitedoesnotexist.info and point it to the IP address of your website. So that brings us on to the next question…
Who Is In Charge Of Domain Names?
Your device connects to a domain name system (DNS) to find out the IP address behind a domain name. This DNS service is provided by a heirarchy of organisations that all work together to maintain DNS for the entire internet to use. At the very top is The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) which is a non-profit organisation based in the United States. Underneath ICANN are domain registrars.
These are the companies that maintain the DNS registry and follow the rules set by ICANN. GoDaddy, Bluehost, Namecheap and hundreds of others are registrars and they manage the DNS for domain names for an annual fee