October 12, 2021
1 min read
Many novice developers face this question when they set out to create their first site: what is a domain name and why do I need one?
Domain names are strings of characters that link to particular IP addresses – meaning that a domain name is the web address you type in your browser when you want to reach a particular website.
For example, the domain name for Google is google.com, and the domain name for Zyro is zyro.com.
Since the actual IP addresses of websites are complicated to remember, as they consist of a long chain of numbers (for instance, an IP address could be 102.44.754.1). The domain name system, or DNS for short, exists in order to make any internet domain name easy to remember and websites easier to access.
When you enter a valid domain name into your web browser, your browser actually checks with the DNS servers whether the domain name is associated with particular name servers.
These servers are part of the overall domain name system and are used to organize and route traffic across the internet efficiently.
The name servers are usually managed by your hosting service. For example, Zyro’s name server information looks like this:
Once the name servers identify the domain name that’s associated with the correct IP address, they inform the DNS servers that the domain has been matched with a correct IP address.
Next, the name servers start to fetch the individual web pages and all the content that’s on your website, to send it back to the web browser trying to reach the particular domain name.
Without a domain name, people would need to enter your site’s IP address every time they would want to enter your website. Since the IP address is difficult to remember correctly, not using domain names leaves your site insecure and complicated to access.
All domain names are owned by The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN for short) and hired out by various domain name registrars that operate under the accreditation of the ICANN.
The http:// or https:// part of your website’s address is referred to as an internet protocol (HTTP stands for hypertext transfer protocol). This application protocol enables all data communication online. The standard HTTP protocol is free to use but it’s not secured, meaning that a website operating on a standard HTTP is more vulnerable to malicious attacks and hackers.
Anytime you purchase an SSL certificate, you are able to use the secured HTTP protocol – and can proudly display the green padlock in your browser’s address bar, too.
Domain registrars manage and rent out most domain names. But there are plenty of different kinds of domain names to choose from, as well as domain name extensions.
Top-level domain names (or TLD for short) are the generic domain name extensions that appear after the actual domain name.
You’re probably familiar with TLDs such as .com, .org., .gov and .net. These are referred to as generic TLDs or gTLDs. You’ve probably also heard of country-specific domains, like .us., .co.uk., and .au. These kinds of TLDs are referred to as country code top-level domains or ccTLDs.
Domain name owners can freely choose between the different TLDs for their domain name, but some are frequently used for particular purposes. Originally, in the 80s, the ICANN had 7 different generic TLDs:
You shouldn’t confuse second-level domains with subdomains.
Second-level domains are essentially what comes after the protocol (the https:// part of your URL) and before the TLD (the .com or .org part of your website’s address).
Basically, it’s the domain name of your choosing.
For instance, in https://zyro.com, ‘https://’ is the protocol, ‘zyro’ is the domain name or the second-level domain, and ‘.com’ is the TLD. A web server will need all three parts to successfully communicate with a domain host and allow a web browser to access your website.
Subdomains are domain names that exist under a parent domain.
Once you have registered a custom domain name, you can create subdomains for your domain. Subdomains are usually longer than a standard domain name and are most often used for smaller entities that exist under a bigger corporation, brand, or business.
For example, a business might have a blog or an online store attached to their main website, that could exist under a subdomain (like blog.yourdomain.com or store.yourdomain.com).
Zyro also lets you publish your website with a subdomain if you don’t want to go through the domain registration process yourself. When publishing a website with a subdomain, it can be accessed through a domain name that reads yourwebsite.zyrosite.com, instead of just yourwebsite.com.
Due to the internet infrastructure, web hosting is the overall process of reserving a certain amount of space on a hosting service provider’s web server for your website.
You could think of your web hosting as the apartment building where your website lives.
A domain name is essentially the address that you share with anyone who wants to come and visit your website.
The reason web hosting and domain names easily get confused with each other is because they are interlinked when it comes to having an online presence.
While you can have web hosting without a domain name, or a domain name without a hosting plan, you need both in order to publish your website and have it available for people to visit.
Because of this interconnectedness, most web hosting companies sell domain names and are actually registered domain registries themselves. After all, it is more convenient for the user to manage their domain names and web hosting from one place.
Strictly speaking, domain owners don’t actually own the domain they buy from a domain registrar.
In fact, you only buy the right to use the domain name exclusively for your website. So, in essence, you’re actually registering and hiring your domain name, rather than buying it and owning it like you would a registered trademark.
Most people use domain name registries that sell domain names to get their hands on one.
Most domain hosts have to be ICANN accredited in order to be fully qualified domain registrars in the first place, so look for a mention of such accreditation.
You also want to be able to check which domain names are actually available before purchasing one – so don’t opt for a provider that sells domain names without letting you know if a particular TLD or domain name itself is available or not.
Once you’ve used a domain name generator to check which domains and TLDs are available for you, the next step is to pay the annual fee and tell the domain host some basic personal information about you.
Usually, you are expected to tell the domain host your physical location and physical address, as well as provide them with a personal telephone number and your name.
These details are stored in the WHOIS database, and your account, along with all the users’, will be publicly available.
A top domain registrar should also give you the option to hide your personal information from this database for an additional charge, often referred to as a privacy protection fee.
You might be wondering if there’s a way to get a domain name for free. While this is possible, we would not recommend it. You could run into a lot of problems with your site, or Google search results if you register a domain name for free from a registrar that seems shady at best.
But most web hosting companies and website builders offer domains as part of their subscriptions or plans.
For example, with Zyro, you can get a hold of free domain registration by choosing any annual website plan. You can choose from the following TLDs: .tech, .online, .site, .store, .space, .website, .pw, .icu, .shop, .club, and simply need to get in touch with the Customer Success team after purchasing an annual website plan to validate your new domain registration.
The short answer: a domain name is the address of your site. It’s the key to making it easy for visitors and potential customers to find your site online. Without one, you would need to remember a long string of numbers in your website’s IP address in order to access it – which is inconvenient, error-prone, and time-consuming, to say the least.
Most domain names are registered through an accredited domain registrar, who often also offers hosting services, too.