What is a Domain Name and Why Would You Need One?
In this article we will cover the basics of what a domain name is, how they work and why you need to have one. I am going to try and avoid complicated computer terms and stick to explanations that should be easily
understood by someone without a computer science degree.
What is a Domain Name? Before we can go into what a domain name is I'm going to tell you why we need them as the answers complement each other. The Internet is just a really big collection of connected computers (a network). For
the purpose of explaining domain names you can think of the Internet a bit like the phone system and just like the
phone system every computer on the Internet has it's own phone number except an Internet phone number is called an IP
addresses. This address is made up of up to 12 digits in the form 188.8.131.52, computers use these IP addresses
to send information to each other over the Internet.
When the Internet was first created it quickly became clear that these IP addresses were not easy to remember and another method was needed to make these addresses more human-friendly. The solution to this was the Domain Name System
(DNS). Basically the DNS is a really really big phone book for computers. When you type a web site address into your web browser it checks the DNS for that website name and finds the IP address. Once it has the IP address it can then send a message to that computer and ask it for the web page you wanted.
OK so you know a domain name is part of a web site address but which part? Lets look at a website address so we can
identify and discuss what bit of it is a domain name.
The above address is the home page of the our website. It can be split into 3 main parts. The first part is http://
this just tells your web browser what kind of information it is going to get and how to get it. The last part is
/index.html this is name of the files on the remote computer that you want your browser to get. The bit in the middle
www.kenyawebexperts.com is a domain name. This is the name that your computer sends to the DNS to get back the IP
So you know what a domain name is and that there is a phone book called the DNS to change your easy to remember
domain name into an IP address that you computer can understand. The Internet phone book (DNS) is special in that
everyone on the Internet needs to be able to use it. This makes the DNS very very big (100+ million addresses big).
Due to the size of this phone book it needed to have a carefully organised and managed structure.
Domain names themselves are split into different levels like a hierarchy. The DNS system uses this hierarchy to
search the DNS for the IP address of the domain name it is trying to find. The last bit of a domain, in the previous
example the com part is called the top level domain. There are a large selection of top level domains like com, net,
org and info. There are also very similar endings called country level domains like .ke. Each of the top level and
country level domains are managed by a different organization, sometimes these are companies or non profit
organizations and sometimes governments. In the domain business these organisations are referred to as the
registries. Each registry looks after it's own part of the domain name system.
Once you have registered a domain you are free to create as many sub domains as you like. example
blog.kenyawebexperts.com is a subdomain of kenyawebexperts.com
OK so I know what a domain name is, Why do need one? Can you image what a nightmare it would be if you had an email
address like email@example.com or a web site address [http://184.108.40.206/?]
These addresses are possible but not very easy to remember. Now if you register a domain name you could create an
email address like firstname.lastname@example.org and a web site address like mycompany.com. These are much easier to remember and look 100 times more professional.
One of the important points about registering a domain is that once done you have an exclusive right to use that
domain for as long as you keep the domain registered in your name. If you do not renew a domain at the end of it's
registration period it will again become available for registration by someone else. For this reason even if you
don't want or need a web site at the moment, it's still a good idea to register a domain as soon as possible. Just
imagine if your competition registered the domain name of your company or product. Although there is a process in
place to retrieve these domain it can be long and complicated. It is definitely simpler to spend a little money up
front to secure your chosen domain names.
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