A Short Guide to Domain Registration

A domain is one of those things that nearly anyone who uses a computer or reads the news has heard of, but a relative few actually know what it is, what it does and why it's necessary for you to have one if you're putting up a website of any kind. Since more people are setting up online shops than ever before, here's a little primer for those who are new to the table.

What is a Domain?

A domain is simply an address, like you home or business address. It tells the web browser where a particular website is located on the Internet in the same way that a GPS will tell you where a particular home is located when you enter the physical address. The first part consists of the name of the domain, usually the company or person who owns the website, such as myCompany. The second part is a suffix, called a Top Level Domain (TDL), that usually indicates a business type or location, such as .org, .edu or .com. All domains must be registered, and they under the jurisdiction of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN).

All domains are housed on servers that are run by hosting companies. Each server has a unique IP address, and that address, along with all domains that are registered with that server, are listed in a database called the Domain Name System (DNS). You can look up any registered domain, whether it is actively in use or not, on another database called Whois, which contains all of the personal contact information for the person or business behind the domain name.

Why Do I Need a Domain?

Your domain name is both your identity and your location on the Internet. Without it, customers and search engines couldn't find your website. Having a domain also establishes your credibility, and it helps protect your trademarks, copyrights and intellectual property.

How Do I Get One?

Anyone can choose and reserve a domain name, even if they don't currently have a website in progress. It can be literally anything you want it to be, as long as that domain name isn't already registered. You simply choose a server to host your website. Depending on the TOS, they will either give you a free domain name and registration as part of the service, or charge a fee; the fee depends on how potentially lucrative or popular the name is.

Once you choose a name for your domain, the service will check available domain names to see if it's unused. If you find the name unavailable, you can add numbers, change the spelling or choose a different TDL. You can also bid on a specific name that's already registered, if it's important for you to have that particular name. There are some who make a good living registering and reselling domain names for profit. Depending on your contract and TOS, you can also transfer your domain to another server if you're unhappy with your current host.

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