Here are the basics on domain names. A domain name is based on what is known as the Domain Name System. You have probably heard individuals speak of the acronym DNS. There is a main root domain and also what are called subdomains. An example of a root domain is http://www.ROOT.com and an example of a subdomain is http://SUBDOMAIN.ROOT.com. You can have multiple subdomains however the only individual that can create a sub-domain is the one that has control of the root domain.
A root domain is also known as a top-level domain, acronym TLD, with domains such as .com, .org, and .net. You may also have heard of country code top level domains, acronym ccTLDs. These are just the beginning of the types of domains you can register at a domain registrar.
Use of Domains
Domains or domain names help a business website or consultancy service to acquire an edge over hundreds of other competitors vying to grab the attention of the potential customers or viewers. Domain, roughly referred to the website address, is the primary weapon for any business domain which strives to catch the attention of the potential visitors. Apart from offering easy of recognition, domains also serve to offer ease of search engine optimization, provided that the domain names and the content are relevant and properly optimized.
Relationship between Domains and IPs
Each computer or website, and other things such as applications can as well, have an IP (Internet Protocol) address. An IP takes the form of #.#.#.# such as 184.108.40.206. It would be extremely difficult to recall a website by the IP address therefore the domain name system allows you to associate a domain name such as DOMAIN.com to an IP address. In general think of a domain name as an easy way to remember the IP address without having to know it. For this reason a domain name must be unique as it will point to one location or IP address. So therefore as an example DOMAIN.com can only point to one website.
How to Obtain a Domain Name: Domain Registration
Domain registration is authorized and run by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, acronym ICANN. ICANN allows other organizations to register domains to the public known as registrars. In order to obtain a domain name you must do so through a registrar.
Each registrar has the ability to allow you to register a domain name. Each registrar has to go through the ICANN and therefore must check to assure no one else can register the same domain. There is no difference in a domain from one registrar to the next, the domain name is the same. What me be slightly different is the interface the registrar provides you to manage your domains and the tools. At each registrar you can typically at least update domains, modify contact information, and point them to your desired IP address. ICANN has to maintain a database of all the registered domains. Registrars check that database to be sure that only one individual has the ability to maintain and modify the domain.
The registering of a domain does not mean you own it. You can have control over the domain, change name servers and otherwise change the domain name record but you do not own it. Think of it as a lease. You pay a yearly fee to the domain registrar, the domain registrar in turn has to pay a fee to ICANN. You can prepay years in advance however if you do not pay you loose control over the domain and someone else can then assume control over the domain or domain names.
Domains and Registrars
What is the domain registration process and the correlation between domains and registrars? In order to understand the interdependency of domains and registrars is to first understand the background of domains in general. Originally various tasks related to the Internet and its governance was performed by the United States government. Eventually they spun out the underlying domain tasks and gave that authority to the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN).
Timeline of Domain Registration Responsibilities
Here is a time line with items of note, beginning with the creation of the domain name system. The oversight through one organization, eventually transferred to another and finally opening up the competition of domain registration and allowing for more than one registrar.
- 1983 – DNS (Domain Name System) was invented and used at ARPANET (Advanced Research Projects Agency Network) funded by DARPA (Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, the U.S. government loves acronyms
- 1985 – First commercial .COM domain was registered (symbolics.com)
- 1991 – Network Solutions had a sub-contract with DISA (U.S. Defense Information Systems Agency) to operate the registry
- 1993 – Network Solutions had an exclusive (they were the sole registrar) agreement to operate the registry for TLDs (Top Level Domains .com .net .org), and maintained WHOIS (database of domain ownership)
- 1995 – Network Solutions was granted the ability to charge for domain name registrations
- 1998 – ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers) was incorporated to oversee the domain functions as opposed to the U.S. government through organizations such as Network Solutions
- 1999 – ICANN provided for a shared registration system and now opened up the field for additional registrars
The system of shared registration allowing for multiple registrars continues today through ICANN.
ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers)
ICANN oversees and regulates domain name registration through the develoment of policy. The organization is a not-for-profit corporation which they state exists for the public-benefit.
They do not have the infrastructure to deal with individual customers of domains and that was not their mandate. The purpose of the creation of ICANN is to work with registrars more of a Business to Business relationship with registrars than a Business to end Consumer which is the domain registrant. While there may be multiple registrars they all have too abide by ICANN policies and pay fees for each domain registration. These fees fund ICANN.
How Registrars Work
There are multiple registrars. A registrar is a consumer facing company that allows individuals or companies to register domains. Every domain name is unique. This is important to understand as there may be multiple registrars but only one registrar can register each unique domain name. Domain names are available on a first-come first-served basis. So the correlation between domain names and registrars is what they call a one to many relationship. For each unique domain there are multiple registrars that have the ability to allow it to be registered but only one registrar and one individual will obtain it.
As an individual you can only obtain a domain name through the process of domain registration and you must go through a registrar. You can use any registrar but each registrar has to check with ICANN to assure the domain or domains is not already registered. If the domain is not registered then you pay the registrar a fee which they decide and a portion of that fee is paid to ICANN by the registrar. Therefore each domain registrar can set their own price, however each registrar must pay a fixed price to ICANN.
Selecting a Domain
Selection of the domain name should be done with lot of detailed research and care. The first and foremost criteria to be taken care of while selecting domains is its relevance to the products or services offered. Most people are lured by an attention-grabbing name which has very little or no relevance to their actual line of business, and the domain name in such case is purely a loss, however attractive and catchy it is. Imagine a physical store named Pages which has a line of business which is in no way related to the sale of books – all its visitors would be irritated by their choice of the store name, and its entire walk-in potential would go waste.
Domains should be selected in such a way that it is easy to search for them and check them out. No one wants to check out a website with a domain name that sounds too abstract or does not relate to the products listed on the website. Godaddy is one of the ideal places on the internet where people can find a wide array of domain names.
Who Controls a Domain and Can It be Sold?
And individual or company that registers a domain name never truly has complete control over it. Think of a domain registration as the equivalent of a car lease. When you lease a car you have control of the car but only under certain terms. If you do not make your lease payments the leasing company will be able to take the car back. When the lease term is up, depending on the terms, the leasing company can take the car back. A domain name works in a similar fashion. You register a domain which means you have exclusive control of it during the registration period. You can point the domain at whatever website you want, utilize it for email etc. However you never truly own the domain. Issues may come up of trademark registration and you could actually lose a domain. You may forget to pay your yearly fee and again will lose control of the domain. You may choose not to pay the registration fee and allow your registration of the domain to lapse. In all the above cases the domain will revert back to the domain registry.
Selling a Domain
You can transfer a domain to another individual and they can pay you for it. However you are not technically selling the domain as much as you are selling the right to register it and control it. Since you do not own the domain, merely control it through your registration fee, you can sell that right.
To use the car analogy again, think of the Assumption of the lease. Someone can actually assume the lease to your car. If the lease is assumed then that person is assuming the same rights, obligations, and restrictions that you had. So they still have to pay the registrar their fee and can still potentially lose the domain even though they bought the right to control it from you. However once you transfer ownership it is out of your control. So technically you are not selling the domain, but what does that matter if you still get paid, haha.
I hope this explains domain registration and the history of registration in an easy to understand manner.