How Does Domain Name Hosting Work?
Every website is hosted on a computer (server) somewhere in the world, connected to the internet. Every computer has a unique IP address which no other computer has. In order to find a website (or any other web-facing resource), your computer needs to know the full IP address of the computer the site or resource is sitting on.
But it would create a terrible user experience if you had to type in the arbitrary and very long string of numbers of an IP address. No one can remember that.
So the Domain Name System (DNS) acts as a kind of address book, matching domain names with IP addresses. What you actually get when you register a domain name is an entry in this global address book associating the domain name you selected with the IP address of your web hosting server.
Sometimes it is desirable to divide a domain name into multiple subdomains, for example:
With most hosting accounts, subdomains are easily configurable from the web hosting control panel. Subdomains can each point to a different IP address, so they can be used to set up completely different web properties under the same branded umbrella.
www is a subdomain:
This comes from a practice early in the history of the internet when server administrators would put the files they wanted to make public into a directory labeled
www, an abbreviation for “World Wide Web.”
For the most part people do not use servers the same way today, and it is not at all necessary to use
www at the beginning of internet URLs.
Most web hosting companies give you the option of automatically converting back and forth between the
www and non-
www versions of any URL.
Top Level Domain Options
Some Top Level domains are restricted: only the U.S. Government can use
.gov, and only accredited schools can use
.edu. But there are a wide variety of TLDs to choose from:
- Generic TLDs. Examples:
- Country Specific TLDs. Examples:
- Extended (“New”) TLDs. Examples:
Some Country Specific TLDs are used as if they were extended generic TLDs. The best example of this is
.tv, which is the Country Specific TLD for Tuvalo, an island nation in the Pacific Ocean, but which gets used as a generic TLD for video content.
Because of the way many Country Specific TLDs are used, some people collectively refer to everything other than the original set of Generic TLDs as “Exotic” TLDs.
Here are a few tips for choosing the right Top Level Domain name:
- Whenever possible, commercial endeavors should use a
.com domain and non-profit endeavors
- Avoid “off brand” TLDs such as
.info. These are widely seen as amateurish and/or spammy.
- Exotic TLDs, such as
.tv are excellent if they make good branding sense — they are not a good substitute for an unavailable
- If you get a domain name with an exotic TLD, register the
.com version as well. Also, if you plan to use
.org, get the other one as well. At some point someone will mistype your address and enter the more common suffix. You want them to arrive in the same place.
Domain Names — Branding and SEO
From a branding perspective, you want a domain name that is easy to spell, easy to remember, and unique. Puns don’t work well, exotic spellings don’t work well, and punctuation is usually a bad idea.
If your brand name is not available as a
.com domain, you might want to add a word that makes it clear what type of business you are. For example, if you are a pizza restaurant named “Acme,” and you can’t get
acme.com, you might try
It usually a bad idea to separate words in a domain name if you are trying to maximize brand recognition. Anyone can remember
acmepizza.com. You have to stop and explain
acme_pizza.com. Imagine a radio commercial.
Think about whether people are likely to find your site via word of mouth and traditional advertising, or via a search engine.
Domain Names and Hosting
Most hosting plans come with a free domain name. If you only plan to use one single domain forever, this is fine. However, if you have multiple domain names, most hosting companies overcharge for domain name registration and (especially) for renewal.
If you think you might register many domain names over time, you’ll save money if you register them with a discount name registrar like NameCheap, NameSilo, or GoDaddy. Then, use a non-meaningful domain name to identify your hosting account (the “free” domain you get when you sign up).
You can easily associate domain names from the cheap name registrar to the hosting company, and you don’t have to worry later about transferring domain registration if you decide to switch hosts.
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About Adam Michael Wood
Adam specializes in developer documentation and tutorials. In addition to his writing here, he has authored engineering guides and other long-form technical manuals. Outside of work, Adam composes and performs liturgical music. He lives with his wife and children in California.