Every website needs a domain name. This is the name people enter in the address bar of the browser to visit your site.
A name like wilwebs.org is human friendlier and therefore easier to remember than the website’s IP address 184.108.40.206.
But how is a domain name composed? A domain name has a minimum of two parts: the top level domain and the second level domain. A third level domain is also very common.
This is very abstract, so let us take HostingCaddie.com as an example; HostingCaddie is the second level domain, while .com is the top level domain.
The top level domain is also referred to as the domain extension.
In case of a third level domain, this part either indicates a specific protocol as ftp, or a sub domain like webmail. Building on these examples, the full URLs become ftp.domainname.com and webmail.domainname.com.
When you go out to purchase a domain name, you only have to pay for the unique combination of the top level domain and second level domain, e.g. hostingcaddie.com.
The purchase of the domain name entitles you to create your own third level domains ‐ without any additional costs. So you can create your own sub domains at will.
Technically, it is possible to add even more domain levels. Especially companies like IBM or institutions like universities that deploy large scale websites do this in order to structure their operations in logical chunks, each with its own features, design and/or technology.
However, beyond the third level it becomes much harder to remember the full domain name.
It is the second level domain that we humans appreciate most. We prefer an extraordinary second level domain, since it sets us apart from the rest.
We value the second level domain even more, when it is descriptive with regard to our mission or the published content.
Unfortunately, getting the first domain name for our new web project that comes to mind has become increasingly difficult.
Domain Name Extensions
Not so long ago, the landscape of domain extensions was quite compact and transparent. Besides from less than ten generic top level domains, you could choose from a large number of country codes.
The first generic top level domains (gTLDs) were introduced in 1985:
- .com – meant for commercial organizations, but unrestricted
- .net – originally created for network infrastructure supplies (like hosts), now unrestricted
- .org – intended for organizations not fitting in any of the other gTLDs, nowadays unrestricted
- .edu – restricted for educational institutions
- .gov – only available for US government entities
- .mil – only available for the US military
- .int – restricted for international treaty organizations
Unrestricted top level domains are available to any person or organization, while restricted TLDs are only available to qualified people or organizations.
Despite the new additions introduced since 2001 (.biz, .info, .name, .jobs, etc), the .com, .net and .org domain extensions remain the most wanted top level domain names.
Generic Top Level Domains are available from approximately $10 for one year.
Examples of country code top level domain names (ccTLDs) are .au, .br, .de, .fr, .in, .nl, and .us.
These are called country code level domains, because they correspond with the two letter ISO code for the country regarding.
Every country has its own institution or government agency in charge of that specific country code top level domain.
Countries are allowed to add domain name classes between the second level domain name and the top level domain name.
By adding such a domain name class, you get domains like mybusiness.co.uk. or london.gov.uk.
The advantage of inserting a domain class is that it becomes possible to release a second level domain more than once. Besides london.gov.uk, you can also issue london.co.uk, london.org.uk.
The ccTLDs start at $8 per annum.
Waves of New Domain Extensions
Since it became harder and harder to find an original and meaningful domain name, the ICANN made a request to suggest new domain name extensions.
The ICANN, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, is a non-profit organization responsible for The Domain Name System of the Internet.
This Domain Name System (DNS) is a register of all available top level domains and released second level domains. It is the ICANN that decides whether a specific top level domain is permitted or not.
Since October 2013, we are seeing waves of new extensions. Examples are .guru, .holdings, and .photo. Another 1000+ domain extensions are scheduled to appear in batches the next years.
It is the investor (officially named ‘sponsor’) behind a new top level domain who decides whether an extension is restricted or open to anybody.
In addition, this sponsor is also the one who determines the annual fee for an approved extension.
For some of the new arrivals you have to pay $100+ per year, so double check the price for the first years as well as renewals when you are interested in one of these new gTLDs.
Another novelty in the field of domain names are the internationalized generic top-level domains for languages that like Arabic, Chinese and Japanese that do make use of the non-latin characters.
There is currently a wind of change blowing over the domain name landscape. This wind extends the available domain extensions considerable.