How Domain Names Work

What Is A Domain Name?

So, you know you want to create a website, but you’re a little confused by all the terminology. You know you need a domain name, a web host, and a way to build your website.

But, how do all of these pieces work together?

It’s easy to confuse web hosting with a domain name. This post exists to clear up that confusion.

Below you’ll learn what a domain name actually is, how they work, and how domain names differ from your website.

What Is a Domain Name?

A domain name is the web address that people type into the URL browser box to access your website. You can think of it like your website’s address or your personal phone number.

When someone wants to reach you they either type in your phone number, or click on your contact information, and call you up.

Or, you can look at it this way: If your website was your home, then your domain name would be your address.

Understanding the above information will help you grasp the basic concepts. However, the explanation can get a little more technical as well.

Each computer is assigned a unique IP address. This IP address allows other computers to communicate with one another. However, an IP address can be more difficult to remember.

For example, what would you have an easier time remembering 62.546.69.2 or “”?

Domain names came to be to solve the problem of difficult to remember IP addresses. Instead of having to type a complicated string of numbers into the URL bar, you just type in a domain name instead.

Some examples of domain names include:


Components of a Domain Name

Domain names are composed of several different parts. They read from right to left.

At the far right of the domain name, you’ll find what’s called a TLD (top level domain), or the domain name extension. Generic top-level domains are the .com, .org, .net, or other extensions you find after the final period in the domain name.

The mid-level domain is probably what you’re most familiar with. It’s the part after the www, but before the top-level domain. This is the part of your domain name you’ll have the greatest level of customization.

The final aspect of the domain name is the www aspect. This is standard for every domain name and is referred to as the machine name.

How Domains Work

Now that you understand what domain names are, it’s time to understand exactly how they work.

When you type in a domain name into the URL bar, it sends a request out to the DNS (Domain Name System). This is basically a giant phonebook that lists all the IP addresses and the associated domain names.

The domain forwarding process is outlined below:

  1. The server will look up the nameservers that are associated with the domain name and then forward the request to those nameservers.
  2. Your hosting company is in charge of managing your nameservers. It’ll then forward the name server request to the server where your website’s files are stored.
  3. The web server will then gather the requested information and send it back to the web browser.

As you can see there’s a lot that goes on behind the scenes just to display your website!

The Relationship Between Your Domain Name, Web Host, and Website

In order to have a functioning website, you need both a domain name and a web host.

When you purchase web hosting you’ll get access to a DNS server environment. This server is where all of your website’s files will be stored. After all, your website is simply a collection of files.

Your domain name is the address where all of these files are located.

Type in your domain name into the URL bar, and your web host will serve up the files stored on the server.

You need both a hosting provider and a domain name to have a website live on the Internet.

If you’re just getting started online it can be beneficial to purchase your hosting and your domain name from the same provider, as it’ll cut down on the technical tasks you need to perform to get your website online.

Hopefully, you now have a better understanding of what a domain name is, and the role it plays in the online ecosystem.

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Kevin Wood writes about technology and human potential. You can find him at his virtual homes Wooden Writing and Counter Culturist.

3 thoughts on “What Is A Domain Name?

  1. Is choosing a good domain name important? If so, does it attract more traffic?

  2. I am at present using Hostgator WebBuilder to create 3 websites so far. I intend to monetise the websites. Does WetBuilder have any disadvantage in that regard. I notice a lot of organisations are using WordPress to create their websites.

  3. Choosing a domain name doesn’t come easier now that there so millions of registered domain names. Sometimes it can take you weeks to find that perfect domain name you want. No wonder some people buy domains and keep them just to sell later.

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