What Is a Domain Name? Domains Explained for Beginners

What Is a Domain Name? Domains Explained for Beginners

A domain name is a web address consisting of a website name and a domain name extension. The name is up to you – as long as it consists of letters, numbers, hyphens and is still available, whereas the domain extension is usually a set combination of a few letters.

Just like a physical address helps people find a specific place, the purpose of a domain is to help visitors find a website. Without domain names, users can only access websites using Internet Protocol (IP) addresses.

However, IP addresses are hard to remember as they consist of seemingly random series of numbers, making them inconvenient to share. Domain names, on the contrary, can help drive traffic to your website.

In this article, we will cover all the necessary information about domain names. We will explain how domains work and their different types. Then, we will show how to register and transfer a domain name and answer some frequently asked questions.

Differences Between a Domain Name and a URL

While a domain name and a URL (Universal Resource Locator) share some similarities, they refer to different things. A URL acts as a complete website address that can direct visitors to a specific page on a site. A domain name is just a part of it.

A URL consists of a protocol, a domain, and a path. The protocol shows whether a site has an SSL certificate. Keep note that URLs have a path only when they direct visitors to a specific page on a site.

The structure of a URL

How Do Domains Work?

Every website has the following two main elements: a domain name and a web hosting server. Your domain name points to the web server that hosts your site.

Keep note that every domain is linked to an IP address. When a user enters a domain name into a browser, the server will search through a global server network that makes up the Domain Name System (DNS).

The DNS servers will search for the IP address associated with the domain name. The server that has information about the IP address will return it to the web browser. Then, it will request data about the site from the domain’s hosting server.

The web server stores all of the website’s data, including its files, database and HTML code. Once the hosting server sends the data back, the web browser will convert it into a web page that users can visit.

A custom graph illustrating how domain names work

Different Types of Domains

The different types of domains can reveal more information about the website. Here are some of the most common types:

TLDs: Top-Level Domains

A top-level domain is a domain name extension. Various TLDs are available online, but .com is the most popular extension, with over 52% of all websites having it. Using a more popular extension drives higher organic traffic as users often write it by default.

However, using a less popular extension, such as .online, often costs less and can make a domain more unique. With the increasing number of new websites created daily, the popularity of a specific TLD might also change in the future.

Check out the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) for the official list of all legitimate TLDs.

ccTLDs: Country-Code Top-Level Domains

A country-code top-level domain is an extension that is specific to a particular country. It consists of two letters based on the international country codes.

There are platforms that help find the correct country codes, such as the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO)’s database. To illustrate, sites from Japan can use .jp as their extensions, whereas Brazilian sites use .br.

A ccTLD is useful for a company that focuses on a specific country. This way, international companies can differentiate their content for different regions.

For example, the BBC uses bbc.co.uk to target readers in the United Kingdom, and bbc.com for the international audience.

gTLDs: Generic Top Level Domains

A generic top-level domain is an extension that does not rely on a country code. There are no specific criteria to get a gTLD. However, some extensions are sponsored by designated agencies or organizations.

Some generic TLDs are restricted to specific types of registrants. For example, an academic institution can use .edu, and a governmental agency can use .gov. If your domain does not fall under particular categories or institutions, you will not be able to use the extension.

Other Domain Name Types

We focused on the different extension types above. The following are the different available structures of domain names:

Second-Level Domains

Second-level domains (SLDs) are below TLDs in the domain name hierarchy. An SLD is the section of a domain name located on the left side of the last dot. Take www.hostinger.com, for example – hostinger is the SLD, and .com is the TLD.

Some domain name registries use an SLD to indicate a specific type of entity registering. For example, academic institutions in the United Kingdom mostly register websites under .ac.uk.

Subdomains

A subdomain is a separate division from a larger domain but still shares the same servers. There is no need to purchase and register a subdomain. Technically, the www on most URLs is a subdomain that indicates a site is part of the world wide web.

The most common use for a subdomain is to organize and divide web content into separate sections. For example, Google uses developers.google.com to provide specific information for developers.

Another use of a subdomain is to create another website with the same name but different languages. Take Wikipedia as an example, which has a separate subdomain for each language. It uses en.wikipedia.org for the English version and es.wikipedia.org for the Spanish one.

Free Domains

Website builders, such as WordPress.com, or content management systems, like Blogger, often offer free domain names for new users. Usually, beginners take this opportunity to create their websites before investing money into them.

A free web address often uses the same structure as subdomains. For example, instead of hostingertutorials.com, it would be hostingertutorials.wordpress.com or hostingertutorials.blogspot.com.

Keep in mind that getting a free domain often comes with minimal features and tools.

How to Register a Domain Name

Start by opening a domain name generator. Use this tool to check if your desired domain name is still available.

To find the right domain, consider branding and cost. Make sure that it is memorable and catchy and its price fits your budget.

Keep note that popular domains are often more expensive and might already be taken. Some generators provide options if your desired domain is unavailable. With Hostinger, users can choose a different TLD with the same name or an alternative.

Alternative domain suggestions

Once you have found a valid domain name, use a trustworthy registrar to buy the domain. To find the list of legitimate domain name registrars, check the database of the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN).

If you chose Hostinger as the registrar, select your desired domain and continue. On the checkout page, there are several elements to consider. First, choose the registration period for your domain. Then, select whether you want to add domain privacy protection.

We recommend giving an additional layer of protection against cyber attacks. By doing so, you are securing your personal information in the WHOIS records against unauthorized usage. This also helps prevent identity theft.

Domain purchase

After paying for your new domain, you will have access to your account. There, continue the registration process by clicking on the Setup button next to Domain registration. You will need to enter specific information to finish the process, including your name, postal address, and phone number.

Domain registration, highlighting the Setup button.

Once registered, you will have access to a control panel with all the essential management tools.

How to Transfer a Domain Name

Domain transfer is the process of changing a domain’s registrar. As domain registrars offer different support and maintenance, some users transfer their domain for a better service. All transfers go through WHOIS.

Before transferring a domain name, make sure that:

  1. Sixty or more days have passed since the registration or last transfer.
  2. The domain name’s status isn’t Redemption or Pending Delete.
  3. You have access to your domain’s authorization code (EPP code).
  4. Domain’s ownership details are valid, and privacy protection services are disabled.

With Hostinger, users can perform a domain transfer from any domain registrar. If you meet all of the requirements, move forward with the checkout process. The new server will request a domain transfer fee, costing a few dollars more than registering it.

Hostinger's domain transfer

Enter the EPP code from your current provider and confirm the transfer. The process can take from 4 to 7 days. If you face a problem while transferring a domain, contact the customer support team.

Note that some extensions are not transferable. However, there is also the option to point the nameservers to a particular hosting company if a registrar doesn’t accept certain TLDs. You will need to access your DNS records to do this.

There are different ways to find nameserver information. With Hostinger, your nameservers are available on the left side of your Dashboard.

hPanel, highlighting information about Hostinger's nameservers.

Keep in mind that changes to your domain’s nameservers will take around 24 hours to propagate fully. During this period, your website might be unavailable.

Pro Tip

Changing the server information can only be done from where you purchased the domain. However, if your registrar does not allow changing nameservers, it is still possible to point a domain to a different registrar using an A record.

So, What Is a Domain Name?

A domain name is your website’s equivalent of a physical address. It helps users find your site easily on a browser instead of using its IP address. Domain names consisting of a name and an extension are a key part of the internet infrastructure.

Here are some facts related to the question of what a domain name is:

  1. Every domain name is connected to an IP address, and DNS servers connect the two.
  2. All trustworthy domain name registrars are collected in the ICANN database.
  3. Servers are responsible for storing your website’s files.
  4. .com is the most popular top-level domain, with over 52% of all websites using it.
  5. ccTLDs use country codes for websites focusing on specific regions.
  6. Some gTLDs are only available for specific use cases, such as .edu for academic institutions.
  7. More popular domain names tend to be more expensive.
  8. Every domain name registrar has a different signup process.
  9. There are domain name generators that help find available names.
  10. Domain names can be transferred from one provider to another.

Frequently Asked Questions About Domains

Here are some of the most frequently asked questions about domains:

How Do I Find a Domain Name?

Hostinger offers a domain name search tool to help find a suitable domain. Simply enter a domain name of your choice in the search box and press Enter. Our system will then display a list of available TLDs based on your suggestion.

If your preferred domain name is already registered, choose another extension or try coming up with different variations. Once you find an available domain name, proceed with the registration.

What Is the Difference Between a Domain Name and a Website?

A domain name is the address of a website. It is what users enter into a browser to access it. On the other hand, a website is a collection of web pages made up of files under a single domain.

The steps to create a website include registering a domain name. The two work together to help users access content easily.

Do I Need a Domain for a Website?

Technically, visitors can visit your website using its IP address. However, since it consists of a string of numbers, it is hard to remember. A domain helps make a website more accessible to internet users.

A domain is also essential for branding and search engine optimization (SEO). Even though users can still find your website without a domain name, it is a crucial part of a site.

Who Owns a Domain Name?

A domain name is legally owned by its registrant. Whenever someone registers a domain name, the registrar will gather the registrant’s information and submit it to the WHOIS directory.

Once you have registered a domain name, you will be its registrant as long as you pay the renewal fees.

How Can I Get a Free Website Domain?

Web hosting providers like Hostinger offer free domain registration with some of their hosting plans. By using this method, you will be able to create a website faster than by purchasing the domain name separately.

Another way to get a free website domain is by using a website builder or CMS to create a website’s subdomain. WordPress.com and Blogger are two examples of platforms that offer this service. With this method, users can own domains like test.wordpress.com instead of test.com.

However, free subdomains often come with minimal features and tools. Meanwhile, getting a free domain with a hosting service will offer the same freedom as purchasing one.

Further Reading

Check out these articles to learn more about web hosting and creating your first website:

Final Words

In this article, we have discussed all the necessary information on domains. Most importantly, we have explained why a domain name is essential for your website.

Here’s a recap of how domains work:

  1. You enter a domain name into a web browser.
  2. The DNS servers look for the website’s IP address.
  3. The browser asks the server for the site’s data.
  4. The browser displays the website.

There are different types of domains available, categorized by extension and structure types. Once you have a domain in mind, we have shared the steps to register it. As for transferring a domain to a different registrar, make sure you meet the requirements to do so.

Now that you know all of this, go ahead and register a domain yourself.

Author
The author

Domantas G.

Domantas leads the content and SEO teams forward with fresh ideas and out of the box approaches. Armed with extensive SEO and marketing knowledge, he aims to spread the word of Hostinger to every corner of the world. During his free time, Domantas likes to hone his web development skills and travel to exotic places.

Author
The Co-author

Astari Sarosa

Astari is a digital content writer at Hostinger. She is passionate about WordPress and website builders, and enjoys sharing her knowledge through her writings. During her free time, Astari likes to travel to new places and learn more about the culture there.