A domain name is essentially your website’s equivalent of a physical address. In the same way that a GPS needs a street address or a zip code to provide directions, a web browser needs a domain name to direct you to a website.
A domain name takes the form of two main elements. For example, the domain name Facebook.com consists of the website’s name (Facebook) and the domain name extension (.com). When a company (or a person) purchases a domain name, they’re able to specify which server the domain name points to.
Domain name registrations are overseen by an organization called ICANN (Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers). ICANN specifies which domain name extensions are available and keeps a centralized database of where the domain names point to.
Every website that you visit effectively consists of two main elements: a domain name and a web server.
1. A web server is a physical machine that hosts the files and the databases that your website is made from and sends them out to people across the internet when they visit your site from their machine.
2. The domain name is what people type in to access your site, and it points the web browser to the server that stores those resources. Without a domain name, people would need to remember the specific IP address of your server — and that’s just not going to happen.
How Do Domains Work?
Domain names work by acting as a shortcut to the server that hosts your website.
Without a domain name, anyone who wanted to visit your website would have to enter the full IP address. But the problem is that an IP address is difficult for people to memorize or to include on advertising materials.
In our case, haw.company. is the domain name. Let’s say it points to the IP address 188.8.131.52. The IP address points to a server, but it doesn’t resolve the website if visitors try to use it. That’s because for an IP address to resolve a website, the remote server needs to be using port 80 with a default page (i.e. index.html) stored in its web-apps directory.
As you can see, messing around with server defaults and IP addresses can be both confusing and time-consuming. That’s why the vast majority of website owners opt to utilize a service like HAW.Company which offers bundled domain names with annual web hosting packages.
Domains can also use redirects, which essentially allow you to specify that if people visit your domain, they’re automatically forwarded to another. This can be useful for campaigns and microsites or for forwarding people to dedicated landing pages on your main site. They can also come in useful for avoiding confusion around spellings. For example, if you visit www.fb.com, you’ll be forwarded to www.facebook.com.
Different Types of Domains
Not all domain names follow the same formula, and while .com domains make up for 46.5% of all global websites, that still leaves plenty of room for other domain name types like .org and .net. Overall, the most common types of domain names include:
TLD: Top Level Domains
A top level domain is exactly what it sounds like: a type of domain name which is at the top level of the internet’s domain name system. There are over a thousand TLDs available but the most common include .com, .org, .net, and .edu.
The official list of TLDs is maintained by an organization called the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) and can be viewed here. IANA notes that the list of TLDs also includes ccTLDs and gTLDs, which we’ll talk about next.