What is a Domain?

Posted By BrokenClaw on September 5, 2007

An Internet domain is the highest level in the website hierarchy. All domain names must be registered, at a cost of a few dollars per year, and are supervised by a world-wide organization known as ICANN to prevent duplicates, reduce confusion, and provide stability.

Examples of domains are:

Top-Level Domain

When reading domain names, the period is always pronounced dot, such as “pontiac dot com”. The abbreviation after the dot is called the top-level domain (abbreviated TLD). The top-level domains are not interchangeable. For example, ski.com is a ski vacation site, while ski.org is Smith-Kettlewell Institute, a vision research facility. The five TLDs represented above are the most common top-level domains in the US, and each one has specific designations:

  • .com is supposed to refer to a commercial site related to some business
  • .net is supposed to refer to a network, unrelated to commerce
  • .org is supposed to refer to an organization or association
  • .gov is reserved for US government agencies, usually on the federal level
  • .edu is reserved for educational institutions, mostly US colleges and universities

The first three listed above are open to any person or group, so you don’t have to prove that you actually fit the category, and .com is still the most recognized and desired. The last two are protected, so only legitimate government agencies and schools can use those top-level domains. Over the years, ICANN has approved the addition of other top-level domains, such as .biz, .info, and .travel, each with their own designations and restrictions, with varying levels of acceptance.

Country-specific TLD

In addition to these descriptive top-level domains, each country has a two-letter TLD, such as .de (Deutschland=Germany), .mx (Mexico), and .uk (United Kingdom). With only two letters, sometimes the abbreviations are not self-evident. Each country has control over the use of its TLD, and there have been some unexpected results.

For example, the top-level domain for the island country of Tuvalu is .tv. That abbreviation is well-known to mean television, so there are far more companies using .tv to advertise themselves as media websites than there are Tuvalu-related websites. The same is true of the TLD for the Federated States of Micronesia, which is .fm, used by radio websites. More recently, the TLD for Laos, .la, is being marketed toward Los Angeles businesses.

One of the first clever uses of the country-specific TLD was the website del.icio.us, which uses the US top-level domain. The actual domain is icio.us, and when combined with a subdomain, del, it becomes the word delicious.

Domain vs Website

Not every domain has to have its own unique website or web content. Quite often, many different domain names will point, or direct, you to a single website. That process is called redirecting a URL. Redirecting is a common practice among companies who register multiple versions of their company name as separate domains, then redirect all of them to their actual website.

For example, the website del.icio.us mentioned above was subsequently sold to Yahoo, who also acquired the domain delicious.com. The old domain now redirects to the new domain. The Cyber Toothed Tiger website is actually a subdomain of BrokenClaw.net, but since I own the domain name of CyberToothedTiger.com, I have it redirected to this blog.

Other examples are coke.com and cocacola.com, which redirect you to the actual website at www.coca-cola.com. Companies who change owners and their website address also use redirecting so that users don’t notice the difference. For example, if you want to go to the ESPN Radio website, you can type espnradio.com in the address bar, but you will be redirected to a subdomain of ABC-owned go.com:

http://espn.go.com/espnradio/.

Websites of questionable scruples often use redirecting, deceptive domain names, and subdomains to deceive internet users.

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