Surely you’ve heard about the process of setting up a website, terms being thrown around like domain name, hosting, name servers and such. While they are fairly simple concepts, at first they can be a bit puzzling. In this first article in the series of “Anatomy of Running a Website”, we’ll discuss the basics of the first element to your website: domain names.
So, what exactly is a domain name?
It’s the address for your website, providing a means for people to access the individual files people have stored online. Think of it as the “address” for one’s house. Sure, someone’s house plot might exist… but without the address to get there, it’d never be found!
Normally, each address is represented by the IP (Internet Protocol) address – which is made up by a series of numbers: For example, 22.214.171.124. Not exactly easy to remember, is it? However, these internet addresses can also be represented with a series of words and numbers that are easier to distinguish – for the example IP address above, you can also access it by typing in “google.com”.
To break down the anatomy of the domain name, look at the following chart:
The HTTP, or Hyper Text Transfer Protocol tells your computer where to search. Specifically, to search the internet. There are different prefixes that changes the location searched: C:// can tell your browser to search the C Drive of your computer. FTP:// is suited for pulling files rather than viewing, SMTP is for email transfer… and well, there’s an entire list that this continues with!
WWW stands for World Wide Web. While not always required to be typed in for a domain name, often it is a means to distinguish the main location of your website, especially if you have subdomains.
Domain is of course the domain name, or the web address that you chose for your website.
.Com is the TLD, or top-level domain. You might have noticed that there are endings on a domain name like .org, .net and with today’s new expansion of TLDs, you can even get something like .ninja! There are even country based top-level domains, such as .us, .jp, or .ru. Note that even if a domain name is the same, if they have different TLDs they count as individual domain names that can be pointed elsewhere. Greengrass.com can be a completely different website, and owned by a different person than Greengrass.org!
Just so you know, while you can’t have one domain name connect to multiple websites, you can have multiple domain names point to one website. The alternate domain names are often referred to as parked or alias domains. Think of how you can type in “Barnesandnoble.com”, “bn.com”, or “barnesnoble.com” and still get to the Barnes and Noble website!
Now that you know what a domain name is, how do you get it?
While there are websites that provide ideas for domain names based on keywords and phrases, you might have something in mind already. You need to make sure that the name is available, at first!
There are countless websites that will give you detailed information on domain names to a degree – and more importantly, if it is even available. We recommend http://www.who.is/ for doing this.
Typing in the full domain name will tell you whether it exists or not, if it exists under a specific TLD, and if it does exist, you’ll be able to find out the creation date, expiration date, as well as the registrar, technical, and administrator information if there is no whoisguard.
Just as many websites offer to register your domain name for you – we recommend you going to a major registrar to get it done. Enom and NameCheap are both reputable registrars, with great customer service. Similar to how you typed in a domain name into who.is to search it’s availability, you’ll end up doing the same — but following through with the additional step to purchase it.
Wait – I don’t want all of this information about me public!
True, it can lead to a sticky situation. When you initially register a new domain name, all contact information you used with it is available to everyone who looks up the domain name. This includes your name, phone number, the address used and your email – and spammers just love to get this information to try and push their quick-and-expensive website services. Others will try and trick domain name owners into transferring and renewing through an alternate company… and more often than not at a exorbitant price.
The solution? WhoIsGuard, also often known as WhoIs Privacy. All registrars offer it in one form or another, though almost guaranteed at an additional annual fee. It pays off in the home run however, for people cannot easily look up information about you. Do note that people still can email you, just not directly: listed in the who.is would instead be a nonsensical email address (think email@example.com) which would forward to the email address on file.
If the domain name that you want is already taken, your best bet is to contact the information listed in the WhoIs – whether it is an actual email listed, or the privacy email. This won’t guarantee they will decide to hand over the domain whether they use it or not.
Now that I bought my domain name, where’s my email?
Slow down there! Having the domain name does not automatically mean you now have hosting and email. Sure, you can buy them as two separate packages at the same time, and sometimes you can buy separate packages for email, but more often than not it is all separate.
When you do come to purchase your hosting, keep in mind that you don’t have to have it through the same registrar of your domain name – you just point it to the hosting company through either the nameservers or change of A Records. In case you were asking as well, you can indeed transfer your domain names between registrars – though sometimes a fee comes with the process.
There’s a lot more information that can be covered about domain names, but this short guide will get you through understanding and registering your first domain name. In the next article of this series, we’ll cover hosting services.