Country Domain Names, or cTLDs

What Is a cTLD?

The cTLDs are one of the three types of top-level domains, along with generic top-level domains and infrastructure top-level domains (iTLDs). They were designed to be used by countries and dependent territories, and there are 240 of them.

The cTLDs are easy to identify because each of them has two and only two letters, and all two letter TLDs are cTLDs. Nearly all of them are based on ISO 3166 codes. These codes include initial letters, initial and final letters, or other letter combinations that can be fairly readily connected with the (usually anglicized) name of the country. For example, the United States code is US, Canada is CA, and People’s Republic of China is CN.

Why Use a cTLD?

There are several reasons for using a cTLD as opposed to a gTLD. One such case is if the domain name you want is already taken for the gTLDs such as .com, .net, and .org. Another instance is if you reside in or do business in a country and would like to have that fact noted in your domain name. A third reason is to set up your business site in multiple countries or to protect your business name internationally. Here is an example of how one company does this:

Location Domain Name
Main site (United States)
Canadian site
Chinese site
French site
German site
Japanese site
United Kingdom Site

Many of the 240 cTLDs permit foreign registration, but note that the United States, Canada, Australia, Germany, France, and the United Kingdom are among those that do not. This means that you must have a local presence in these countries in order to register a cTLD. The requirement may be citizenship or some other concrete connection.

Vanity cTLDs

Vanity cTLDs provide another motivation for choosing them over a gTLD. A vanity cTLD is a TLD that is used in such a way to suggest an alternative meaning to its intended representation of a country of dependent territory. For example, .ad is the cTLD for Andorra, but to many English speakers the extension suggests advertising rather than that country. And while .am is the cTLD for Armenia, you can find it otherwise interpreted in domain names such as Likewise, .li is the cTLD for Liechtenstein, but reveals a quite different interpretation.

Although unauthorized use of cTLDs is frowned upon and is known as domain hacking, in fact, certain cTLDs have been contracted for legitimate commercial use. For example, aside from certain reserved domain names, the cTLDs .am, .cd., .fm, and .tv are available to any person, not just those residing in Armenia, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Federated States of Micronesia, and Tuvalu respectively. The reserved names include the following:

In some cases, the arrangements include a distribution of a portion of the registration fees to the governments and/or peoples of the country or dependent territory from which the cTLD is taken. Note that although these vanity cTLDs are not likely to be found outside of a search engine, if they are apt to your business or product, they may prove to be memorable for branding.