What is a domain name? As we walk around the real world, we identify and locate things by their names and addresses. In the virtual world, names and addresses are also important. Read on to find out more about how domain names help us navigate the Internet.
The basic locator on the Internet is the numeric Internet protocol (IP) address. Just as an location on Earth can be located by latitude and longitude, an entity that can be reached through the Internet can be located by its IP address. Each networking device that is connected to the Internet—whether it is a computer, printer, phone, router, fax machine, or some other type of device—has an IP address that identifies it.
The IP address has a specific format: it is composed of four numbers, each of which is within the range from 0—255. These numbers are separated from each other by periods. For example, 22.214.171.124 is often the IP address used for a router, and you can see that each of the four numbers is within the specified range and separated from the others by a period.
To continue the metaphor, each place on Earth can be identified by a number—its latitude and longitude, but most places on Earth have a name that may be more familiar to us than its latitude and longitude. So, there is a particular place:
which is also—and more often—known as Chicago. You probably find the names of places more familiar and interpretable, not to mention easier to remember. And names tend to take precedence when referring to Internet entities as well: I’m guessing that you are more likely to refer to “my NETGEARÔ router” than to “my 126.96.36.199 device.”
The same goes for domain names: we use them because we have an easier time identifying and recalling items by name than by number. They are, essentially, an alias for the IP address.
One key difference to note: not all IP addresses are unique identifiers—as mentioned above, 188.8.131.52 identifies any number of routers—while latitude and longitude and domain names are unique.)
Beyond the Internet
Domain names used to only be seen on the Internet, but that has changed. Now, a number of companies use their domain name in their advertising and other branding. You can on billboards, in magazines, and on television ads, as well as hear them on the radio and see them in links on other Internet sites.
Another place domain names are seen is in e-mail addresses. The part of an e-mail address that follows the @ sign is a domain name. So if you work for Big Company, and the company domain name is bigcompany.com, your e-mail address might be:
with “myname” uniquely identifying you among all the people with bigcompany.com e-mail addresses.
And for some companies, their domain name is, for all intents and purposes, their name. This is especially true for companies whose presence is solely on the web (i.e., they have no retail outlets), like amazon.com. People don’t usually say, “I’m going to order a book from Amazon.” Rather, they are likely to say, “I’m going to order a book from amazon.com,” reinforcing the domain name.
Where to Get a Domain Name
Domain names are obtained from companies that are authorized to register them. Such companies are called domain name registrars. There are a multitude of domain name registrars, with different prices and different services and features incorporated in their offerings. There is more information in the articles “Who’s Who in Domain Registration” and “Our Favorite Registrars.”
For more about Domain Names, look at the related article “Parts of Domain Names.”