Domain name registrations are priced on a subscription-like model that allows a person or business to register that domain name for a certain period of time (usually in annual increments). At the end of the registration period, you (the domain name registrant) have the option to renew the domain name registration for an additional period of time, or let it expire. It is important to renew your domain name registration, or you may find that all of your work building traffic and views to your site ends up benefiting someone else (in the instance that someone else registers your domain name after you let your registration expire), and potentially costing you more in rebranding.
The practice of using a simple memorable abstraction of a host's numerical address on a computer network dates back to the ARPANET era, before the advent of today's commercial Internet. In the early network, each computer on the network retrieved the hosts file (host.txt) from a computer at SRI (now SRI International), which mapped computer host names to numerical addresses. The rapid growth of the network made it impossible to maintain a centrally organized hostname registry and in 1983 the Domain Name System was introduced on the ARPANET and published by the Internet Engineering Task Force as RFC 882 and RFC 883.
A domain name consists of one or more labels, each of which is formed from the set of ASCII letters, digits, and hyphens (a-z, A-Z, 0-9, -), but not starting or ending with a hyphen. The labels are case-insensitive; for example, 'label' is equivalent to 'Label' or 'LABEL'. In the textual representation of a domain name, the labels are separated by a full stop (period).
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Domain name registrars, in case you didn't know, are the companies that manage all the website domain names you'll see (EG: Inc.com) - the fingerprint of your business, which may also include the hosting and privacy measures. For example, by default many companies will actually over-price the simple process of keeping your registration information private (which if it isn't can be found via a simple Whois search).
For the most part, you can pick whichever TLD you prefer, though a few have restrictions -- you can't buy a .edu domain unless you run an accredited post-secondary school. Many, but not all, country-specific domains (.us, .uk, .jp) are restricted to citizens of the country in question. Unrestricted country domains are often used for "domain hacks," where the extension becomes part of the title, such as YouTube's alternate address, "youtu.be."
More controversially, the new agreement guaranteed the renewal of Verisign’s contract in 2012 unless they were in “fundamental breach” of their obligations as a registry. A similar presumptive renewal clause in the 2012 agreement recently sealed Verisign’s control over .com until 2024. This kind of arrangement, ICANN say, incentivises registries to make long-term investments in infrastructure that benefit the Internet community.
Second-level (or lower-level, depending on the established parent hierarchy) domain names are often created based on the name of a company (e.g., bbc.co.uk), product or service (e.g. hotmail.com). Below these levels, the next domain name component has been used to designate a particular host server. Therefore, ftp.example.com might be an FTP server, www.example.com would be a World Wide Web server, and mail.example.com could be an email server, each intended to perform only the implied function. Modern technology allows multiple physical servers with either different (cf. load balancing) or even identical addresses (cf. anycast) to serve a single hostname or domain name, or multiple domain names to be served by a single computer. The latter is very popular in Web hosting service centers, where service providers host the websites of many organizations on just a few servers.
Keep in mind, however, that free domain names are usually free only for one or two years, after which the registrar will bill you for the annual or biennial fee. In other words, the provider of the free domain name pays only for the first billing from the registrar. Also take note of whether or not the provider charges a fee for setting up a domain name. Most services offer to transfer an existing domain name to their servers at no cost, but sometimes you'll find a setup fee over and above the registrar's fee.