If you’re still with me then you might be wondering who came up with all of this. The answer is ICANN — the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers. ICANN is a non-profit whose role is to coordinate all the names and numbers that keep the Internet online. They outsource a lot of the heavy domain name lifting to registries like Verisign, who pay ICANN for the privilege.
With over 25 million .com domains registered with Google alone, this top-level domain is by far the most popular choice worldwide. According to the domain marketplace Sedo, the average sales price for a .com domain name during the second quarter of 2015 was 4,701 dollars. The most expensive publicly traded domain names have been known to fetch eight-figures. But don’t quit your day job just yet: such sales are the exception rather than the rule.
Hostt is a just-launched free web hosting company that includes domain name purchasing and registration. They've a suite of offerings, such as one where you'll pay $13.99 per year for domain names with extensions that include .com, .net, .org, .us, .biz, and .info., but have unlimited bandwidth, web space, sub-domains, parked domains, sub-domains and email accounts, among other things. Like HostGator, they include domain locking and automatic renewal, along with a user-friendly management portal (which, believe me, is pretty rare) and 24/7 technical support. This isn't a bad price considering the amount you get, and their $3.95 and $5.95 a month packages both offer fairly balanced domain-inclusive packages.
Even when you register and pay for your domain name, you won't necessarily be able to use the name for several hours or even a few days. The domain must propagate, meaning that the official domain name registry must be updated with your website's Domain Name System information. That's something that occurs on the backend without any need of input from you.
My personal preference is to register the name directly with a domain name registrar rather than through my web host. I've heard stories, in the past, of less-than-reputable web hosts that registered the domain under their own name, making them the owner of the domain rather than you (although I don't know if such web hosts still exist today). Registering direct with a domain name registrar allows me to make sure that I am registered as the owner, the administrative and technical contacts. Being the owner is vital — if someone else places himself as the owner (such as your web host), he can always decide to charge you some exorbitant fee for the use of the name later, and there is little you can do. The various other contacts are less vital, but may still play important roles, depending on your registrar. For example, for some registrars, the administrative contact's approval is required before a domain name is transferred out of a web host (or at least, it used to be). If he/she cannot be contacted, the technical contact is used.
SnapNames is a web domain name marketplace - meaning that they only deal specifically with domains that are currently owned by somebody else. They offer daily and premium auctions, private brokerage of domains, and buy-it-now listings for buying and selling domain names, including over 30 million domain names that aren't all, as you'll find on some services, exorbitant. They have over three million customers, including a significant number of small businesses, which is worth it.