Domain names are often seen in analogy to real estate in that domain names are foundations on which a website can be built, and the highest quality domain names, like sought-after real estate, tend to carry significant value, usually due to their online brand-building potential, use in advertising, search engine optimization, and many other criteria.
What’s easy to forget, though, is that Verisign have managed .com for the past 20 years without so much as a hiccup of disruption or downtime, and that there’s no guarantee that a more democratic or competitive process would have resulted in the 2 decades of .com stability that we’ve enjoyed. Internet governance is obviously important, but we should remember that the overwhelming majority of users don’t know or care what’s going on behind the scenes.
When you type google.com into your browser, the domain is split into parts by the “dot”, from right to left. The first part is “com”, so your computer checks the root zone file to see which registry manages the .com TLD. It then checks with this registry to see where the next part, “google”, points to. The registry returns the IP address 220.127.116.11, and your computer can then ask Google to send their homepage over.
Domains are nonmaterial goods. When sold, the only transaction taking place is transfer of domain rights from one user to another. Barring any form of copyright or trademark violation, virtually any domain name can be bought or sold. Generic domain names, such as car.com or computer.com, are not legally protected and can therefore theoretically be reserved by anyone.
Note that you can also transfer your domain name from one registration service to another. You'll want to do this if you're not satisfied with your current domain hosting service, if you find a better deal when your current registration is coming due, or, most likely, if you've signed up with a web hosting service that will also transfer your name to its site. Expect to get the transfer for free, but if that isn't offered, search for another domain hosting service.
It is also possible to setup a personalised or branded email address that simply forwards email to an existing inbox you may already have elsewhere such as Gmail, Yahoo or similar. This way, you can continue using your existing email address and receive your emails through your branded domain name. To send from your personalised address you will need an email mailbox account.
It's good to decide early on if you want to have a brand domain or a keyword domain. The benefit of a brand domain is that your domain will most likely be considered as trustworthy, and immediately shows visitors that it's linked to your business or personal blog. A keyword domain, on the other hand, has the advantage that it will be better optimized for search engines, and therefore will get higher search results. In recent years, however, the drastic improvement in search results thanks to a keyword domain has begun to decrease.
HostGator is a company I used for many years with an old firm, and I've found them to be fairly reliable as a rock-solid grounding for a bandwidth-heavy site. Their control panel is also fairly powerful, allowing you to automatically control your fleet of names, as well as locking them down so that nobody can snipe them if you accidentally let a renewal lapse. Their prices are competitive but not the best, but I've found them to be immensely reliable in the past. Read our HostGator Review.
There are organizations that are called registries that manage each TLD option. When you register domain names, you would first visit a domain registrar who would in turn check with the registry that manages that TLD to see if the domain is available. If the domain for the TLD you want discovers that it is in fact available, the registry adds it to their registry and gives you access to it. If the domain has already been registered by another user for that TLD, you will be shown during the domain registration process that the domain isn't available.
Getting a domain name involves registering the name you want with an organisation called ICANN through a domain name registrar. For example, if you choose a name like "example.com", you will have to go to a registrar, pay a registration fee that costs around US$10 to US$35 for that name. That will give you the right to the name for a year, and you will have to renew it annually for (usually) the same amount per annum.
A fully qualified domain name (FQDN) is a domain name that is completely specified with all labels in the hierarchy of the DNS, having no parts omitted. Labels in the Domain Name System are case-insensitive, and may therefore be written in any desired capitalization method, but most commonly domain names are written in lowercase in technical contexts.