Domain names serve to identify Internet resources, such as computers, networks, and services, with a text-based label that is easier to memorize than the numerical addresses used in the Internet protocols. A domain name may represent entire collections of such resources or individual instances. Individual Internet host computers use domain names as host identifiers, also called host names. The term host name is also used for the leaf labels in the domain name system, usually without further subordinate domain name space. Host names appear as a component in Uniform Resource Locators (URLs) for Internet resources such as web sites (e.g., en.wikipedia.org).
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.
The right to use a domain name is delegated by domain name registrars, which are accredited by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), the organization charged with overseeing the name and number systems of the Internet. In addition to ICANN, each top-level domain (TLD) is maintained and serviced technically by an administrative organization operating a registry. A registry is responsible for maintaining the database of names registered within the TLD it administers. The registry receives registration information from each domain name registrar authorized to assign names in the corresponding TLD and publishes the information using a special service, the WHOIS protocol.
Is your domain name portable if you change service providers? I’m starting a non-profit and I want to hold the name, but eventually I will fire someone to do the website development and want them to be able to use the platform they think they can work most effectively in. If I were to register with GoDaddy for services and get a free domain name… do I lose it if I switch to another web-hosting provider?
Who is in charge of all of these processes? Most countries manage a Network Information Center (NIC). An NIC is the main database that has all the information regarding what domain names have been registered and the IP address associated with each of those domains. The nonprofit organization the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) is in charge of creating and managing the procedures for internet namespaces.
There is also what is called a ccTLD, or country code top-level domain. These are designed to signify sites located in or associated with certain countries or territories. Most of the ccTLDs actually don't have restrictions regarding who can register domain names. In fact, many ccTLDs are commonly misinterpreted as TLDs. For example, while .tv is commonly registered by television and media related websites, .tv is actually the ccTLD designated for the country Tuvalu. Domain hacks are also a popular use of both TLDs and ccTLDs. This involves creating a full word or phrase when combining the domain name with the TLD to create something your audience will easily remember. A popular example is using the .me ccTLD for Montenegro and combining it with "aweso" to create the domain aweso.me.
Classic domain extensions work for both options, as well as country specific extensions to build up local relevance. nTLD domain names such as .design, .business, or the eye-catching .nyc are good, .business especially in the case of a website builder package. There's often confusion surrounding the nTLDs, and it's good to know that the TLDs that imply a geographical reference are classified as generic top level domains by Google. For those who opt for website builder packages, it may be worth registering more than one domain extension, especially the classic extensions such as .com, as many users will remember this one better than the nTLDs – if you own the .com version but prefer the nTLD, you can always set up domain forwarding to avoid competition from other websites.
A few companies have offered low-cost, below-cost or even free domain registration with a variety of models adopted to recoup the costs to the provider. These usually require that domains be hosted on their website within a framework or portal that includes advertising wrapped around the domain holder's content, revenue from which allows the provider to recoup the costs. Domain registrations were free of charge when the DNS was new. A domain holder may provide infinite number of subdomains in their domain. For example, the owner of example.org could provide subdomains such as foo.example.org and foo.bar.example.org to interested parties.
In order to register any domain, you must provide certain personal information that you may not wish to be publically searchable in the Whois database. Signing up for WhoisGuard is a great way to keep your registration data private. WhoisGuard acts as a "shield" for your searchable information, displaying the address, phone number, and email of the domain registrar (Namecheap, e.g.) instead of your own. Keep in mind that WhoisGuard is an optional security add-on that must be renewed separately when you renew your domain.