Your domain name is how visitors easily find you online. It is often the first step in getting your website started because it is like establishing your website’s street address on the internet. If you did not have a domain name, you would have to give out your IP address to everyone who wanted to visit your website, which would get confusing and be easily forgotten.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Registrars offer a wide variety of registration durations—one year, three, five, and even ten. Be careful about registering for more than a year, though. First, there might be restrictions on your ability to transfer the domain name should the registrar give poor service. Second, the registrar could go out of business, leaving your domain name without a host. Check the policies closely.