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.
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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.
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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.
Domain names put a friendly face on hard-to-remember numeric internet addresses. Every computer on the internet has a unique internet protocol (IP) number. A domain name represents one IP number or more. For example, the IP number for the domain name whitehouse.gov is 184.108.40.206. The whole purpose is to give users an easy-to-remember handle so that when sending an e-mail to, let's say, the President of the United States, you can type firstname.lastname@example.org instead of the more unwieldy email@example.com.
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.