Internet · Useful Resources

Understanding domain names

Machines and humans communicate differently. While we might prefer letters and words, computers use numbers to communicate. All devices connected to the Internet, every website has a unique identifier number called an IP (Internet Protocol) address. Computers use the IP address of a website to render it to an end user. If we had to remember those addresses, and deal directly with them, it would have been a nightmare to navigate online. To make it easier for people to interact online, as the Internet was growing. Those IP addresses were associated with names: Domain names. A domain name is the physical name of a website, which is linked to the IP address of the website through the DNS (Domain Name System).

Domain name system (DNS)?

As we mentioned previously, while humans use words, letters and numbers to navigate to a specific website, the internet uses IP addresses to identify the web pages. Now the challenge is: how computers can understand which domain name is connected to which website?
The translation of domain names to IP addresses started way back. Before the Internet as we know it was born: in the era of ARPANET (the ancestor of the Internet). That’s how, in 1983, the Domain name system (DNS) was introduced.
The Domain Name System (DNS) is like a dictionary or an address book on the internet. It is a technical process by which domain names are translated into their corresponding IP addresses. When you type the domain name of the website you want to visit, the DNS works behind the scenes to find the site’s correct IP address, and then it connects you to the website. The process occurs in milliseconds, so the user never knows that the process is occurring. Since its creation the DNS has been a very important part of the Internet. More on DNS here.

What actually is a domain name?

Like said earlier, a domain name is an easy way for humans to browse the internet and access a specific website. It consists of any number (0-9) or/and alphanumeric characters (a-z, A-Z) and hyphens. No spaces are allowed. Followed by a dot(.) and a domain extension.

The domain name is the combination of the name that you choose, and a specific domain extension you choose.

For example, if you wanted to visit Malian Wics website, you couldn’t access it by typing “MalianWics or malianwics” in your browser, you need to type the domain name “” in the browser to navigate to Malian Wics website.

Domain name ownership and etc…

Nobody actually owns a domain name, you can only register it for a period of time, and keep renewing it as long as you want to. The notion of ownership in the domain name space can be a bit hard to understand. Let’s try to break it down and take a look at some concepts.


·         ICANN

It all starts with ICANN (the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers). A not-for-profit entity which coordinates the management of all technical elements of the Internet’s naming system. They also impose rules and regulations that ultimately affect the whole channel.

·         Domain registry

The domain registry is the top of the domain hierarchy. The domain registry is an organization that owns the rights to domain extensions. Domains are managed by the registry from start to finish. They have the ability to create top-level domains, set the guidelines for using them, and distribute the rights to sell them to registrars.

·         Domain registrar

Domain registrars are those who sell domain names. These organizations must be accredited by ICANN. The process of registering and managing domain names is the main role of the domain registrar.

Domain registrars are organizations that have established the power to sell domains using specific domain name extensions. Domain registries coordinate with various registrars to distribute ownership rights for domain names to the general public and domain resellers.

·         Domain reseller

A domain reseller is a business that sells domains to registrants. Some focus on providing a straightforward experience for customers to purchase and manage domains. Others place an emphasis on additional services, such as hosting and website building.

·         Domain registrant

The domain registrant: the domain owner (so to speak). A domain registrant is a person or entity registering a specific domain name from the domain registrar or a domain reseller.

Each domain name using an extension can only be registered once.

Domain name Vs. Url (Uniform Resource Locator)

A domain name is a specific string of text that can direct someone to a website. This definition also loosely describes a Uniform Resource Locator (URL). In fact, people often use URL and domain interchangeably, even though there are specific differences. An URL is a string of characters in a web browser that tells the server to display a specific resource to an end user. While a URL and domain name have similarities, the URL is much more descriptive. In fact, an URL actually encompasses the domain name. For example, is a URL that includes the domain name within it. In fact, let’s look at the other elements of that URL.

The protocol: URLs include schemes or protocols that communicate how to access that specific resource. In the example above, https:// is the protocol. Most web addresses will use either HTTP (Hypertext Transfer Protocol) or HTTPS (HTTP with SSL, which is the secured version of the HTTP).

The subdomain: A subdomain is an optional part of a URL that creates a completely separate section of your website. If an URL has a subdomain, it will precede the domain name with a period.

For example, if Malian Wics website was using subdomains it will look like:


In the two addresses above, subdomain1. and subdomain2. are both subdomains that Malian wics uses to store and display unique pages to its visitors. As you can see, both websites use the same domain name (Root domain), with a unique subdomain.

In our previous example, www., which stands for the World Wide Web serves as a subdomain. Many domains do not use the www. subdomain, but some still do.

The Domain name: Following the protocol and subdomain is the domain name, which we discussed previously. In our example, that would be the section. Domain names include 1 or 2 domain name extension

The domain name directs users to one specific page on the website. While there is only one domain name for a website, there can be an endless number of URLs. Every page, image and other media on your website has a unique URL. As the name suggests, Universal Resource Locators are used to pinpoint and render your website’s unique assets. More on URLs here.

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