While there are plenty of places around the web where you can get free webspace, if you’re serious about your website, it pays to register your own domain. Domain registration is a fairly straightforward process and doesn’t cost much. Once you have a domain, your site will look more professional and be easier to find.
This page was last updated on 2012-08-21
What are Domains?
A website domain is the name you type into your browser to get to a particular website. Domains take the form “www.example.com”. This can be broken down into three parts:
- The www is generally optional, in that entering only “example.com” will still get you to the same page as if you had added the “www.”
- This, along with the final part are your host name. This middle part can be made up of a combination of letters, numbers and hyphens (-). There are a few caveats: you can’t start or end a name with a hyphen, because that would look silly. Your name also has to include at least one letter, it can’t be all numbers. The domain can be up to 63 characters long, and is case-insensitive, which means that there’s no difference between EXAMPLE.com and example.com.
- This is one of many domain extensions — or “top-level domains” — which you can choose. You could also have a domain like “example.org” or “example.net” or countless other variations. Each one has a specific meaning which we’ll delve into below.
Possible Domain Extensions
As already discussed, there are the three big domain extensions, .com .net and .org that are seen all over the internet.
Dot com domains are the most popular form — they denote any “commercial” website, but in actuality are used for almost every type of site because “dot com” is thought of as being synonymous for the internet. Dot net domains were originally for infrastructure-related site like ISPs, but again are used for more than that nowadays. Many companies will register both a .com and a .net version of their site. Dot org domains are ostensibly only to be used by non-profit organisations. Anyone can get one, but if you are not running a non-profit organisation, you shouldn’t really register a dot org.
Beyond the big three, there are dozens of other extensions you can register in. Most of these are country-specific extensions. Almost every country will have their own extension. For example, Britain uses .co.uk, Germany uses .de and Ireland uses .ie. If your site caters specifically for people from a certain country, you should definitely get a country-specific domain name. Optionally, you can also register the .com version as well, and redirect all traffic from it to this country-specific one.
Many search engines also have country-specific versions, and they will weight local sites more heavily than others. So, in a search on the Spanish version of Google, a site with a .es extension will rank higher than the competition because their domain is more specific.
In 2001, a number of extra extensions were made available for various purposes, like .biz for businesses, .info for informative sites, .jobs for employment-related sites etc. There is a full list of top-level domains available.
Once you have your main domain name, you can have as many subdomains beneath it as you like. The subdomain takes the place of the “www” — so we could have “members.example.com”, or “archives.example.net”, or even “june.archives.example.net”. Setting up subdomains can be a useful way to keep a site organised, or to use multiple servers for a single site so that heavy traffic doesn’t overwhelm your single server.
This is the hardest question to answer. The registrar is the company that sets up your new domain name for you. Most registrars charge roughly the same amount for domains, but there are some bargains to be had if you know where to look.
Once you’ve registered a few domains you tend to stick with that registrar. Generic domains ending in .com or .net will generally cost between $9 and $30. Country-specific domains will often cost a little more. Some might involve a screening process, wherein you have to produce some documentation to prove your business is actually being run from the country.
As for specific registrars, I’ve heard good things about a company called Dreamhost, who have been very successful. If you use the promotional code “HTMLSOURCE” when you sign up for hosting with them, you’ll get your first domain name free! Personally, I bought this domain and hosting from pair networks, and their domain registrar PairNIC. I have had no problems with them at all.
Once you have registered a domain, you will need to point it towards your webspace. Every hosting computer connected to the internet has what’s called an IP address. This is a unique set of numbers that will look something like “126.96.36.199”. Rather than typing a domain name into your browser to get to a site, you could just use the IP address all the time, but they can be pretty difficult to remember! So, we need a system to point the domain name to the corresponding IP address of the server it’s stored on.
Your hosts will likely help you with this, but what it basically involves is updating your domain by adding two or more nameservers to it. These nameservers are machines constantly connected to the internet that manage which addresses point to which sites, and will generally have names like “ns123.example.com”. You add at least two so that if one of them goes offline, your site doesn’t follow it, because the second nameserver can be used as a backup. When you type a domain into your browser, a nameserver is queried to find the server to download from.
Once this information has been updated, you will have to wait about 24 hours for the nameserver information to spread — or “propagate” — around the internet. In this time you can begin uploading your site. Once it has gone around, anyone in the world will be able to type in your domain name and get to your site!