What Is a Domain Name?

Domain names are easier to remember than IP addresses

A commercial airplane decorated with the domain name "easyjet.com"
Gyrostat (Wikimedia) [ CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Domain names are easy-to-remember words that we can use to communicate to a DNS server the website we want to visit. The Domain Name System (DNS) is what translates the friendly name to an IP address.

Somewhat like international phone numbers, the domain name system gives every server a memorable and easy-to-spell address, such as lifewire.com. The domain name hides the IP address that most people aren't interested in seeing or using, like the address used by lifewire.com.

In other words, it's much easier to type "lifewire.com" in your web browser than it is to remember and enter the IP address that the website uses. This is why domain names are so incredibly useful.

Examples of Internet Domain Names

Here are several examples of what's meant by a "domain name:"

  • lifewire.com
  • nytimes.com
  • navy.mil
  • harvard.edu
  • monster.ca
  • wikipedia.org
  • japantimes.co.jp
  • dublin.ie
  • gamesindustry.biz
  • spain.info
  • sourceforge.net
  • wikipedia.org

In each of these instances, when you access the website using the domain name, the web browser communicates with the DNS server to understand the IP address that the websites uses. The browser can then communicate directly with the web server using the IP address.

How Domain Names Are Spelled​​

Domain names are organized right to left, with general descriptors to the right, and specific descriptors to the left. It's like family surnames to the right and specific person names to the left.

These descriptors are called "domains".

The top-level domain (i.e. TLD, or parent domain) is to the far right of a domain name. Mid-level domains (children and grandchildren) are in the middle. The machine name, often "www", is to the far left. All of this combined is what's referred to as the Fully Qualified Domain Name.

Levels of domains are separated by periods, like this:

  • Lifewire is the mid-level domain and .com is the top-level domain.
  • japantimes is the smaller mid-level domain, .co is the larger mid-level domain, and .jp is the top-level domain.
  • spain is the mid-level domain and .info is the top-level domain.

Tip: Most American servers use three-letter top-level domains (e.g. .com and .edu), while other countries commonly use two letters or a combinations of two letters (e.g. .au, .ca, .co.jp).​

A Domain Name Is Not the Same as a URL

To be technically correct, a domain name is commonly part of a larger internet address called a URL. The URL goes into much more detail than a domain name, providing more information like the specific folder and file on the server, the machine name, and the protocol language.

Here are some examples of a URL with the domain name in bold:

  • http://www.nytimes.com/2007/07/19/books/19potter.html
  • http://www.nrl.navy.mill/content.php?P=MISSION
  • http://www.fas.harvard.edu/~hsdept/chsi.html
  • http://jobsearch.monster.ca/jobsearch.asp?q=denver&fn=&lid=&re=&cy=CA
  • https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/IAC_(company)
  • http://classified.japantimes.co.jp/miscellaneous.htm
  • http://www.dublin.ie/visitors.htm
  • http://www.gamesindustry.biz/content_page.php?aid=26858
  • http://www.spain.info/TourSpain/Destinos/
  • http://azureus.sourceforge.net/download.php

Domain Name Problems

There could be a number of reasons behind why a website won't open when you type a particular domain name into the web browser:

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