How Domain Names Work – All You (Really) Need to Know

How Domain Names Work  – All You (Really) Need to Know

June 8th was IPv6 day. IPs are one of the most important building blocks of the web, but do you know what they actually mean. How do domains work? Millions and millions of people all over the world browse the web every day. They browse it by typing in something called a domain name into the address bar of the web browser. The browser and technology behind it then do their magic and you get the website you requested. If you’re reading this, you know the drill. 😉

But how exactly do domain names work and what are they anyway? Find out everything you wanted to know about domain names in our Ultimate Guide to Domains and DNS!

What is a Domain Name?

A domain name or domain is a structured label which is connected to a specific IP (Internet Protocol) address of a server where the web page is being hosted. Here’s an example: https://domain.me is a domain name of our own site. You’ll notice we said that domains are structured labels. Let’s have a look at the structure of the domain.

The Structure of a Domain Name

Structure of an URL

Every domain consists of at least two parts: the actual domain name and the TLD or Top Level Domain. In our domain.me example, “.ME” is the TLD of Montenegro and the “domain” part is a domain name or domain label we chose for our site. You’ve surely heard of some other top-level domains like .COM, .NET, .ORG, .INFO, .US etc.

Domains are under the jurisdiction of ICANN, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers which is responsible for creating new and maintaining current top-level domains.

On the other hand, you can choose your domain name and register it with a domain name registry. So, if you want to register this-is.me, go right ahead!

Now you know that a domain name consists of an actual name and the TLD suffix. There is also something called a subdomain, which is the third-level of a domain. If you own john.this-is.me domain, “.ME” is top-level domain, “this-is” is the level 2 domain name and “john” is the subdomain of “this-is” domain. It’s really not that complicated; just follow the hierarchy from right to left.

What is DNS?

By now, you have learned what domains are and that they consist of a domain name and TLDs like .ME or .COM. You also know that websites are hosted on servers all over the world. The problem is, the servers aren’t really recognized by domain names. They’re actually recognized by IP addresses. A typical IP address looks something like 50.63.201.97 (which happens to be the IP address of this blog; try to enter it into your browser, you should end up on our website).

What is an IP address

DNS stands for Domain Name System and it is a set of specialized DNS servers that have only one purpose: they serve as a database, or to be more precise – they serve as a phone book for connecting IP addresses with corresponding domain names. These servers are called name servers.

How DNS Works

The sole purpose of the DNS system is to make your browsing more comfortable. You really don’t want to remember all those number-dot-numbers-dot-more-numbers, right? It’s a lot easier to remember domain.me or some other domain. When you enter that pretty domain name, the browser will search through the DNS system and find the exact IP address of the corresponding website.

This is where domain name hierarchy really shines; if you want to open domain.me, the browser will first go to the root DNS records and try to find all the name servers within the .me top-level domain. It will then go to the first server on the list and try to find the actual IP address which is connected to domain.me. Once found, the browser knows the IP address of the “domain.me” domain and opens up the site. Magic 🙂

Sounds complicated? Well, just imagine how we’d be browsing the web if it weren’t for DNS. No domains, just a bunch of numbers! Horrible and not very practical. Luckily, that is not our reality. 🙂

Editor’s note: This blog post was written back in January 2011. Not much has changed since then, but we still wanted to update it a bit and give you most relevant information. Hope you enjoy! 

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