What Is a Domain Name? A Beginner-Friendly Guide

What Is a Domain Name? A Beginner-Friendly Guide

Choosing a domain name is one of the most important aspects of building a website or an online presence in general.

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A domain name is the unique address for a website. Usually, it consists of a website name and a domain name extension. A memorable domain will strengthen your branding and help your audience find your website.

This beginner-friendly guide will explain everything you need to know about domain names, including how they work and why you need one. We will also explain the steps to get a domain name and answer some frequently asked questions.


A domain name is your website’s equivalent of a physical address. It helps users find your site easily instead of using its internet protocol (IP) address. Domain names consisting of a name and an extension are a key part of the internet infrastructure.

Video Tutorial on What Is a Domain Name

If you prefer watching a video, check out this YouTube tutorial explaining a domain name.

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Differences Between a Domain Name and a URL

While a domain name and a Universal Resource Locator (URL) share some similarities, they are different. A URL acts as a complete web address that can direct visitors to a specific page on a site. A domain name is just a part of it.

A URL consists of a protocol, domain, and path. The protocol shows whether a site has an SSL certificate. Note that URLs have a path only when they direct visitors to a specific page on a site.

A graphic explaining the structure of a URL.

How Do Domains Work?

Every website has two main elements – a domain name and a web hosting server. All domain names are linked to their respective IP addresses and point to the specific web servers that host the websites.

When a user enters a domain name into a browser, it looks for the associated IP address through a global network of Domain Name System (DNS) servers.

Next, the server with the information about the IP address returnS it to the web browser which requests data about the site from the domain’s hosting service. This web server stores all of the website’s data, including its files, database, and HTML code.

Once the host has sent the data back, the web browser converts it into a web page that users can visit.

A graphic showing how domain names work.

Why Do I Need a Domain Name?

Here are some of the reasons why you need a domain name for your business or project:

  • Memorability. Your audience can technically visit your website without a domain name by entering its IP address. However, since it consists of a string of numbers, it is difficult to remember. A domain helps a website be more accessible to internet users.
  • Effective branding. A well-thought-out domain name will help communicate your project or business in a way that aligns with your brand’s values and mission.
  • Credibility. Websites that use a custom domain name are more professional-looking than those with free domain names like yourwebsite.websitebuilder.com.
  • Custom email addresses. Having a domain name lets you create unique and professional email accounts, like name@yourdomain.com. It also makes your presentation consistent throughout different online channels.
  • SEO. A memorable domain name with relevant keywords will positively impact your website’s search engine optimization, improving its rankings on search engines.

Different Types of Domains

Different types of domains can reveal more information about a website. Here are some of the most common types:

TLDs: Top-Level Domains

A top-level domain is a domain extension. Various TLDs are available online, but .com is the most popular, with over 54% of all websites using it. A popular extension drives high organic traffic as users often write it by default.

However, a less popular extension, such as .online, is often less expensive and can make a domain more unique. With the increasing number of new websites created daily, the popularity of a specific TLD might also change in the future.

Check out the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) for the official list of all legitimate TLDs.

ccTLDs: Country-Code Top-Level Domains

A country-code top-level domain is an extension specific to a particular country. It consists of two letters based on the international country codes.

Some platforms help find the correct country codes, such as the World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO)’s database. To illustrate, sites from Japan use .jp as their extensions, whereas Brazilian sites use .br.

A ccTLD is useful for a company that focuses on a specific country. This way, international companies can differentiate their content for different regions.

For example, the BBC uses bbc.co.uk to target readers in the United Kingdom and bbc.com for the international audience.

gTLDs: Generic Top-Level Domains

A generic top-level domain is an extension that does not rely on a country code. There are no specific criteria to obtain a gTLD. However, some extensions are sponsored by designated agencies or organizations.

Some generic TLDs are reserved for specific types of registrants. For example, an academic institution can use .edu, and a governmental agency can use .gov. If your company or project does not belong to a particular category, you will not be able to use the generic TLDs associated with it.

Other Domain Name Types

We focused on the different extension types above. The following are the other available structures of domain names:

Second-Level Domains

A second-level domain (SLD) is below TLDs in the domain name hierarchy. An SLD is the section of a domain name located to the left of the last dot. Take www.hostinger.com, for example – hostinger is the SLD, and .com is the TLD.

Some domain name registries use an SLD to indicate a specific entity registering. For example, academic institutions in the United Kingdom mostly register websites under .ac.uk.

Subdomains

A subdomain indicates a separate division from a parent domain that still shares the same servers. There is no need to register a subdomain. Technically, the www of most URLs is a subdomain that shows that a site is part of the world wide web.

The most common reason to create subdomains is to organize and divide web content into separate sections. For example, Google uses developers.google.com to provide specific information for developers.

Another use of a subdomain is to create another website with the same name but in different languages. Take Wikipedia as an example – it has a separate subdomain for each language. It uses en.wikipedia.org for the English version and es.wikipedia.org for the Spanish one.

Free Domains

Website builders, such as WordPress.com, or content management systems, like Blogger, often offer free domain names for new users. Usually, beginners take this opportunity to create their websites before investing money into them.

A free web address often follows the same structure as subdomains. For example, instead of hostingertutorials.com, the domain would be hostingertutorials.wordpress.com or hostingertutorials.blogspot.com.

Keep in mind that getting a free domain often comes with minimal features and tools.

Getting a Domain Name

This section will explain how to register and transfer a domain name.

Domain name registration is the process of purchasing a domain from a domain registrar for a specific period. On the other hand, domain name transfer refers to the process of moving a domain from one registrar to another.

How to Register a Domain Name

Start by opening a domain name generator. Use the following tool to check if your desired domain name is still available.

Domain Name Checker

Instantly check domain name availability.

To find the right domain, consider branding and cost. Make sure that it is memorable, catchy, and fits your budget.

Popular domains are often more expensive and might already be taken. Some generators provide options if the domain you want is unavailable. With a hosting service like Hostinger, users can choose a different TLD with the same name or an alternative.

Domain name variations generated by Hostinger.

Once you have found a valid domain name, use a trustworthy registrar to buy the domain. To find the list of legitimate domain name registrars, check the ICANN database.

If you chose Hostinger as the registrar, follow these steps:

  1. Select your desired domain and continue to the checkout.
  2. Choose the registration period for your domain.
  3. Select whether you want to add domain privacy protection. We recommend it to secure your personal information in the WHOIS database and prevent identity theft through the use of WHOIS lookup tool.
  4. Upon payment, access your new account.
  5. Complete the registration process by entering the required information, including your name and postal address.

After the domain registration is complete, you will have access to a control panel with all the essential management tools.

Pro Tip

Looking for a more detailed guide? Check out our How to Buy a Domain Name? tutorial.

How to Transfer a Domain Name

Domain transfer is the process of changing a domain’s registrar. As domain registrars offer different support and maintenance, some users transfer their domain for better service.

With Hostinger, users can perform a domain transfer from any registrar.

Hostinger's domain transfer tool.

All you have to do is enter the domain authorization code or EPP from your current provider and confirm the transfer. The process can take from 4 to 7 days.

Unfortunately, some extensions are not transferable. However, there is an option to point the nameservers to a particular hosting company if a registrar doesn’t accept certain TLDs. You will need to change your nameservers for this.

Note that changing the web server information can only be done from where you purchased the domain. However, if your registrar does not allow changing nameservers, it is still possible to point a domain to a different registrar using an A record.

Pro Tip

Looking for a more detailed guide? Check out our How to transfer a domain to Hostinger? support page.

Conclusion

A domain name is a unique address used to access a website. Having a custom domain name has many advantages, such as improving memorability, branding, and SEO.

In this article, we explained how domain names work, their different types, and how to register and transfer a domain name.

We hope this article has given you a basic understanding of domain names and how to incorporate them into your online business or project.

Further Reading

Check out these articles to learn more about web hosting and creating your first website:
What Is Web Hosting?
How to Make a Website From Scratch
What Is WordPress? An Overview of the World’s Most Popular CMS
The Complete WordPress Tutorial for Beginners

What Is a Domain Name FAQ

Other than “what is a domain name?” we will answer some other frequently asked questions about domain names:

What Is the Difference Between a Domain and a Domain Name?

They are the same. “Domain” is often used as the shortened version of “domain name”.

What Is the Difference Between a Domain Name and a Website?

A domain name is the address of a website. It is what users enter into a browser to access it. On the other hand, a website is a collection of web pages made up of files under a single domain.

The steps to create a website include domain registration. The two work together to help users access content easily.

How Do I Check the Owner of a Domain Name?

You can check who owns a domain name by browsing ICANN Lookup. Simply enter the domain into the search bar to locate its contact information.

However, many domain owners hide their personal information for privacy reasons. If the contact information is masked, you can contact the registrar to find more information about the domain’s owner.

How Can I Get a Free Domain Name?

Some web hosting providers, including Hostinger, offer free domain registration with their hosting plans or you can get a cheap domain

Another way to get a free website domain is by using a website builder or CMS, such as WordPress.com and Blogger. With this method, users can own domain names like test.wordpress.com instead of yourdomain.com

Unfortunately, such domains are less professional and often come with minimal features.

Who Owns Unused Domain Names?

It depends on what “unused” means. 

If you mean domains that are registered but not used by their owners, you can find out who owns them by searching their contact information on ICANN Lookup or by contacting their domain registrar.

But if you are referring to domains that are not registered, no one owns them, and anyone can purchase them.

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The author

Domantas G.

Domantas leads the content and SEO teams forward with fresh ideas and out of the box approaches. Armed with extensive SEO and marketing knowledge, he aims to spread the word of Hostinger to every corner of the world. During his free time, Domantas likes to hone his web development skills and travel to exotic places.

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The Co-author

Hasna Avni

Hasna is a Content Writer at Hostinger. With passion and knowledge in tech and digital marketing, she hopes to help people solve their problems and succeed. When not writing, she enjoys live music and overanalyzing movies.