Web 101: What is a domain?

 — April 2022
Reading time — 4 minutes
Web 101: What is a domain?

A domain name can be defined as a string of text that resolves to a unique public IP address, most commonly used to access a website. A simple explanation of that definition is the text a user would input into the address bar of an internet browser to navigate to their favourite website.

A good example of this is ‘google.co.uk’ - known by almost everyone. It’s important to consider your domain carefully when setting up a new website, to make it something memorable and unique - that way it's easier for users to remember it.

The structure of a website URL

The structure of a website url can be broken down into several parts; protocol (http or https), domain and path. The protocol represents whether the website connection is secure or not (green padlock). The path describes the page of the website you are visiting.

The structure of a domain

How does a domain name work?

When a user enters a url into the address bar of a web browser, this address is taken and used to search a global network of domain name servers (DNS) for the unique IP address mapped to that website address. Once found, the browser sends a request to that IP address which tells the server associated with said address to send back a response to the browser containing the HTML, CSS and Javascript code. The browser then displays this code in the format of a website to the user.

What is the difference between hosting and a domain?

If you are new to the digital world, understanding the difference between website hosting and a domain name can be confusing, it’s important to be able to identify the difference.

The best way to describe website hosting is the land that your house is built upon, for example, the server where your website will be hosted. Your house has now been built and you are ready to invite people over for the first time, but how are they going to find it? By the associated address. This is where the domain comes in, think of it as the address of your house, giving people the ability to locate your website.

What are the different types?

Top level domains (TLDs)

Top level domains or TLDs as they are most commonly referred to, are domain extensions. One of the most popular domain extensions available today is ‘.com’. Alternative extensions such as ‘.io’ and ‘.online’ are becoming more and more popular as businesses look to stand out from the crowd and create a website that is unique. These alternative extensions also tend to be cheaper than the more commonly used ones.

Country code top level domains (ccTLD)

Country code TLDs describe an extension that targets specific countries, e.g. Google has an extension for each particular country they wish to target. ‘google.co.uk’ is used to target the United Kingdom whereas ‘google.de’ is used to target Germany. It is useful for websites that need to filter their content and target the relevant countries.

Generic top level domains (gTLD)

Generic TLDs are a reserved set of extensions that require the registrant to be of a certain type of organisation. For example, an educational institution or a government agency. If you do not fall into either of these categories or any other gTLD, then you cannot register a domain using the extension.

Other types

A Subdomain is a part of a TLD and indicates a subsection of a website that is usually hosted on the same server. These do not need to be registered like a TLD does and can be created by any TLD owner. Web developers will often use subdomains for particular sub services of a website e.g. ‘developers.google.co.uk’.

Some domains are free and are often provided by some internet services such as website builders. Wordpress.com being the most popular, they are responsible for over 40% of websites on the internet today. They offer free domains with your account that resemble something like ‘myblog.wordpress.com’.  

Where do I get a domain name?

If you are looking to set up a website, before you can begin you will need to register a domain with a domain registrar. This is a business that handles the registration of addresses and what IP address they have assigned to them. Registrars usually offer domains on a 12 month basis with the option to renew each period, if you choose to not renew, the registrar will flag the domain as available for someone else to purchase.

It's worth noting that different DNS providers can actually impact the speed of your website so do some research first. We recommend Cloudflare or Route 53.

Good Practice

So, you have settled on your domain name, registered it with a registrar and now you’re ready to set up your website - great! But before that, it's always good practice at the same time to pick up some alternate extensions and forward them to your primary domain. 

There are two reasons to do this; first, you stop potential competitors from grabbing the same domain with a different extension and secondly, if a user guesses the wrong extension e.g. ’.net’, ’.io’ or ‘.bio’, it will still direct them to the right place.


We're ready to hear about your requirements (what does your 'blue sky' look like for your site) and are looking forward to working on how we can achieve this together.