Anyone who has used the internet would have heard of “dot-com”, which was perhaps most famously associated with the bursting of the dot-com stock bubble in the late 1990s. The term dot-com refers to the most well-known of all the domains on the World Wide Web. Some other well-known domains include dot-net, dot-org, dot-edu and dot-gov. As we move forward towards a digital world, TLD (Top Level Domain) are no longer only limited to .com, .net, .edu or the common ones. At the time of writing this post, there are a total of 1514 TLDs. Woof!
Domains always come with a name. For example, the domain name facebook.com comprises the domain (dot-com) and the associated name, “Facebook”. The concept of domain name is familiar to anyone who has used the internet. We type domain names into the address bar of our web browsers to access our favorite websites. We click on links containing domain names to access information. We send emails to an email address containing a domain name. Why do domain names exist?
Domain names are tightly connected to IP addresses. The IP address (IPv4 or IPv6) is the actual address of a web server on the internet. Strictly speaking, instead of a domain name, you can key in the IP address associated with the domain name into the address bar in your web browser to access all the information a web server is serving (well in most cases). Your browser will receive and display the same information. However, you probably don’t want to do that.
Try remembering multiple IPv4 addresses (which look like this: 184.108.40.206), or worse, IPv6 addresses (which look like this: 2001:0db8:0001:0000:0000:0ab9:C0A8:0102), just to access your favorite website. Few people enjoy such mental torture. Or what if, you don’t want to use different IP for different domains/subdomains?
The domain name system (DNS) is our savior from the horrors of memorizing these awful IP addresses! We can get information from web servers using something much easier to remember, such as google.com. How does DNS perform its magic?
Well, think of the DNS as a big directory. This directory contains all the domain names that exist. Each domain name is associated with a specific IP address. When you type a domain name into your web browser, it quietly uses the DNS to retrieve the specific IP address associated with the domain name. When your browser gets the IP address information, it knows where exactly on the internet to locate the web server associated with the domain name to get information from the server to display in your browser window. Neat, isn’t it?
If you buy a web hosting service, you probably want to register a domain name from a reliable registrar too. When you register a domain name through a registrar, you can associate the IP address given by your provider with your domain name. Registrars also provide name servers to look up any request (e.g. from your web browser) for your domain name to return the IP address associated with it.
With a domain name, you don’t have to remember that clunky IP address of your web server. Of course, if you want to, nobody’s stopping you!