Understanding Your Domain Name

 


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Buying domain names is a very common activity on the internet and a necessity for establishing an identity on the web. However, many people still don't understand what a domain is, how it is used and how to properly maintain it. This article is dedicated to answering common questions about domain names and providing you with important information that you need to know to make sure your domain remains a useful asset.

So what is a domain name anyway?

A domain name is a unique name used to identify an internet site. Each domain has two or more parts separated by dots. The part at the end is the most general and is used to identify the type or origin of the site. This is called the top level domain (TLD) or domain extension, and it includes the familiar designations .com, .net, and .org, organizational designations like . gov, . mil, and . edu, and country codes like . us, .uk, and .de. In front of the TLD is the second level domain, which is the unique identifier of the internet site. Chilipepperweb, google and yahoo are all examples of second level domains. A third level, usually known as a subdomain, can also be added. This part goes before the second level domain, as in domains. chilipepperweb.net. It is worth noting that you are not required to register subdomains; they are considered part of the primary domain name.

How does a domain name work?

A domain name is not the same thing as an internet site. By registering a domain name, you are reserving the right to use that name to identify an internet site for the period of time that it remains registered to you. An active domain points to a location (IP address) on a host computer connected to the internet that contains the files for the internet site. Each domain name is assigned at least two Domain Name Servers (DNS). When someone types the domain name into their web browser, the DNS assigned to that particular domain receives the query and sends a request to the host computer to retrieve the files for viewing and interaction. Each domain name can only point to one location on one computer at a time, although one computer may host many domain names. A domain name can be pointed to a new host by changing the DNS records or assigning new DNS to the domain. Learn more about DNS

How do I pick a good domain name?

A good domain name is generally short (1 to 3 words), easy to remember and to spell, and representative of your business. The following is a great article if you need help choosing a domain name:
The Essential Guide to Selecting a Domain Name

How do I register a domain name?

So you've got a great idea for a domain name and you've found a site that sells domains for a good price. You're all ready to whip out your credit card and reserve it right now. Here is a basic description of the process you or your representative (website designer, hosting company, etc. ) will go through on most registrars to do this:

  1. Type in the domain name you want to buy. The registrar will cross-reference your choice with a worldwide database (Whois) of domain names to verify that nobody else currently owns it. If someone owns it already, you will be asked to try another name or be given a computer-generated list of similar alternatives to the name you wanted. This goes on until you have found an available name.
  2. Next you will be prompted to create a new account with a username and password. Some registrars will automatically create an account name and password for you and email it to you when your registration is complete, while others allow you to create your own username and password.
  3. After you create an account, you have to fill in all of the required contact information for the domain. The four contacts, which will be explained in more detail below, are the Registrant, Administrative Contact, Billing Contact, and Technical Contact.
  4. Now it's time to pay for the domain. You select the number of years you want to register the domain for, which ranges from 1-10 years, enter your payment information and submit it, and you are done. At this point you are now the proud owner of a new domain name.

IMPORTANT TIP: The most important thing you can do when purchasing a domain name is to keep good records of your purchase. Write down your username and password for your domain account, print out the contact information that you entered, and print out any receipts and emails you receive from the registrar upon completion of your purchase. Keep all of this information in a file where you can find it later if you need it. You should also keep the name and contact information of the registrar you purchased the domain from just in case you ever need it. If you are an employee purchasing a domain for your employer, you should do this to make life easier for the employer if you should ever be unavailable when the information is needed.

If someone else is purchasing a domain name on your behalf, such as your website designer or web host, you should make sure that they are keeping track of this same information and are willing to provide you with copies of it upon request. This gives you an extra measure of safety in the event that a dispute arises over control of your domain name. Most of the time this occurs when an owner decides to change designers or hosting companies because of dissatisfaction or increasing requirements.

TERMINOLOGY

This section explains the major features of a domain name account and the things you need to be aware of with regard to their function and use. It is not necessary for you to understand in great technical detail everything there is to know about domain names, but the features described below are the ones you will encounter during the registration process, and the ones most likely to cause you trouble if they are not handled appropriately.

A complete glossary of domain registration terminology can be found on ICANN's website.

Registrar - This is the company that the domain was purchased from. Top level registrars include Network Solutions, Register.com, OpenSRS (a division of Tucows), and GoDaddy among others. Many smaller companies also function as registrars by reselling domains from the top level domain providers. The registrar is also the company you pay to renew your domain name when the registration period is up. Domain names can be transferred from one registrar to another following specific rules (this article is primarily meant to make that process easy in case you ever need it). There are a number of domain registration scams out there which appear to be renewal notices when in fact they are registrar transfer forms. The easiest way to recognize them is to know who your registrar is and only accept renewal notices from the company you bought your domain from. Learn more about Domain Fraud

Domain Account Manager - As mentioned above, whenever you buy a domain you are creating an account with your registrar. This account allows you to manage all of your domain contact information and the DNS servers for your domain. Whenever you go to the website for your registrar, you should see a link that says something along the lines of “My Account", “Account Manager", “Manage Domain", or something else similar. When you click on that link, it should take you to a login screen where you enter the username and password you created (or received) when you bought your domain. Once you have successfully logged in, you will be able to change all of the information about your domain name, renew it, and possibly use other services the registrar may decide to add to the interface for the user's convenience.

Whois Information - This is the basic information returned by a Whois query on a domain name. It contains the ownership and contact information, the registration and expiration dates, and the DNS servers for the domain. This is the information you are creating when you register your domain. You can find a Whois query form on most domain registrar sites, and there are also many independent Whois servers where you can check domain information.

Registrant or Owner Contact - This is the first contact you have to fill out, and arguably the most important, at least from a legal standpoint. The person or organization listed in this contact is considered to be the legal owner of the domain name. This can be a serious problem if a client asks their designer to purchase a domain on their behalf and the designer registers the domain with himself as the owner. It does happen, unfortunately far too often, and if a legal dispute arises over the ownership of the domain this can be very problematic. You should always make sure whenever someone else buys a domain for you that you are listed as the owner.

Administrative Contact - For operational purposes, this is THE SINGLE MOST IMPORTANT PIECE OF INFORMATION ABOUT YOUR DOMAIN. Almost all of a registrar's business is done with the Administrative Contact. As you might guess, this is the person or company that has administrative rights to act on behalf of the Registrant and make changes to all aspects of the domain name, including all contacts, name servers, and subdomains. If you lose your domain manager password, this is the person that the registrar will ask to deal with in order for you to get it back or change it. The contact information for the administrator should be kept as accurate as possible at all times, particularly the email address. The administrator's email receives all renewal notices, password reminders, and other business email from the registrar. The number one mistake people make when registering a domain name is not keeping the administrative email address current. Many people change their email address before the registration period is up and drop the one they were using when the bought the domain. This results in failure to receive renewal notices and the inability to receive password reminders from the registrar if your password becomes lost. When that is the case, you usually have to go through a painful process involving a fax request form with a copy of a photo ID and several days of waiting to get the registrar to update your information for you. This is not fun, and if you are not patient it is not something you want to have to do. Keeping the Administrative Contact up to date is the best way to guarantee that your domain name will be quick and easy to manage whenever changes are needed.

You should always register a domain with an email address you plan to keep for a long time if at all possible. One mistake that companies often make is when an employee purchases the domain and uses his own contact information, then that employee later leaves the company, has his email address deleted, etc. , and generally makes life difficult for everybody who has to manage the domain after he is gone. If you are using a company email address, it is best to use a general company address such as info@mycompany.com, or if that is unavailable, the address of a senior employee or manager who isn't planning on changing jobs anytime soon.

Billing Contact - Fortunately this one is nice and obvious. This is the person to be contacted by the registrar regarding any billing matters for your domain name, including registrations and renewals. If the billing contact is different from the registrant or the administrator, those two contacts may also receive billing notices from the registrar if the billing contact can no longer be reached.

Technical or Zone Contact - This contact is usually the person or organization responsible for maintaining the DNS servers that resolve the domain to a website, as well as handling other technical problems related to the domain. In most cases this will be your web host, ISP, or the registrar you bought the domain from. You always have the option to change this contact to yourself or someone else of your choice, such as the website designer.

translates domain names into IP addresses . If someone wants to access ChiliPepperWeb's web site (www.chilipepperweb.net), the DNS translates the domain name into its corresponding IP address 65.59.245.101, allowing the computer to locate ChiliPepperWeb's web server. The DNS for your domain will normally be provided by the company hosting your website, and you have to make sure that you have the correct DNS settings specified in your domain account in order for it to display your website properly. When you change hosts, you usually also change DNS servers, which is why you need to keep your domain manager login. If you can't change your domain's DNS settings, then you can't change hosts unless you know how to rewrite DNS records. The domain registrar can still change this information for you if you have no way to do it yourself, but as with changing contact information it involves a tedious fax verification process that you don't want to go through if it can be avoided.

OK, now I've bought my domain name. What else can I do with it?

Parking - Each domain name you buy is a unique identifier, but that doesn't mean that it has to point to a unique website. You can point several domain names at the same internet site. This is known as “parking" one domain on another one. One domain will always be set up as the primary domain on the host computer, and the other domains can be pointed to its location by using the same DNS entries.
Note: This is not the same as a “parking page, " which is a simple temporary page set up on a host computer to indicate that a domain is registered to any viewer who might stumble across it until the owner has prepared an internet site to point the domain to.

E-Mail Hosting - It is also possible for a domain name to exist but not be connected to an actual IP address. This is often done so that a group or business can have an internet e-mail address without having to establish a real internet site. In these cases, some real host computer must handle the mail on behalf of the listed domain name.

Sell It - Who says you have to keep a domain name and use it yourself? Once you have registered a domain name, it is considered your property for the duration of the registration period, and you have the right to sell it to someone else as you do with any other property. Many people make money by purchasing domain names and reselling them to those who can put them to good use for higher prices. A well-known example is business.com, which was sold for 7 million dollars! Once you sell a domain name, you can use the Domain Manager to change the Registrant and contact information to the new owner.

Can I change my registration provider?

Yes. You do not have to keep your domain registered with the same provider you bought it from originally if you are dissatisfied with their service or prices. Each registrar is required by ICANN to have procedures available to transfer registration to another provider. Although implementation may vary with each registrar, generally the process involves a transfer request and confirmation e-mails from one or both registrars involved to the Administrative Contact of the domain to verify that the transfer request is legitimate. Transfer requests time out if not completed within seven days, and domains may be locked to prevent any transfers.

What if someone else registers a domain with my company's name?

Domain registration for .com, .net, and .org domains is done on a first-come, first-serve basis, but there are certain limitations based on trademark law. Common words and phrases, such as tools.com or burgerandfries.com, cannot be trademarked. A business or person with the same name as yours, such as bobsautorepair.com, in a different location, state or country may register the name first in good faith and not be subject to any legal action. In this case you may make an offer to purchase the domain name from its owner if they are willing to sell it. If, however, you have a unique and/or well-known trademark and you believe the domain name matching that trademark has been registered in bad faith for malicious or unlawful purposes, then you may have legal recourse to take action against the domain owner. Follow the links below for more information about cybersquatting and domain name trademark law.

http://www.uspto.gov/web/offices/tac/domain/
http://cyber.law.harvard.edu/property/domain/main.html
http://www.bitlaw.com/internet/domain.html
http://www.chillingeffects.org/domain/faq.cgi

© Copyright 2005 by Stacy Clifford
Stacy Clifford is the founder of ChiliPepperWeb.net and has spent four years assisting customers in understanding how their web services work.

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