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What is a domain name?

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Have you ever asked yourself, "What is a domain, anyway?". Well, take a look up there at the top of the screen. See that part at the top of your browser window in the URL bar? It's the part that starts with "http://" in the address bar. The second part of the URL is the domain. In our case, it's namecheap.com. You’ll soon discover the definition of an internet domain name and how a domain is used in this handy guide.

Let's take a look at what goes on behind the scenes.

We’ll start by looking at the definition of a domain name. Every website is identified by a unique series of numbers called an IP address. This numeric set is what your computer uses to connect to the server where the website data lives.

ip address

Numbers are great for a computer, but it's easier for hedgehogs (and people) to use words they can remember. The words used to identify a website are known as the domain or URL, and like the IP address, they're unique to each website. Think of it as a mobile phone: you want to call your mother, so you simply click on your contact "Mom" and your phone dials your mother's phone number. Domains are connected to IP addresses in much the same way.

What are the parts of a domain?

Now you know how to define a domain name, let’s get in a bit deeper. Website domains, like most brilliant ideas, work on more than one level. They include both a top-level domain (TLD) and a second-level domain (SLD). And, like brilliant ideas, they also center around a single point—or in this case, a dot.

To the left of the dot is the second level domain, which might be your name, the name of your business, blog, or store. It's the "identity" of your site. In our case, the second level domain is "namecheap".

To the right of the dot is the top-level domain (or TLD), in this case the TLD is ".com", but you may have also seen TLDs like .net, or .org, or country identifiers like .uk or .de.

While the TLD is essential for a website domain to function, it's also less exciting than the second-level domain. Which is probably why it's sometimes referred to as the "parent" domain.

The exciting thing about domains is that you can choose almost any name you want as your SLD. And sure, you can go with .com for your TLD, but who doesn't want a cool "parent"? Options like .club, .store, even .pizza are just a few ways you can boost your TLD game.

What is a domain name used for and what can you do with it?

At some point, someone probably said, "Hey, you ought to register a domain." And you might have replied, "Okay... but why, what is the use of a domain?"

The truth is that if you have a website, it needs to have an address, and that address needs to have a name.

The purpose of a domain name is to leave your mark on the web, whether that’s for an exciting technology startup company, or a recipe blog to share with your family. Whatever you want to do with a domain, it’s up to you, that’s the exciting part!

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But there are other good reasons to register a domain too.

When you register one, you reserve it so that no one else can register it. So it might be smart to snatch up a domain now—your name, company name, or other things you're involved with, like a book title, band name, or hobby—just to take it "off the market".

In my case, I might not need cosmohedgehog.rocks today, but I'll definitely want to own it once I become super famous.

There's also a custom email.

Want an email address like me@cosmohedgehog.rocks? To get such a slick, personalized address, you'll need to reserve the domain first, then attach it to email hosting. This is a smart move especially if you're running a business site. That way, your customers can remember info@mybusiness as easily as they remember you.

And, if you need email hosting, check out

Namecheap's Private Email →

Don't have a website?
No problem!

You can point your domain to your Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, or other social media account. I don't know about you, but I'd much rather tell people to friend me at cosmohedgehog.rocks than give out some long, convoluted URL. That reminds me, I should really register that domain now.

What's the difference between a domain and hosting?

To have a website, you need both a domain and hosting. Your domain gives people a way to find your website, and your hosting is space on a server (a remote computer) where all of your website content resides.

Think of a domain like it's your website's street address, and hosting is like the website's house. You can have your address before you build your house, but to show off all your photos on your website, you'll need a place to put them. These two parts are all you need to start building an online presence for your website.

What you need to get your website domain

How to choose a domain

Start by reading our informative blog post, How to Choose the Best Domain Name. Next, check out Namecheap's domain name generator for ideas on how to select the very best TLD for your website.

What is a custom domain?

If you’re wondering, “What about custom domains?”, the answer is — they’re all custom! Whether it’s for personal or professional use, you can use any domain name address you like for a website, as long as it’s not been taken. Pick and choose from hundreds of TLDs like .com or .me, to make up the name of your dreams.

How to purchase a domain

Just head to Namecheap.com and search for the domain address you want. If it's available, it's easy to register it right there. If not, check out some of the alternatives we'll show you there.

What is a registered domain name?

Wondering what the definition of domain registration is? Well, it describes the process of registering a TLD! During this time, you can decide how long you wish to reserve it for and check for any registration requirements. Once you’ve made your purchase, it’s all yours to do with what you please.

How to park your domain

After you register your TLD, you might want to put up a page to let everyone know it's yours. While you're building your website, get a free 'parking' page from Namecheap.

Learn more →
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Are you ready to learn more about internet domains?

If you liked this tour and want to learn more, we have more pages that get into some of the nitty-gritty details. Check them out in our Knowledgebase.

Visit our Knowledgebase →
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Need help? We're always here for you.