What is a TLD?

TLD: The Short Definition

A Top Level Domain (TLD) is the rightmost part of a domain name such as example.com.

Top Level Domains came to being thanks to ARPANET in the 1960s. ARPANET developed the first network of packet switching between computers. As great as it was that computers could connect to one another easily, it wasn’t likely humans would be capable of memorizing a series of digits for each computer. Assigning these numerical IP addresses to locations in the domain name system made it far more user friendly. To organize these domain names, top level domains such as .com and .org were introduced.

The commercialization of the internet mid 1990s opened up the internet for business and organizations. However, until 2013 there were only 22 TLDs in existence. This limited market meant tough competition and extortionate prices for popular domain names since the majority were already taken. The internet was arguably running out of space. In response, ICANN, the organization monitoring TLDs, introduced hundreds of new generic top-level domains (gTLDS.)

The availability of new TLDs has skyrocketed in recent years and this has transformed the domain marketplace. More available TLDs offer more opportunities to find an affordable alternative if the domain name you want is already registered. If yourdomainname.com isn’t available simply find the domain name you want and get creative with a different extension like yourdomainname.us for example. The latest top-level domains give site owners the opportunity for more effective branding, greater visibility, and with a bit of luck, higher traffic.

In this post, we’ll dive into how to register a domain with some of the unique new domain extensions to reflect your brand. If you are interested in how the internet has evolved, we cover why new TLDs are introduced and how they change the web.


Top Level Domain Definition

The letters at the end of a website address are known as its TLD. Examples of top-level domains include the oldest and most recognizable .com, .net and .org. For example, in www.namecheap.com, .com is the top-level domain.

Top-level domains form part of the domain name system. The TLD typically identifies something about the domain associated with it, such as the websites geographical area where it originates, its purpose or the organization that owns it. Examples include .au Australia, .edu for educational, and .com for commercial sites.

The most common TLD is .com, but there are many others available, including .org, .info and even .pizza. All TLDs come with set guidelines, but you’ll find that the majority are available to anyone who wants to register them. Such TLDs are known as open TLDs, referring to top-level domain names open to the general public for registration.


The Origins of TLDs

TDLs were originally organized into three groups: Categories, Multi Organizations and Countries, plus a temporary group holding the first DNS domain, .arpa. The first domains were developed in the 1980s, these set the initial standards of generic top-level domains.

gTLDs

The generic top-level domains, also known as gTLDs account for the majority of domain extensions. There’s also country-code TLDs (ccTLDs) and those reserved for testing purposes. The most common gTLDs are .com, .org and .net.

ccTLDs

The second TLD category are country code top-level domains (ccTLDs). These location specific TLDs represent a specific country, .us is the ccTLD for the United States for example.

Originally, each TLD had a unique purpose, .com was allocated strictly for commercial purposes, .int for intergovernmental organizations and so on. This restrictive practice has largely been lost, and there’s less distinction between how you can use TLDs. Technically, there’s no difference between how each TLD works. There is open registration for most of them bar a few exceptions. GTLDs assigned for government (.gov, .mil) and educational institutions (.edu) for example are reserved strictly for their intended purpose.

Since 2014 ICANN have released over 2,000 new extensions covering all areas from clubs and hobbies to industry, science and technology and geographic locations. The addition of new generic top-level domains has taken some of the stress off the original gTLDs. The fact remains that .com is the world’s most popular and most recognized gTLD because it was one of the first. Websites value .com domains over the new extensions simply because people still associate .com more than the others regarding brand recognition.


How do TLDs work?

Domain names are hierarchical with TLDs located at the highest level within the hierarchical domain name system. The dots in a website address work as separators between sections of the domain name and allow a computer to locate a website within the hierarchy. Computers navigate down the tree, through each section, until reaching the leftmost part of the domain name. Once it’s located the full domain, it looks within this location for the information needed to load the website.

At the top of the DNS hierarchy are 13 root name servers containing information for all of the gTLDs within that domain. Take the website Amazon for example. The name server for .com will contain information about amazon.com but won’t contain any information regarding amazon.co.uk.

Several organizations are responsible for managing most top-level domains. The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) delegate responsibility for the global coordination of domain names.

The nonprofit corporation, the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority (IANA) is a department of ICANN. IANA assigns TLDs with IP addresses, without which they aren’t discoverable online.

TLD Types

IANA distinguishes the following three groups of top-level domains.

Infrastructure Domain Names .arpa

.arpa was the first top-level domain in the domain name system. The .Arpa domain extension was originally an acronym for the Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA), a faction of the United States Military. It was Intended for temporary use, to serve as a transition mechanism for particular hostnames in the Advanced Research Projects Agency Network, ARPANET. It was the considered to be the first network to implement the TCP/IP protocol suite which served as the basis for the internet.

Fast-forward to the internet as we know it and the .arpa TLD is used exclusively for technical purposes and now stands for Address and Routing Parameter Area. A set of hostnames were phased out as the internet evolved to be replaced by newly categorized TLDs including .edu, .com and .org. The sub-domain in-addr.arpa remains active fro reverse DNS queries of internet protocol addresses. For historical reasons, the .arpa domain is sometimes considered a generic top-level domain.

Generic Domain Names gTLDs

Generic domain names (gTLDs) are the largest group of TLDs and account for most of the newly available domains. GTLDs are the ideal for companies and individuals as with these domains, your web address can compliment the site content. For example .estate, .bank and .football describe something about the site content to your visitors. Since they are more specific to you, your customers will find it easier to understand what your site is about.

Country Code Domain Names ccTLDs

CcTLDs represent specific geographic locations. Most countries or geographical regions sponsor ccTLDs. For example, the United States uses .us and France uses .fr. CcTLDs have set rules and requirements. Some have residency restrictions where only residents can register them, whereas the Italian ccTLD .it and the Indian Ocean ccTLD .io are open for anyone to register them. Some ccTLDs are still active even though the country they represent no longer exists.

Historical Domains

Historical domains are those which are no longer in use and removed from the DNS root zone making them undiscoverable.

  • When .nato became nato.int, the .nato gTLD was removed.

  • Following the reunification of Germany .dd for East Germany became .de.

  • There are many examples of countries changing domain names. .yu implied SFR Yugoslavia. Following the breakup of the region .yu is no longer in use. Yu was replaced by new ccTLDs .ba for Bosnia and Herzegovina, .me for Montenegro, .hr for Croatia, .mk for Macedonia, .si for Slovenia and .rs for Serbia). Similarly, .zr for Zaire was replaced by .cd for the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

  • In contrast, the TLD for the former Soviet Union .su is still active.


How do You Create a TLD?

TLD applications are submitted to ICANN. Once ICANN grants the registration, the owner becomes a registrar. This means, only they can give other permissions to use their domain on that TLD. Acquiring a customized TLD such as .apple might be something only government entities or large corporations have the finances for.

Some TLD applications can be quite contentious. For example, Amazon has applied for .amazon and have waited years for a decision over their registrar status. ICANN have been dragging their feet due to concerns from countries with Amazonian regions, fearing specific .amazon domain names could cause confusion or touch on national sensitivities.


How to Reserve a Unique URL

Reservation isn’t the same as registration. When a name is reserved, it can only be registered by the parties who hold the reservation. Reserved names aren’t operational URLs until registered. Domains can be reserved before they go live, others are available for immediate registration and some aren’t open for public registration.

There are various stages of registration once ICANN approve a TLD.

  • Sunrise phase - The initial registration period is reserved for trademark holders to register domains containing their mark.

  • Landrush phase - Pre-registration is the next step, at this stage you get a head start on others trying to register domain names open to the public, before it goes live.

  • General availability stage - At this point the general public can register a domain in real time.

Domain name registrars such as Namecheap supply domains alongside the latest TLDs available for immediate sale, likewise, pre-ordering is also an option. A domain name can be registered on a yearly basis, or given up when it’s no longer required and you can buy as many as you want.

To browse the domains available, Namecheap offers a TLD explorer, this helpful tool watch and manage hundreds of TLDs and domain names. Our TLD list displays the newest domain name extensions available for the first time including .app, .blog and .buy.


Pre-registering a gTLD

Pre-ordering a domain is merely an expression of interest and doesn’t always guarantee you’ll get it. The benefit of pre-registering a domain name is that you are more likely to get it. There may be an auction if more than one person has pre-registered the same domain name.


New Domain Extensions

Since 2012, ICANN began accepting applications for dramatic expansion of domains, introducing thousands of new top-level domains to the global internet as of August 2017. The lists of TLDs launched has tripled over the last three years, making it easier for small business owners and individuals to find the right domain name.

Considering that the .com TLD has been around almost 30 years, many of valuable domain names have already been taken and registered. The newest extensions allow you to be more adventurous since one word domain names are available once again. These new TLDs are being used in unique and unexpected ways.

  • The new gTLDs include domain extensions in different languages including Chinese, Arabic and those based on the Cyrillic alphabet such as Russian.

  • The .tech gTLD is the all rounder for tech companies and startups while .shop is a nice fit for anyone interested in owning an online store and .biz is the extension that’s all about business. The .biz gTLD earnt itself a bad reputation because it was introduced so early and became associated with spam sites. It’s making its way back into prevalence and can be considered as a viable backup gTLD these days.

  • The .club extension was a surprise hit and one of the most successful gTLDs, with over 1 million registered domains. Consider the amount of leagues, organisations, nightclubs and hobbyists this is a natural fit for.

  • Manufacturers and printers have also jumped on the new appendages with the introduction of industry specific gTLDs such as .cards and .bike. Even the niche tattoo industry has a complimentary extension with .ink.

  • Creative industries have plenty to choose from such as .live, .photography, and .music.

  • Brand TLDs are on the rise. Big names across many industries like Amazon, Axa, Barclays, BMW, Canon, Google and many others have applied for a brand specific extension.

  • With the introduction of industry-specific gTLDs, site owners called for a similar gTLD available for adult websites. As a response to the interest in this field, .xxx, .sex, and .adult were considered until .xxx went live in 2011.


Changing your TLD

You’re not stuck with the domain you’ve got. You may give up your domain and not renew the following year. New TLDs provide more opportunities to get the particular domain name you want. The new domains aren’t simply for those who missed out on the .com TLD. There are plenty of examples when the new gTLDs are a better fit. Given the expanse of new TLDs, some business dropped their.com for something a bit cooler.

  • Barclays.com became home.barclays and Denmark’s Saxo Bank later became home.saxo, opting for one of the less common Dot brand TLDs. Others have used a brand TLD for subpages, annualreport.axa for example, where these banks went all-in.

  • El Paso-based financial solutions company Sierra Finance moved from sierra.com to sierra.finance.

  • Real estate agencies have jumped on the new TLDs. How much cleaner does robsullivan.estate sound over robsullivanestate.com for example.

  • Notting Hill based realtors opted for a dot city TLD, preferring a hyper local .london gTLD. They opted to replace their existing .com domain blacksea-estates.com with the punchier bse.london.

  • UK glass manufacturers Essex Glass switched from the cumbersome essexsafetyglass.co.uk in favor of the simpler esg.glass URL.


Which TLDs are closed?

There are some domain extensions you won’t be able to register. Closed TLDs exist because they are intended for limited use or needed for testing or documentation purposes.

Reserved DNS

The Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) reserved the DNS labels .invalid, .example, .localhost and .test. By doing so, they can’t be installed into the root zone of the DNS to reduce the chance of conflict or confusion. These names can then be used for either local testing scenarios or documentation purposes.

  • Invalid - used to demonstrate domains that are invalid such as those with apostrophes or spaces.

  • Example - used in documentation or as examples when presenting the concepts of the DNS system or the internet in general.

  • Localhost - used when the domain refers back to a local computer.

  • Test - used for testing code related to DNS.

Restricted Domains

Not all domains extensions are available to the public. There are many restricted top-level domains known as rTLDs you should be aware of.

  • To register a domain with an rTLDs, you need to belong to a particular community or, represent a specific entity. For example, .name is reserved for individuals and .edu is restricted to educational entities.

  • To date, .gov and .mil are controlled by the government of the US, restricted to government and military purposes. The .edu extension is also restricted and only accredited institutes or US-based post-secondary institutions can use it.

  • Trademarked names aren’t available to anyone except the trademark owner, .versace and .nescafe for example aren’t open for general registration.

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