Understanding types of domain names

You’ve been struck by a brilliant idea for a new app or product that’s undoubtedly going to make you millions of dollars. While dreaming of spending your profits (a grand castle in Scotland or a private island in the South Pacific?), you suddenly realize you need to secure a domain.

When it comes to building a website for your new business or personal project, the number of different types of domains on offer may seem overwhelming. You’re probably familiar with .com and .org, but there are plenty of alternative domain extensions you may not have heard of, like .cfd and .icu. Perhaps you came across a country code top-level domain like Anguilla’s .ai and wondered if you could use it for your artificial intelligence company or if there are rules that might prevent you from doing so.

This guide will help you understand more about the many different domain extensions available to you, whether that’s enticing new customers to your start-up, gathering support for your charity, or blogging about your latest passion. It’s all about choosing the type of domain that best fits your online goal, and part of this journey is understanding what’s out there.

Ready? Let’s begin.

Domain names: an overview

First, let’s get you up to speed on the basics. Cast your eyes up to the browser address bar, and you’ll notice a long line of text that starts with https://, and if you read on a little further, you’ll see namecheap.com, which is our domain name.

Domain names are an easy way for us to remember where we want to visit online, but the reality is that behind each one is an IP address made up of a series of numbers, for example, 4.87.97.110. These numbers are used to help your computer identify where to gather the needed data to load up your website.

There are so many different website endings available to you, from .com to .cricket. The sooner you understand the answers to ‘What does a domain name mean?’ and learn about the common domain extensions, the quicker you can work out which domains are the best for you.

What are the different types of domains?

There are many different types of domain names on offer and they all mean something different but before we go any further, you may have heard the question ‘What is a domain suffix?’. This is just another way of expressing the far right part of the domain name, in other words, the top-level domain (TLD). Now you’ve understood this, we can look at domain name types.

There are top-level domains (TLDs), second-level domains (SLDs), and third-level domains. The top-level domains are classed as generic TLDs (gTLDs) or country-code TLDs (ccTLDs), however, some ccTLDs are also used as gTLDs.

There are also geographic TLDs (GeoTLDs) associated with a specific area and internationalized country code top-level domains (IDN ccTLDs) that use non-Latin scripts like Chinese characters or the Arabic alphabet.

We’ll be looking at all types of available domain extensions in more depth later in this article, but if you’re still confused about what domain names are and would like some further information, check out our articles on What is a top-level domain? and the definition of a domain name.

Domain names are like telephone contacts

You’ve already learned that domain names are used instead of IP addresses, as they’re easy for humans to remember. Take namecheap.com, for example. When you type a URL into the browser bar, the domain name system (DNS) uses this information query and matches that domain name with the corresponding IP address. The IP address then retrieves the website content and shows it on your device.

Computers are great with numbers, but humans — not so much! Telephone numbers can be tricky to remember, so we use contact details, like Sarah Home, to identify Sarah’s home number. A domain name is just like Sarah Home, and the phone number is like an IP address.

This process happens with the help of the domain name system (DNS), a hierarchical system that helps web users connect to websites, translating domain names to IP addresses.

What types of domain levels are there, and what do they mean?

If you’re painstakingly scrolling down our long list of domain extensions and you’re still a bit confused, it’s time to help you understand all of the types of domains available and what they mean.

Top-level domains (TLDs)

After the root domain, the TLD is the highest level in the domain name system (DNS) hierarchy. You can find this domain type at the furthest right of a domain name. In Namecheap’s case, our domain name is namecheap.com, and .com is the TLD.

There are over 1,000 TLDs to pick from, so why not check if a domain name is available for your online project?

Second-level domains (SLDs)

Taking namecheap.com as an example again, our SLD is ‘namecheap’. In a website address, the SLD comes before the TLD.

Third-level domains

These types of domains are also known as ‘subdomains’, and they appear before the second-level domain in a website address. In the example blog.lolaspizzalondon.com, the third-level domain is ‘blog’. You’ll be learning more about third-level domains later on in this article.

Four different domain types you should know about

1. Generic top-level domains (gTLDs)

The majority of domain extensions are gTLD domains, including the line-up of the original top-level domains when the Internet first started, .com (for commercial), .net (for network), .org (for organization), and so on. This type of domain name is aimed at individuals and businesses looking for a space online.

2. Country code top-level domains (ccTLDs)

If you want to target a specific place, country domain extensions are a great way to do it. TLDs like .au for Australia and .fr for France, instantly tell your audience who your content is aimed at.

Some ccTLDs are used like gTLDs

One thing to note is that although some ccTLDs have rules about who can use them, some are open to everyone, such as .io (British Indian Ocean Territory) and .cc (Cocos Islands). Despite being ccTLDs, .io is popular with tech companies, and organizations like consulting companies and conference centers tend to use .cc.

In other words, read the fine print. You might end up discovering the perfect TLD for your big idea!

3. Geographic top-level domains (geoTLDs)

Top-level domains like .london, .nyc, .asia, and .eu are location specific. Whether they’re for a city or region, they can help your brand stand out, without you having to waste precious characters! Instead of lolaspizzalondon.com, you could have lolaspizza.london. Find out more, by checking out our blog post, Go Local with Geographic Domains.

4. Internationalized country code top-level domains (IDN ccTLDs)

Internationalized domain names (IDN) translate non-Latin scripts using a system called Punycode. For example, the Chinese character for ‘mobile’ is .移动, and the IDN reads as .xn--6frz82g. When an Internet user types an IDN URL into a web browser, the IDN domain is converted into Punycode, and the domain will be resolved — in other words, the IDN will be translated and the website a user expects, will appear.

IDN ccTLDs are assigned to specific countries or regions, just like ccTLDs are. If you would like to know more, read all about IDNs in our article, IDNs supported at Namecheap.

What are premium domain names?

A premium domain name is made from common words and recognizable phrases. This makes them easy to remember — an attractive possibility for marketing teams! Unfortunately, the more memorable they are, the more popular they become, which can make them expensive. Get your hands on one by reading our Knowledgebase article, how to get a premium domain.

What are subdomains?

We need to take a closer look at the parts of a domain name to understand what a subdomain (or third-level domain) is. For this, please imagine that your name is Pip, you run a bustling pet shop, and you were lucky enough to register pipspetshop.com.

The root-level domain is the combination of a second-level domain (SLD) and a top-level domain (TLD). The SLD on this occasion is pipspetshop, and the TLD is .com.

The subdomain lives before the root-level domain and is used to create different areas of a website. Imagine you want to start writing a blog to include stories of all the pets adopted from your shop. You might choose the subdomain blog.pipspetshop.com. Or, if you wanted to start selling your products online, your subdomain might be store.pipspetshop.com.

Find out more on the subject of subdomains in our article, What is a subdomain?

How to decide what domain name is best for your website

There are so many types of Internet domains that could be the perfect match for your brand. It’s worth taking pen to paper and brainstorming, writing down all the words and phrases you can think of that are related to your brand.

Once you’ve jotted down a few, you can start mixing them up, and sharing with friends to see what they think about what you’ve come up with. If you would like more tips, read our article, how to choose the best domain.

How much does a domain name cost?

When it comes to looking at the price, it all depends on the types of top-level domains you’re got your eye on. If it’s a premium domain, you’ve already learned that they can have a higher price tag. Technology TLDs such as .io and .ai can also be expensive, and so can that TLD that spells business, the .inc.

The price of a domain name can depend on popularity, brandability, and perceived value. Our blog post How much does it cost to buy a domain name? can help you understand this subject further.

3 important tips for domain registration

  1. Check out the price for a domain name that you like the look of to see if it fits in with your budget plan.
  2. Take a look at our bulk domain availability checker and see what TLDs are available. You never know what you’ll find!
  3. Head to our homepage to explore our current deals on domains, hosting, security, and beyond.

That’s it! Go forth and find your dream domain

If you feel overwhelmed when thinking about how many domains there are on the Internet, don't panic. As soon as you start brainstorming and trying out a few domain names to see how they fit, you’ll realize that it’s a lot easier than you think.

Plus, now you know everything there is to know about the different types of domain names on offer, and the hunt for the perfect domain hopefully feels a lot less daunting. Don’t forget that if you have any questions, you can always contact our support team, who are on hand 24/7 to help.


Colleen Branch

Colleen Branch

Colleen is a content specialist with over 11 years’ experience. She loves to write honest, clear and concise copy, and her work has been featured in many places in print and online, including HuffPost UK and The Times. Colleen’s passions include cooking, playing pool, and board games.
More articles written by Colleen.

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