Understanding Domain Names

We all pretty much know what a domain name is, but from that point on is where the confusion starts especially how it works.

It can be perplexing as to what goes on behind the scenes and how everything works together. My purpose here is to try and demystify the technology so that you may have a better understanding of how your online business works.

I’ll skip the process of choosing and buying a domain name since most everyone here has already done that but let me explain what happens after the purchase of it.

The place where you buy your domain is either a registrar or a reseller of a registrar. For example, places such as GoDaddy or Enom are registrars.

They have been given authorization from ICANN to sell and record domain names. Just for the record, ICANN is an acronym for Internet Committee for Assigned Names and Numbers. They are a non-profit organization that
oversees the use of internet names.

A domain reseller is an authorized vendor that sells domains for places such as GoDaddy. For example, I sell domains through my brand JustAskDomains.com GoDaddy gives me a commission for each domain or service of theirs I sell. I’m more or less just a middleman.

So, with that being said when you buy your domain, that registrar has to register or tell ICANN your information and where your website is hosted. ICANN then in turn tells the top-level domain servers where to look for your domain.

Think of the top-level domains servers as a library card catalog of all of the domains around the world. ICANN is the librarian, and the registrar is the desk clerk that checks you in and out.

Before we can tell our registrar (GoDaddy) where our site is, we have to first have web hosting. This is a server with our website files on it as well as our DNS record. DNS is an acronym for Domain Naming System. We’ll learn more why this file is important in just a minute.

The DNS record is simply a text file on the server that has information
about your domain such as the domain name and the IP (Internet Protocol) address that is associated with it. Think of the IP address as the house address for your website files.

Your web host will give you name server information to plug into your account at the registrar where you bought your domain name. It usually looks like ns1.serverhost.com and ns2.serverhost.com.

Let’s take a look at this so it makes a little more sense:

Understanding Domain Names

What is Important About the DNS Record?

Earlier we mentioned the DNS record contains the IP address and I explained to think of that like the house address. We know that domain name lives here, but we can also tell what else lives at this address.

For example, if you have an email address associated with your domain such as support@yourdomain.com this record says where your email account is hosted so that if someone sends you an email it knows where to go to be delivered. Sometimes, it’s the same IP where your website is; other times you may be using a hosted email service such as Outlook.com or Gmail.com

where you are using your domain name through their service for email. This entry in the DNS record is called an MX record. MX stands for mail exchange.

Any service that you use with your domain name requires an entry in this DNS record. If you are using a subdomain like support.yourdomain.com or you want www.yourdomain.com or FTP (File Transfer Protocol), they all require an entry in DNS so when someone goes to look for it, it knows where it lives.

Luckily, most of this is all automated by your hosting account
or if you need special settings your web person should know how to do that for you. This is just the simplified version of what happens in a DNS Record. If you’d like to know more about that please contact me and I can explain more.

How Does Anyone Find My Website?

Well, it kind of works in the same way. Previously, I talked about the library scenario. When you go to the library and want to find a book, you ask the librarian, or you go to the library catalog and enter in your title into the computer or flip through card files if you live in a town that’s not automated yet. It will pull up a number which tells you what shelf your book is on.

This is the same for the web. A visitor enters your domain name in their website browser. Their computer, tablet, or phone then checks its cache (address book) to see if it’s been there before; if it’s there, it knows the way.

If not, it checks with the internet service provider (ISP) to see if anyone else has visited that website. If it has, it goes to the known address. If not, your ISP checks with the Top-Level Domain servers and asks, “Hey, where can I find this site?” Of course, it will know because you told the registrar which passed the info up to the TLD (Top-Level Domain)!

This is the exact process for email, as well. When you send an email or someone sends you one, it goes through the same steps to know where to deliver your email to.

Wrapping It Up

Hopefully this quick explanation helps make sense of how this all works behind the scenes and gives you a good understanding of the processes and terms us web guys throw around. If you have ANY questions about this topic, please let me know!

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Frank Deardurff

An early love for graphics brought me online over 20 years ago which lead me to consume a vast knowledge in marketing, conversion, design and various types of web technologies. That information led to becoming a web master, serial entrepreneur, author, coach, trainer and That One Web Guy! FrankDeardurff.com

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