Beginner’s Guide: What is a Domain Name and How do They Work?

What is a domain name

Your website would be nothing without a domain name. But your website also needs web hosting to function, so it’s no wonder that people who are new to creating a website often get domains confused with web hosting.

But web hosting and domains are completely different. Web hosting is the service that lets you store your website on a server. (Every website is stored on a server, so it can exist on the internet.) Domains are more like your website’s address. We’ll explain…

What is a domain name?

A domain name is the address of your website that people type into their browsers’ URL bars when they want to go straight to your website. For instance, our domain name is yoursite.com.

In all your time on the internet, you’ve likely seen thousands of domain names, even if you didn’t know what they were called. So, when you think about it, you’re already kind of an expert on domain names. You just need some help filling in the gaps.

Here’s what you need to know about why domain names exist in the first place.

What is a domain name’s purpose?

The internet seems like a big, nebulous cyber machine that magically gives you information whenever you ask for it, but in reality, the internet is a giant network of computers that are connected to each other through cables. (Not as magical; we know.) Every computer on the network can communicate with other computers, but in order for computers to communicate, they need to know which computer is sending a message and which computer is receiving it. Computers use IP addresses to identify each other.

An IP address is written in a string of numbers and dots, and it usually looks something like this: 11.120.23.345.9

If we had to remember only one IP address in our entire lifetime, we could probably manage, but people aren’t computers, and IP addresses will quickly get confusing when we have to remember even two of them.

That’s where domain names come in.

A domain name prevents you from having to remember the IP address of every single website you want to visit. Instead of remembering a string of numbers and dots, you only have to remember a catchy domain name, like YouTube.com or Yoursite.com.

So, what is a domain name? By now you should understand what a domain is and why domain names exist, here’s how domain names work.

How do domain names work?

So, we’ve already gone over what domains are, and now you also know that websites are all hosted on servers. (That’s why we can’t create a website without web hosting.) You also know that computers don’t actually remember servers by their domain names – instead, they use IP addresses, which are written in a series of numbers and dots, like this: 11.120.23.345.9.

Now, it’s time for you to learn about the Domain Name System (“DNS”, for short).

DNS is a specialized set of servers that, unlike most servers, have only one job: They match IP addresses to domain names. The servers that make up the DNS are called name servers.

Here’s how DNS works:

When you type a domain name into your browser, your browser flips through the DNS to find the IP address of the website that corresponds to that domain name. Once it knows the IP address of the website you’re trying to visit, your browser can open the website on your device!

How do people get domain names?

To get a domain name, you have to register a domain name with a domain name registrar. (You can register a domain name on our website.) There’s not much more to it than that. If you want to buy a domain name that’s already taken, you’ll have to buy it from the owner, and if your domain name is locked, you’ll need to unlock it. (Click here to learn how to do that.)

But if you want to buy a domain name that hasn’t been taken yet, the process is simple: You simply register it with your chosen domain name registrar.

Can I sell domain names?

Of course! There’s actually a whole industry called domain flipping, in which people buy domain names that look promising, then sell them for a profit at a later date. (Kind of like flipping houses in the real estate industry.) This industry is pretty lucrative, since a good domain name can sell for millions to the right buyer.

Don’t worry. Most domain names you’d be interested in buying won’t cost nearly this much. And with a bit of creativity, you’ll be able to come up with a great domain name that’s unavailable, anyway.

The Takeaway: What is a domain name?

A domain name is the address of your website.

If this guide helped clear things up, you’ll also love our beginner-friendly guides on how Yoursite works and what to expect when you’re creating a website.