Ok, so exactly what is a Domain Name?
Put simply, a domain name is the alphanumeric name associated with your website, and which is used to find and access your website across the Internet.
Typically a domain name will be easy for humans to read and will have some obvious relation to the content of your website. This is however in contrast to your websites ‘IP Address’ which is a ‘machine-readable’. An IP Address is a series of numbers and characters which is not easily read or remembered by human. It is the IP Address which actually addresses and identifies the location of your websites host servers on the Internet.
How does it all work?
In the early days, the Internet comprised a small cluster of computers connected together through modems and telephone lines. Connections were only possible by knowing and providing the IP address of the machine (computer) you wanted to establish a link with. This practice wasn’t (and still isn’t) particularly human friendly. That’s because a typical IP address might look like: 220.127.116.11 (try remembering that instead of ‘Google.com’!!).
An early solution was to effectively use a digital address book and maintain a text file. The text file would contain a mapping of all the domain names to IP addresses, for websites you might wish to use.
As the Internet grew and the number of websites comprising the web ballooned, this simple text file approach became difficult to manage and maintain. The solution (and the system we still use today) arrived in the form of the ‘Domain Name System’ (DNS). It was created at the University of Wisconsin around 1983.
The Domain Name System (DNS)
The Domain Name System (DNS) is a maintained register which automatically maps text names (like Google.com) to their IP addresses. This means that you only now need to remember ‘thewebputsimply.com’ rather than the IP address behind thewebputsimply.com!
These domain names are now very commonplace and you might commonly know or refer to them as ‘URLs’.
Ok, so what is a “URL”?
A URL is a ‘Uniform Resource Locator’ – it’s basically an address, but in internet speak. When you visit a website or email the helpdesk behind ebay.com for example, you use a domain name to do so. The URL ‘https://www.thewebputsimply.com’ contains the domain name ‘thewebputsimply.com’, as does the email address ‘email@example.com’.
Each time you are using a domain name in your web browser (or email client – Microsoft Outlook, Gmail etc.), your request is sent to the Internet’s DNS servers. These then map the domain name onto its corresponding machine-readable IP address and then goes and finds that address for you.
Your request (viewing a webpage for example) is then sent to the hosting servers at that address, which serve you the files or services you have asked for.