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What is a Domain Name




The term domain name has multiple related meanings:

  • A name that identifies a computer or computers on the internet. These names appear as a component of a Web site's URL, e.g. onlinehosters.com. This type of domain name is also called a hostname.
  • The product that domain name registrars provide to their customers. These names are often called registered domain names.
  • Names used for other purposes in the Domain Name System (DNS), for example the special name which follows the @ sign in an email address, or the Top-level domain names like .com, or the names used by the Session Initiation Protocol (VoIP), or DomainKeys.
  • They are sometimes colloquially (and incorrectly) referred to by marketers as "web addresses".

This article will primarily discuss registered domain names. See the Domain Name System article for technical discussions about general domain names and the hostname article for further information about the most common type of domain name.

The following example illustrates the difference between a URL (Uniform Resource Locator) and a domain name:

URL: http://www.example.net/index.html
Domain name: www.example.net
Registered domain name: example.net

As a general rule, the IP address and the server name are interchangeable. For most Internet services, the server will not have any way to know which was used. However, the explosion of interest in the Web means that there are far more Web sites than servers. To accommodate this, the hypertext transfer protocol (HTTP) specifies that the client tells the server which name is being used. This way, one server with one IP address can provide different sites for different domain names. This feature goes under the name virtual hosting and is commonly used by Web hosts.

For example, as referenced in RFC 2606 (Reserved Top Level DNS Names), the server at IP address 192.0.34.166 handles all of the following sites:

example.com
www.example.com
example.net
www.example.net
example.org
www.example.org

When a request is made, the data corresponding to the hostname requested is served to the user.



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