Have you ever walked into a large office building and not known where the actual office you’re looking for is located? And in the lobby there’s a big board that lists every company in the building, and next to the company name it tells you which floor it’s on and which office # they’re in on that floor? Domain registration is just like inserting your name on that big board in the lobby, only it’s done with computers in mind.
Let’s walk through a simple example. You open a browser and you type “cnn.com” because you want to read the news. “cnn.com” is a human-readable representation of CNN’s address on the web. But a computer needs an actual IP address for CNN. So the computer does something pretty clever behind the scenes. When you type “cnn.com”, your computer takes that information and it goes out to a Domain Name Server (or DNS) and looks up the IP address for “cnn.com”. A DNS is basically one of those big boards in the lobby, but it contains every registered domain in the entire internet. Seriously, every name registered on the internet. Cnn.com, ESPN.com, Google.com, all the way down to your little business name (if you’ve registered your domain!). Every DNS has every name. It’s the biggest lobby directory board you can imagine.
It’s actually pretty cool the way this works. There are literally thousands and thousands of DNS machines sitting out there on the internet. Lots of companies host these DNS machines, all contributing to making the internet work seamlessly. Some are hosted by companies like Google and Microsoft and Apple. Some are hosted by government agencies. Some are hosted by educational institutions. In theory, even you could pay for and maintain a DNS machine if you felt like it (but you don’t have to).
When you go to a company that is an authorized domain registrar, that company has been approved to allow you to pick a domain that hasn’t been already taken, and pay a small annual fee to “own” the domain name. In our example let’s pretend that you register a domain name for “SallysBakery.com”. Once you do that, the domain registrar then notifies one or more of the thousands of DNS machines and says “SallysBakery.com” is now registered and if anybody is looking for “SallysBakery.com” the IP address is [whatever IP you want]. That IP helps web visitors find your web site, it helps mail addressed to [email protected] get to you, etc.
Once one of the DNS machines gets the info for SallysBakery.com, there’s a built-in system whereby that DNS tells a bunch of the other DNS machines about your registration. They in turn tell others, who in turn tell others. Pretty soon, every single DNS machine (all of them) know about SallysBakery.com. This is not instantaneous. It typically takes 1-4 hours for all this to happen. Sometimes longer for the very last few machines to get the news. But within 24 hours the entire world should know about SallysBakery.com and no matter what DNS a person happens to hit when they type “SallysBakery.com” into their browser, that DNS is going to know the correct IP address to send that visitor. Pretty cool, hunh?
So the more curious of you are probably wondering if that’s all you need to do to have a web site. The answer is no. When you register a domain all you’ve done (the use the analogy of the directory board in a building lobby) is put your name up on that board and told visitors where to go (e.g. 7th floor, office #12). To have a web site you need to actually rent the office on the 7th floor, office #12, and build your web site there to greet visitors. That involves getting a web hosting account somewhere (like renting an office), which we’ll cover in the next article.
If you want to register a domain for your company…
There are lots and lots of domain registrars out there who will happily help you check to see if your desired name is available, and help you register the name. The good news is that the governing body of the internet mandates that domain registration fees are universal – there’s no discounting or over-charging, they all have to charge the same thing for domain registration.
The bad news is that a lot of domain registrars like to play games and trick you into buying things you don’t need, and trick you into pre-paying for five or ten years of registration when all you really need to do to get started is pay the one year fee (usually about $10/year, but sometimes more for specialized domain names).
If you don’t want to spend time figuring out which domain registrar to use, we recommend DreamHost.com. We use DreamHost for all of the web sites we manage and we like that they don’t play games or tricks. We also like that the process is very easy and transparent, and for the next step (getting a web host), DreamHost is also our preferred provider for everything (it makes life easier for you if your domain is registered with the same company that you use for web hosting). Just go to DreamHost.com, click on “Domains” at the top of the screen, and follow the simple prompts.
Disclaimer: If you click any of the links for DreamHost.com contained in this page, they contain an affiliate code whereby we get paid a small amount for people we refer (not for domain registration, but for any hosting accounts). You don’t need to use this code, but it helps us keep the lights on if you do, without costing you anything.