Tech in Plain English: Domain Names

Tech in Plain English

 

Introduction

Over the last 2 weeks we have used this series to introduce you to the basic elements of web hosting by comparing it to the example of finding a house. We explained how the disk space in your hosting package is similar to finding the size and shape of home while the bandwidth can be compared to make sure our driveway is big enough for all our visitors. The next Tech in Plain English will now extend this to look at domain names.

If we stick with our houses example then your domain name is quite simply your address on the Web. Just as we have a standard way of writing an address so we have a standard way of writing domain names. If we think about an address like this:

1 Simple Street

Exampletown

Some County

EG1 1EG, UK

We can easily identify the county of the address (Some County), the town where we live (Exampletown), the street we are on (Simple Street) and finally the number of our house. Likewise if we consider a web address like this:

bbc.co.uk

… then we can see the county of the domain (uk), the type of website it is (co or company) and the company in question (BBC).

What’s in a name?

Every domain name is made up of a number of parts to help us understand and organise the web.   In the case of domain names perhaps the best way of reading them is right to left. So just as we did with the BBC site, we first looked at the right-most chunk (uk), then the next along (co), and so on. This first chunk is called the top-level domain and is the first most important step in categorising our domain name. There are two types of top-level domain, those that identify a country (we’ve already seen uk for example), and a set of generic domains that identify the service such as .gov[ernment], .edu[cation], .com[mercial], .mil[itary], .org[anisations], etc. Originally this list was quite limited, 7 in total, but this number has crept up as the Web has grown and there are currently 21 in circulation with many more on the horizon. Below the top-level domain we can also have a second level (co in our case), a third level, and in fact as many of these as we want.

There is no hard and fast rule to choosing a domain name.  It is always a good idea to get a domain name that in some way identifies your company, the service offered and/or perhaps the country you’re in. This will make it much easier for visitors to first remember your address and second find your site on the web.

So how do we get ourselves a domain name?

There are domain name providers that can supply you with a domain name.  The key thing to remember is that domain names are unique.  Just like no two houses can have the same address no two websites can have the same domain name.     The first thing you will need to do is to check and see if your proposed name is available.  Most domain name providers check the availability before completing the purchase and will even suggest an alternative should your first choice be taken.  You can also use sites like  Whois Lookup to help find out whether a domain name has already been registered.

Once you are happy with the name, you can select it and buy it, usually for a period of one or two years. That means that you have to keep renewing your domain name or else it will eventually get released and potentially taken by someone else!

The next stage is to make sure that the servers where your site is hosted is ‘communicating’ with the domain name.  A good web hosting service will do this for you and then your site will be ready for the world to see. 

To wrap up

So to summarise what we’ve talked about today:

  • We have looked at domain names, what they are and how they work
  • We’ve looked at the different types of domain out there, how people choose them and why
  • We given a summary of how you can get a domain name, the basic steps to go through, and how this all relates back to your web hosting.

 

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If you have any questions about this topic or Hatua’s hosting packages or if you wish to suggest a topic for future Tech in Plain English posts please leave a comment below.
This post is part of Hatua’s Tech in Plain English (TiPE) series. TiPe’s  aim is to translate geek speak into simple english so that our service users can make informed decisions about their ICT needs.

Expansion of the Internet

World IPv6 Launch You probably already know but today (6th June 2012) is the World IPv6 Launch Day 

To give you an idea of the significance of this, perhaps I should start with a bit of background on what IPv6 actually is in the first place. Back in the early 1990s, the computing community began to realise that the Internet was running out of space. Actually, that’s a bit misleading, we actually realised that we were running out of addresses. For those who don’t know their bits from their bytes, the Internet is founded on the Internet Protocol (IP) which provides a unique IP address to every device connected to the internet (it’s basically a bunch of numbers that looks something like 111.222.333.444 that identifies your computer) but I won’t go into the finer details of how it works here.

A bit of back story…

Now IP, or Internet Protocol version 4 (IPv4) to give it it’s proper name, was designed back in the 1970s and 1980s when the Internet as it is now was beyond the imagination of even most computer scientists and they were more concerned with the technicalities of building a global network. So, they figured that a suitably large address space, 4.3 billion, would be enough for whatever purpose we put it to, sounds reasonable right? Well then the Internet became pretty-much the foundation for much of our daily lives and suddenly everyone (and more importantly everything) wanted to get online.

To give you an idea of the problem, think about how many internet-connected devices you interact with on a daily basis, you might have a laptop/desktop computer at home, maybe you also have a smartphone and/or a tablet, when you get to work you’ll probably interact with one or more PCs there, and that’s not even considering your Internet-connected TV, games console, etc, etc. So once you consider this on a global scale, that 4.3 billion addresses starts to look pretty tiny and that’s exactly the situation we found ourselves in.

IPv6 to the rescue!

Now, when we realised that we needed ALOT more space and soon, what were we to do? Well, build a new protocol of course, and that’s what IPv6 is all about! Instead of 4.3 billion addresses, we’re suddenly free to use 340 trillion trillion trillion (that’s 36 zeros folks) unique addresses which should be enough to sort us out for now. Again, I won’t bore you with the details, but designing a protocol to replace the most fundamental and ubiquitous aspect of the Internet wasn’t easy and it’s taken a while to get right but now, with the advent of the world launch day, we’re basically seeing the IPv6 is read for the big time!

So, when will you see all these new and shiny IPv6 addresses in the Internet? Well, the answer is that they’re there already and have been for some time. IPv6 has been included in everything from your Operating System to your favourite web site for a number of years, for instance did you know that it was in Windows XP? Google meanwhile has offered its sites over IPv6 for at least a couple of years now.

So what does that mean for me?

Here’s the good news, probably not a great deal! If everything goes according to plan then one day your ISP will turn on IPv6 and everything will work just as it did before (from your perspective). The whole point of IPv6 is that it simply makes space for a much larger Internet than we currently have so think of it more like a giant road improvement / home building scheme rather than anything that will directly affect you and your online life. That’s not to say that we might not run into road works every so often but the aim is that by the end of it we will have an Internet that’s big enough for everyone and that can only be a good thing.

If you’re interested, feel free to look through the Google IPv6 day page which has lots more interesting details.