Domain Name Selection and Registration

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This article was published by ComputorEdge, issue #2322, 2005-06-03, as the cover article, in both their print edition (on pages 14-15) and their website.

Many people are interested in getting their own websites, with their own domain names — either for business or personal use. But they are uncertain as to how to go about doing this, as well as how difficult and costly it will be. In this article, we will consider some strategies for choosing an appropriate top-level domain name, how to find out whether one's desired domain name has been taken, how to come up with viable alternatives if it has, and how to find a domain name registrar.

Due to the complexity and alphabet soup involved with such topics as IP addresses, TCP/IP, HTTP, URLs, DNS, and Web servers, as well as space limitations, we won't be able to delve into the more arcane technical details. Fortunately, a deep understanding of them is not needed in order to choose an appropriate domain name for your purposes and register that name on the Internet.

The steps that you would go through are fairly similar to those taken by even a major Internet player, such as Yahoo, when it chose to make its website available on the Internet. They chose "yahoo.com" as their domain name, while you might choose something like "flowers4everyone.com" if your business were named "Flowers for Everyone". Visitors to your website would see "http://www.flowers4everyone.com/" as the Web address (a.k.a. URL) of your site in their Web browser.

After choosing their domain name, Yahoo undoubtedly registered it with one of many companies out there known as domain name registrars. They also needed to associate their domain with the corresponding numeric IP address of one of their computers, which in this case is 68.142.226.55.

To confirm that that sequence of numbers is truly Yahoo's IP address, simply type the numbers (including the dots) into the address field of your favorite Web browser, and click Go. You will end up at Yahoo's homepage, just as if you had typed "www.yahoo.com".

Domain Name Selection

The first step you'll want to perform is choosing an appropriate domain name for your needs. This involves choosing both a top-level domain (such as ".com") and a second-level domain (such as "flowers4everyone"). Ideally, your chosen top level domain should reflect the nature of your website, and your chosen second-level domain should be your business or personal name. But if your preferred combination has already been taken, you will need to consider close alternatives, until you find a combination that is available.

For your top-level domain, you can choose from two categories: generic and country code. Generic names include the most well-known ones such as ".com" (for commercial companies), ".net" (Internet infrastructure), ".org" (not-for-profit organizations), ".edu" (schools), and ".mil" (military). More recently introduced generic names include ".biz" (businesses), ".info" (any purpose), and ".name" (personal sites, using the format "first_name.last_name.name"). Generic domains were created for the use of the Internet public.

Country code domains were created for the use of individual countries (i.e., governments) as they deemed necessary. For instance, San Diego County uses http://www.co.san-diego.ca.us/ as its primary Web address — the top-level domain of which is ".us". Other countries include Japan (".jp"), China (".cn"), and France (".fr"). All of these country code domains are equivalent to the two-letter codes chosen by the International Organization for Standardization (ISO).

Fortunately for those people who have found that there are no available generic top-level domains for their desired second-level domain, some countries have contracted out there registry operations to commercial firms. These registry management companies then offer most of the domain names for that country to any individuals and businesses, even if they have no association with that country.

For example, my own domain name, "www.ross.ws", was made available by the government of Western Samoa (WS) via their registry firm, Global Domains International. Other countries that have done the same are Belize (BZ), Cocos (Keeling) Islands (CC), Moldova (MD), Niue (NU), Suriname (SR), and Tuvalu (TV).

If your company has an established name for which the most popular top-level domains are already taken, then you should consider selecting one of the newer top-level domains. This is especially true and fortuitous if the country code is related to your business's field, e.g., "RepairYour.TV" if your business repairs TV sets, even though your company is not located in Tuvalu.

If your company does not have an established name, or it can be easily modified to match one of the most commonly used top-level domains, such as ".com", then it would probably be best to adopt the business name that allows you to get the domain name you want. This principle is more applicable if most if not all of your customers will be finding you via the Internet, as opposed to a traditional brick-and-mortar business that simply wants an Internet presence, if only to satisfy the young whippersnappers who keep asking you if your business has a website.

Domain Name Registration

Finding out what domain names are available is closely wedded to the registration process of your chosen domain name, because it is the registrars who know which names are available. Even though any registrar can tell you on their website if your desired domain name has been taken, they typically will suggest alternative top-level domains, even if your first choice is available.

Far more variable than ease of searching, though, are the registration costs. By way of illustration, Network Solutions, an Internet veteran, charges $34.99 per year. Go Daddy, a rising upstart that is quickly becoming a favorite, charges only $8.95 per year.

Earlier it was noted that Yahoo at one point had to specify that their domain name, "yahoo.com", should be translated into the IP address of 68.142.226.55. This association of domain name with IP address is part of the Domain Name System (DNS). If your domain name registrar does not provide DNS services for you, you will need to find a provider of that functionality. One possible firm is Dynamic Network Services, which also offers domain name masking and e-mail.

Finding and registering an available domain name can all be done using your chosen registrar's website, and paid for with any major credit card. Most if not all of the major registrars have helpful information on their sites, in addition to toll-free technical support, in case you get bogged down with confusing terminology, or you are not entirely sure which optional services would best suit your needs. For example, most commercial firms opt for domain masking if they will be hosting with a different company, so that their proper URL is maintained within the website visitor's browser, even if their URL redirects to a different address.

It may seem like a bit of work going through the steps to get your own address on the Internet. But if you take the time to explore the options, and get input from others who have already gone down this path, then you can easily take these first steps in getting your own website up and running, and all the effort will seem worthwhile.

Copyright © 2005 Michael J. Ross. All rights reserved.