Domain names are formed by the rules and procedures of the Domain Name System (DNS). Any name registered in the DNS is a domain name. Domain names are organized in subordinate levels (subdomains) of the DNS root domain, which is nameless. The first-level set of domain names are the top-level domains (TLDs), including the generic top-level domains (gTLDs), such as the prominent domains com, info, net, edu, and org, and the country code top-level domains (ccTLDs). Below these top-level domains in the DNS hierarchy are the second-level and third-level domain names that are typically open for reservation by end-users who wish to connect local area networks to the Internet, create other publicly accessible Internet resources or run web sites.
A domain name consists of one or more labels, each of which is formed from the set of ASCII letters, digits, and hyphens (a-z, A-Z, 0-9, -), but not starting or ending with a hyphen. The labels are case-insensitive; for example, 'label' is equivalent to 'Label' or 'LABEL'. In the textual representation of a domain name, the labels are separated by a full stop (period).
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Domain names are created to make IP addresses easy to remember. Every computer has an IP address assigned to it - much like a street address. But instead of having to memorize each IP address number, we assign domain names to these numbers so we can easily remember them. The domain name system, or DNS, takes domain names and translates them into their IP addresses so that computers can communicate with one another.
In the first quarter of 2015, 294 million domain names had been registered. A large fraction of them are in the com TLD, which as of December 21, 2014, had 115.6 million domain names, including 11.9 million online business and e-commerce sites, 4.3 million entertainment sites, 3.1 million finance related sites, and 1.8 million sports sites. As of July 2012 the com TLD had more registrations than all of the ccTLDs combined.
Domain names are often simply referred to as domains and domain name registrants are frequently referred to as domain owners, although domain name registration with a registrar does not confer any legal ownership of the domain name, only an exclusive right of use for a particular duration of time. The use of domain names in commerce may subject them to trademark law.
Registries and registrars usually charge an annual fee for the service of delegating a domain name to a user and providing a default set of name servers. Often, this transaction is termed a sale or lease of the domain name, and the registrant may sometimes be called an "owner", but no such legal relationship is actually associated with the transaction, only the exclusive right to use the domain name. More correctly, authorized users are known as "registrants" or as "domain holders".
ICANN publishes the complete list of TLD registries and domain name registrars. Registrant information associated with domain names is maintained in an online database accessible with the WHOIS protocol. For most of the 250 country code top-level domains (ccTLDs), the domain registries maintain the WHOIS (Registrant, name servers, expiration dates, etc.) information.
When the Domain Name System was devised in the 1980s, the domain name space was divided into two main groups of domains. The country code top-level domains (ccTLD) were primarily based on the two-character territory codes of ISO-3166 country abbreviations. In addition, a group of seven generic top-level domains (gTLD) was implemented which represented a set of categories of names and multi-organizations. These were the domains gov, edu, com, mil, org, net, and int.
Name servers. Most registrars provide two or more name servers as part of the registration service. However, a registrant may specify its own authoritative name servers to host a domain's resource records. The registrar's policies govern the number of servers and the type of server information required. Some providers require a hostname and the corresponding IP address or just the hostname, which must be resolvable either in the new domain, or exist elsewhere. Based on traditional requirements (RFC 1034), typically a minimum of two servers is required.
Domain names are often seen in analogy to real estate in that domain names are foundations on which a website can be built, and the highest quality domain names, like sought-after real estate, tend to carry significant value, usually due to their online brand-building potential, use in advertising, search engine optimization, and many other criteria.
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