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.
Next are third-level domains, which are written immediately to the left of a second-level domain. There can be fourth- and fifth-level domains, and so on, with virtually no limitation. An example of an operational domain name with four levels of domain labels is sos.state.oh.us. Each label is separated by a full stop (dot). 'sos' is said to be a sub-domain of 'state.oh.us', and 'state' a sub-domain of 'oh.us', etc. In general, subdomains are domains subordinate to their parent domain. An example of very deep levels of subdomain ordering are the IPv6 reverse resolution DNS zones, e.g., 188.8.131.52.0.0.0.0.0.0.0.0.0.0.0.0.0.0.0.0.0.0.0.0.0.0.0.0.0.0.0.0.ip6.arpa, which is the reverse DNS resolution domain name for the IP address of a loopback interface, or the localhost name.
The right to use a domain name is delegated by domain name registrars, which are accredited by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), the organization charged with overseeing the name and number systems of the Internet. In addition to ICANN, each top-level domain (TLD) is maintained and serviced technically by an administrative organization operating a registry. A registry is responsible for maintaining the database of names registered within the TLD it administers. The registry receives registration information from each domain name registrar authorized to assign names in the corresponding TLD and publishes the information using a special service, the WHOIS protocol.
In the early 21st century, the US Department of Justice (DOJ) pursued the seizure of domain names, based on the legal theory that domain names constitute property used to engage in criminal activity, and thus are subject to forfeiture. For example, in the seizure of the domain name of a gambling website, the DOJ referenced 18 U.S.C. § 981 and 18 U.S.C. § 1955(d). In 2013 the US government seized Liberty Reserve, citing 18 U.S.C. § 982(a)(1).
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).
The practice of using a simple memorable abstraction of a host's numerical address on a computer network dates back to the ARPANET era, before the advent of today's commercial Internet. In the early network, each computer on the network retrieved the hosts file (host.txt) from a computer at SRI (now SRI International), which mapped computer hostnames to numerical addresses. The rapid growth of the network made it impossible to maintain a centrally organized hostname registry and in 1983 the Domain Name System was introduced on the ARPANET and published by the Internet Engineering Task Force as RFC 882 and RFC 883.