What are Domain Names?

All resources on the Internet are directly addressable via unique numerical addresses. These are great for computers but not necessarily so for humans. Domain names are used to provide human readable, and potentially memorable indexes for these numerical addresses.

Do I need one or more Domain names?

If you wish to provide a service on the Internet such as a Web Site that you would like other Internet users to be able to access directly, then a Domain Name is the way to do it. Although technically you could give people the numerical address of your Site, it’s not going to be very memorable, there are few if any branding opportunities, and as soon as you move your service to another machine or provider, all references to your service will change.

How does registration work?

There are two components to a domain name. The first is your chosen label, brand name, or whatever name you want your service to be known by. The second is the TLD (Top Level Domain) that is appended to your name. Historically the TLD was a mechanism used to split the administration and categorisation of resources, although today it’s usually a little more relaxed and tends to form a part of your branding.

Once you’ve chosen your domain name, assuming it’s available and not already registered by someone else, you need to register it with the appropriate Registry. Different TLD‘s are administered by different Registries and administration (and pricing) can be quote complex, so opting for a reseller is usually the recommended approach. Beware that almost anyone can sell or re-sell Domain names, and although there are Rules governing how resellers behave, ultimately there will always be a few who will treat those rules as if guidelines.

So, to register a domain name, contact a reseller, supply them with the name of your requested domain, your details and their fee, and they should register the domain name, in YOUR name. You should always be classified as the registrant, they should just be an agent. Historically registrants used to be able to check their details were associated with the domain and they (as opposed to the agent) were the real registrant. Unfortunately this is no longer the case and a level of trust is required.

Who owns a Domain?

Technically domains are owned by the TLD registry. When you register a domain name you are effectively buying the exclusive right to use that domain name for the length of your registration period. Typically you register a domain name for one year, then pay each year to renew it for as long as you wish to continue using it. When you stop paying, the domain will revert back to the Registry and become available for others to use. There is no real benefit in registering for more than one year at a time other than the fact that some registries offer discounts for longer terms.

How do Domain Transfers work?

Transferring domains between agents is a fairly common requirement. In general the transfer process is more straightforward than registration as all your details and the domain itself are already registered electronically, so all that really changes is the registry tag.

You will typically pay the new agent the same fee as they would charge for a new registration, and the number of months remaining on the current period would be added to the registration with the new agent. So if you had six months to run on a domain name, then transferred to a new agent, you would pay for another year, but end up with a renewal period 18 months hence.

Note that when moving between agents, at some point after moving the old agent will stop serving the domain name records associated with your domain name. To make sure this doesn’t impact your services you should make sure required domain name records are configured with your new agent before completing the transfer. If done correctly, the transfer should be completely transparent with regards to the functioning of your live services.

What are Domain Name Records?

In addition to associating a label with a numerical reference, domain names can provide hints for specific services about where to find things associated with your domain name. More specifically;

  • A Records – associate the domain name (and sub-domains) with numerical references
  • MX Records – tell email services where email for the domain should be delivered
  • CNAME Records – allow you to provide aliases for your sub-domains
  • NS Records – tell the Internet which name servers to use when looking up your records
  • TXT Records – are free-form records used for all sorts of application specific purposes

What are sub-Domains?

Once you have registered a domain, you become responsible for everything above that domain. So you register AAAA.uk, where AAAA is your domain name, and uk is the TLD, then you can prefix this domain name with whatever you like (within the scope of allowed characters) and use is as an entirely separate name with it’s own records. So you could for example use;

  • www.AAAA.uk
  • email.AAAA.uk
  • forum.AAAA.uk
  • etc …

All of these are implicitly available and they do not require registration, just the appropriate domain name records.

Do I need a Domain Registration Certificate?

Although, technically, it should be possible to obtain such a certificate, whether it is of any value is debatable. Many agents / registries simply don’t support certificates as they’re open to forgery and abuse. The Domain Name registration and transfer process is fairly heavily validated so on balance, this is a much more reliable mechanism for tracking registrations.

If I’ve registered a Domain Name, do I need to use it?

Technically the answer is No. Sitting on domain names and not using them is however often referred to as cyber-squatting and can ultimately lead to the loss of a registration if someone else wants to use the name. The very first legal dispute over domain names in the UK was between two companies who had effectively registered the same name. Due to an anomaly in the system, because the first company wasn’t using the name, the second company was able to inadvertently register the same name. So on balance I’d recommended that once you register a domain name, put something on the end to demonstrate it’s in-use..