What is a Domain Name and Why it Matters

Okay, I know this sounds BORING!  But seriously, domain names are important for you to understand and I promise to make it as fun and exciting as a geeky topic such as domain names can possibly be.

What is a Domain Name?

Like the address you use to find someone’s home or a local business, a domain name is a unique address that sends a website user to the correct website. For example, the domain name for the website you are on right now is solopreneurmentor.com. The URL is https://www.solopreneurmentor.com. Most people use domain name and URL interchangeably, but the domain name is the portion after the http://www.

A domain name can also be used for email purposes such as [email protected]  Many people choose to register multiple domain names. I own thed3.com and d3websitesolutions.com for my business website and I point all traffic from d3websitesolutions.com to thed3.com (go ahead and try it – click on d3websitesolutions.com).  This can be beneficial if you think people may search for you based on another name which is why I registered d3websitesolutions.com even though my main domain name is thed3.com.  Some people collect domain names like baseball cards (I may be one of them, but I’m not ready to be transparent enough to let you know exactly how many domain names I own).  Purchasing a domain name is around $13/year so it’s an easy hobby to fall into.

HOW does this magic happen?

I know, it’s magical. Someone puts in your domain name into a browser and faster than a ride at Disney, they are at your website.  This is done using Domain Name Servers (DNS).  Every time a domain name is registered, there are name servers associated with that domain name.  For example, one of the services I provide under D3 Website Solutions is Managed WordPress Hosting.  The name servers used for clients on my server are ns1.thed3.com and ns2.thed3.com.

Domain Registrars will usually set name servers to their servers temporarily.  You can then choose to either have the domain registrar manage your DNS (i.e. maintain public records like a phone book maintains phone numbers for the public) or if you use a separate hosting company, you can have the hosting company manage your DNS.  It doesn’t really matter.  I usually recommend the domain registrar host the DNS because hosting companies can be more transient and if you move hosting to another server, it can be a pain to also copy over your DNS records.  Not only that, but if you change your DNS records, it can take 24-48 hours for those changes to take effect.  This process is known as propagation.

Here’s the progression that happens when someone types in your domain name.

  1. Lookup to see what name server is associated with the domain name just typed into the browser
  2. Name Server then reports the A record associated with the domain name using the DNS record.  An A Record is an IP address of the server that is hosting the website which is a series of numbers in this format: xxx.xxx.xxx.xxx.  All servers are identified by an IP Address which are impossible to remember. That is why domain names were created.
  3. Traffic is routed to the server and the files on the server are shown which is the website requested

This sounds pretty complicated, but let’s think of it in terms of the US Postal Service.  If I write a letter to a friend and put her name on the envelope, it will pass through multiple Post Office Stations before it’s delivered to my friend’s mailbox.  It must have all parts of the address on the envelope or it will get returned undeliverable.  Each Post Office Station puts it in the right place to be forwarded on until it gets close enough to where it will be delivered for the local post office to get it in my friend’s mailbox.  This is almost exactly the same for websites.

Why does it matter?

Well, why does anyone notify friends and family when they move houses?  Because they want to get their mail.  You have to have a domain name in order for people to find your website.  And you have to have DNS records so that your domain name is pointing to the right server.  If any of this information is incorrect, your website will not show and you’ll most likely have an error message in its place.  DNS records can be a bit scary due to the overwhelming pressure that if you mess it up, your website disappears from the Internet.  But hosting companies are really good at making sure you know how to update your DNS records appropriately and can help if there is an error somewhere.  Don’t worry – a problem in your DNS Records does not mean your website files are deleted.

How do I find my Domain Registrar?

If you’re curious, you can find out where your domain is registered by going to https://whois.icann.org and typing in your domain name.  The resulting records will also show your name servers which will give away who is managing your DNS.  You’ll also notice that your name, phone number, email address, physical address, etc may be listed under the contact information.  This is how people find you and send you spam.  If you don’t want this to happen, you can pay to turn on Domain Privacy and all that information will be hidden from public records.

Keep Track of Important Website Records & Passwords

Record and Password Worksheet for WebsitesOne final thing, I cannot tell you how many clients come to me wanting to move over to my Managed WordPress Hosting and they have no idea where their current website is hosted or who their domain registrar is.  As I pointed out above, there are ways of finding this out, but it can be a pain to track down appropriate usernames and passwords.  I have created a Record & Password Worksheet that you can download for free to keep track of this important information.  Just click on the button below!

DOWNLOAD NOW

To see a sample of how to fill it out, please click on the image and it will show a larger image.  All the records contained on the sample sheet are not live data so don’t try to hack my website!

Thanks for joining me on this journey through geekiness and I hope you learned something valuable today!

Was this helpful?