Domain name - basics

If you have got this far then you probably already have a basic ISP service and an email address that goes with that. If you already have your own domain name for your business, you can skip this section.

Your domain name is the name of your web site. Briefly a domain name is the last bit of a web site address before any slash "/" character. For example if a web site is then is the domain name. You can always ignore the 'www.' bit in web site addresses. Other examples:

  • is the domain name for the web site
  • is the domain name for the email address
  • is the domain name for the web page
  • is the domain name for the web page

There are various organizations around the world that control the assignment of domain names. They ensure each domain name is only assigned once (you can not have two Web sites both claiming to be running the domain name You can check if someone already has a domain name by just typing it into the location box in your web browser. In this case try both with and without the leading 'www.'. If either one produces a Web site - or even a blank page - it means the domain name is already taken. If you get some message display with 'Address not found' then it may indicate the domain name is free for you to take. You can then confirm this by visiting a 'whois' service - just type whois into Google then visit a few sites that appear up top in the search results.

A lot of domain names are already taken, so you may struggle to get the ones you first think of. You may be able to buy one that is already taken. You can contact the current owner - using details in the whois entry - and see if you can agree on a price. You then have to organize the transfer of the domain name to yourself. This is best done through a 3rd party. I personally use, but there are plenty of sites out there on the Internet that can do this for you. This transfer of ownership is called "change of registrant" i.e. you - or your company - become the new registrant. There are sites that offer to do all this for you i.e. they will contact the current owner, help both parties settle on a price and then organize the change of registrant. They charge for this service.

If you get a domain name (either from someone else or one that has never been used before) you can not register this domain name all by yourself. Only a 'registrar' can do this. A registrar is an official agent for the organizations that control the assignment of domain names. Most ISPs are registrars i.e. your current ISP - if you have one - can act as registrar for you. Or a new web hosting supplier you choose to deal with can act as registrar.

One final topic on domain name basics - the Domain Name Service or DNS. The Internet does not run on names. It actually runs on numbers. For example this domain name is represented by the number That number is an IP address (short for Internet Protocol Address) on a computer somewhere. The DNS is really just a giant lookup table that maps domain names (e.g. to IP addresses (e.g. for every domain name on the planet.

As a business user, you don't really care what IP address number is assigned. But you do care about control if you ever need to change the number to point to a different computer. This means you want direct control over DNS name server entries.

The next section explains the things you really must check about your domain name along the way - particularly if there is a change of registrant or registrar. It also explains what you need to do in terms of managing the DNS entries yourself.

October 2014.