The first commercial Internet domain name, in the TLD com, was registered on 15 March 1985 in the name symbolics.comby Symbolics Inc., a computer systems firm in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
By 1992, fewer than 15,000 com domains had been registered.
In December 2009, 192 million domain names had been registered. A large fraction of them are in the com TLD, which as of March 15, 2010 had 84 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 has more registrations than all of the ccTLDs combined.
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.
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.
Some domain name registries, often called network information centers (NIC), also function as registrars to end-users. The major generic top-level domain registries, such as for the com, net, org, infodomains and others, use a registry-registrar model consisting of hundreds of domain name registrars (see lists at ICANN or VeriSign). In this method of management, the registry only manages the domain name database and the relationship with the registrars. The registrants (users of a domain name) are customers of the registrar, in some cases through additional layers of resellers.
TECHNICAL REQUIREMENTS AND PROCESS
In the process of registering a domain name and maintaining authority over the new name space created, registrars use several key pieces of information connected with a domain:
- Administrative contact. A registrant usually designates an administrative contact to manage the domain name. The administrative contact usually has the highest level of control over a domain. Management functions delegated to the administrative contacts may include management of all business information, such as name of record, postal address, and contact information of the official registrant of the domain and the obligation to conform to the requirements of the domain registry in order to retain the right to use a domain name. Furthermore, the administrative contact installs additional contact information for technical and billing functions.
- Technical contact. The technical contact manages the name servers of a domain name. The functions of a technical contact include assuring conformance of the configurations of the domain name with the requirements of the domain registry, maintaining the domain zone records, and providing continuous functionality of the name servers (that leads to the accessibility of the domain name).
- Billing contact. The party responsible for receiving billing invoices from the domain name registrar and paying applicable fees.
- 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 may be formed from the set of alphanumeric ASCII characters (a-z, A-Z, 0-9), but characters are case-insensitive. In addition the hyphen is permitted if it is surrounded by characters, digits or hyphens, although it is not to start or end a label. Labels are always separated by the full stop (period) character in the textual name representation.
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.
A few companies have offered low-cost, below-cost or even free domain registration with a variety of models adopted to recoup the costs to the provider. These usually require that domains be hosted on their website within a framework or portal that includes advertising wrapped around the domain holder’s content, revenue from which allows the provider to recoup the costs. Domain registrations were free of charge when the DNS was new. A domain holder may provide infinite number of subdomains in their domain. For example, the owner of example.org could provide subdomains such as foo.example.organd foo.bar.example.org to interested parties.
Many desirable domain names are already assigned and users must search for other acceptable names, using Web-based search features, or WHOIS and dig operating system tools. Many registrars have implemented Domain name suggestiontools which search domain name databases and suggest available alternative domain names related to keywords provided by the user.
RESALE OF DOMAIN NAMES
The business of resale of registered domain names is known as the domain aftermarket
. Various factors influence the perceived value or market value of a domain name. Most of the high-prize domain sales are carried out privately.
DOMAIN NAME CONFUSION
Intercapping is often used to emphasize the meaning of a domain name. However, DNS names are not case-sensitive, and some names may be misinterpreted in certain uses of capitalization. For example: Who Represents, a database of artists and agents, chose whorepresents.com, which can be misread as whore presents. Similarly, a therapists’ network is named therapistfinder.com. In such situations, the proper meaning may be clarified by use of hyphens in the domain name. For instance, Experts Exchange, a programmers’ discussion site, for a long time used expertsexchange.com, but ultimately changed the name to experts-exchange.com.
USE IN WEB SITE HOSTING
The domain name is a component of a uniform resource locator (URL) used to access web sites, for example:
- URL: http://www.example.net/index.html
- Top-level domain: net
- Second-level domain: example
- Host name: www
A domain name may point to multiple IP addresses to provide server redundancy for the services offered, a feature that is used to manage the traffic of large, popular web sites.
Web hosting services, on the other hand, run servers that are typically assigned only one or a few addresses while serving websites for many domains, a technique referred to as virtual web hosting. Such IP address overloading requires that each request identifies the domain name being referenced, for instance by using the HTTP request header field Host:, or Server Name Indication.
ABUSE AND REGULATION
Critics often claim abuse of administrative power over domain names. Particularly noteworthy was the VeriSign Site Findersystem which redirected all unregistered .com and .net domains to a VeriSign webpage. For example, at a public meeting with VeriSign to air technical concerns about SiteFinder, numerous people, active in the IETF and other technical bodies, explained how they were surprised by VeriSign’s changing the fundamental behavior of a major component of Internet infrastructure, not having obtained the customary consensus. SiteFinder, at first, assumed every Internet query was for a website, and it monetized queries for incorrect domain names, taking the user to VeriSign’s search site. Unfortunately, other applications, such as many implementations of email, treat a lack of response to a domain name query as an indication that the domain does not exist, and that the message can be treated as undeliverable. The original VeriSign implementation broke this assumption for mail, because it would always resolve an erroneous domain name to that of SiteFinder. While VeriSign later changed SiteFinder’s behaviour with regard to email, there was still widespread protest about VeriSign’s action being more in its financial interest than in the interest of the Internet infrastructure component for which VeriSign was the steward.
Despite widespread criticism, VeriSign only reluctantly removed it after the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) threatened to revoke its contract to administer the root name servers. ICANN published the extensive set of letters exchanged, committee reports, and ICANN decisions.
There is also significant disquiet regarding the United States’ political influence over ICANN. This was a significant issue in the attempt to create a .xxx top-level domain and sparked greater interest inalternative DNS roots that would be beyond the control of any single country.
Additionally, there are numerous accusations of domain name front running, whereby registrars, when given whois queries, automatically register the domain name for themselves. Network Solutions has been accused of this.
TRUTH IN DOMAIN NAMES ACT
In the United States, the Truth in Domain Names Act of 2003, in combination with the PROTECT Act of 2003, forbids the use of a misleading domain name with the intention of attracting Internet users into visiting Internet pornography sites.
The Truth in Domain Names Act follows the more general Anticybersquatting Consumer Protection Act passed in 1999 aimed at preventing typosquatting and deceptive use of names and trademarks in domain names.