Thursday, July 24, 2014

Understanding Domain Names and URLs.

Understanding Domain Names and URLs

Domain Name--shutterstock_105079271Some of the most mysterious features of the Internet are domain names and URLs. Many people recognize that you have to know a website’s “address” in order to connect with the site, but where these addresses come from and how to obtain one is a lot less understood. Unfortunately, the term “domain” is not simple to understand. If you look in Wikipedia, there are dozens of different uses and meanings for the term in mathematics, science, general use and information technology. See Wikipedia:Domain. However, in the context of the Internet, the term “domain name” has a more specific meaning. A domain name is a string of letters that defines a section of the Internet, more specifically a realm of administrative autonomy, authority or control. See Wikipedia:Domain name. In common use, a domain name can be thought of as the address of a website.
Now, if I carry that idea of an address one step further, I come to the term “URL” which stands for Uniform Resource Locator. The URL is a way of expressing the address of a website or other location on the Internet by combining the domain name with a file path syntax. OK, I told you this was complicated. But I am certain I can sort it all out for you. However, bear in mind that I am leaving out a lot of complicated detail. If you want more information, follow the links in this post. Here is an example of a web address (the address for FamilySearch Products):
https://familysearch.org/products/
If I were to generalize that address into its syntax (basic form) it would look like this:
scheme://domain:port/path?query_string#fragment_id
Before I go too far, I should mention that URLs need to be exactly copied in order to work. Missing even one letter or adding one letter may take you to an completely different website or not work at all.
The first part of the address, the “https:” part is the scheme or protocol. It is the top level of the naming structure, sort-of like giving the country first for your home address. There are other top level designators, but none of them are in general use (for example, gopher, wais and ftp) The two slashes (//) are separators telling the Internet that what follows is the domain name. In my example, the domain name is “familysearch.org.” The domain name can also be a numerical address called an IP address as in Internet Protocol. The part of the address above that refers specifically to the TechTips site, is the last part in slashes. This is the file path to TechTips and shows that the TechTips site is really part of the website with the domain name of familysearch.org.
That brings me back to domain names. Generally, domain names are ideally designed to be easy to remember. The domain name represents an individual host computer on the Internet. Domain names are often referred to simply as domains and domain name registrants are frequently referred to as domain owners, although domain name registration with a registrar does not confer any legal ownership of the domain name, only an exclusive right of use. See Wikipedia:Domain name. Since domain names live within the URL, they are further subdivided or organized by a level designation. The top level of the domain name is indicated by the top-level domain (TLD) on every domain name, such as .com, .gov, .org and so forth.
Now let’s suppose that you want to start your own website. To do so, you would need to have a computer hooked up to the Internet that allowed other users on the Internet to access that computer. This type of computer is called a “server.” In the old days, a server would usually be a single computer, however, today, a single URL could actually be connected  to dozens or even hundreds of servers running together. Fortunately, you do not have to do all this yourself, you can rent space on a commercial server and use your own address or URL. So, the first step in setting up your own website is to decide on a name that will be incorporated into the URL. You want to have a name that is memorable and short and that can be identified with your business. You also want a name that will not be confused with any potential competitors for your product or service. If you are making a family history website, you might want to include your main family surname as part of the domain name.
To use a specific domain name, the name has be registered on the Internet. There are hundreds, perhaps thousands, of commercial web server providers around the world. One of the largest is a company called bluehost.com. Another well-known server company is godaddy.com. For a relatively small fee, you can register a domain name (sometimes for free) and rent space on their server. Use of the commercial server is sometimes transparent. That means that your URL does not indicate which server company you are using. To contrast that, most blogs use a URL that shows the hosting server, for example my blog at http://genealogysstar.blogspot.com. The designation “blogspot” shows that the hosting server is part of Google’s Blogger program and hosted on their servers.
After you have a domain name and a hosting server, you are ready to start building your website. Of course, that is a whole different topic and goes to a new level of complication. But if you choose to start a blog or other type of website, it may be quite simple and take only a few minutes to begin using your new blog.



Filed Under: Accessing the Internet, Helpful Apps and Tools, How To's and Tips, Viewpoint, Web Apps