A domain name has two distinct parts.
Similar to physical addresses of buildings and houses, domain names are essentially cyber addresses of websites. A domain name is the last part of a universal resource locator, commonly referred to as a URL. The URL is what is typed into an Internet browser to reach a website.
A URL typically begins with the letters http followed by a colon, two slash marks and the familiar "www" and is then followed by the domain name, which is split into two parts and separated by a dot. The first part of the domain name is called the second-level domain. In general, the second-level domain is descriptive of the website. The last part of the domain name is referred to as the top-level domain. For example, in the domain name JeffsCompany.com, JeffsCompany is the second-level domain and com is the top-level domain. Both parts comprise the entire domain name.
Top-level domains are categorized as either generic or country code. The original generic top-level domains have three letters following the dot. According to the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), the original seven generic top-level domains were .com, .edu, .mil, .gov, .org, .net and .int. The .edu top-level domain is for use by educational institutions, .gov is used by government agencies, .mil is used by U.S. military organizations and .int is for use by international organizations. The other three generic top-level domains can be used without restrictions.
An additional seven generic top-level domains were added in November 2000 and introduced during the following two years. These generic top-level domains are .museum, .coop, .aero, .biz, .info, .pro and .name. The .museum, .coop and .aero top-level domains are sponsored by organizations that regulate the domain's use among their respective communities.
Country code top-level domains are specific to individual countries and have only two letters. For example, the United Kingdom uses .uk and Japan uses .jp. Each country determines the restrictions for using its country code top-level domain.
When selecting a domain name, consideration must be given to both the second-level domain and the top-level domain. The type of website will almost always dictate the selection of the top-level domain. Of the most commonly used unrestricted generic top-level domains, individuals and for-profit companies typically use .com, nonprofit organizations often use .org and technology-based sites use .net.
The University of California, San Francisco provides the following tips for selecting a second-level domain:
The rights to a domain name are purchased from retail companies called domain name registrars. A registrar may charge for just the initial registration costs or bill continuously throughout the lifetime of the registration. These companies register generic domain names with ICANN or a national organization with the authority to register domain names. ICANN recommends using only registrars that are accredited. Country code domain names are registered with authorized registrars that check the documentation of the site to make sure its eligible for the domain name.
In order to register the domain name, the registrar will require contact information for the site's registrant, administrator, billing contact and technical expert. Its possible for the information for all four contacts to be the same. The registrant is the person or business that owns the site. The administrator acts as a liaison between the owner and the registrar. Most organizations assign an employee from the information technology department as the technical contact, while an employee in accounting receives the bills.
Some registrars retain the rights to the domain name after the registration contract expires. The registrar may choose to sell the domain name following the contract's expiration. If the owner maintains the rights but allows the domain name to expire, many registrars auction the name at a domain aftermarket.
A domain name cannot be copyrighted, according to the U.S. Copyright Office, although the content of the website can be. However, domain names can be trademarked if the name is used to promote services rather than simply as an address. Trademarking a domain name prevents others from using similar domain names that could be potentially damaging to the company's reputation or profits.
In order to trademark a domain name, the owner needs to provide a certificate of registration for the name. The registration must remain current to maintain use of the trademark. The cost to trademark a domain name ranges from several hundred dollars if the owner chooses to file the paperwork to several thousand dollars if an attorney's services are retained.