Domain Configuration

WHAT IS A DOMAIN NAME?

Domain name is the address of your website that people type in the browser URL bar to visit your website.

In simple terms, if your website was a house, then your domain name will be its address.

A more detailed explanation:

The Internet is a giant network of computers connected to each other through a global network of cables. Each computer on this network can communicate with other computers.

To identify them, each computer is assigned an IP address. It is a series of numbers that identify a particular computer on the internet. A typical IP address looks like this:

66.249.66.1

Now an IP address like this is quite difficult to remember. Imagine if you had to use such numbers to visit your favorite websites.

Domain names were invented to solve this problem.

Now if you want to visit a website, then you don’t need to enter a long string of numbers. Instead, you can visit it by typing an easy to remember domain name in your browser’s address bar. For example, wpbeginner.com.

A domain name is an identification string that defines a realm of administrative autonomy, authority or control within the Internet. Domain names are used in various networking contexts and for application-specific naming and addressing purposes

Why Do You Need a Domain Name?

Any business, organization or individual striving to establish online presence should own a domain name. A combination of a domain name, website, and email addresses forms your unique identity online. That, in turn, helps your business create a professional look, increase brand awareness, build credibility, and protect your trademarks and copyrights.  

What is the difference between a domain and a subdomain?

Domain (e.g., oberlo.com) is the web address you buy from a domain registry. Subdomain (e.g., blog.oberlo.com) is a subset of a domain that can be created by a domain owner.

The 7 Characteristics of Good Domain Names

Domain names are the real estate of the Internet. Just as a good location is vital for a bricks and mortar business, a good domain name will be the corner stone of your website’s success. But how to identify them? Below you will find the 7 characteristics of good domain names.

1. They are short
Good domain names are short. It is not a coincidence that all the three-letter and four-letter .com domains are already gone, and that the five-letter ones are going fast as well.
There is no definite number of characters that you should aim for, just remember that the shorter the better. If you really need some guidance, try to go below 10 characters, and never exceed 20.

As for the number of words, one-word domains are gold, two-word ones are good, three-word domains are average, and above that it is usually a bad idea.

Example: Quotes.com is a superb domain and probably worth millions of dollars. ProQuotes.com is a good two-word domain worth thousands of dollars. ProQuotesNow.com is an average domain and could be used for a website. YourProQuotesNow.com is plain worthless.

2. They are easy to remember
Many Internet users do not use bookmarks. They just memorize the domains of their favorite websites and type them whenever they wan to visit one. Guess what, if your domain is complex and not easy to remember you will lose these visitors along the way.

Example: Brcwr.com is a short domain name, but is not easy to remember at all, so it would be a bad idea to use it for your website (unless the initials represent the name of the website or a memorable message).

3. They are easy to spell
The last thing you want is visitors misspelling your domain and ending up somewhere else.
Avoid unusual foreign words, words that have complex pronunciation, strange combinations of letters and anything else that might cause someone to misspell your address.

Example: CappuccinoBar.com might be problematic for English speaking visitors. Cappuccino is an Italian word, and not everyone is aware where the doubles are placed.

4. They have a .com extension
Organizations might prefer to register a .org domain, and companies targeting very specific geographical regions might want to register a local domain (e.g. .it, .co.uk, .cn and so on). Apart from these cases, however, a .com domain is always the best way to go. This extension is the most popular around the around, and it is already stuck in people’s mind.

Visitors coming to your site via search engines or organic links will pay attention mostly to the name and not to the URL. The next time they want to visit your site it is very likely that they will just type its name followed by a .com. Guess what, if you are not there when they hit enter they will just go somewhere else.

Example: Darren Rowse created his popular blog on Problogger.net. Despite having a strong brand, some visitors were still going to Problogger.com. After a couple of years Darren decided to buy the .com version for $5,000 and redirect it to his site, so that no more visitors would leak.

5. They are descriptive
Many visitors will come to your site through the search engines and via direct links on other websites. That is, they will come if the domain that they will see will be appealing.

Having a descriptive domain name will give visitors an idea of what your site is about even before they enter it. If related keywords are present in the domain it might also help your search engine rankings.

Example: You would be able to guess what TelevisionGuides.com is about even before visiting it right?

Put it in another way. Suppose you are searching for a movie review. You make a quick search in Google. The first result comes from MikesLair.com. The second result comes from MoviesCentral.com. Which one would you rather click?

6. Or brandable
A brandable domain will have a nice pronunciation, an interesting combination of letters or simply an appealing visual effect. Sometimes they will not be descriptive, but they can be equally efficient.

Brandable domains will make your visitors associate the name with your website and its content. (Notice that brandable domains can be descriptive at the same time, but that is not always the case.)

Example: Kotaku.com is one of the most popular gaming blogs on the Internet. The domain is not descriptive at all, but the brand is so strong that gamers immediately recognize it across the web.

7. They don’t contain hyphens or numbers
Domain names containing hyphens and numbers are cheaper for a reason. They suffer the same problem of domains not using a .com extension or with complex spelling.

Consider Tech-World.com. The names that will stick in people’s mind are “tech” and “world.” Many visitors will just forget the hyphen along the way. Eventually they will try to access your site by typing TechWorld.com, in vain.

Numbers, on the other hand, will confuse people with the spelling. Suppose you registered Tech5.com. Visitors might mix it with TechFive.com, if they manage to remember the number in the first place!

Example: Coolest-Gadgets.com is an extremely popular gadget blog, with over 70,000 RSS subscribers. With such a huge readership you get people often typing the domain directly on the address bar. Needless to say that many of them would just forget to add the hyphen. The owner of the site bought CoolestGadgets.com afterwards to fix the problem.

Domain Name Types

Top-Level Domain (TLD) refers to the suffix or the last part of a domain name. There’s a limited list of predefined suffixes which includes:

  • .com – commercial business (the most common TLD)
  • .org – organizations (typically, nonprofit)
  • .gov – government agencies
  • .edu – educational institutions
  • .net – network organizations
  • .mil – military

TLDs are classified into two broad categories: generic top-level domains (gTLDs) and country-code top-level domains (ccTLDs).

Generic Top-Level Domain (gTLDs) is a generic top-level domain name that identifies the domain class it is associated with (.com, .org, .edu, etc).

Country Code Top-Level Domain (ccTLD) is a two-letter domain extension, such as .uk or .fr, assigned to a country, geographic location or territory.

nTLDs refers to new top-level domain names that are geared towards brands organizations and services, as they’re more customized, flexible and relevant. Examples of nTLDs include “.voyage”, “.app”, “.ninja”, “.cool”, etc.

WHAT IS DOMAIN CONFIGURATION?

Domain Name Configuration
Before understanding how to configure a domain name, one should know how a domain name works. There are three parts to setting up a domain name for a website – (i) registering the domain name with a domain registrar, (ii) setting up the domain name entry in a DNS server, and finally (iii) configuring the web server to listen to the requests for the domain name. A request for the domain (e.g. http://websitegear.com) starts at one of the registrar’s server, which then routes it to a DNS server containing the DNS information for the domain. Once the DNS record for the domain resolves the domain name to a particular IP address, the request is sent to the web server listening to that IP address. The web server can now delegate the request to the particular website based on the domain name in the host header of the request object.

Registering A Domain Name
A domain name needs to be registered with one of the ICANN (http://www.icann.org) approved domain registrars for a yearly registration fee. One of the cheapest registrar with all the required features is GoDaddy.com (http://www.godaddy.com). There are registrars for each country specific domain names (such as .co.uk for United Kingdom, .nl for Netherlands). One should choose a domain name very carefully. After deciding on an available domain name, one has to provide the following information during the registration process:

  1. Domain name owner credentials (name, company name, address, phone, email address etc.)
  2. Administrative contact credentials
  3. Technical contact credentials
  4. Domain Name System (DNS) server details

The DNS server (also known as name server) is usually provided by the web hosting company. The DNS server should have entries of the domain name as explained in the next section. At least a primary (e.g. ns1.websitegear.net) and a secondary (e.g. ns2.websitegear.net) name server addresses are required. DNS server setup requires extra knowledge and is not within the scope of this article.

Domain Setup On DNS Server
The domain setup on the DNS server can be done after the domain is registered, however, the domain name will not work until the DNS setup is completed. A DNS server maps a domain name to IP address(es) of the web server and mail server so that a client can connect to the webserver or mail server using the domain name and not the IP address. A forward lookup zone is created for the domain name in the DNS server. Start of authority (SOA), Name server (NS), Hostname (A), Canonical Names (CNAME) and Mail eXchange (MX) entries are added to the forward lookup zone as shown below for a domain “foodomain.com” with name servers “ns1.dnsserver.com” and “ns1.dnsserver.com“.

Start Of Authority (SOA) Record: The SOA record is very important because it denotes the official DNS record for the domain name. There can be only one SOA record for each domain in a zone file.

@ IN SOA ns1.dnsserver.com. hostmaster.dnsserver.com. (
20041014 ; serial number
900 ; refresh
600 ; retry
86400 ; expire
3600 ) ; default TTL

Address (A) Record Entry: The address (A) record is added to the forward lookup zone of the domain and it is associated with the IP addresses of the web server, which will handle the requests for the domain. There can be multiple A records, in which case, it will use the round robin DNS load balancing mechanism to assign the requests.

foodomain.com IN A 123.2.33.45.
foodomain.com IN A 123.2.33.46.

Alias (CNAME) Entry: A canonical name (CNAME) record maps an alias to the real name, Note that an alias for www is setup as a CNAME, so that requests to www.domain.com is sent to the same website that handles the requests for domain.com.
www IN CNAME foodomain.com.

Name Server (NS) Record: The NS record is used to define the name servers for the domain. It may seem unnecessary to keep a record of the name server in the DNS entry because the name server lookup is already present in the registrar records, where the lookup for the domain starts. This record is needed, incase, someone requires to know the name servers for this domain. The NS records are mapped to CNAME entries (ns1 and ns2 in the example below).

foodomain.com IN NS ns1.dnsserver.com.
foodomain.com IN NS ns2.dnsserver.com.

Mail Exchanger (MX) Setup: The mail exchanger domain configuration is required if an email server is setup to handle the domain mail accounts. For example, an email address like joe@foodomain.com will require a domain setup for resolving the mail server for foodomain.com. The setup is similar to the CNAME setup but with MX records. There can be multiple MX records (e.g. for backup mail servers).

foodomain.com IN MX 10 mail.foodomain.com.

Note: Test the DNS setup of the domain using DNSReport.com. This site provides a detailed report of any DNS misconfigurations and possible solutions.

Configuring Web Server For Domain
Once the DNS server is setup to send the request for the domain to the corresponding IP address, the work of the web server begins. The web server needs to be configured appropriately to handle the request for the domain based on either the IP address or the host header entry. Host headers are commonly used by web servers to host multiple domains on one IP address.

Microsoft Windows IIS : In case of Internet Information Server (IIS), create a new web site for the domain using the IIS Manager, and add the domain (e.g. domain.com) as a new host header value listening to the same IP address as specified in the DNS entry. The port is set to 80 (the default for http requests). The host header can be added by clicking on the advanced tab next to the IP address configuration for that web site application. Set the home directory for the domain web site to the directory (e.g. C:\Inetpub\wwwroot\). Add another host header entry for www.foodomain.com so that anyone can access the website when typing with www in the beginning.

Apache Web Server : In case of Apache web server, the subdomain is configured by virtual host entries in httpd.conf as shown below.

Listen 80
NameVirtualHost *

<VirtualHost *>
ServerName www.domain.com
DocumentRoot /home/httpd/htdocs/
</VirtualHost>

<VirtualHost *>
ServerName domain.com
DocumentRoot /home/httpd/htdocs/
</VirtualHost>

Conclusion
Domain configuration starts with an entry with a domain registrar, and the registrar record maps the domain to name servers, which contains the detailed DNS entries for the domain. The lookup for the domain name at the designated DNS server resolves the domain to an IP address of the web server. The web server in turn delegates the requests based on its configuration for the domain.

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