Basic concepts of domain

What is ‘domain’?

Back in time when Internet was a new discovery, each computer bore a set of numbers – it works just like phone numbers, you had to enter those set of numbers when you try to reach another computer. The problem is, when the number of computers continued to soar, those sets of numbers become so much longer that people could hardly remember them. That was how domain came to place, replacing a set of meaningless numbers with a combination of alphabets and numbers.

Domain name (or simply “domain”) stands for a location on the Internet. It acts just like the home or office address in the real world, that people will be able to find your website through domain. There are no duplicate domains, one domain only represents one location, like yahoo.com – there won’t be more than one yahoo.com on the Internet. The same applies to Lan Kwai Fong, Central – there is one and only one Lan Kwai Fong, Central in this world.

Domain is an online address, the only way for a computer to find a website out of the borderless Internet pool. When someone or a company wants to build a website on the Internet, a domain is a must-have item. Domain also carries functions such as brand building, promotion and SEO, as it is used by people or companies to characterize themselves against one another.

What is ‘sub-domain’?

Sub-domains share the same functions with phone extensions in companies. For instance, let 2123-2123 be the main station phone number on a company. Each of its employees owns a unique phone extension (e.g. 9130). When someone outside the company calls me, he or she needs to call 2123-2123 and then 9130, after connected. Such phone extensions do not require extra application from the phone company, and are under control by the phone system of the company. The same works for sub-domains. When you registered yahoo.com, you may insert any words or symbols before ‘yahoo’ for different purposes.

cn.yahoo.com , hk.yahoo.com , uk.yahoo.com are all sub-domains of yahoo.com representing different regions.

An application is not required for sub-domains. Once a domain is registered, you may add any sub-domain before the domain. ‘www’ is in fact the most common sub-domain – you reach the same site no matter you enter www.yahoo.com or yahoo.com . It’s like one person is responsible for picking up calls to phone extensions and main stations.

Understanding domain correctly

Most people read domain from left to right as in English grammar. Yet when it comes to domains, they should be read from right to left. Take www.yahoo.com.hk as an example. .hk stands for Hong Kong region, .com means commercial, yahoo is the name and www the sub-domain. Once you mastered the right-to-left rule of interpreting domain, you will be able to know the differences between the following domains:-

  1. www.biz.com (.com is a TLD; biz is the domain; www is the sub-domain)
  2. www.biz.com.hk (.hk – Hong Kong; com – commercial; biz – domain; www – sub-domain)
  3. www.biz.hk.com (.com – TLD; hk – domain; www.biz – sub-domain)
  4. www.hk.biz (.biz – TLD; hk – domain; www – sub-domain)

The 1st and 3rd item use .com as domain and have no relation with Hong Kong; the 2nd item is the only Hong Kong domain.

Characteristics of Domain

  • Domains are globally used without conventional regional restrictions. That means a website with a Hong Kong domain can be reached from around the world.
  • Every domain is unique. Once being registered, it cannot be registered and used by other parties. In other words its exclusivity is well preserved.
  • Registrant of domains only has the right to use a certain domain. All domains are owned by government certified domain management institutes but not the person or company who registered the domain. Registrant must pay an annual fee in order to extend the right to use of the domain.

Working mechanism of domains

1. Type the domain in the URL address column: yahoo.com
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2. Your computer, through DNS, translates domain into numbers that computers could understand (i.e. IP address): 216.109.112.135 , before connecting to Yahoo’s computer or server.

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Domain related organizations

As mentioned above, the ownership of all domains lies in government certified domain management institutes but not registrants. ICANN, an international organization responsible for global domain management, is at the top of all domain management institutes. Its main duties are approving and arranging gTLDs & ccTLDs, authorizing registries on domain registration operations, organizing domain services, as well as educations and arbitration of domains.

Different registries are responsible for different types of domains. Verisign, for example, responsible for .com and .net ; while Public Interest Registry deals with .org . The management institutes of ccTLDs are normally departments or companies authorized by the government, e.g. HKDNR for .hk and CNNIC for .cn . For a country or region to register a ccTLD, it is a must to send application to ICANN for approval. The reason why the ccTLD of China is cn but not ch or ca is that the latter two have already been registered by the time China applied. So China could only register cn as ccTLD, and let CNNIC be the ICANN-approved domain management institute.

On the gTLD aspect, all of the terms including application conditions and domain registry authorizations are under direct control by ICANN, which also provides support for registries. On the ccTLD aspect, however, ICANN merely acts as an advisory agency, and has nothing to do with the terms and application conditions of ccTLD of a country.

The domain registration market is an open one, and it is a normal practice for registers to hand over the selling of domains to registrars. There are thousands of registrars all over the world with differentiated prices.

History of Domain Development

1992 – Domain registration began but applications were very few.

1993 – www protocol came to exist on Internet; demand for domain on the rise.

1993 – NSI signed a 5-year contract with the US government becoming the exclusive registration agent for 3 gTLDs – .com , .org & .net . Total number of domain by the time being was around 7,000.

1994 – NSI charged each domain for US$100 as an annual fee, and US$50/year after 2 years.

Early 1998 – Over 1.2M domains were registered through NSI, 90% of them ended in ‘.com’ , generating a revenue of more than US$60M. It was predicted that the amount could reach US$200M in mid-1999.

On July 1 1997, as part of the US government’s Framework for Global Electronic Commerce, President Bill Clinton directed the Department of Commerce to privatize and induce competitions to the domain system, while facilitating the world to take a part in it. On July 2, the Department of Commerce issued an invitation to collect opinions and solutions on a couple of topics, such as the role of the US government in domain management, the overall structure of the domain system, new additions of gTLD, registry policies and trademarks.

On Jan 30 1998, the US Department of Commerce, through its website, announced A Proposal to Improve the Technological Management of Internet Names and Addresses. This so-called “Green Paper”, completed by Clinton with his Internet policy advisor Ira Magaziner, stated that the US government would ‘gradually’ transfer the responsibilities for DNS management to private organizations. The “Green Paper” summarized 4 principles: “Stability” in the course of transformation, support “Competition” in DNS management, “Private, Bottom-up Coordination” to replace government control, and “Representation” that the Internet should reflect a diversity of users both functionally and geographically.

Under such principles, the “Green Paper” suggested formulating a private and non-profit corporation to take over DNS management. The US government ought to hand over the power of DNS management to this corporation by Sept 30 1998, and all of the power no later than Sept 30 2000.

The Clinton government released a White Paper in June 1998 suggesting the DNS management power to be transferred from the government to non-profit organizations. The source of capital was not mentioned in the report, but guidelines and principles were set up that suggested formulating a non-profit organization.

On September 30 1998, the US government terminated the contract with domain supplier NSI, while extending the contract until September 30 2000. According the the agreement, NSI would work with other companies over the registration of TLDs. Starting from March 31 1999, NSI and NTIA (National Telecommunications and Information Administration) were set to gradually activate the shared registration system, before it was fully implemented on June 1 1999.

ICANN, a non-profit registry, was formed in October 1998.They signed an agreement with the US government to take over the responsibilities of IANA (Internet Assigned Numbers Authority), including monitoring policies and agreements related to domains and IP addresses. The government, on the other hand, adopted a non-intervention policy. Since then NSI was no longer the only company for domain registration, and the domain register fee has dropped significantly.

Types of domain