What is a domain?

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You’ve decided what you’re going to do, you’ve gotten some funding, and you have a plan for your new project’s online presence. Or perhaps you’re revamping your branding and you’ve hired an agency to help you with a new website. Your agency asks about your domain. Do you have one registered? Have you thought about what it’ll be? Do you know what domain name extension it should have, maybe it should be .com, .co.uk, .info, a .art, or maybe even .me?

All these questions, and the process of registering a domain, can be a world of jargon and confusion if you’re going through this alone for the first time or if it’s been a while since you’ve had to think about it. At HdK, we make sure this is process is as simple as possible, but if you want to know a little about the magic behind domains this article is for you.

Once your website’s been designed, built and becomes live to the world, you probably won’t even think about the fact that you registered a domain. Not until you get a renewal notice in say one year’s time and you ask yourself what this is all about and why are you paying for something when you’re unclear what it even is.

What is a domain?

A domain, like wearehdk.com, is commonly described as the way people make it easier to remember an IP address. Have you ever seen an ad which jingles out a telephone number like 100-PIZZA? Songs and word associations are one of the ways the brain learns narratives, there’s a lot of incredible research into how the human brain uses a narrative to learn many different skills, even how to physically navigate around obstacles.

What's an IP address?

An IP address is a series of numbers that can be hard to memorise, and every website has one. The IP address is for wordpress.org but how likely are you to remember it? If you’re like me, you’d try to remember the numbers by attaching them to events or people (198 would maybe stand for 1st September 2008), but remembering hundreds of IP addresses would be really difficult.

Without domains, you’d need to type in an IP address to see a website. Technically, these days, not all websites have their own unique IP addresses, but we don’t need to go into that right now.

Why do I have a domain and an IP address?

Most people won’t know the IP address for their website, because there’s no need for you to remember it. When you ask an agency to build you a website, they’d go through the process of ‘pointing’ your domain to an IP address. This means that they’d create a link between the two, which results in your website displaying on someone’s mobile or desktop computer when they searched for your domain.

The best way I was taught to think about it was like this: We have a company called HdK, and our business is located at 128 Hoxton Street N1 6SH. The name of the company ‘HdK’ is like the domain, we’ve registered it with the authorities and it’s unique to us. The location at 128 Hoxton Street is like our IP address, if you go to that location you’ll find our office and you can talk to us about what we do. Perhaps we decide to move to a different office a few blocks away from 128 Hoxton Street because they have an on-tap ice cream station(!). We’d still be HdK (domain), but we’ve changed our address to take you to a different location (IP address). The same applies when you have a new website built for an existing domain, your IP address changes but your domain remains the same.

This might help explain why you may have a DNS (Domain Name Service) hosting fee for your domain name as well as a website hosting fee for the website itself. The two are different, but they work hand-in-hand to identify your business name and what your website visitor sees when they visit your site.

Claire van Blerck - Project Co-ordinator & Developer