Explaining Domain Name Extensions: What do these all mean and how many are there?

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August 21, 2020
Explaining Domain Name Extensions: What do these all mean and how many are there?

When it comes to the functioning of the world wide web, domain names are one of the most crucial elements that allow websites as we know them to exist at all. The other key component is web servers, which themselves play a crucial role in determining a website's domain name.

As you may know already, the domain name of a website consists of two separate parts; the website name and the domain name extension. For example, the website Amazon.com consists of both the name ('Amazon') and the domain name extension (.com).

As of 2020, there are an estimated 359.8 million domain names currently in existence worldwide, on top of billions more subdomains and second-level domains. Since the domain name of your website plays a critical role in its success, reach, SEO, legal environment, and functionality, it helps to have a strong understanding of what domain names are and how they actually work in practice.

With that in mind, let's dive into everything there is to know, including our essential Verpex tips on how to choose a domain name that works for you.

How Many Domains Names Are There?

As mentioned, there are hundreds of millions domain names currently in existence, with countless new ones being added every single day.

However, to better understand this essential component of the digital infrastructure that we depend on for so much, it helps to break this figure down further. Let's start by looking at the so-called 'top-level' domain names (TLDs).

These are the 'main' domain names that you are probably most familiar with, such as '.com', 'net', and '.edu'. There are around 1000 TLDs in use around the world right now, although '.com' is by far the most popular, constituting 46.5% of all website domain names.

Then there are the ccTLDs, or country code top-level domains, such as '.us', '.cn', and '.br'. These are used to identify a website with a specific region and are often deployed to let users know where a site is targeting its services toward.

Then there are the gTLDs, or generic top-level domains, which includes genre-focused domains such as '.gov' and '.edu'. All of these play an important role in the functioning of websites and the wider internet. Knowing how to choose a domain name requires an understanding of these essential categories.

Who is Responsible for Managing Domain Names?

Believe it or not, the domain name system is actually organized and enforced by a centralized authority.

The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN), founded in 1998 and headquartered in Los Angeles, is the body that is responsible for deciding which domain names are 'permitted' and designing the legal framework that governs how domain names are given out and allowed to function.

Much of ICANN's remit is derived from the original Domain Name System, which was designed by the University of Wisconsin in 1983 to map text names to numerical IP addresses. It is this system, still in use today, that allows you to find a website by typing in a name, rather than typing in a lengthy sequence of numbers.

How Do I Get the Domain Name Country Extension That I Want?

If you are looking to focus your website toward a certain territory or region, then you have probably considered obtaining the relevant geographic domain name. The most straightforward way to achieve this is to choose a web hosting server location that is in or at least near to the actual country or region that you wish to offer your services in.

When learning how to choose a domain name, it helps to know that you are not restricted by your physical location. As a business owner, you do not necessarily need a physical address in a country that you wish to use a domain name of. Rather, you can simply use an overseas server that is based in that country to host your website.

Additionally, you can also use specific services that will help you get the country-code domain you seek by establishing a 'virtual' presence for you in that territory. This is a common practice that is used by some of the world's largest companies.

What Do the Different Domain Name Extensions Actually Mean?

While we have already covered some of the more obvious domain name extension meanings, it is worth covering the ones that you might not immediately know the meaning of. For example, if you have ever seen the '.mil' extension, then you are looking at a site that is operated exclusively by the US Department of Defense or its affiliate agencies.

You may have seen the '.io' domain name in common use, especially with tech companies. While this ostensibly stands for the Indian Ocean, as it is the country code for that territory, the '.io' domain is so popular with tech companies because it can also be taken to mean 'input/output', a commonly used tech term, for obvious reasons.

There are also some more humourous, commercially-oriented domain names that you might have stumbled across. As we explained in our round-up of the funniest domain names approved by ICANN, a domain name clearly does not have to be strictly professional. Examples such as '.rich', '.wax.', and '.blockbuster' are all officially-approved domains that are in use today, for some reason.

Why is Choosing the Right Domain Name So Important?

Whether you're acting as an individual or on behalf of a business, knowing how to choose a domain name that works is absolutely crucial for success. Your domain name is essentially your online brand name, a powerful marketing tool that can be used to ensure that your company sticks in people's heads.

Your domain name also signals the trustworthiness of your site, especially if it is aligned with a reputable gTLD or ccTLD. It can even have an impact on your website's loading speeds and SEO rankings, both of which will have a substantial impact on the level of traffic that you actually receive.

Domain names are a fascinating if undiscussed part of the infrastructure that much of the world depends on every single day. If you are wondering how to choose a domain name that works for you, make sure to remember the principles laid out in this article.

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