Web domains and ownership

What makes a web site a domain name is a name for a computer. On the Internet computers are actually not named, but numbered. You may have already seen this numbering without realizing it, for it is the "IP Address" which is assigned by your Internet Service Provider. Or you may have been lucky, as advances in Internet software make connecting to the Internet more and more reliable every year. An IP address (of the old style, the new style isn't quite being used yet) is a series of four numbers like "10.0.134.230".

You could spend years learning the details of what that number means, and it won't help you with publishing your web site. What's important is that you know that every computer on the Internet has at least one of those numbers assigned to it, and that the number is very user-unfriendly. The domain name system was invented to make the Internet more user friendly, as names are much easier to remember than numbers. Telephone numbers aside (or do telephone numbers prove the point?).

There are a vast array of computers involved just with maintaining the domain name system. These computers, called "DNS Servers" (short for "Domain Name System Servers"), are what answers the question "What IP Address matches the name example.com". The DNS Servers are continually answering this type of question, all day long, every day of the year, because every time a computer is given a domain name it has to find the matching IP address before it can connect with the computer.

Domain names are purchased from "Domain Registrars", which are the specialized companies that operate the domain name system. Even the big web sites pay fees to the domain registrars. The fees paid to the domain registrars go to maintaining the domain name system, and thus saving everybody from a tyranny of numbers (IP Addresses).

Domain ownership

To process to get a domain name is termed "registering". One "registers" a domain name, and then one is considered its owner. In actuality, the ownership of the domain name is reflected in four "contact's":

  • Administrative Contact: This is the person who is contacted regarding any decisions with respect to the domain name.
  • Organizational Contact: This is the organization or group that is associated with the registered domain name.
  • Technical Contact: This is the person who handles the technical aspects of your domain, such as hosting your web site, as well as making decisions regarding IP Addresses, aliases, MX Records and authoritative name servers for the domain name.
  • Zone Contact: This contact is typically the same individual as the Technical contact.
  • Billing Contact: This is the person who is responsible for initial and recurring billing for the domain name. Keep in mind that it is very important to keep your billing information up to date.

I should point out that the contact information for each domain name is public knowledge. More information is on this page:

http://www.internetprivacyadvocate.org/ProtectYourPersonalInfo.htm

The service used to find this contact information is the WHOIS database, and you can make WHOIS queries at one of these sites:

http://www.internetprivacyadvocate.org/ProtectYourPersonalInfo.htm

http://www.networksolutions.com/en_US/whois/index.jhtml

http://www.whois.net/

http://www.internic.net/whois.html

That it's public knowledge is important for many reasons, for example if that domain is being used to abuse the Internet then you can find out the owners or adminstrators of that site and make complaints. The flip side of the ownership being public knowledge is that you will be SPAM'd, both in your email and physical mail. The public records of domain ownership are an obvious source of possible customers for some services, and those people offering those services have every right to access the public records of domain ownership and use them for their own ends. This is exactly the same as all the solicitations for business services you get after filing for a business license.

Domains can be purchased as part of your web hosting package, or separately. I prefer to get the domain name separately, as then if I want to shift from one web hosting provider to another it is easier to transfer the domain name. Often, if it is much simpler to register the domain name with the web hosting package.

You most definitely should do your best to keep your domain name when moving between web hosting providers. That domain name is the identification you will have gone by. Just like changing any other name, changing your domain name is a small hassle which can be avoided. Especially as it's very hard to know who it is that knows your domain name, so if you were to change your domain name how can you notify all the old users of your web site what the new domain name is? If you shift to a new domain name, you must start all over again from scratch to establish visitors, whereas by keeping the name your old visitors will automatically find your web site even on the new server.

The official and complete list of domain registrars is here:

http://www.icann.org/registrars/accredited-list.html