Unless you are physically running a website, you may not know exactly what a domain name is or how it works. The simple answer is that a domain name is the address that the browser uses to find a website. Domain names are used in web addresses (www.domainname.com) and in an email address (firstname.lastname@example.org). It is a unique identifier for a website or email account.
What is a Doman Name?
There are two parts to every domain name; a second-level domain and a top-level domain. The top-level domain is the ending notation of the domain name. Examples of the top-level portion of a domain name is .com, .net or .edu. Some top-level domains are restricted for use with only certain type of organizations or countries. For instance, .edu is reserved for schools while .gov is only for government agencies. The second-level domain is usually picked by the owner upon registration if it is available. In the web address, www.google.com, "google" is the second-level domain.
What is it used for?
Every website, or web server, has an IP address (four sets of numbers used to locate a computer connected to the Internet). To be able to access a website, the Internet browser needs to know the IP address to locate it on the server. Trying to remember the IP address for every website that you visit frequently can be difficult at best. This is where domain names come in; they are easy to remember and use identifiers that are linked to the IP addresses of the web servers that houses websites.
Instead of trying to remember a long set of numbers, the Domain Name System (DNS) holds the IP address that is tied to the domain name. Once referenced, the DNS looks up the IP address and pulls up the website automatically.
How does it work?
When setting up a website, you purchase a domain name and a hosting account (a web server to house the website). These items can be purchased from two separate businesses or from the same. It is usually more cost-effective to purchase them separately. You may find that, although most hosting companies offer low-cost hosting, a cheaper price for a domain name can be found at companies who specialize in registering domain names. The same can be said for companies offering low-cost domain name registration; their hosting packages almost doubles the lowest packages offered elsewhere.
After purchasing both elements (domain name and hosting account), the domain name needs to be pointing to (or referencing) the location of the hosting account. To do this, the Domain Name Servers need to be configured to the web servers of the hosting account. After all of this is done, the DNS will be able to point any browsers to the correct IP address of the website once the domain name is typed into the browser.