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All About Domain Names 
Jump to: Do you control your domain name?

What, How, & Why 

A domain name is your organization's key to communication for the future. Unfortunately most business people don't know even a few basic facts about them. This can lead to trouble down the road for your online presence.

1. What is a domain name? A domain name is simply a system for providing a human-memorable name for a particular computer on the Internet. Properly speaking, computers have numerical addresses, sort of like a phone number. The domain name system provides a translation from a name to the appropriate number (sort of a directory assistance for the Internet). For example, www.ford.com is much easier than 198.108.89.236 for humans to type and remember.

The US government has formed a corporation call ICANN to manage domain registration companies. Originally only Network Solutions sold and managed the top-level domains of .org, .com, .net, and .edu. Now there are many companies accredited to sell domains. New TLDs (Top Level Domains) have been approved by ICANN.

Other countries have their own top-level domains, which are managed by other companies (e.g., .tv belongs to the nation of Tuvalu and is now available--e.g., for cbs.tv, espn.tv, etc.).

Whatever the source of your domain, be certain to read all policies and instructions for managing your domain carefully. You want to be certain you have the ability to make changes to your hosting/email/etc. at your own will.

2. How do domain names work? When someone with a computer connected to the Internet wants to communicate with another computer, they need to tell their software what computer they want it to connect to. Computers on the Internet use IP addresses to locate one another. Say you ran Netscape on your computer and you want to look at the latest model of Ford car. Your computer can only connect to the Ford computer if it has the IP (Internet Protocol) address of it (which happens today to be 198.108.89.236). So far, this is similar to the telephone--you couldn't call your Ford dealership unless you knew the telephone number.

If you knew that www.ford.com was hosted on a machine with the IP address of 198.108.89.236, you could just type http://198.108.89.236/ into Netscape. Similarly, if you happened to remember or have written down someone's phone number you could just dial it. However, most people don't want to deal with these obscure numbers. The domain name system allows you to type http://www.ford.com into Netscape instead. The software on your computer then translates this name into the IP address for you and makes the connection. It's as if your phone were smart enough to transparently call directory assistance if you told it to call someone whose phone number you and it didn't know.

Here's how the translation works: When Netscape sees the name www.ford.com entered it asks the computer's network software to go get the corresponding IP address for it. Your computer's network software then asks your Internet Service Provider's DNS (Domain Name Server) for the IP address of www.ford.com. Your computer knows how to find the ISP's DNS because you gave it the addresses when you set up your connection to the Internet. The ISP probably gave you the IP numbers of its DNS to be entered into the network configuration. (More recent systems can set themselves up automatically, so these details are hidden.) In turn, the ISP's DNS asks Internic for the address of the DNS that manages all of ford.com. The ISP's DNS then contacts the Ford DNS and asks it for the IP address for www.ford.com. You can think of this as calling the phone company's directory assistance number and asking for the main number of Ford, and then calling the Ford operator to ask for the number a particular person. The IP address is then sent back to your computer, which gives it to Netscape, which contacts the www.ford.com computer directly via the IP address.

3. Why do I want a domain name? There are several advantages to a domain name:

Do You Control Your Domain? 

Registration of your domain name is usually handled by the Internet Service Provider that is going to be hosting your e-mail or Web services. A small fee (around $50) is quite reasonable for this service. Unfortunately, not all Service Providers are as consciencious as others about making it possible for you to take the best advantage of domain names: moving if you are unhappy. The majority are very good, but not all.

There are a two key things to make certain are correct on your domain registration:

  1. The registrant
  2. The administrative contact
The registrant is the most important. It indicates who owns the domain name. When push comes to shove with Internic, it is a fax on letterhead from a signer of the company listed as the registrant that has final say in the domain name's use and listing.

The administrative contact is second most important. It is one of the people who controls routine changes to the domain name. (For example: changing service providers or fixing typos in the record) The Billing and Technical Contacts can also okay changes but you want to be listed as Administrative Contact so as to have the most authority for making changes. The Technical Contact is almost always your Internet Service Provider.
If you currently have a domain name, we strongly recommend that you check it now to make certain it has been set up properly. If you have any questions, please don't hesitate to email us at support@web-arch.com.
Type your domain name in below to get a copy of your record from Internic:

Then scroll down to check it against the example.

Anatomy of a Domain Name Record 

Example Domain Name Record for ford.com
At the top is the Registrant. This is the company/organization of record for the domain name.
Make certain that your company is listed as the registrant on your record! If you aren't the registrant, then your domain name is not really yours and you will not be able to make any changes to it.

Registrant:
Ford Motor Company (FORD-DOM)
   330 Town Center Drive
   Fairlane Plaza South Suite 600
   Dearborn, MI 48126

Second is the Domain Name that you queried.

   Domain Name: FORD.COM
Third is the Administrative Contact. This should be someone (preferable the most stable) member of your organization. This person has the ability to fix typos and reassign the Technical and Billing Contacts.
Make certain that a current member of your organization is the Administrative Contact
ALSO make certain that the email address of the Administrative Contact is valid and STAYS VALID. (If you registered with Network Solutions we highly recommend you use the Guardian Plan) For whatever service you are using, sign up for the highest authentication you can.

Make absolutely certain that before losing access to that email address that you fill out a Contact Information Modification Form (for Network Solutions) or whatever email change process your registrar has. It can be a real nuisance if you want to make a change and are no longer able to send the necessary email. (Note: the first box on the Network Solutions change form asks for the "Contact Handle"--this is the letters and numbers in ( ) after the contact's name (in this case, JW531). Only the contact can make changes, which is why you want someone you know to be listed.)

   Administrative Contact:
      Wright, Jack  (JW531)  jwright@TCS.FS.FORD.COM
      (313) 845-1713
Fourth is the Technical Contact. This is probably an employee of your Internet Service Provider. Ford manages their own servers.
   Technical Contact, Zone Contact:
      Ignasiak, Todd J. (TJI)  tignasia@FORD.COM
      (313) 337-6871 (FAX) (313) 845-2491
Next is Billing Contact. You guessed it, this is the person who gets the bills for keeping the record active. The e-mail address on this one can be important if you signed up for e-mail-based invoicing. If the address is wrong, you won't get your bill and your domain name will go bye-bye.
   Billing Contact:
      Ignasiak, Todd J. (TJI) tignasia@FORD.COM
      (313) 337-6871 (FAX) (313) 845-2491
Some creation and update dates are next.
   Record last updated on 17-Sep-97.
   Record created on 01-Sep-88.
   Database last updated on 22-Oct-98 05:46:29 EDT.
Last are the DNS servers (there must be at least two) that answer Domain Name Lookup queries to the world when someone types your domain name into a web browser or sends you an email. These servers are usually managed by the Technical Contact's company, though they don't have to be. Often Internet Service Providers will outsource DNS hosting to yet another Service Provider. So if the domain names on the Domain servers don't look familiar, it is probably okay.
   Domain servers in listed order:

   DNS004.FORD.COM              136.1.1.20
   WWWBAK.FORD.COM              198.108.89.225

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