Have you ever typed in a domain name & wondered how it came to be?
Probably not – when functioning & designed at its best, the internet provides a seamless form of data transfer.
The information or content you are seeking out is just THERE – and as long as you can see it, hear it, watch it, or read it without problems, there is no need to question how the architecture of this system works.
The beauty of advanced civilization is specialization – you don’t HAVE to know about internet architecture because there’s plenty of other people out there who do.
But the internet is supposed to provide a bottom-up democratization of information, right? That depends on who you talk to.
Regardless, just like a regular democracy – if you don’t understand how it works, it is hard to make it work for you & it is bound to work against you from time to time.
So let us explore, at least superficially & simplistically, the workings of the DNS – the Domain Name System.
This article is divided into 3 parts.
Part 1: discussion of IP addresses, domain names & the Domain Name System.
Part 2: what is ICANN?
Part 3: ICANN and the debate over a new approval process for domain names.
Think of the DNS as an electronic telephone book.
This “phone book” is comprised of IP (Internet Protocol) Addresses, which are the individual numbers associated with each computer or device connected to the internet.
When computers talk to each other on the internet to send & receive information, they determine how & where to do so using IP Addresses.
One of the main functions of the DNS is to associate a given IP Address with a “hostname.” A hostname is simply a domain name that is associated with a particular IP Address.
Thus, like a telephone book associates a person’s name with their phone number, the DNS associates a hostname with an IP address.
(Note – this “phone book” analogy is not 100% accurate, as the DNS is not used to associate a given IP Address with a user’s name, as this information is not publicly available.)
To clarify, the IP Address itself is simply a string of numbers associated with a given computer on the internet.
A domain name is simply a string of letters. A hostname is a domain name that is associated with a particular IP Address.
“Domain name” and “hostname” are often used interchangeably because the distinction between them is quite subtle. For simplicity in this article, I will be using the term “domain name” to refer generally to hostnames.
The Domain Name System is the internet protocol (phone book) that manages this connection between hostnames and IP Addresses. The DNS is the reason internet users don’t have to type in long strings of numbers to get to a particular website.
Every domain name ends in a “top level domain” (TLD). There are different types of TLDs.
Generic TLDs (gTLDs) are the most common. Currently approved gTLDs are:
.com, .org, .net, .biz, .aero, .info, .name, .museum, .cat, .coop, .jobs, .mobi, .tel, and .travel.
Uses of certain gTLDs are restricted. These are - .edu, .mil, .gov and .int.
There are also Country Code TLDs (ccTLDs), such as .br, .ca, .cn, .fr, .jp, .mg, .mx and .uk, among others.
Directly to the left of the TLD is the SLD – the Second Level Domain. For example, in the domain name www.melonews.com, “.com” is the TLD and “melonews” is the SLD.
Sometimes there is further information to the left of the SLD, and this is the Third Level Domain. To the left of the Third Level Domain is the Fourth, and so on.
The DNS did not appear out of nowhere, and its administration and management does not occur magically. The DNS is run by ICANN, the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers.
All of this has been background information for Part 2 of this article. Part 2 will focus on ICANN, which is charged with managing the DNS. Part 3 focuses on a rising debate over the approval of new Generic Top Level Domains (gTLDs). Within this debate are the swirling issues of international trademarks and free speech.