A Domain Name Is...
Domain names are essentially memorable website names used by everyday users of the internet rather than IP addresses, which are long strings of numbers not easily remembered. For marketing and usability reasons, then, we can be grateful that it is possible to map these memorable website names to a particular IP address. This way, when someone points their browser to a memorable domain name from the address bar, the contents of the website in question, stored at the linked IP address, can be found and displayed.
Though they are being mapped to unique IP addresses, it is possible for multiple domains to be mapped to the same IP address. This would only ever be done by design, however, and regulations ensure that no two people can own a single domain at the same time. If someone already owns a domain name you have your eye on it, you can open a domain backorder to put yourself in a pool of applicants vying for the domain. When the present owner allows their term of ownership to expire, your registrar will do their best to register that domain name for you. If they are successful, that domain is now yours. This is never guaranteed, however, as others registrars are likely attempting to register the domain at the same time for their own customers.
When it comes to pricing domain names, the pricing is mostly set by the TLD. All TLDs essentially have set pricing which is only rarely adjusted and this pricing determines the price of a domain name. Some registrars, though, do have a separate list of determined ‘premium domains’ which, for reasons of their own, they have decided to charge higher prices for.
If you’d like to know more about how to acquire a domain, you can read our dedicated post on how to buy a domain name.
The difference between a domain name and a website
Websites are literal sets and subsets of folders and the files within them stored on a computer somewhere. The computer will be a powerful server but it’s a computer all the same. On this computer, all of the files and folders holding the web site's content (ie, the resources necessary to render the site) are stored.
This is why every webpage has a URL, or ‘Uniform Resource Locator’. The clue is in the name, as the full URL is the full address of the resources (files) necessary for displaying the contents of the webpage.
Whilst the URL of a particular page of a website encapsulates the entire folder path for that page of the website - in other words, https://www.example.com/blog/myfirstpost is a full URL - the domain name encapsulates the TLD, or ‘top-level domain’ as in .com or .uk, the domain itself (which is our memorable word) and the subdomain, which by convention is commonly ‘www’, but can be anything. In the above example, then, the full domain name is ‘www.example.com’.
Mapping a domain name to an IP address is done through DNS records which are stored on name servers (servers dedicated to storing large numbers of domain names). Typically, these are the registrar’s own name servers, but it is perfectly possible for a user to use another provider’s name servers, despite having his/her domain name registered with that registrar.