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All About Domain Names
Contributor: Mike de Sousa, Director, AbleStable®

Domain names are the currency of contact on the Internet If you own a domain name or are considering taking the plunge you'll be well advised to keep the following issues at the forefront of your mind.

What is a domain name?
Domain names are made up of several elements. The top level domain (TLD), for example .com, is preceded by a sub level domain (in our case this is ablestable). Together the top level and sub level are grouped together to create a domain name (in our case our domain name is ablestable.com).

Domain names are leased for a specified time period (they are not owned outright), and renewal fees are required at certain intervals depending on the domain owners payment preferences.

The business of connecting
Every time you connect to the Internet your Internet Service Provider (ISP) assigns you an Internet Protocol (IP address) that uniquely identifies your computer. Domain names convert these numbers into letters which are organised within the Domain Name System (DNS). The DNS recognises your IP address and makes the contact possible between one computer and another.

Your IP address can be either static, meaning it never changes, or dynamic, meaning each time you dial-in or login you are assigned a new address for that session. Check with your Internet service provider or network administrator to find out if your computer uses static or dynamic IP addressing.

Understanding Whois?
The Whois is an Internet directory service (a 'registrar' in the case of domain names) for looking up names of people, and information relating to domain names on a remote server. Each Top Level domain (.com; .net etc) hosts their own Whois server that allows users to enquire about what domain names are currently registered with them.

Each registrar maintains a Whois server containing contact and nameserver information for domains registered with them. The InterNIC maintains a central, registry Whois server, which contains nameserver and registrar information for all .com, Net and .org domains. Registrars provide a registration system for use by Web hosting companies, ISPs, Web site design firms and other providers of Internet services who sell domain names and SSL certificates to their customers. Keep in mind the following two important principles when using a Whois service:

• Only the Whois server of a domains' registrar of record can be considered authoritative. Some Registrar's configure their Whois server to perform a 'registry lookup' for other Registrar's domain names; some will even go so far as to perform a lookup on another registrar's Whois server. However, the only sure way to check domain availability or get contact and expiry information is to perform a Whois query with the domain's registrar of record.

• Many Whois databases are not updated in realtime, so that you can make a change to record, but the change will not appear in the Whois output (most often within 24 hours, but on occasion up to 48 hours).

The Whois search will provide details about the administrator, technical, and billing contact for domain names, and the domain name servers (DNS). Domain name owners are strongly advised to ensure they are listed in their Whois lookup as the domain name Administrator
, and most importantly, that the domain name Administrator's e-mail address is their own. Should domain name owners wish to change their domain name host, it is the administrator of that domain name who is e-mailed to sanction the transfer.

Expiry Date
The expiry date of domain names are crucial in determining when a domain name is due for renewal. Failure to renew a domain name before the expiry date can result in the immediate deletion of that domain name.

Name Servers
There are usually two, at times three, name-servers for a domain name. Typically, a single name server will be configured as the primary name server for a domain. For backup purposes, a number of other name servers may be configured as secondary name servers. From the standpoint of DNS, there is no difference between primary and secondary name servers, since the resolving algorithm simply uses a domain's NS records in the order provided. Typically, the primary name server is listed first, followed by the secondaries, but this is not a requirement.

Buying a domain name
There are countless domain name resellers out there so carry out some careful research before you buy from the cheapest. Here's a check list of what to expect when deciding on your domain name host:

Free Unlimited Mail Forwarding (redirect your domain e-mail to any e-mail account)

Free Unlimited Web Forwarding (direct to your website to any ISP)

Free Transfer to any ISP - anytime (Change IPS-tag and/or DNS server information)

Secure ordering of the domain name (SSL/PGP encryption)

All registry fees included

Control panel for each domain with 24 hour access

Conclusion
The Domain Name System (DNS) is hugely significant in defining on-line identity. Any business or individual not owning a domain name will be at a disadvantage on-line as domain names are increasingly used as economic and personal identifiers.

     
       
 
Authors background
Mike de Sousa is the Director of AbleStable®. Mike has been commissioned as an artist, music composer, photographer, print and web site designer, and author.

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