What if you could get unlimited domain names without paying anything to anyone? And what if you could be part of a network that only a limited amount of people know about?
Both of these things are possible, on both local area networks and the Internet itself. Of course, both of these things also have limited uses.
If you work with traditional Internet registrars, you can get domain names at low prices but never for free. You can get them for free with alternative DNS root providers but they won’t be visible to most of the world.
While working with alternative DNS root providers may seem complicated, it isn’t. The OpenNIC Project can explain it a lot better than I can. If you want to register domain names with specific top-level domain names, one of their wiki pages lists the websites you can use to register them. Of course, none of those websites will work unless you use their DNS IP addresses.
The OpenNIC system works well because you can reach the regular Internet websites as well as the OpenNIC websites (again, as long as you use their DNS IP addresses). Other OpenNIC users can reach your websites.
You can use these top-level domain names on your local development computer, on a computer attached to a LAN and even on the Internet. You just have to know how to reach them.
This is the list:
I use “.local” on my laptop and I use “.test” with my web hosting provider (DigitalOcean). To use any of them, you have to add them to your computer’s “hosts” file.
On Windows, it’s at “c:\Windows\System32\Drivers\etc\hosts”. On Linux, it’s at “/etc/hosts”. I can only assume it’s at “/etc/hosts” on any UNIX derivative, including the Mac.
I’ve never used an alternative DNS root provider and I probably never will. It’s something I would consider if I wanted a large group of people to have unfettered access without being impeded by their ISPs in any way.
I’ve used invisible domains more times than I can count, but not with reserved top-level domain names. DNS propagation isn’t immediate when getting new domain names or when transferring them from provider to provider. Setting up invisible domains on the intended providers allows me to get them up and running before they become visible. I just have to remember to remove those domain names from my “hosts” file after a couple of days.
I don’t use “.test” domains very often. It’s usually when I’m trying to make sure something works exactly the same way on the Internet as it does on my laptop.