DNS (domain name system) is flexible. You can use real domain names and you can use nonexistent domain names. What you can do with them depends on where you use them. Something like DNS existed before the world wide web.
Without DNS, we would be relying on bookmarks to IP addresses. Web addresses, including email addresses, would be difficult to keep up with.
There are more domain name registrars than you can shake a stick at. You don’t believe me? Do a search of “register a domain name” and see what the results show you. Valid results span several pages. It’s a good idea to shop around.
If you understand the domain name system, then you’re ahead of most of the population in your understanding. I’ll briefly explain some of it. A fully qualifying domain name can consist of two or more parts, separated by periods (also called dots). The rightmost part is the top-level domain name. More get added all the time, with the most well-known being “com”, “net” and “org”.
While two parts are the least that can be used online, domain names can consist of enough parts to be considered ridiculous. A two-part domain name is sometimes called an “apex” or “bare” domain name. When the web was new, “www.” was tacked to the front of them to signify web addresses. It was eventually considered superfluous.
Most “www” addresses map to the same resources as the addresses without them. Although it’s common, it’s not required, so certain entities shouldn’t rely on it. The “www” is a subdomain of the domain name. You can replace it with anything and many people do. I’ve done it in the past and I’ll probably do it again in the future.
Although I’m only familiar with the hosts file on Linux and Windows machines (and Android devices), they probably work the same way on other operating systems. ARPANET used a centralized text file for the same purpose before the web came into existence. Certain anti-malware programs rely on them, mapping domain names to loopback addresses.
Domain names created solely for use within a local network, without being registered, aren’t visible to everyone else on the internet. Because a real name can be “overwritten” by a local one, it’s best to use domain names that can’t be registered. Here’s a list of the ones I know about:
I use “local” for the homegrown CMS I’m working on. You can try to connect to “www.cms.local” and all I can say is good luck. It’s mapped to the 127.0.0.1 loopback address on my Linux Mint machine and the 192.168.0.100 private network address on my Android phone. I have my IPv4 address on my laptop manually set to 192.168.0.100.
The hosts file is located at these paths:
The format is the same for all of them:
# Laptop (Windows and Linux)
127.0.0.1 cms.local www.cms.local
# Android Phone
126.96.36.199 cms.local www.cms.local
Having my phone looking at my laptop for that domain lets me test everything just like it’s on the real web, even though it isn’t.
I’m aware of only a few free domain names. They can all be registered through Freenom and they end with “cf”, “ga”, “gq”, “ml” and “tk”. All of them are African nations except for “tk”, which belongs to a territory of New Zealand. Because they can be registered for free, they’re frequently abused by spammers and other nefarious entities.
Freenom, by the way, is a registrar for other domain names too. Their rates seem to be pretty low, lower than the registrar I’m still using. I’ve thought about moving mine to theirs but I don’t want to take any chances. If only one thing goes wrong, my website could be offline a lot longer than I anticipate. It’s not worth it for me just to save a few bucks per year.
There isn’t a good reason to try to register short domain names, with most already taken by both legitimate owners and cyber-squatters. Instead, you should focus on easy to remember and easy to type domain names. If it was available, batman.com would fill that criteria nicely. It isn’t, of course, but I’m sure you see my point.
There’s another way that’s even easier: Use one bare domain name with multiple subdomain names. In this case, the bare domain name should be as short as possible. Google does it with blogspot.com and WordPress (the hosted version) does it with WordPress.com and I don’t think either is short. Mine is only four characters in front of the top-level domain name and I was lucky to get it when I did.
I’ve hosted several subdomain names in the past and if you search for “rtcx.net” on Google and start paging, you’ll spot some of them. I haven’t used any of those in more than a year, maybe two. Here’s the thing: Google, Bing and other search engines treat all the subdomain names as separate domain names. Except for “www”, that is. I’m not sure how they treat that these days.
When Google did a test run once, they had all the “www” domains redirecting to the bare domain names (and I think it was only with Google Chrome). That was the wrong thing to do. Luckily, they haven’t tried it again.
I’ve thought of hosting static websites for other people, like GitHub and GitLab do, but I’ve always decided against it. I’ve also thought of doing more, like Google and WordPress (and others), but I don’t want to start a business. I don’t want to compete. Memories of my last web-based business still haunt me.
Unless you’re using your email address in a professional capacity, I don’t see the point in using your own domain name. Using your own means you have to either host your own mail server or pay someone to host it for you.
It’s much easier to route contact form email through the bigger players: Gmail, Microsoft Outlook online and Yahoo Mail. Their domain names may not seem professional enough for your website but how professional do you need to be if you’re not a brand?