Harley Hahn's
Internet Advisor


Chapter 16...

Getting Your Own Domain Name

The time may come when you want to have your own domain name. For example, if you run a business, you may want an address that is easy to remember, such as important-stuff.com. Or, if you use the Net just for fun, you may want to have a personal domain like coolgal.info, just because it seems like a cool thing to do (which, of course, it is).

In this section, I will explain what you need to do to acquire and use your own domain name.

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How to Get Your Own Domain Name

A domain name only works if the rest of the world has a way to translate your hostnames into IP addresses (see Chapter 4). This means you need to arrange for your domain to be serviced by DNS (the domain name system).

The easiest way to do this is to find an ISP (Internet service provider) to help you. The ISP will arrange two things. First, they will register your domain name with the appropriate authority. Second, the ISP will provide DNS service for your name by adding it to their name server. In addition, the ISP can also arrange to handle mail for your new address, and host a Web site for you.

Let's consider an example.

Say that your name is Elmo and you want to use the domain name important-stuff.com. To start, you find an ISP and arrange for them to register the name important-stuff.com for you. At the same time, they put this domain name in their name server. Your domain is now accessible to anyone on the Net.

Next, your ISP arranges to accept mail on your behalf. This allows people to send mail to an address like:

elmo@important-stuff.com

When messages are sent to this address, they are received by your ISP's mail server and stored until you are ready to read them. If necessary, your ISP can also set up other mail addresses within the same domain, such as:

brandi@important-stuff.com
eric@important-stuff.com
harley@important-stuff.com
sales@important-stuff.com

Finally, you might have your ISP set up a Web site for you under the name www.important- stuff.com. Once this is done, anyone on the Net can access this site by using the URL:

http://www.important-stuff.com/

Thus, having your own domain name means arranging for four separate services:

  • Registering your domain name with the appropriate authority
  • Setting up DNS service for your domain name
  • Arranging for mail service using your domain name
  • Hosting a Web site using your domain name

As you saw in our example, it is common for ISPs to provide all four of these services. Be advised, however, that each of these services costs money, so it is a good idea to shop around for a good price. You do not need to buy all four of these services from the same ISP, although it is certainly more convenient to do so.

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Registering a Domain Name

In Chapter 4, we discussed how there are two types of top-level domains: organizational domains (aero, biz, com, coop, edu, gov, info, int, mil, museum, name, net, org) used mostly — but not exclusively — within the United States, and geographical domains (such as au, ca, fr, jp and uk) used widely outside the U.S. Top-level domains are administered by organizations called REGISTRARS.

For geographical domains, each country has a registrar charged with the responsibility of managing the top-level domain for that country. For example, the ca (Canadian) domain is managed by a Canadian registrar; the fr (French) domain is managed by a French registrar; and so on. (At the end of this section, I have included resources to help you find such registrars.) In some parts of the world, a regional registrar handles the domains for a group of countries.

The organizational top-level domains are handled differently. There are two types of organizational domains: general ones that can be used by anyone for anything they want (see Figure 16-1 below), and specialized ones that can be used only by specific organizations (Figure 16-2).

Figure 16-1: General top-level domains

Domain Description
bizmiscellaneous [businesses]
commiscellaneous [commercial]
infomiscellaneous [information]
namemiscellaneous [individuals]
netmiscellaneous [network providers]
orgmiscellaneous [organizations]

Figure 16-2: Specialized top-level domains

Domain Description
aeroair-transport industry
coopcooperative organizations
eduUnited States universities [educational]
govUnited States federal government
intinternational organizations
milUnited States military
museummuseums

A large number of registrars are authorized to register the general top-level domain names. Any one of these registrars can register a name for one of the following domains: biz, com, info, name, net and org. Since these domains are so popular, the idea is to create competition by having many different registrars. (At the end of this section, you will find resources to help you choose a registrar.)

The specialized top-level domains are different. Each of them is administered by one specific registrar. This ensures that only authorized organizations are able to register such names.

If you want your own domain name, either you or your ISP must register that name with the appropriate registrar. This is done by submitting a form via email. If you are technically knowledgeable, you can do this yourself.If you don't want to bother with the technical details, have your ISP do it for you.

For a geographical domain, you must work with the appropriate organization in your country. For one of the general domains, you must register the name with one of the authorized registrars.

Depending on the domain name you want, there may or may not be a cost for registering it. Some countries register geographical-based names for free, while others charge for the service.

With the general domain names, there is always a fee, usually between $15 to $35 (U.S.) a year. Some registrars require you to pay for a minimum of two years. After that, you can renew year by year, or for a number of years at one time. Thus, it can cost up to $70 up front to register a new name. However, the fee can vary depending on which registrar you use, so do shop around.

— hint —

The yearly domain name registration fee only covers the fee for establishing and maintaining the domain name. There are other costs to consider.

You will still have to pay your ISP for DNS service, mail service and Web site hosting. In addition, some ISPs charge an extra fee if they send in the domain name registration for you (on top of the money you must pay the registrar).

Thus, it is a good idea to shop around and compare ISP fees. They can vary significantly.

Registrars for General Domain Names

    (biz, com, info, name, net, org)

http://www.corenic.org/
http://www.internic.net/regist.html
http://www.icann.org/registrars/accredited-list.html

Registrars for Geographical Domain Names

    (such as: au, ca, ch, es, fr, gr, jp, nz, uk, us...)

http://www.corenic.org/find.htm
http://www.iana.org/cctld/cctld-whois.htm
http://www.norid.no/domenenavnbaser/domreg.html

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Choosing a Domain Name

The first step in choosing a domain name is to decide which top-level domain you want to use. If you are in the U.S., you probably want to use one of the general domains: biz, com, info, name, net or org. If you are outside the U.S., you can choose either a geographical domain or an organizational domain. However, unless you have a good reason to do otherwise, you should probably use the geographical domain for your country.

Next, you need to decide what domain name you want. With an organizational domain, the format will be:

name.domain

for example:

harley.com

When the organizational top-level domains were set up, the intention was that each one would serve a specific audience. For example, net was supposed to be only for network providers; com was supposed to be for commercial organizations (businesses); and org was supposed to be for non-profit organizations and individuals.

However, these guidelines were never enforced and, today, there are no real restrictions. Any of the general domains can be used for anything you want, including the newer ones, biz, info and name.

There are only two limitations to consider. First, the name domain is used for individual names. For example, if your name is Ben Dover, you might register the domain name ben.dover.name.

With the biz domain, you can register any name you want. However, if you register a name that is a registered trademark, you may be forced to give it up, if the company that owns the trademark objects. For example, you won't be able to get the name microsoft.biz.

When it comes to picking a name, there are only a few simple rules you must follow. A name must:

  • Contain no more than 67 characters overall.
  • Contain only letters, numbers and hyphens.
  • Start and end with a letter or number.
  • Cannot have two hyphens in a row.

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Using Whois to Check a Domain Name

Once you know what domain name you want, you must check to see if it is available. To do so, you use a service called WHOIS (pronounced "who is").

There are a number of whois servers on the Net serving the different domains. You can use a whois server to check if a domain name is already in use. If the name is available, you can register it for yourself. Otherwise, you will have to choose a different name.

If a domain name is in use, the whois server will display a summary of the registration information for that name. This is a good way to find out information about who controls a particular domain name. For fun, I have shown the whois information for a typical domain name in Figure 16-3.

Figure 16-3: Whois information for a typical domain name

Microsoft Corporation (MICROSOFT-DOM)
   1 Microsoft Way
   Redmond, WA 98052
   US

Domain Name: MICROSOFT.COM

   Administrative Contact:
      Microsoft Corp   msnhst@MICROSOFT.COM
      One Microsoft Way
      Redmond, WA 98052
      US
      425 882 8080
   Technical Contact:
      Microsoft   msnhst@MICROSOFT.COM
      One Microsoft Way
      Redmond, WA 98052
      US
      425-882-8080

   Record expires on 03-May-2012.
   Record created on 02-May-1991.
   Database last updated on 17-Jan-2003 16:06:23 EST.

   Domain servers in listed order:

   DNS1.CP.MSFT.NET   207.46.138.20
   DNS1.TK.MSFT.NET   207.46.245.230
   DNS3.UK.MSFT.NET   213.199.144.151
   DNS3.JP.MSFT.NET   207.46.72.123
   DNS1.DC.MSFT.NET   207.68.128.151

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Specifying Contact Names When You
Register a Domain Name

You register a domain name by filling out a form and emailing it to a registrar. When you fill out the form, you will have to specify certain information. The forms may differ a bit from one registrar to another. Typically, you will have to specify the name, address and phone number of the person or organization that will own the domain name. You will need to specify the names of three people: a technical contact, an administrative contact, and a billing contact.

The technical contact is the person who will be contacted if a technical problem arises with the domain name. Normally, this contact would be your ISP. The administrative contact is the person who administers the domain name, and the billing contact is the person to whom the invoices will be sent.

My advice is to make sure that you are named as both the administrative and billing contact. In addition, make sure that you, not the ISP, are listed as the owner of the name. Here is why.

Once a domain name is established, the registrar will not let just anyone make changes. After all, you don't want some malevolent person to be able to send in a form by email and steal other people's domains. The only people allowed to make changes are the technical and administrative contacts. When you first register, you specify email addresses for these contacts, and only mail that comes from one of these addresses will be accepted when a change is requested.

It is common for ISPs to put their address down for all three contacts. However, if you ever decide to move your domain name to a different ISP, you will have to get the old ISP to send in the change for you.

Don't let this happen. If your ISP sends in the form for you, insist that you be the administrative contact. That way, no matter what happens, you will have control over your own domain name. (After all, you are paying for it.) Take my word for it: this small precaution can save you a lot of trouble.

Also, when it comes to paying the bills, you want to make sure you are the billing contact to ensure that the invoices go directly to you. If your ISP is the billing contact, they may neglect to forward the bill, and if you don't pay it, you will lose your domain name.

Remember, it's your domain name, so stay in control.

— hint —

When the going gets tough, the tough get their own domain names.

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