You now know that protocols govern the different levels of communications on the Internet, but that’s not the whole story. It’s also important to understand how the different domains that make up web addresses (also called URLs, short for universal resource locators) organize the Internet’s massive amount of information.
Domain Name Server
In addition to protocols, communications over the Internet and by electronic mail (e-mail) are governed with Domain Name Servers (DNS). (You will also see DNS sometimes referred to as Domain Name System or Domain Name Service.)
The location of a website on the Internet is determined by its Internet Protocol (IP) Address, which is also discussed in Internet Protocol & Their Functions. This is a string of integers divided into four parts by dots with each number ranging from 0 to 255. For example: 22.214.171.124.
This numeric system is how computers understand web addresses. Now imagine if we humans had to memorize or record these numbers to visit the Internet’s hundreds of millions of websites. That’s why we use alphabetic names for websites-such as www.thatnetwork.com-that are the equivalent of their numeric counterparts. For example, the domain name www.thatnetwork.com has its own numeric IP Address.
This is where DNS comes in. The DNS system is essentially a huge database-undergoing constant change-that’s used to map domain names to IP Addresses and IP Addresses to domain names. So when you type www.thatnetwork.com in the Address Bar of your web browser, the DNS system takes this request, recognizes this domain name’s numeric IP Address, and then sends the IP Address to your web browser so it will display the web page you requested.
As you can see, navigating the Web without DNS would be difficult indeed.
It’s also useful to understand the different parts of a URL, which is comprised of parts called “domains.” The chief domains of a website are its host name, second-level domain, and its first-level (or top-level) domain.
Let’s use the components of the That Network home page URL as an example.
Host name. The That Network URL is www.thatnetwork.com. The host name is the “www”, which is short for the World Wide Web. This means this web page is hosted on the World Wide Web.
Sometimes you’ll see the “www” is not there and replaced with a different host name. For example, the popular search engine and website portal Yahoo! has different host names for its features. Yahoo!’s Finance section, for example, resides at http://finance.yahoo.c
om, and its Games section is at http://games.yahoo.com. This means these two parts of the massive Yahoo! website reside on different hosts.
Second-level domain. In our initial example (www.thatnetwork.com), the second-level domain is “thatnetwork”. This is often informally referred to as a website’s “domain name,” although the term “second-level domain” is technically correct.
This is the part of the domain name that identifies the business, organization or other entity operating the website. It’s, if you will, the “brand name” of the website. Each second-level domain, combined with the top-level domain, must be unique. That is why registering a second-level domain is required. See Registering a Domain Name for more information.
First-level (top-level) domain. The first-level domain follows the second-level domain and is designed to describe the type or location of the website. In our example, the first-level domain of www.thatnetwork.com is “com”. COM, short for commercial and often referred to as “dot com,” is the most-common first-level domain, and you will see it wherever you go on the Web.
Other popular first-level domains are ORG (organization), MIL (military), EDU (educational institution), and NET (network). In recent years, new first-level domains have been approved, including BIZ (business), AERO (aerospace) and TV (television). There are also two-letter first-level domains for each country. A complete nation list can be found on the Internet Assigned Numbers Authority website at http://www.definethat.com/reference/countrycodes.asp.
Registering a Domain Name
To get a website on the Internet, you must register a second-level domain name combined with a first-level domain name.
Say, for example, you have a business called Acme Whazzits and are looking to sell your products by creating an e-commerce website. You’d probably want to register “AcmeWhazzits.com” as the name of your website.
The second-level domain must not already be taken by someone else, although a second-level domain name can be combined with different first-level domain names. In our example, “AcmeWhazzits.com” and “AcmeWhazzits.biz” and “AcmeWhazzits.net” can be three entirely different websites.
The domain registration process, which has changed over the years, is a fairly quick and painless process. Dozens of websites offer domain registration services for a fee. You just need to pick the best one for you. A comprehensive list can be found on the InterNIC website at http://www.internic.net/regist.html.
Each domain registration website has similar requirements. You enter the domain name you want to use to see if it’s available. If it is, you provide the necessary contact and technical information and pay the fee.
Be sure to only use domain registrars that are accredited by the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN). Only ICANN-accredited registrars are authorized to register the first-level domains of AERO, BIZ, COM, COOP, INFO, MUSEUM, NAME, NET, ORG and PRO.
According to the ICANN website (http://www.icann.org), ICANN is “an internationally organized, non-profit corporation” that governs various Internet technical specifications, including assigning domain-name registrations.
After a domain name is registered, you now have the Internet “location” ready to build a website.
It might surprise you to learn that the Internet, in its most basic form, has been around since 1969 and was used for years as a tool by scientists and within the federal government as a simple way to share text files among computers. The Internet didn’t because the Internet that we recognize today until the World Wide Web was invented in 1989 and web browsers became commercially available in 1993.
That’s because the World Wide Web put a graphical user interface (GUI, pronounced “goo-ey”) on the Internet, making it much easier to use than the command-line driven Internet. It also made the Internet far more useful, because the Web supports files that contain color, graphics, photos, sounds and video while the pre-Web Internet was simply text-based.
An appropriate analogy is when Microsoft’s old text-only, command-line DOS (Disk Operating System) was replaced by early versions of its Windows operating system. Windows 3.1, for example, was really still DOS, but it had an easier-to-use, point-and-click interface.
The GUI for the Internet comes in the form of a software program called a web browser, just like the one you are using now. There are several brands of web browsers available (see Internet Software & Hardware), but Microsoft Internet Explorer is still by far the most-widely used with market share in January 2005 at near the 90-percent mark.
The web browser software is essentially a navigational tool to get around the World Wide Web. You can either type a web address (also called a URL, short for universal resource locator) in the browser’s Address Bar, or use the navigational buttons to move from web page to web page.
If you are fairly new to life on the Web, you will find the following descriptions of Internet Explorer’s features helpful. Other browsers have different features, but most are similar in nature to what we’ll describe here.
Web addresses. Each page on the Web is assigned an address (a URL)-just like a postal address for buildings and homes. These addresses are typed in the white Address Bar.
Most often, you will use the Address Bar to reach the home page of a website. To reach That Network’s site, for example, type http://www.thatnetwork.com. This will take you directly to the site, but here’s a shortcut to reduce your keystrokes. Because nearly all web pages begin with “http://” followed by “www.”, just type “thatnetwork.com” in the Address Bar, and the browser adds the “http://www.” for you.
Links. When words on a web page are underlined and in a different color than other text, this indicates they are links (also called hyperlinks or text links). Mouse-clicking these words take you to another page within the website or to an external website-no Address Bar typing required. Buttons and images can be links, too. To know for sure, place your mouse cursor over the item. If the arrow icon turns into a pointing-finger icon, it’s a link.
Buttons. Your browser’s buttons are your steering wheel and brakes-it’s how you navigate the Internet road. Here’s what the main buttons do.
- Back and Forward. The Back button takes you to the previous web page you visited. Click this button more than once to go back the corresponding number of pages. Click the Forward button to go back toward where you started.
- Stop. The Stop button stops a web page from being displayed in your browser.
- Refresh. The Refresh button reloads the web page you are currently visiting.
- Home. The Home button takes you to the web page that appears when you first open your browser.
- Favorites. Clicking the Favorites button opens a pane in which you can view and click pages you have bookmarked for a return visit.
- History. The History button shows the web pages you have recently visited.
Menus. The words at the top of the browser are called menus, and many of their functions are the same as the buttons. To learn how to use these features, experiment with them by selecting menu items (such as File, Edit, and View) to
see what they do. Don’t worry; you won’t damage anything by fiddling with an item you don’t fully understand.
Browsing Your Computer. Internet Explorer can be used for more than just browsing the Web. It also can be used to browse your file directories and open files stored on your computer or on other computers connected to your network.
To do this, go to the File menu, select Open, and then click the Open dialog box’s Browse button to find the file you are looking for.
This is especially useful way to use your browser when you want to view image files, such as digital photographs.